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Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

Polygamy

Is it true that the Bible permits a man to have multiple wives? Is this really the type of family arrangement that God views as ideal?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Biblical law allows a man to be married to more than one wife simultaneously, provided his wives are not sisters and that he can support them. Nevertheless, throughout Jewish history it was always desirable to have only one wife, as clearly demonstrated in the Torah. There were however, certain exceptions, such as Abraham, Jacob, King David and King Solomon. Let's take a look at these cases and see why they were exceptional.

In truth, Abraham never wanted to take a second wife, but only did so to because he was unable to have children with his wife Sarah. In fact, it was Sarah herself that suggested that Abraham marry Hagar, as she thought that "perhaps I will be built up through her." (Genesis 16:2)

Jacob also did not want two wives. It was only after Laban sent him the "wrong bride" that Jacob wound up marrying both Rachel and Leah. (See Genesis ch. 29)

King David and King Solomon had more than one wife for political reasons.

The great sage Rebbenu Gershom (10th century Germany) later created a ban that forbade polygamy for Ashkenazi Jews. This edict has been in force for more than 1,000 years.

Creation & The Big Bang

I have trouble reconciling my reading of Genesis with current scientific theory. When I read the beginning of creation, is seems clear that God created the world complete, as well as the rest of the universe. But physics says that there was a primordial speck which exploded in what is known as the Big Bang, and from this expansion the universe came to be.

Is there a way to integrate the two versions of the story?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

In most translations, the first verse of Genesis reads something like this: “In the beginning God created heaven and earth, and the earth was astonishingly empty…” This translation, which alludes to God creating heaven and earth directly and as a complete entity as you mentioned, is a flawed translation.

The correct translation, as explained by Rashi, the most classical of commentaries, is “In the beginning of God’s creating of the heaven and the earth…” The difference is a great one; it is simply introducing the story, not referring to anything yet created.

The continuing statement, “and the earth was astonishingly empty,” also loses its meaning in translation. Another classical commentary, Nachmanides (13th century) points out the difficulty implicit in the words “tohu vavohu,” which do not literally form the phrase “astonishingly empty.” Tohu indeed means astonishing. Bohu, however, means “all is in it.” Nachmanides explains as follows:

God created all creatures from absolute nothingness (ex nihilo), which is described by the term, “Bara.” Not all creatures in the spiritual realm or below the heavens were created ex nihilo, rather God brought into being from absolute nothingness a very tiny basic material, which seemed as though it didn’t exist at all, but it had within it the power to bring forth other creations, prepared to receive shape, to develop from the potential to the actual… and all was created from it. This matter…is called in Hebrew “tohu”… because if we would attempt to assign it a name, we would be astonished… because it had no form to accept a name. The form, which cloaked this matter, is called in Hebrew “bohu,” meaning “all is in it.” In other words, God created from complete “Tohu” and made from nothing something.”

We see from Nachmanides that the verse from Genesis is precisely in line with Big Bang! For the past 700 or more years, we were not able to understand the meaning of Nachmanides in physical terms. It defied human understanding to imagine all the vast mass of the universe compressed into an infinitesimally small speck of matter which could not even be observed. One could not even imagine compressing a cup of water into a smaller cup! Only after Einstein discovered relativity and the relationship between matter and energy, could we understand this in physical terms.

According to Stephen Hawking, this original, primordial speck is called a singularity, with infinite energy pulling in upon itself, not allowing any energy to escape. This was the ultimate “black hole.” This was considered a monumental discovery, but something that we have known, although not totally understood, from Torah literature for thousands of years!

One thing Hawking does not explain is how the Big Bang was possible. If there is an infinite amount of energy holding the singularity together, from whence is the even greater energy to pull it apart?!

He indeed does say that until after the point of the Big Bang, all science and mathematics breaks down, and time and science have their beginnings only after the Big Bang. Our answer to all this is that the Creator, who was the architect of the very concept of infinity, had the energy beyond infinity to bring about the Big Bang.

As science progresses, we see much more clearly how the physical world and the spiritual world of Torah are one.

Why Bad Things Happen

If God is omnipotent and merciful as the Bible claims, why do bad things happen to good people?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Dr. Gerald Schroeder, double-Ph.D. in Nuclear Physics and Earth and Planetary Sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, explains:

It is true, notwithstanding the bad we occasionally see around us, that the God of the Bible is described as merciful and long-suffering, filled with righteousness and truth (Exodus 34:6). Equally confounding, at the end of the Six Days of Creation, we are told that God saw all that was done and "behold it was very good" (Genesis 1:31). Not just good, but very good.

Still, young children get multiple sclerosis and earthquakes cause buildings to topple and crush the innocent. The same God that streaks the sky with a rainbow of red at sunrise and produces the beauty of a flower must also be connected to these horrors.

Although we may see it as unfortunate, bad things happening to good people is consistent with the biblical description of God's role in the world. By chapter four, Cain has murdered Abel. According to the Bible, Abel was the good guy. God had accepted his special offering while rejecting Cain's run-of-the-mill sacrifice. God had the power to prevent Abel's murder but chose not to.

Isaiah hints at why: "I am the Eternal, there is no other. I make light and create darkness. I make peace and create evil" (Isaiah 45:6, 7). God, the infinite source of light, creates darkness by withdrawing some of the light. Similarly God, the infinite source of peace, creates evil by shielding a portion of the peace. The biblical definition of creation is the partial withdrawal of God's presence. God pulls back, and in so doing creates the universe with its laws of nature. For the most part, nature takes its natural course.

Only when events get way off course does the Bible recount that God steps in and overrides nature. A natural-looking world is an essential part of the biblical game plan of life, namely the exercising of our free will. "I call to you witness today the heavens and the earth, I have placed life and death before you, the blessing and the curse. Therefore choose life so that you may live, you and your progeny" (Deut. 30:19).

If humans are to have the will to choose freely, the world must look natural. A natural world has radiation which produces crippling mutations and earthquakes which crush the innocent.