Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Does *this* Gra propound a flat earth?

(See part one and part two.)

So HebrewBooks put up the Biur HaGra on much of Zohar, but did not label it. It comes under the name Yahel Or, which I would never have checked but for it also being the name of an Ibn Ezra supercommentary. I had hoped that it would also contain the Gra's commentary on Tikkunei Zohar, but no such luck. Thus, I did not find Gra's commentary which quoted the pasuk in Iyov about shaking the corners of the earth, the Sifrei that corners implies lack of roundness, and the conclusion that therefore the scientists are wrong and the earth is square.

I did find this, though. I know I am not skilled enough at kabbalah to know if this text says what I think it does, so perhaps someone in the audience can help me out. From page 165, with my explanations in curly brackets {}.
[Likut: {the letters} samech {which is round} and mem {sofit, which is square} are Binah and Tevunah. And so too they are heaven and earth, male and female {zachar unekeivah}; therefore, in Binah it is hinting only to son, while in Tevunah both son and daughter, and they are round and square {Freudian imagery? see the rounded vs. square samech and mem comment above}. For heaven is circular, and therefore it is ו"ק ו {no clue!}, and earth is square, as is known, and they are ו"ד {again no clue! but see Gilui's explanation in the comment section} as is known.
This could easily accord with an interpretation of the Gemara in Chagiga, as the Shevus Yaakov referred to {soon to be posted}, and which seems to be Mizrachi's understanding {soon to be posted}. The firmament is round, and that is heaven, and the earth would be square and under it. On the other hand, I am not familiar enough with the kabbalistic context, and so I am just talking out of my hat.

Giluy, what say you?


גילוי said...

I say you'd best leave his peirushim on the Zohar on the side :)

I have a sefer, Pitchei Shearim, written by Rabbi Yitzhak Isaac Chaver. He was a talmid of Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Shklov, who was part of the core of Talmidei haGR"A. Fairly early on in the sefer, he makes it explicit that all these statements regarding the physical world are not to be taken literally. He was specifically talking about the brachot of kriat shma in the evening.

So the fact that you have a statement in Yahel Ohr that refers to something that is not part of the physical world doesn't really convince me of anything. I can think of far more blatant things, such as the "lights of the ears".

Allow me to explain a bit: Many sodot haTorah are learned from what we can call observational sciences. How things appear to us as simple humans with no scientific background. The conceptualization of the earth as flat explains or hints at other ideas, and that is why it is mentioned.

jack said...

please please cut it out already,
you are causing a real CHILUL HASHEM
we all know the world is round,so what is your point?


joshwaxman said...

Thanks. I'll try to respond to you. My inclination leans in the same way, but I'll try to explain what gives me pause. Also, do you have any insight into vad daled and vav kuf vav?

browser (chaim):
there is a point, and it is not chillul hashem. there is no shame in chazal being wrong in science, and there is no shame in the gra being wrong in science (if this was indeed his intent here). he was a tzaddik and a genius, but limited by his surroundings. just like we are. also, another point is that limitations in one's scientific knowledge can cause one to incorrectly understand gemaras. For example, if the Gra was indeed a flat-earther, than he probably had a "pnimiyus" explanation on the Yerushalmi that spoke of the earth as a kadur.

there is a purpose here, and it is not, chas veshalom, to embarrass the Gra. i would also like to think that he would not be embarrassed. on the other hand, this might all be a misrepresentation of his position.


גילוי said...

ו"ק is what is there, not ו"קו. That means שש קצוות.

ד"ו I believe refers to the idea of dividing a ה in to a ד for the top and right sections, and ו for the lower left. I'm not 100% sure by the context that this is what is meant.

I do not think that the GR"A would be embarrassed by what you write, but he would be disappointed. He saw the big picture, where there is no contradiction between the round earth of science and the flat earth found elsewhere (אלו ואלו דברי אלקים חיים). Therefore when one tries to pull him one way due to reading his writings in one location, you are pulling him out of unity, which is a most elevated goal, and putting him in a status of one is right and one is wrong.

גילוי said...

ו"ק is the שש קצוות, and then ו is the simple representation, representing Zeir Anpin, the Vav of Shem Hashem. I think that reinforces what I said about the Heh, Heh represents Nukva.

joshwaxman said...

as i wrote above, i am somewhat inclined to agree with you. especially since this is a kabbalistic text, a pnimiyus interpretation, or saying that it is talking about something metaphysical, is not only plausibly but somewhat compelling.

on the other hand, we see from followers of the Gra that he purportedly had a view which was מפורסם, rather well known, that he held the earth was flat, and against the prevailing scientific view. and this was based in part on a comment on Tikkunei Zohar which we have not seen, but which they did see. (as well as perhaps also firsthand knowledge from his followers.)

add to this that many people would consider the Gra being wrong to be chillul Hashem (as per browser/chaim's comment above), and it seems that we should be wary of an apologetic bias to reinterpret the Gra. this similar to the apologetic inclination in terms of Chazal and science, which guides them to prefer the pnimiyus explanation, and to disregard the position of the Rishonim, who were closer in time to the gemara.

so maybe it is so, or maybe not. and maybe the Gra would be disappointed in me for not saying elu veElu in this particular instance. but on the other hand, perhaps the Gra would be disappointed in others for shying away from the Emes for ideological reasons.


גילוי said...


I would recommend that you read chapter 5, part 2 of Kol haTor, and look up all the references at the bottom of dapim.

www.thenutgarden.wordpress.com said...

"The footsteps of the beginning of redemption within the three foundations, 'designated deeds, times, and emissaries,' must proceed and be accomplished till the final level of the arousal from below, which is the level of nine hundred and ninety-nine in the sefirah Yesod, the level of one thousand less one. They must not recede, God forbid, due to some difficulty or stumbling block. This is all the more so on the last levels where the Sitra Aḥra becomes more powerful, for in order to counter the power of the Sitra Aḥra, in accord with a clear and promised reckoning, the miraculous holy force, the upper abundance, salvation and success become more powerful (see below). It is an important rule that whenever a mitsvah is carried out, and whenever a prayer is uttered, a man should think about unifying himself with, and binding himself to the intentions of two hosts, the YHWH of Hosts and the Eloqim of Hosts and he should focus on the middle line between the numbers four hundred and ninety-nine and a half on the left, and four hundred and ninety-nine and a half on the right.

As noted above, all the work involved in gathering in the exiles is in preparation of setting up and “maintaining people of truth,” in order to reach the level of redemption of the truth and sanctifying God and repairing the world in the Malkhut of the Almighty that is the goal of the complete redemption. For without the existence of people of truth, there is no hope, God forbid, for all the work involved in the beginning of redemption. As written, 'Jerusalem was destroyed because people of Truth were missing from it' (BT Shabbat 119b). The level of truthful men comes only following the Interpreter’s seven tiqqunim not only in thought and unification of secret intentions, but also in the integration of the repair of related deeds" (Qol ha-Tor, 5:2).

joshwaxman said...

Don't see anything relevant in this quote... Am I missing something?


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