Lecture #24: Letter 91

  • Rav Tamir Granot



By Rav Tamir Granot



In memory of our grandparents, whose yahrzeits fall this week:

Shmuel Nachamu ben Shlomo Moshe HaKohen Fredman (10 Tevet)

Chaya bat Yitzchak David Fredman (15 Tevet)

Shimon ben Moshe Rosenthal (16 Tevet)

By their grandchildren and great-grandchildren,

Aaron and Tzipora Ross and family


Shiur #24:Letter 91



Letter 91 is the last of the three letters comprising Rav Kook's correspondence with R. Moshe Zeidel. (We will examine here only the first part of the letter; the second part appears as Letter 20, which we have already discussed). This letter, dealing with the Creation according to the literal biblical text and according to Chazal and the kabbalistic midrashim, may be viewed as a sort of paradigm for dealing with questions pertaining to the relationship between Torah and science. It indicates a way of dealing with scientific theories or findings whose conclusions contradict the Torah text or Jewish tradition.


In the letter itself, the contradiction in question concerns the age of the universe and Darwin's theory of evolution. These subjects are the link connecting this letter to the previous ones, which covered various aspects of the development of the world (albeit mostly in the moral, cultural spheres and less on the biological level). Here we confront the issue in its concrete, scientific dimension: the organized scientific theories concerning the age of the world and the evolution of species appear to contradict the information we have from our tradition (both Written and Oral) on these subjects. The letter deals with the question both on the theoretical level as well as on the level of this specific scientific issue.


Rav Kook deals with similar questions in his work Eder ha-Yakar. There, he focuses on archaeology and its findings, which likewise raise questions with regard to biblical narratives and laws. While the problems addressed there are not identical with those that appear here, Rav Kook adopts the same methodological approach in both places, and we will examine his discussion there to shed light on the present text.


To think about before reading the letter: The theory of evolution, like estimates of the age of the world, was already fairly advanced a century ago, at the time when Rav Kook wrote his letter. Despite a century having gone by since then, Darwinism (or neo-Darwinism, the version of the theory that appeared in the mid-20th century and emphasized the mechanism of genetic transfer) is still dominant, and the "Big Bang" remains the prevailing model for how the world came into existence several billion years ago. Although some scholars dispute these theories, they are supported by weighty evidence and proofs.


For the benefit of those readers who are not familiar with the scientific side of the issue, the letter will be followed by appendices that, although not exhaustive, provide an adequate presentation of the scientific perspective, which was known, in its earlier versions, to Rav Kook. These appendices should preferably be reviewed before reading the letter itself.


Letter 91


Erev Shabbat, Yafo, 10 Sivan 5665




Warmest regards to my dear friend, my beloved, the groom of Torah who is filled with pure knowledge and fear of God, Mr. Moshe Zeidel, shlita.

Your pleasant letter reached me, and if I had sufficient time, it would be appropriate for me to reply at length, to explain the root of the matter regarding all of the points that you raised and the valuable points within them regarding questions of knowledge and faith. For all failures come only due to the fact that people do not seek. Each person answers his biggest questions by blunt knowledge; for this reason, matters come out crooked, and it is our responsibility to clarify words of truth regarding the true Torah.


Regarding the midrash,[1] the simple explanation is that were man, with his free-will, able to accept all the good, the creation would be more blessed – the taste of the tree would be similar to its fruit. This is but one example of all the other powers, which would all be more blessed. But because man would in the future abandon uprightness, in all its goodness, it was morally imperative that the land not be as developed as planned. This is the explanation for all of the inferior characteristics found in Creation, which are studied by scientists. Only when they recognize the unity of the moral power with the other powers of reality will they truly understand matters. This is termed the “sin of the earth” [in the midrash], which is explained elsewhere to be comparable to cursing the breast of the evil man’s mother.[2]


The Age of the World – Science and Torah


Regarding the number of years since creation, in regard to the calculations of modern geologists:[3] It has long been an accepted concept, noted by all of the early Kabbalists, that there were many eras that preceded our own, as the midrash states, “He created worlds and destroyed them”[4] and the Zohar writes that there were types of men different from Adam, who is described in the Torah.[5] But one must contemplate well the deep allegories, which demand extensive explanation. Modern research tells us that eras of creations – including man – have been discovered, but that there was no mass destruction between these eras. But these are assumptions that are up in the air, with no conclusive proof, and one need not be concerned with them.[6]


