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TORAH & SCIENCE-----matter and 4 elements


Yitzchack Posted - 28 June 2002 17:49

I think it was the Rambam who said that everything is made of fire, earth, wind, water.

How can everything be made out of water if scientists know what water is made of?

MODERATOR Posted - 28 June 2002 18:51

Scientists have no idea what anything is made of.

Water is H2O molecules. That is made of hydrogen and oxygen, which is made of energy particles (electrons, protons, neutrons).

So water is energy? And so is dirt, and rocks, and your brain- it’s all the same thing?

And those particles - what are they made of?

Sub atomic particles? What?

The scientists only can see to a certain depth. Beyond that, they still haven’t a clue. They’re still trying to figure out what the world is "really" made of.

What makes all these energy particles (that’s all the universe is made of) become different things when combined different ways? And what decides how they combine?

When the Rambam says everything is made of fire water etc. He is using Torah sources that knows exactly what makes fire fire and air air, etc. If the scientists would go deeper, deeper, into what makes things what they are, they will see that the most basic components of every thing in the universe are those which are the basic components of fire water etc.

The scientists still don’t know what sustains the universe. The physicists are always busy with this. The Rambam doesn’t mean everything is flames and water. "Fair", "water" etc in that context are referring to the most basic particles (or waves, or spirit or whatever is the most basic part) of those things, that makes them them.

The Torah tells us that those basic components - which the scientists still haven’t come close to forming an opinion about what they are - are the building blocks of the universe.

Yitzchack Posted - 30 July 2002 18:13

What I meant was if water is made of hydrogen and oxygen that means that hydrogen and oxygen are more basic then water but what ere they made of?

BaronPhilip Posted - 18 August 2002 22:54

Moderator: You say that the Torah tells us that everything in the universe is ultimately made up, in some sense, of fire, air, earth, and water, since many rishonim (and other Torah sources) tell us that and find support for it in pesukim in Tanach and in Chazal.

But weren't those rishonim, like the Rambam, merely quoting Aristotle, and trusting Aristotelian physics for their scientific knowledge of the world? Weren't they simply trusting (or building on) the gentile traditions of science when they discussed these things in their seforim?

Are you really saying that if the Rambam had had access to all the results of our modern scientific experimentation and theory, all the knowledge that chemists and physicists have in universities today, that he would still insist that the Torah teaches that all matter is composed of some types of fire, air, earth, and water? Is that really your position?

Abcyr Posted - 18 August 2002 22:54

Where does the Torah say that the basic elements are fire water air and dirt?
Why does the Torah need to tell us that these are the four elements if we could find it out on our own -- does the Torah need to tell us that 2+2=4?

MODERATOR Posted - 18 August 2002 23:08

It’s not just Rishonim. The source for the "four elements" is the Zohar (Medrash Hane'elam Bereishis 2).

There they are listed as water, fire, air and darkness. It is derived from the Torahs description of the four elements that existed upon creation: Tohu, Vohu, Choshesh, Ruach.

This is not a scientific statement, but Kabbalistic, and, as I said before, it is referring to deepest, most basic, sub-particular structure of matter.

It does not mean that molecules, or even atoms, are made of fire and water etc. Maybe that’s what Aristotle meant, but that’s not what the Zohar - or the Rishonim - are talking about.

The scientists, as I mentioned, can only reduce matter to a certain degree - sub-atomic particles, or whatever.

If you go deeper and deeper, you will find that all matter in this world - indeed, all space - is merely an expression of the Ratzon Hashem.

Kind of like the world exists in Hashem's "mind" kavyochol. In any case, His Will is what forms the world.

There is a long chain of progression with respect to the "form" of this Ratzon Hashem - where it goes from G-d's thought to a rock. Molecules, atoms, atomic particles, sb atomic particles, energy ... all the way down to the simple Thoughts of G-d.

If the scientists were able to follow this chain all the way to the most raw material that was formed by the Thoughts of G-d that begin the chain, they would find Tohu, Vohu, Ruach, and Choshech. That means, in English, fire, water, air and darkness.

Now of course, there are many types of fire, and even many types of darkness (the darkness in Egypt, for instance, was palpable).

What kind of fire darkness or air we are talking about is another issue, and let the Kabbalists deal with it.

All we need to know is that the most basic most raw form of reality is the 4 elements.

nree613 Posted - 03 September 2002 21:36

I always learned that Fire is heat Water is liquid
Earth is matter (solids)
Air is gas

BaronPhilip Posted - 10 September 2002 21:24

And is it your contention, Moderator, that that kabbalistic doctrine is what the Rambam was referring to when he said that all matter was made of these four elements?

