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29 Teves 5761 - January 24, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
The Torah Universe: Heavens Above

by Rabbi Nosson Slifkin

In Perek Shirah, the ancient Midrash that lists the philosophical and ethical lessons to be learned from the natural world, the first song is: "The heavens are saying: `The heavens recount of G-d's glory, and the skies tell of His handiwork' (Tehillim 19:2)."

The commentaries on Perek Shirah explain this as follows. The prominence of a feature in nature is directly proportional to the importance of the lesson that it projects. The heavens are not only the largest feature of nature (at some forty-eight billion light years across), but they are also the most conspicuous feature in our lives. Wherever we are, the heavens are above us and we see them constantly. There is nothing in nature that is more prominent. Thus, the lesson that they teach must be the most important lesson of them all.

"The foundation of foundations and the pillar of all knowledge is to know that there is a Primary Cause, and He is the cause behind everything, and everything that exists in the heavens, and on the earth, and in between, exists only through His existence" (Rambam, Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 1:1,5).

This cause is the G-d of the universe, the Master of all the world. It is He Who guides the cosmos with infinite power, with endless energy. For the cosmos moves constantly, and this is impossible without there being a cause. And He causes it without a hand or a body.

The cornerstone of Judaism is awareness of Hashem's existence. This awareness is imparted to us by the heavens. From time immemorial, man has gazed up at the skies and has been awed at the vastness of space. He has wondered at the movements of the cosmic bodies. From contemplation such as this, man is reminded of his Creator. For how else was such a spectacular system set into motion? If the earth were just a little closer to the sun, we would all fry; a little further away, and we would freeze. Vast stars, planets and moons shine their light on us from distances so great that by the time their light reaches us, they may already have ceased to exist. This entire universe started somewhere and sometime. But what caused this to happen? Science cannot answer that question. For the cause lies outside the realm of science. It was the Prime Cause -- Hashem.

"The heavens recount of Hashem's glory, and the skies tell of His handiwork . . . There is no speech and there are no words; their voice is heard without these" (Tehillim 19:2,4).

This lesson accompanies us wherever we go. We need only look upwards, and we are reminded of it: "Lift your eyes upon high and see Who created these!" (Yeshayah 40:26). And we are thereby constantly taught: "I shall consider Hashem to be in front of me at all times" (Tehillim 16:8).

@Big Let Body=If we analyze the song of the Heavens in more detail, we see that there are two sections to it, which differ in three important ways. The first part mentions "the heavens," i.e., outer space; it states that they "recount" (mesaperim); and their message is "the glory of Hashem." The second part of the verse discusses "the skies," or the earth's atmosphere (roki'a); it states that they "tell" (maggid); and that the subject of their message is "Hashem's handiwork." These distinctions signify two profoundly different concepts.

The heavens, as discussed, point to a Creator. The vastness of space together with the dramatic movements of the celestial bodies inform us that Hashem created the universe; this is the glory of Hashem. But it only "recounts" this knowledge, sippur; the information only touches us in a detached sort of way.

Much of the world's population acknowledges that the universe was created and has faith that there is a Hashem. But this knowledge alone does not necessarily change a person's lifestyle. Certain heretical philosophers went as far as to state that, after creating the universe, Hashem "retired," and no longer takes an active interest in man.

Thus, the second part of the verse states that the atmosphere tells of His handiwork. The atmosphere is the region in which non-deterministic phenomena such as rain, storms and snow are formed. These are things totally out of the realm of science which are of great significance to agriculture and therefore to man. "You are eternally mighty, Hashem, the Resuscitator of the dead are You, abundantly able to save, making the wind blow and the rain descend" (Amidah).

The Vilna Gaon (Aderes Eliyahu, Vezos HaBerochoh) explains that weather patterns and the resurrection of the dead are grouped together as examples of G-d's might as both are beyond the predictive abilities of science.

The elements of the atmosphere demonstrate that Hashem is still actively involved in man's affairs, granting him rain when he deserves it and withholding rain or inflicting harsh storms when man is unworthy. They tell, maggid, this information. "Telling" refers to communicating information that is directly relevant to the listener; the word haggadah is based on the word gad, connection. The atmosphere and its workings tell us that Hashem is closely involved in a relationship with us, His special handiwork, and that we should be faithful to Him and perform His will.

Rabbi Nosson Slifkin teaches at Yeshivas Ohr Somayach in Jerusalem. He is currently preparing an English elucidation of Perek Shirah entitled Nature's Song for publication.

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