But in truth, we do not need all of this. For even if it was conclusively proven that creation took place through development of species, there would be no contradiction [with the Torah]. For we count according to the simple explanation of the words of the Torah, which is more relevant to us that other sources, which are of little value for us. And the Torah certainly concealed the story of Creation and spoke in hints and allegories. All know that Creation is one of the secrets of the Torah;[7] if we were to understand the matter according to the literal meaning, what secret would there be here? The midrash already states: “To recount the power of Creation to flesh and blood is impossible; the Torah therefore concealed the matter with the words, ‘In the beginning, God created.’”[8] The main point is the conclusion that emerges from the discussion – to know God and true moral life. Ha-Kadosh Barukh Hu gives His spirit over to the prophets only to a certain degree[9] – which is constriction – for specifically when these great matters are placed in these particular images can man draw from them, with his efforts, their most beneficial and lofty aspects. And “the light of yakrut ve-kifa’on” [which Zekharia says will be no longer in the end of days] are the secrets of the Torah, for in this world they are unknowable, but in the future they will be clear.[10] Only He can reveal the details of the matter.


In any event, there is no contradiction between anything in the Torah and the opinions of the scientists. For we do not have to accept assumptions as axioms, even if many people agree to them; they are like withering grass, for in a short time, methods will develop further and all of the new theories will be ridiculed, and all the great wisdom of today will be considered small mindedness – but the word of God endures forever. “For the mountains will be replaced and the hills will be diverted, but my kindness to you will not be replaced and my covenant of peace will not be diverted, says the One who is Merciful upon you, God.”[11] For the basis of everything is what we learn in the world, that everything is the act of God, and the means – whether many or few or infinite – are all the acts of God,[12] who did not deprive the world of anything and whose power, strength, and glory have no end, blessed is He and blessed is His name forever and ever. We sometimes note these means by name, to provide clarification, and sometimes we simply state, “And God formed,” “And God did,” just as we say, “Then Shlomo built” instead of explaining that Shlomo commanded his officers, and they commanded their subordinates, and they commanded the architects, and they commanded the craftsmen, and they commanded the simple laborers – for this is a well known process, and is also tangential. Even all the research regarding the millions of years and the expansion of methods and means, which add to our knowledge of God’s greatness, are many times too short.


Divine Providence in the Revelation of Scientific and Spiritual Truths


The content of the matter is that there is a significance in the time of the birth and actualization of every idea and concept; there is no coincidence or happenstance at all.


For example, had the idea of the earth’s revolution been known by the masses thousands of years ago,[13] humans would have been terrified to stand on their feet, lest they fall from the movements, and all the more so would they fear building tall buildings. this would have brought mankind to a state of anxiety and would immeasurably prevent development. The concept of gravity would not have given them any more confidence, as it is clear to all that anything resting upon something moving will surely fall. It was only after they had been habituated to a large degree that it was opportune for man to recognize the movement of the earth, at which point only good would result from the realization.


This is also the case when it comes to matters of spirituality. For example, Divine Providence is the foundation of human morality and its success, and when it is clarified well in the world, with great and clear knowledge, it will be the foundation of all happiness – “They will not do evil and they will not do iniquity on my whole holy mountain, for the land will be filled with the knowledge of God.”[14] Kenesset Yisrael had to fight strongly against the idol worshippers in order to teach them that despite the greatness of creation, the moral essence of man is much more important than even the greatest creation, beyond measure; a man is not worthless until his moral behavior is valueless. It was not simple to inculcate this matter along with guarding the inner recognition of God’s honor, which is also essentially the greatest foundation of human perfection and the creation in general in the present and for eternity, in both material and spiritual life. This labor was necessary in order to implant in the small heart of man the vision of the greatness of creation and the lowliness of man along with the vision of recognition of God’s great hand, and how he is elevated and loftier than all agreed upon values of any creation. If it was then known about the many worlds described by modern science, man would have considered himself nothing, and his morality would have evaporated; it would have been impossible to raise within him the living spirit of greatness and glory. Only now, after the internalization of man’s greatness has struggled and won, man will not reject it even upon encountering any other qualitative and true greatness. All of these require the proper time and preparation, and the images received – whether gleaned from studying creation with our reason or through revelation of God’s hand to His prophets – must always carry with them the power that truly strengthens life and success, and not bring man to bits of knowledge to “play with” as children play.


