Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Torah on the Moon

Summary: Must we fetch it from there? Did Chazal think we could travel to the moon?

Post: In Nitzavim, we encounter the following pasuk and Rashi.

12. It is not in heaven, that you should say, "Who will go up to heaven for us and fetch it for us, to tell [it] to us, so that we can fulfill it?"יב. לֹא בַשָּׁמַיִם הִוא לֵאמֹר מִי יַעֲלֶה לָּנוּ הַשָּׁמַיְמָה וְיִקָּחֶהָ לָּנוּ וְיַשְׁמִעֵנוּ אֹתָהּ וְנַעֲשֶׂנָּה:
לא בשמים היא: שאלו היתה בשמים היית צריך לעלות אחריה וללומדה:

13. Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, "Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us and fetch it for us, to tell [it] to us, so that we can fulfill it?"יג. וְלֹא מֵעֵבֶר לַיָּם הִוא לֵאמֹר מִי יַעֲבָר לָנוּ אֶל עֵבֶר הַיָּם וְיִקָּחֶהָ לָּנוּ וְיַשְׁמִעֵנוּ אֹתָהּ וְנַעֲשֶׂנָּה:

In Taama deKra, Rav Chaim Kanievsky cites the gemara in Eruvin 55a, or else just the Rashi who cites it.
והיינו דאמר אבדימי בר חמא בר דוסא מאי דכתיב (דברים ל, יב) לא בשמים היא ולא מעבר לים היא לא בשמים היא שאם בשמים היא אתה צריך לעלות אחריה ואם מעבר לים היא אתה צריך לעבור אחריה
Or, in English:
This is in harmony with the following statement of R. Abdimi b. Hama b. Dosa: What is the significance of the text: It is not in heaven, [that thou shouldst say: ‘who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us’], neither is it beyond the sea [that thou shouldst sat, ‘Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us’]? ‘It is not in heaven’, for if it were in heaven you should have gone up after it; and if it were ‘beyond the sea’, you should have gone over the sea after it.
Then, he writes:

"From here is implied that men are able to ascend to the moon and the stars. And this is called shamayim, as is written (in Devarim 4:19 וּפֶן תִּשָּׂא עֵינֶיךָ הַשָּׁמַיְמָה וְרָאִיתָ אֶת הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ וְאֶת הַיָּרֵחַ וְאֶת הַכּוֹכָבִים כֹּל צְבָא הַשָּׁמַיִם, 'And lest you lift up your eyes to heaven, and see the sun, and the moon, and the stars, all the host of heaven.' "

Rav Kanievsky also writes there another explanation. After citing the pasuk and Eruvin, that if it were in heaven you should have gone up after it; and if it were ‘beyond the sea’, you should have gone over the sea after it, he writes:

"And the Chazon Ish {?} said that this was via the Divine Name, as Rashi explains in Chagiga 14b, that four entered the pardes, meaning that they ascended to shamayim via the Divine Name. And across the sea, via ships. 

And it is difficult, for it is stated in Bava Metzia 94a
AND WHATEVER CAN BE FULFILLED EVENTUALLY etc. R. Tabla said in Rab's name: This is the view of R. Judah b. Tema. But the Sages say: Even if it is impossible to fulfil it eventually, and one stipulates it at the beginning, the stipulation is valid. For it has been taught: [If one says,] Here is thy divorce, on condition that thou ascendest to Heaven or descendest to the deep, on condition that thou swallowest a hundred cubit cane or crossest the great sea on foot; if the condition is fulfilled, the divorce is valid, but not otherwise.13  R. Judah b. Tema said: In such a case it is a [valid] divorce. R. Judah b. Tema stated a general rule: That which can never be fulfilled, and he [the husband] stipulates it at the beginning, it is only to repel her,14  and is valid.
which is a condition which is impossible to fulfill. (And there is what to answer.)

Further, there is so say that they can ask prophets and they can inform us what they are saying in Heaven regarding this or that halacha. Therefore it informs us that the Torah was given on earth, and that which they rule in the bet din below, this is what they are ruling in Heaven, as is stated in Bava Metzia 59b."

Thus, it either refers to outer space or to the spiritual heavens, and both need to be places one can physically or indirectly access. He could have referred to the Yerushalmi which has Alexander the Great ascend on high via griffin. Though the Yerushalmi does not give the explicit details we want, that Alexander met an angel in Heaven after ascending in this manner. For that, we need to know the non-Jewish accounts.

I don't know that in this gemara, Chazal (or specifically R' Avdimi bar Chama bar Dosa) expected that people would be able to ascend, either to the moon, or to the place of the angels, as a real expectation of what was possible. (Indeed, perhaps the aish up there in the sky would burn anything up; or perhaps the moon was entirely insubstantial, such that we would not expect to be able to land on the moon.)

The concern might have been more homiletic. In the pesukim, Moshe is telling the people that it is NOT in the heavens or over the sea, such that one could say objection of 'who shall ascend? Who will cross'. These can be treated as rhetorical questions in this counterfactual scenario. They would have objected that it is impossible, or just too difficult, to accomplish this, and so we have an excuse to not learn of the commandments and fulfill them. But one cannot lay out those objections, for Moshe has already brought the commandments to the people, such that it is in their mouths and in their hearts to fulfill it.

What R' Avdimi bar Chama bar Dosa does is take the rhetorical questions / objections and assume that, given such a scenario, it would be incumbent upon people to do this. For Hashem's commandments are so dear, and important. They would need to ask who would fetch them, even from Heaven or across the Sea. This highlights for us just how dear the mitzvos and words of Torah are, such that we must take extraordinary measures to learn and preserve them in our mouths and minds -- the mnemonic signs discussed immediately previous in the gemara in Eruvin. If so, within this homiletic message, this might be just for dramatic effect. One would need to take such extreme, indeed, impossible, measures, to ascend all the way to heaven. Even if it indeed deemed impossible by Chazal, it is an extreme statement that then has its dramatic and therefore homiletic effect.

Related to all of this, I have heard some people claim that in Tanach, and perhaps as understood by Chazal as well, the Shamayim and Rakia is a physical place -- the sky and the firmament, and that this physical Shamayim is understood as the abode of the angels. We clearly make this distinction nowadays. But in the Greek story about Alexander, it seems that there was no such distinction. Perhaps we can also point to young Abayei in Berachot 48a:
Rav Nachman said: A child who knows whom we bless counts for a zimun. Abayei and Rava were sitting before Rabba. Rabba asked: "Whom do we bless?" They said: "Rachmana" (Hashem, in Aramaic). "Where does He live?" Rava pointed to the roof. Abayei went outside and pointed to the sky. Rabba said: "Both of you will be rabbis."
This is against the Rambam, most probably. But perhaps Chazal disagreed with the Rambam, and felt that Hashem could be located in a specific place / abode. And, that that was the sky, shamayim, and not just a homonym.

1 comment:

Moshe Laymore said...

I heard an explanation for this possuk. Since the Torah is the blueprint of creation, if there would be a need to get to heaven in order to get the Torah it would have been possible to do so 3000 years ago and if it was not possible that is because there is no need to do so.


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