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Basic Tenets of Jewish Philosophy: What is the Purpose of Time and Space?

Basic Tenets of Jewish Philosophy: What is the Purpose of Time and Space?

Philosophers and scientists have expended large efforts on the question of defining the concepts of time and space. This matter has concerned many people, because after all time and space define the limits of man’s world. Some of the philosophers toyed with the idea of whether time and space are subjective (Kant) or objective (Descartes), or perhaps an illusion (Berkeley). Modern science has adopted an approach that time and space are directly related to mass (Einstein). One proposal is to view time as an interface between mankind and the world (Bergson). Another question that has been brought up is whether time and place have minimum values, a concept similar to “atoms” (Arab philosophers called “Mutkalmin” by the Rambam), or are a continuum (Aristotle). Thus, mankind has studied these two concepts in an attempt to find definitions which will satisfy their intellectual curiosity.

However, one subject has not been discussed at all. Why do time and space exist? The sages of Yisrael did indeed discuss this matter, but from the moral standpoint and not necessarily as a scientific pursuit.

Space is what gives us the ability to separate between one person and another. If we were not separated by space, we would feel as if we were one and the same personality. Such a state would not allow the development of mutual reactions between different people, and there would thus be no basis for the concept of morality. That is what the sages meant by the statement, “Nothing exists that does not have its own place” [Avot 7:3]. Without rules for the relationship between one person and another, it would be impossible to observe the command, “Love your neighbor as yourself” [Leviticus 19:18], which Rabbi Akiva declared was the main principle in the Torah – and in such a case the entire world would become Hell (Levinas).

Time is what makes it possible to acquire the privilege to exist. If not for time, we could not insist on the requirements of judgement, because mankind is so puny that he cannot stand up against the eternity of G-d. This is certainly true in the case of a creature who sinned. The Ramchal explains that time was given to the sinners so that they will be able to rectify what they have distorted. Even if no sin has taken place, time is necessary in order to establish a basis for a personality and to acquire the privilege of existence. This is the essence of the Divine trait of mercy (“rachamim”). The name comes from the word for a womb (“rechem”), a place which has been given to the living creatures so that during pregnancy they will develop the tools to allow them to cope with the external world after they have been born.

We can conclude that since the justification for the existence of time and space is in essence a moral approach, the need for them depends on a moral requirement. Therefore, after mankind acquires the right to exist the concept of place will no longer be needed and all the souls will be united through mutual love. This is explained in the Tanya (Chapter 12) – that all of the people of Yisrael are a single soul which appears in separate bodies. In addition, the world will rise up above the continuum of historical time, and it will reach the level of the upper world. That is eternal life.

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Source: “THE ROOTS OF FAITH: Basic Tenets of Jewish Philosophy” – a biweekly column in Shabbat B’Shabbato (Zomet Institute). See: http://www.zomet.org.il/eng – Toldot 5777, issue 1650.

 

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About Rabbi Oury Cherki

Rabbi Oury Cherki
Rav Oury Cherki was born in Algeria in 1959 and grew up in France, and he made Aliyah in 1972. He studied at Merkaz Harav Yeshiva, which was founded by Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook. He performed his military service in the artillery branch of the IDF. He studied with Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook, Rav Yehuda Leon Ashkenazi (Manitou), Rav Shlomo Binyamin and Achlag. Rav Cherki heads the Israeli department of Machon Meir, and he is the Director of Brit Olam - the Noahide World Center.He teaches in many places throughout Israel. Rav Cherki is the spiritual leader of the "Beth Yehuda" community in Kiryat Moshe (Jerusalem). He has written many books on Jewish thought and philosophy.

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