When you contemplate this you will understand that there is great worth to what is revealed, as well as to what is concealed. The manners of concealing are many and great, of the wonders of the paths of the Divine wisdom of the Master of all actions, blessed be He.




If you follow this path, I am certain that, with the help of God, you will not falter and that you will do great things for Israel. Fear God and observe His commandments, for that is all of man. Rejoice in the power of the Name of God and the gift of our portion to be a covenantal nation, a light unto the nations. And may we merit to rejoice in the joy of the Land, to recount the Name of God and its praise in Zion and Jerusalem, when the nations and kingdoms are gathered together to serve God, when He brings forth from Zion the salvation and glory of Israel. “And I will walk the blind on a path that they have not known; on ways you have not known I will guide them. I will make the darkness before them into light and the crooked paths into a straight path; these are the things I have done, and I have not abandoned them.”[15] Our Sages taught – “I have already done for R. Akiva and his colleagues.”[16] 


Peace and blessing be upon you, from  your dear friend, who desires your wellbeing and success,


Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Kohen Kook




I. The "Big Bang"


This refers to the cosmological theory accepted by the modern scientific community to explain how the universe came into being. It is considered one of the most important discoveries of the 20th century. It is based on Einstein's Theory of General Relativity, according to which energy may be converted into matter and vice versa. According to the Big Bang model, all the energy from which the universe would come to be comprised was originally packed into a tiny, infinitely dense point referred to as "singularity," since the known laws of physics do not apply to it. The temperature of this point was also infinite, like that of a black hole (a star which collapses into itself because of its gravity).


The Big Bang, which occurred several billion years ago, was a huge explosion of all of that energy in what is referred to as the "primal fireball." This explosion gave rise to the dimensions known to us – time and space. A millionth of a second after the explosion, the light of the primal fireball was trapped in a special state known as a quark-gluon plasma – a rare mixture of free quarks and gluons (different types of sub-atomic particles), and then the fireball began to expand and cool at tremendous speed. The cooling and lessening of density facilitated the appearance of new particles, such as protons and neutrons, which organized themselves at some stage into atoms of the elements that form the building-blocks of the universe: hydrogen, helium, and lithium.


This theory of a dynamic universe was first proposed in 1922 by Alexander Friedmann, a Russian cosmologist and mathematician, who depicted a steady-state universe. Later on, Freidmann's student George Gamow proposed that the universe had started off dense and hot. In 1965, Friedmann's theory was confirmed by Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson of Bell Labs, who, using ultra-sensitive electromagnetic receivers, accidentally discovered the background cosmic radiation of the Big Bang and showed that it was uniform in all directions. For this discovery, they received the Nobel Prize for physics. Later, other models similar to Friedmann's were proposed by Robertson and Walker.


Acceptance of the Model in the Scientific World


The "Big Bang" model explains why the universe is expanding (as observed by the American astronomer Edwin Hubble in 1929) and why it does not contract owing to gravity, and it finds further support in the phenomenon of black holes. It became widely accepted amongst the scientific community mainly in the wake of an article published by Roger Penrose and Stephen Hawking in 1970. Further scientific confirmation was provided by findings related to radiation detected by the COBE research satellite in the 1990's.


The "Big Bang" represented a dramatic change in relation to the Aristotelian view of science that had prevailed for thousands of years, depicting a static and eternal universe, with no point of origin or creation. In his book A Brief History of Time, Hawking explains that many Jewish and Christian scholars viewed the new theory as confirming their belief in God's creation of the world ex-nihlo, and they welcomed it warmly. The Christian Church went so far as to proclaim, in 1951, that the Big Bang model was compatible with the Scriptures. According to Hawking, the innuendo of Divine Creation that the model entailed led to some scientific attempts to counter it. (These include the “steady-state” theory advanced by Hermann Bondi, Thomas Gold, and Fred Hoyle, and the attempts by Soviets Yevgeni Lipschitz and Isaak Khalatnikov.) These attempts did not meet with much success.


