Sunday, December 26, 2004

DovBear, Tiferes Yisroel and the Woolly Mammoth

Reb Yisroel Lipschitz of Danzig (1782-1860) was the author of Tiferes Yisroel , the popular commentary on the Mishnayos which can be found in many a home and probably every Shul.

Dov Bear is a prolific blogger; go there you’ll enjoy it. On a couple of occasions he has posted that the Tiferes Yisroel is supposed to have written that the world is a lot more than 5765 years old. The last time he mentioned it was last week in a post entitled “Depends What You Mean By Modern”. Have a look at what he says. Intrigued I asked DovBear for the source and within an hour DovBear had responded. It is an essay called “Derush Ohr HaChayim” (Homily on the Light of Life) and is printed after Maseches Sanhedrin. I studied it over Shabbos and I present my findings below, which naturally I dedicate to DovBear.

In this Derush Ohr HaChayim the Tiferes Yisroel debates the eternality of the soul. The first two parts are pretty much the same as one would expect to find in any traditional commentary. In part three he suprises. He asks what is the point of Techiyas Hameisim (Resurrection of The Dead)? Why can’t the soul remain wherever it is? Why does it have to return back into a body?

In answer he quotes a “Midrash Rabbeinu Bachya”. Bachya ben Asher (1255-1340), a younger contemporary of Nachmanides, was one of the most prolific biblical exegetes of his era. In addition to his many scholarly writings, he functioned as a dayan (judge) and preacher in his hometown of Sargasso, Spain. Bachya writes that the world is due to last for 49,000 years or seven sets of seven thousand years. Each set of 7000 years is made up off 6000 years of ‘normality’ and 1000 years of ‘Shabbos’. Year 50,000 is the jubilee year and everything sort of ends there. Bachya does not say much more than this. To me it seems clear that Bachaya understands that we are at present in cycle number one.

The Tiferes Yisroel uses this Bachya but adds more. Although he does not bring an actual source he says that books on Kabbalah state that we are at present well into cycle number four. (I.e. the world is 26765 years old). He then goes on to say how the recent (recent for his time) archaeological findings had proven that this was indeed the case. Archaeologists had found four distinct layers of strata – a stratum for each cycle. Each stratum had remains of different animals. The earlier the stratum the more crude the animal (dinosaurs); the later the stratum the more refined – the world gets better and better in each cycle. The previous cycle he claims had seen the first type of human (Neanderthal Man ?)– we are the second sort of human to walk the earth and better than the first as our minds are far more developed. At the end of each cycle a cataclysmic event takes place destroying all that has been before. We are reborn into each cycle which is the meaning of "Resurection of the Dead" and answers the initial question. The story of Genesis refers primarily to our cycle – number four. The first letter of the Torah is a beis and in the Torah scroll this beis has four verticall on its topmost tip. Beis equals two which represent the fact that we are the second sort of human, while the four lines infer that we are in cycle number four.

Phew. That’s about as summarised as I can manage. If you want to see more take a look. The Bachya is at the beginning of Leviticus 25 and the Tiferes Yisroel is where I said it was.


Blogger DovBear said...

I am going to say more on this subject later, today, Sunday

11:26 AM  
Blogger DS said...

Nice post.

5:52 PM  
Blogger DovBear said...

Ok, on Thursday I mean.

5:37 AM  

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