Tuesday, December 20, 2005


R. Shlomo Miller, in a recent letter (here -- PDF), quotes the Vilna Gaon's view that darkness is not merely the absence of light but a creation in itself (Aderes Eliyahu, Gen. 1:4 sv. va-yavdel). This, R. Miller suggests, might solve the problems of Quantum Theory and Non-local Reality, that is demonstrated based on Bell's Theorem.

Let me be clear: I have no idea what that means. However, I wonder whether 1) he is assuming that this is an oral tradition received from Sinai or 2) just that the Vilna Gaon was so smart that he figured it out himself. Or, perhaps, 3) the Vilna Gaon didn't realize the significance of his explanation and its scientific applications. The reason I ask these question will become clear shortly.

The Ramban disagrees with the Vilna Gaon. On Gen. 1:4 (sv. va-yavdel), the Ramban writes:

And God divided the light from the darkness: This is not "the darkness" mentioned in the first verse which, as explained above, refers to the element of fire. Rather, the "darkness" mentioned here means the absence of light, since God gave a length of time to the light and decreed that it be absent afterwards until it returns.
Regarding the plague of darkness, the Ramban (Ex. 10:23) writes that the darkness of that specific case was different from regular darkness. Regular darkness is merely the absence of light. The plague of darkness, however, was a unique creation of darkness.

So, going back to R. Miller's letter, did this oral tradition that represents modern science pass the Ramban by unnoticed, and unmentioned until the Vilna Gaon in the eighteenth century? I find that hard to believe. No one bothered to point out that the Ramban was disagreeing with a tradition that traces back to Sinai?!? Was the Vilna Gaon so smart that he solved the problems of Quantum Theory (but kept the theory itself a secret, only to be discovered over a century after his death)? Could be, but I find it implausible. Or is it just that R. Miller finds the Vilna Gaon's explanation to be significant in that it elucidates modern science? That sounds most likely. If I can rephrase what I believe R. Miller's point to be: The Vilna Gaon's explanation works better with modern science than the Ramban's. But doesn't that amount to rejecting a rishon for an aharon because of science? I would find that quite surprising.

Am I missing something? This is not an attempt to argue on R. Miller but to understand his intent.

UPDATE: I had lunch with a talmid hakham who pointed out to me that the Vilna Gaon's view was that of Kalaam, that R. Sa'adia Gaon attempts to disprove in Emunos Ve-Dei'os 1:3 (p. 56 in the Kafah translation). Someone e-mailed me that the Rambam also holds the Ramban's and R. Sa'adia Gaon's view in Moreh Nevukhim 3:10, as does the Ran in Derashos Ha-Ran 3 (p. 40 in the Feldman edition).

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