The Chemical Composition of the Universe


The standard Big Bang model facilitates a calculation of the physical conditions of the universe at any moment, starting from the tiniest fraction of a millisecond after the actual explosion. According to nuclear theory and elementary particle theory, the state of and given matter may be calculated under varying conditions of density and temperature: which particles are able to exist, and which interactions are possible between different particles and between particles and radiation fields.


The expansion of the universe caused its temperature and density to decrease rapidly. Calculations show that with this process, some 90% of the particles of matter in the universe remained in the form of hydrogen particles –protons – and another 10% as alpha particles –helium atoms. The conditions of the Big Bang did not permit any heavier particles to come into being, since the drop in density and temperature was too fast for the reactions creating such elements to take place.


This prediction by the Big Bang theory has likewise been confirmed through observation, which shows that everywhere in the universe, the composition of matter conforms with the model. The deviations which have been discovered – such as the existence of other heavy elements in the sun and in the solar system – can all be explained as later changes in the composition of cosmic matter, arising from thermo-nuclear processes taking place at the cores of stars.


II. Darwin's Theory


Evolution and Natural Selection


Evolution is the process of gradual changes that come about over generations of organisms in terms of morphological, physiological, and behavioral traits. The principal and most widely accepted evolutionary theory is that of natural selection, which asserts that evolution is the result of mutations and the reproduction of those mutations better adapted to the environment in which the mutations take place.


The theory of evolution seeks to explain the structure of the organism by explaining the manner in which it developed from other organisms. According to this view, a description of the purpose of a certain organ in an organism is not sufficient to explain its existence; a "historical" explanation is required, tracing the manner in which the organ developed into its present form. It seems that the ancient Greek philosopher Empedocles was the first to propose an evolutionary theory concerning the origin of species.


The father of the modern theory of evolution was the British biologist Charles Darwin, who published his ideas in a work entitled On the Origin of Species, describing his research and observations on different continents. In this book, Darwin tried to disprove the argument that species are eternal – an idea, originating with Aristotle, which had been accepted since the Middle Ages in monotheistic cultures – and to prove that species developed from other species which had preceded them in a process which he called "natural selection."


            This theory maintained that:

·           Organisms differ from one another in their traits.

·           With time, accidental mutations appear which give rise to new traits.

·           Organisms with different traits have different capacities for survival.

·           Organisms bequeath their traits to their progeny.


Darwin claimed that these inherited differences influenced the ability of the progeny to survive and to reproduce, and therefore there is an ongoing process of natural selection. Over time, the creatures that survive are those whose traits equip and adapt them better to environmental conditions. (Of course, the environment itself sometimes undergoes change that is more rapid than the pace at which these organisms are able to adapt, in which case they become extinct.)


According to the principle of natural selection, the pool of resources in nature is limited, and the species that survive are those best adapted to the living conditions of their environment. This idea, with its source in the capitalistic social theories that preceded Darwinism (such as Malthusianism), provides a convincing explanation for observations and studies that have been conducted from Darwin's time until today.


The theory of natural selection competed successfully with two opposing theories. One was Lamarckism – an evolutionary theory developed by French zoologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarcke – which was prevalent in the USSR and maintained that changes experienced by an individual organism during its lifetime would be passed on through heredity to its offspring. The other was Creationism – a view which continues to maintain the eternity of the species as created by God and is held by certain fundamentalist monotheistic groups.


The impact of Darwin's ideas spread far beyond the realm of biology and led to the appearance of new developmental approaches in the natural and social sciences. Perhaps the most infamous among these are the theories of social Darwinism propounded by Herbert Spencer and others who had a great influence on the national-socialist ideology of the Third Reich. These theories were generally based on a distorted and mistaken interpretation of the principle of natural selection, replacing "survival of the best adapted" with "survival of the fittest" (in the sense of "strongest"). Contrary to popular belief, Darwin never said that the fittest or strongest survive. He argued that those best suited to environment conditions would survive – and these are not necessarily the fittest, nor the strongest, nor the most aggressive. In a great many instances, a strategy of cooperation and mutual assistance among the members of a species may represent an evolutionary advantage.


