Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Does Sifsei Chachamim know about time zones?

Summary: And that it can be night in one country while it is day in another? I think he can. Rav Chaim Kanievsky points out a difficulty in Sifsei Chachamim, in that it does not seem to work with a round earth. He answers that the division away from ערבוביא was only during the days of Creation. I suggest another resolution.

Post: The fourth pasuk of sefer Bereishit, with Rashi:

4. And God saw the light that it was good, and God separated between the light and between the darkness.ד. וַיַּרְא אֱ־לֹהִים אֶת הָאוֹר כִּי טוֹב וַיַּבְדֵּל אֱ־לֹהִים בֵּין הָאוֹר וּבֵין הַחֹשֶׁךְ:
And God saw the light that it was good, and God separated: Here too, we need the words of the Aggadah: He saw it that it was not proper for the wicked to use it; so He separated it for the righteous in the future. According to its simple meaning, explain it as follows: He saw it that it was good, and it was unseemly that it [light] and darkness should serve in confusion; so He established for this one its boundary by day, and for that one its boundary by night.וירא א-להים את האור כי טוב ויבדל:אף בזה אנו צריכים לדברי אגדה ראהו שאינו כדאי להשתמש בו רשעים והבדילו לצדיקים לעתיד לבא. ולפי פשוטו כך פרשהו ראהו כי טוב ואין נאה לו ולחשך שיהיו משתמשין בערבוביא, וקבע לזה תחומו ביום ולזה תחומו בלילה:

Siftei Chachamim explains the בערבוביא, serving in confusion, that it would be in this country light and in that country darkness. Or one hour daylight and two hours night, and afterwards the reverse. But most decidedly not that light and darkness were literally mixed together one with the other.

In Taama deKra, after citing this pasuk, Rashi, and Siftei Chachamim -- specifically the bit about light in one medinah and darkness in another medinah, Rav Chaim Kanievsky writes:

"And this is difficult, for even during the day, half the globe is light and half of it is dark. And one can say that this was discussing the days of Creation, that there were some places which were light and some were darkness, and Hashem divided it, such that during the 'day', there would be throughout the entire globe day, and at night, all would be darkness. But after the Sun was created, always half of the globe would be day and half of it would be night."

This is an interesting catch. (And it is good to know that, despite the kol koreh of a few years back banning time zones, Rav Kanievsky maintains that the earth is round and there are, indeed, different time zones.)

Depending on when Siftei Chachamim wrote it, I would not dismiss out of hand the idea that he actually believes that the earth was flat and that there were no different time zones. After all, Rabbi Eliyahu Mizrachi, the Vilna Gaon, and the Shevus Yaakov all seem to have been flat earthers.

Even so, I don't think that that was the Sifsei Chachamim's intent. He can believe in a round earth. And at the same time, I think that Rav Kanievsky's interpretation as applying only during the Days of Creation is somewhat forced. This is a creative act of division, setting up how the world operates, not a limited-time modification for the days of Creation. Rather, I would say that the Sifsei Chachamim's comment makes good sense in context.

Imagine a patchwork, with swirling areas of light and dark. It could be dark in one place in the patchwork, light a bit north, then dark again. Each country could have light or darkness as this patchwork moves from one place to the other. There is no regularity to it, not like the Sun's progression across the sky.

It seems rather clear that this is what Sifsei Chachamim had in mind. Compare to the patchwork of specific hours, with a total lack of regularity. So of course he knew that different countries can have day and night at different times, but that is simply not what he meant. And sof kol sof, the main point of Sifsei Chachamim is that the described ערבוביא is not light and dark mixed in the same location. And so, we need not give a farfetched interpretation, and say that this division Hashem made between day and night was a creative step just for the limited span of the days of Creation.

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