(Since this topic was started by someone who was asking about the Rambam's opinion on this, I want to know if you are directing your answer to this.)

Isn't it possible that all the Rambam had in mind was simply the scientific theory that was current in his time, the one that Aristotle held, and the one that was familiar to and accepted by all the philosophers (including the Jewish ones) of the Rambam's time?

I can see that one can argue (as you just did) that the Zohar's "four elements" are more mystical and fundamental than the "four elements" of Aristotle. But the Rambam and the other rishonim who use the "four elements" scheme always apply all of the rules and laws of physics that Aristotle said apply to the four elements (e.g. the explanations they give for phenomena like gravity, rain, sunshine, etc. . .). This applies especially to the philosophically oriented rishonim like Ibn Ezra, Rambam, Ralbag, Ran, R. Chasdai Kreskas, R. Yosef Albo, etc. So, although one can still "farenfer" the Zohar and the sifrei mekubbalim (by saying what the Moderator said, i.e. that the "four elements" are a system of Hashem's thought that is beneath and ultimately fundamental to all the modern sub-atomic particles scientists have discovered), it's still as clear as the sun in the sky that the "four elements" scheme as used by the rishonim (like Ralbag, for instance, who was one of the leading astronomers and scientists of his day) is utterly irreconcilable with and in total contradiction to the laws of nature as known today and acknowledged by everyone.

I was just reading, for instance, the first drasha in the Drashos Ha-Ran. Over and over again, he uses the "four elements" scheme to explain laws of chemistry and physics we all see every day. The scheme he's using was simply the very same system that all of the intellectuals of his day were using, whether they be Jewish, or, lehavdil, Christian or Muslim. And this system, whatever its drushy appeal, is simply wrong, as has been shown to everyone beyond a shadow of a doubt by science in the last two centuries. There is no one alive today, not in Harvard or in Ponevezh, who still clings to Aristotelian physics, even though it was "cutting edge" science for almost three thousand years.

I know that many ehrliche bnei Torah have a problem believing that a rishon (or any gadol for that matter) could have believed in--and built up ideas on--a system that is completely wrong. But why should this be a problem? Isn't it enough that Chazal and our later sages were super-experts in fulfilling the retzon Hashem? Do they also have to be super-scientists? And besides, as the Moderator has pointed out all over this site, believing in Daas Torah doesn't mean that you have to believe that Gadol beTorah can't make a mistake. Wouldn't that especially apply to chemistry and physics, areas that Chazal did not always have a mesorah on?

Doesn't the gemara itself (towards the end of Pesachim) mention that regarding a certain astronomical matter the Chachmei Umos HaOlam were right and Chazal were wrong?

MODERATOR Posted - 10 September 2002 22:53

It is for sure possible that Rishonim based statements on factual evidence that later is disproved.

Even the GRA says about the Rambam that his pursuit of secular knowledge caused him to err.

But there’s another factor here as well. The Rambam was a rishon, and as such wrote b'ruach hakodesh. That doesn’t mean everything has to be factual, but it does mean that if there is a way to understand the Rambam's statements in an accurate fashion, it is correct procedure to do so.

We all know that the Rambam did not use Kabbalah in his writings (although the Migdal Oz quotes a letter from the Rambam written in his later years that says he discovered Kabbalah and he regrets many things that he said previously about it), and he was also never saw the Zohar. He based his writings on philosophy, not Kabbalah.

Nevertheless, there is a school of Kabbalists - the Yismach Moshe and his line - that use the Rambam's writings to explain Kabbalistic concepts, and vice versa. (A computer search for Moreh Nevuchim quoted in Chasidishe seforim will show it very rarely -usually not quoted at all, a couple of times in Kedushas Levi, but all over the Yismach Moshe.)

The Satmar Rebbe ZTL, a descendant of the Yismach Moshe writes that even though the Rambam did not have Kabblaah, because he was on such a high level to know the truth, because of his greatness, he came to truths on his own that are Kabalistic concepts; and that the Rambam - get this - did not contradict the Kabbalah at all.

(As far as the sheidim issue, that’s not a Kabbalah problem - the sheidim are all over shas. But Rabbeinu Avrohom, his son, quoted by Rav Yonason Shteif ZTL at the beginning of Brachos - says that the Rambam really did believe in sheidim and those statements were inserted by others.)

So while it is theoretically possible for any Rishon to base his statements on a metzius that is later shown to not be the case, the words of the rishonim can be interpreted on all levels of PaRdES (pshat, remez, drush, and sod), and it is fine to interpret their words in a way that fits in with reality.

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