Evolution, according to Darwin, has no plan or aim. The initial differences between organisms are random, and those which happen to be better suited to the environment are the ones that will survive and reproduce. While successive generations of selection, operating on the basis of random differences, may lead to development in a certain direction and even give the impression of deliberate planning, this is not so. In evolution, there is no "better" or "worse;" bigger or cleverer animals are no more "worthy" than smaller or less clever animals. At its earliest stages, this world was ruled by tiny, primitive creatures, such as bacteria and algae, and not by man.


With his later book, The Descent of Man, which he waited 18 years to write (it was published in 1871), Darwin created an even greater storm than that caused by On The Origin of Species. In it, he argued that man and apes were descended from the same primal ape-like ancestor. Darwin's teachings met with stiff opposition by followers of Creationism, and in some places evolution was forbidden to be taught. Despite the controversy, the main principles of his theory are agreed upon by most scientists in the world.


Proofs of the validity of evolution in general, and of its central tenet – natural selection – in particular, are to be found in many different spheres:


Taxonomy Рa system devised by the Swedish botanist and zoologist Linn̩ (Linnaeus) in the 18th century, which defines organisms according to a hierarchical system which proceeds from the most inclusive to least inclusive categories: Kingdom (animal or plant), phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species. Evolutionary theory maintains that if animals shared no ancestral history (as argued by Creationism) then they would simply be a collection of different types. The hierarchical structure of the connections among them (e.g., the very large group sharing the characteristic of being vertebrates, among them a large group sharing the characteristics which define them as mammals, including in turn a smaller group of animals which share a particular set of characteristics, etc.) therefore testifies to their closer or more distant connection to their shared origins.


Biogeography – the study of the distribution of different species. In order to explain the composition of the animal kingdom on isolated continents and islands, the principle of evolutionary adaptation is not sufficient; the study of its development must take the geographic isolation into account. For instance, the animal kingdom in Australia is almost devoid of the more highly developed mammals, featuring only a few types of bats and rodents, and the dingo. All the rest are monotremes (animals which lay eggs) and marsupials (animals with pouches), such as the platypus, spiny anteater, kangaroo, and koala. These mammals are extinct throughout the rest of the world, having made way for higher mammals (bears, lions, horses etc.). This is explained by the separation of the Australian continent some 130 million years ago, making it inaccessible to the higher mammal forms that developed elsewhere.


Comparative anatomy – the study of similarities and differences in the anatomy of organisms. This comparison shows homologous structures – organs of different species which are similar to each other in their inner structure (e.g., hands and wings are similar in terms of their location on the body, the structure of their bones, and the blood supply) but very different in their outer structure or function. This reflects the adaptation by the different species to their respective environments, where the organs or limbs need to serve different functions.


Another set of findings concerns vestigial structures – degenerate, atrophied, or rudimentary organs that are functionless remnants of organs that were functional at earlier evolutionary stages. More than a hundred such organs have been found in man alone, including the appendix, body hair (too sparse in mankind to maintain body heat), and the auricular muscles (muscles around the ear which animals use to turn their ears in the direction of sounds or to flap the ears in order to cool the body, abilities that humans lack).


Paleontology – the study of fossils:


·                     Some fossils are of ancient forms of animals which no longer exist (e.g., dinosaurs).


·                     Transitional fossils – these include characteristics of two different taxonomic groups. An example is the Archaeopteryx discovered in Germany in the later 19th century. This creature combined the features of reptiles and birds: it had jaws with sharp teeth, its front limbs took the form of wings, but these ended in fingers with claws; its tail was as long as its body, it was about the size of a chicken – and could not fly.


·                     Living fossils: These are animals or plants which are extant but represent transition forms, belonging to groups of fauna or flora which are extinct. An example is the platypus, which is a mammal with fur, but it lays eggs, and has a beak and a cloaca (single opening for the intestinal, reproductive, and urinary tracts) which is characteristic of birds and reptiles. As explained above, we can understand this phenomenon by considering its habitat: higher mammals did not develop in Australia to compete with lower mammals for existence.


