This Shabbos our community had the pleasure of hosting Rav Nosson Sliffkin who spoke to our congregation about a variety of topics such as animals in Judaism, mythical monsters mentioned in our rabbinic literature and the nature of dinosaurs and the true age of the Earth. Other than one close-minded individual who walked out, all were well entertained by his dynamic approach and depth of knowledge. It's sometimes hard to remember that before the difficulties with his book, The Challenge of Creation, he was on a fast strack to being a very big personality in the Torah world due to his genius.
Having said that, there were some things that he spoke about that troubled me. On one hand, I have no problem accepting that the world we live in is far older than 5768 years old. I've stated as much in previous posts. My position has been that the Torah is true and that if science seems to contradict a literal understanding of Torah, then we don't understand the text properly and have to look at it with an open mind and new light in order to realize what God is trying to tell us.
Having said that, there are limits to this concept. It's one thing to say that the six days of Creation were actually six eras that lasted billions of years. It's another to say that the whole thing is an allegory whose only purpose is to teach us a lesson. If that were so, then why six days? Why such detail spread out like it was? Yes, the Torah is not a history or science textbook and reading it with such intent is a fast track to disappointment but on the other hand, its details are there to mean something in addition to the lessons it provides.
The difficulty with establishing a specific train of thought is that finding the train station to get off at can often be difficult. Having decided that the entire story of Creation is nought but an allegory, it's not a stretch of logic to declare that pretty much the rest of the book of Bereshis is similarly only a story meant to give us lessons but not reflective of any real history. Again, declaring that our forefathers never existed is a bit of a stretch and a huge kick at the fundamental basis of our faith. Finally, if Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov are not real personalities, what's to stop one from deciding the same thing about Moshe Rabeinu? Why must one believe that Matan Torah at Har Sinai ever happened? And now one reaches the stage where the most important basis of our faith is challenged.
It is this regard that I humbly think Rav Sliffkin has possibly gone too far in his reasoning. I can understand why. Geniuses often become enamored with their logic and carry it past reasonable points. Given his bitter experience over the last few years, is it possible his lack of anchor within the traditional community has contributed to this?
It is important to understand that, in all things, there is a balance. One cannot interpret the story of Creation literally without ignoring science and much of the real world. To dismiss the whole thing as an allegorical lesson is similarly extreme. Somewhere in the middle the Torah is telling us how the world was born and not just why, although both reasons are imporant.
May we merit to keep to the golden mean and see both sides with equal validity so that we may reach the truth of Torah and God's will.