Torah and Science
Throughout the years of his leadership, the Rebbe addressed the faith/science nexus on a variety of levels. On the question of perceived contradictions between the two, the Rebbe rejected the “apologetic” approach which reinterpreted biblical passages and other articles of faith to better fit the prevalent scientific theory. There was a time, wrote the Rebbe in his numerous letters on the topic, when scientists believed that certain "facts" could be "proven" by the scientific method. Today, however, it is universally acknowledged that the scientific method does not "prove facts," but rather assigns greater or lesser probability to a hypothesis. The believing Jew, who holds in hand a document which he knows to be the revealed word of the Creator of nature and its laws, has no reason—indeed, no scientific reason—to modify that truth because it seems to contradict an hypothesis to which science, in its present stage of development and drawing on its present reservoir of knowledge, has assigned a certain degree of probability.
But the Rebbe saw the faith/science relationship as collaborative in essence, rather than combative. On the most basic level, he saw endless opportunities for harnessing the technological fruits of scientific advancement to further the aim of the believer to make the world a better, more harmonious, and more G-dly place. On a deeper level, he demonstrated how certain truths about G-d and his relationship with our reality have become more apprehensible to the human mind through the perspective on reality which modern science has opened up for modern man.
(One of many examples cited by the Rebbe: Integral to Jewish faith is the concept of “Specific Divine Providence” -- that G-d is aware of and concerned with every event in the universe, from the birth of a star in a distant galaxy to the turn of a leaf in the wind in a remote forest, and that they all figure in His master plan of creation and contribute to its realization. In earlier generations, this idea lay beyond the realm of rational credulity. The believer could only accept it on faith. Today, when we can watch a spacecraft landing on Mars and use a chip of silicon to compute millions of data a second, it requires no great “leap of faith” to understand that He who imparted such potential in His creation certainly possesses it Himself.)
Finally, the Rebbe saw science as a way to experience the Divine: by delving into the nature of creation, we come to know, love and stand in awe before the face of its Creator. While this has always been the case, recent discoveries and theories in many fields of science have been leaping far higher in their quest for the “greater picture,” and penetrating far deeper to the essence of things, than ever before.
We know space as the three dimensions in whose context physical objects are positioned in spatial relation to each other (above, beside, behind, etc.). But there is also a conceptual space: we speak of "higher" and "lower" planes of reality; we describe ideas as "deep" or "shallow." So spiritual entities also occupy a "space" which defines their position in relation to each other and to world they occupy. Common thinking is that these "conceptual space" characterizations are merely mental projections of physical phenomena in an attempt by our physical minds to contemplate and discuss metaphysical abstractions. The truth, say the Kabbalists, is the very opposite: space originates as a wholly spiritual phenomenon, and then "descends" through the Seder Hishtalshelut to evolve into increasingly more concrete forms. Thus physical space derives from "conceptual space," which in turn evolved from an even more abstract form of space, and so on. The higher we ascend the chain of Hishtalshelut, the more abstract and ethereal is the space of that particular "world."
Time, too, exists on many levels, as it evolves from its most spiritual form all the way down to "our" physical time. What we experience as a one-way time arrow through the tenses of past, present and future is but the last and most concrete incarnation of the element or phenomenon of time. As it descends through the Seder Hishtalshelut time is expressed in many forms: it is the essence of motion, causation, and change; it underlies the pulse of life, the processional nature of reason and the pendulum of feeling.
The Seder Hishtalshelut itself is a function of spiritual time: the very concept of an "order" and an "evolution" presumes a reality governed by cause and effect. Of course, the evolution of creation from spirit to matter did not "take time" in the commonplace sense of the word-G-d did not have to "wait" for the successive phases and stages of the Seder Hishtalshelut to yield its final product. In terms of physical time, the creation of the physical world-G-d's desired result of the creation-process-was instantaneous. But on the conceptual level, "time" is the framework within which the many levels of the created reality unfold.
Thus time may be regarded as the "first" creation. Since creation is a process in which a series of worlds evolve one from (and thus "after") the other, it is an event which "takes time"-at least in the most abstract sense of the term. On the other hand, G-d's act of creation did not take place "in" time, which would imply that there was something (i.e., the phenomenon of time) that wasn't created by G-d! So if time did not pre-exist creation yet is a necessary component of it, this means that time came into being as an integral part of the very concept "creation" (which is itself a created entity).
In other words, time exists because G-d desired that creation should constitute a process-a chain of worlds extending from heaven to earth, each the product of its "predecessor." Without time (on the most abstract level) there could not be a Seder Hishtalshelut; and without time (on the physical level), we, who can only relate to spiritual concepts as abstractions of their counterparts in our physical reality, could not conceive of, much less contemplate, the "order of evolution" linking the Creator's most sublime works to our own world.
The Seder Hishtalshelut is crucial to our mission in life, which dictates that we not only serve G-d but also strive to comprehend the nature of His relationship with our existence. But the "chain of evolution" is not only a link-it is also a screen, like the parable with conveys the idea but also simplifies its profundity and coarsens its subtlety. Were our relationship with the Almighty to be confined to the channel offered by the Seder Hishtalshelut, it would mean that we have no direct connection with the infinite and utterly indefinable reality of our Creator and the divine essence of creation. It would mean that we can relate to these truths only via the many garments in which G-d has shrouded Himself in order to make Himself and His creation comprehendible to us.
By the same token, G-d did more than make us creatures in time: He also empowered us to contemplate its limits and even experience a semblance of "timelessness" in our daily lives. And our complex relationship with physical time mirrors our souls' relationship with time's spiritual counterpart and predecessor. Even as G-d relates to us via the Seder Hishtalshelut, which dictates that our experience of Him be filtered through a chain of intellectual, emotional and spiritual processes, He also granted us moments of direct and unfiltered contact with Himself-moments of "instantaneous" connection that transcend the order of creation.
© 2001-2004 Chabad-Lubavitch Media Center
Copyright H. David Marshak, All Rights Reserved