·                     Embryology – the study of the development of embryos shows that in the initial stages there is considerable similarity between different animals. Moreover, the embryos of advanced animals pass through the same developmental stages as those undergone by less advanced animals, even if these stages are not relevant to their development. For example, gill slits and a tail appear in human embryos in the early stages of gestation (like all vertebrates); in the fifth month, the human embryo is covered with a thick down, like a monkey. At a later stage of gestation, these structures atrophy and disappear.


·                     Biochemistry – animals can be classified not only in terms of body structure, but also in terms of chemical composition. If we consider the proteins that make up our bodies, humans differ from chimpanzees by only 2.5% (i.e., we are 97.5% chemically similar to them).


Evolution and Genetics


In addition to all of the above areas of study, modern evolutionary research owes a great debt to the Austrian Gregor Mendel, an Augustinian friar and the founder of the science of genetics. His experiments in plant hybridization carried out in the monastery garden, using thousands of different pea plants, led to the development of the laws of Mendelian inheritance – his theory on the manner in which traits are inherited by successive generations. This theory underwent significant development with the discovery of the heredity mechanisms of the cell in the 1940's, which paved the way for the Human Genome Project and a tremendous range of genetic applications in industry and medicine.


The connection between the Mendelian laws and the human genome project passes through molecular evolution, an area of study which has developed in recent years with the discovery of new proteins and genes and a method of sequencing them – i.e., determining the order of the nucleotide bases adenine, guanine, cytosine, and thymine — in a molecule of DNA. (Nucleotides are the building blocks of genes).


"Classical" evolution tries to categorize animals on the basis of external characteristics (the presence or absence of bones, bilateral symmetry, gills, etc., and their form, size, color). The basic assumption of Darwinian evolution is that the present traits of every organism are the result of natural selection which has taken place over the preceding tens of thousands of generations, and that similarity or difference in a certain trait may attest to the degree of evolutionary relatedness between two different organisms.


Molecular evolution, on the other hand, aspires to the same result – categorization – through molecular systematics: the analysis of molecular information to determine patterns of descent. Here the basic assumption is that every process in which genetic material is duplicated (which happens every time a cell undergoes division) there is a chance of random mutation. Some of these mutations are destructive, in that there is little chance that the organism carrying such mutations will survive to maturity and reproduce. Others are neutral, in which case they are perpetuated in the DNA of the carrier (which has no significant resulting advantage or disadvantage in relation to an organism carrying the original sequence).


Over the generations, different mutations accumulate in the genome. When a certain DNA sequence is compared among members of a certain group of organisms, there are usually differences – and the degree of difference depends on the identity of the members of the group (are they all humans? All hamsters? Humans and apes? All vertebrates? Seals and roses?), the DNA sequence chosen for comparison (a protein, a different type of gene, or an area which doesn't include genes at all), and many other factors.


This concludes our brief overview of the principles of evolution and its proofs.


Translated by Kaeren Fish

[1] “‘And God said: Let the land give forth, etc.’ It was taught in the name of R. Natan: Three went in for judgment, and four emerged guilty – Adam, Chava, and the snake [went in for judgment], and the earth was ruined along with them. ‘The earth is cursed’ (Bereishit 3:17) – that it will bring forth for him cursed things, such as mosquitoes and flies… And why was the earth cursed? R. Yehuda said in the name of R. Shalom: Because it violated the command. For God had said, ‘Let the earth bring forth [fruit trees, bearing fruit]’ – just as the fruit is edible, the tree should be edible. But the earth did not do so, but rather, ‘And the earth gave forth grass [and trees bearing fruit]’ – the fruit is edible, but the tree is not edible” (Bereishit Rabba [Albeck] 5:11; Rashi, Bereishit 1:11).

[2] “‘The earth is cursed because of you’… This is comparable to one who goes off to an evil path, and others curse the breasts which nursed him” (Rashi, Bereishit 3:17).

[3] See the appendix. It is worth noting that margin of error of the scientific assumption regarding the age of the world is not sufficiently large to bridge the enormous gap (a million times!) between it and the statements of the Torah and Seder Olam regarding the age of the world.

[4] “‘Everything done in its proper time’ – R. Tanchuma said: The world was created in its time. It was not appropriate to create it earlier, but rather in its proper time, as it says, “Everything done in its proper time.’ R. Avahu said: From here we learn that Ha-Kadosh Barukh Hu created worlds and destroyed them repeatedly, until He created this one. He said: These are desirable before me; those were not desirable before me” (Kohelet Rabba 3).

[5] “Our colleagues, the men of the south, saw in the ancient books and the Book of Adam that this was how the lands were divided – that they are all found below just like the heavens are above it, these on those and these on those. And between every land is a heaven, which separates between them. For this reason, all the lands are given names, such as Gan Eden and Gehennom. And they each contain different creatures, just as those in the heavens above, some with two faces and some with four and some with one, and the appearance of these is like the appearance of those. And if you say: Did not all of mankind descend from Adam? [This is not so.] For did Adam descend upon all of the earths and have children there? And how many wives did he have? Rather, Adam was only found in this world, which is loftier than the others, as it is called tevel” (Zohar, Vayikra 10, 71). The Zohar goes on to describe the creatures that lived before Adam and during his time. Rav Kook identifies the words of the Zohar as knowledge of primordial men, whose form and essence were different from that of the humanity we know – which is, according to the Zohar, the only form that is truly complete.

[6] In other words, there is no reason not to assume that the world is in fact millions of years old and that the world described in the Torah is simply one of the many cosmic eras, between which destructions took place. (Indeed, today, scientists often speak of the Ice Age or periods of terrible heat, which brought about the destruction of biological ecosystems and primitive civilizations.)

[7] “One must not teach about immorality before three students, and not about the story of Creation before two students, and not about the Divine Chariot before one student, unless he is wise and understands from his own intellect. Anyone who looks at four things, it is better if he had not been born: What is above, what is below, what is before, and what is after. And one who does not guard the honor of his Maker, it would be better had he not been born” (Chagiga 2:1).

[8] R. Tzvi Yehuda Kook notes here the Rambam’s words in his introduction to Guide of the Perplexed and those of the Ramban in his commentary to Bereishit 1:1. In addition, it is worth comparing Guide of the Perplexed 2:30 and the words of the midrash: “‘In the beginning, God created, etc’ – to recount the power of Creation to the creation is impossible, and the Torah concealed it” (Otzar Ha-Midrashim [Eisenstein], p. 559.

[9] “Another explanation: ‘To set a weight for the spirit’ – R. Acha said: Even the Divine Inspiration that rests on the prophets is ‘weighed’; some prophecy one book and some two” (Vayikra Rabba [Vilna] 15).

[10] See Pesachim 50a. Rashi explains the word “kafuy” (in “ve-kifa’on”) as “a light material, which floats on top of the water,” and by extension, something that is anticipated or understood. Accordingly, the midrash means that matters that are now hidden and concealed will be revealed in the future. This is also the conclusion of a similar midrash: “‘And take to yourself a red heifer’ – R. Yosi the son of R. Chanina said: Ha-Kadosh Barukh Hu said to Moshe: I will reveal the secret of the heifer to you, but for others, it is a chok. For R. Hanu said: The verse states (Tehillim 75), ‘In that time, I will judge uprightly,’ and (Zekharia 14), ‘It will be on that day that there will be no light of yikarut ve-kifa’on’ – the word is written yikfa’on [will be revealed]. Matters that are concealed from you in this world will in the future be revealed in the next, like a blind person who can see, as the verse states (Yeshayahu 42), ‘I will walk the blind on a path that they did not know’ (Bamidbar Rabba [Vilna] 19, cited by R. Tzvi Yehuda Kook).

[11] Yeshayahu 54:10.

[12] The concept of intermediary causes is developed by R. Yehuda Ha-Levi in the Kuzari (part five).

[13] The Classical Astronomers maintained that the earth is stationary and that the entire universe, including the sun, revolves around it. Behind this conceptualization lay the assumption that were the earth to move, we would fall.

[14] Yeshayahu 11:9.

[15] Ibid. 42:16.

[16] The end of the midrash cited in note 10 states that some of the secrets were already revealed to R. Akiva and his colleagues, and will not only be revealed in the future. In other words, the secrets are progressively revealed over the course of generations, and we therefore need not be concerned with their revelation.