Here is the first part of a translation of parts of B'Toraso Shel R' Gedaliah that I did some years ago:
Rav Nadel on Bereishis
The parashiyos of Bereishis and Noach, according to the shiurim of the Gaon Rav Gedalyah Nadel shlita
Transcribed by Professor Yitzchak Shilat, internally, for the participants of the shiur.
The Torah is not a book of history, science or philosophy. The Torah is a book with goals of mussar. From everything in the Torah, one can learn mussar haskel. Together with this, when we find narratives of events in the Torah, we must understand that the Torah is speaking truth. A true story, about events that happened and about people that existed, makes a far greater impression upon a person than legendary accounts about things that never existed and were never created; for example, the accounts of the forefathers, gedolim and tzaddikim, act as a sign for their descendants, and their mussar influence is powerful, when they are known as true accounts. The better we know the heroes of the stories and the circumstances, the ethical message is all the more powerful. Furthermore, even if it could be a fictional account by way of “he never existed and was never created but was a parable” (which according to one opinion was the nature of Iyov) – this is when the matter never occurred, and the intent was to transfer a specific ethical/ philosophical concept by way of allegory. But the events of Genesis did exist in some sense, and there is no reason to say that the Torah diverted from the truth, and told us false accounts, in order to teach us ethical/ philosophical concepts. It is certain that there is what to learn from the events of the acts of God as they were. And furthermore, even the awareness of the truth in and of itself is an ethical value.
However, in the course of the Torah’s account one should distinguish between matters that are as their simple meaning, and matters that are not as their simple meaning. The Torah and the books of the Prophets are full of allegories, as Rambam taught us in his introduction to The Guide For The Perplexed. One should especially pay attention to this with the matters of the acts of Genesis, which are deep and cryptic matters. Not only in Scripture, but also in the Aggadic words of Chazal there are many things that are by way of allegory and parable. In truth, in every statement, words cannot say everything. This is impossible; one always requires some assumptions concerning the context. Words that in and of themselves can be understood in many ways, and even to one thing and its exact opposite, for example according to the intonation of the word, for that statement itself can be said calmly and it can be said in astonishment, and it will of course mean the opposite. But nevertheless, there is an understanding that we refer to as matters according to their plain meaning, and there is an understanding that matters are by way of allegory and parable, and there are also many ways in which this can be so. Sometimes, the allegory is an account where the events of it are not the primary concern, and sometimes the related events did indeed exist as stated, but they come to reach about matters that are beyond their simple meaning. Sometimes the account is with words that are not as their literal meaning, but by expanded or borrowed meaning.
Distinguishing between matters that are as their simple meaning and matters that are by way of parable and allegory – this is the primary goal for which Rambam compiled The Guide For The Perplexed. In the introduction to the work, Rambam states that the matters that he busies himself with in the book are “the wisdom of the Torah in its truth.” (In the yeshivos they engage in pilpul on every halachah in the Rambam, but regarding the matters concerning which Rambam states that they are the wisdom of the Torah in its truth – which are included in the books of Mada and The Guide For The Perplexed- they do not seriously relate to them at all. This is chutzpah with regard to the Rambam.) The Rambam states that the work was not compiled for those who busy themselves with Talmud alone, but rather for those enquirers who have also learned the wisdoms of knowing reality, and they know to distinguish between that which must be so, that which is impossible and that which is possible. These people find in the Torah things that if they are understood according to their simple meaning – they are impossible according to rational thought, and they are therefore in great confusion, for on the one hand they are convinced in the truth of that which is clear by way of the intellect, and on the other hand they are convinced of the truth of the Torah, both due to tradition and reception, and due to recognizing the deep wisdom that is embodied in Torah in many places that are known to them – and which of them must they abandon? Should they throw rational thought in the garbage? This cannot be a satisfactory solution. Should they say that that which is written in the Torah is not true? This can also not be accepted, for the wisdom of the Torah and its truth cannot be given to division. These are the perplexed for whom the work is aimed. The Rambam describes their confusion in a very real and emotional way, with heartache. Although he writes prose and not verse, his words are read with arousal.
One should realize that with the knowledge of that which must be so, that which is impossible and that which is possible, one could fall into error. Human knowledge is developing, and there are things that were once considered true, and were later overturned… In general, no person has definitive knowledge regarding anything in the physical world… Even regarding certain things that Rambam thought to be correct from a scientific perspective, these are known today as mistaken, and he would certainly admit this to us… That which convinces the intellect, according to the knowledge and givens of a person in his respective situation, force a person.
The solution that Rambam gives to the aforementioned perplexed person is that there are things in the Torah that are not as their simple meaning, but rather need to be understood by way of allegory and parable. The problem is that these matters are not always easily understood. There are those things in which the allegory is obvious, and are begging to be understood in this way, and there are those matters that are in doubt. The decision in this matter is a rational one: Is the matter that is causing us to think that it is allegorical necessarily the case? If so – we will explain the verses as allegory, and if not, we have no cause to remove them from their literal simple meaning. We never have to choose between relying on the intellect and relying on the Torah….
The perplexity that Rambam presents in such a beautiful and emotional way is due to the difference between the verses which according to their literal meaning give physical form to the Creator and the philosophical knowledge that the Creator has no physical body. Nowadays, we have already forgotten this. Distancing ourselves from attributing physical form, which in those days was not so clear to everyone (see the words of the Ra’avad), does not pose a problem today. We have different problems, and these are the contradictions between the simple meaning of Scripture and scientific knowledge…
And again: the Torah does not teach us an organized professional discipline. If you want to learn a professional discipline – don’t expect that the Torah will teach it to you, go and learn it in a place where they teach professional disciplines. The Torah does not teach how to be a shoemaker. It teaches how to act… If the Torah teaches us about the creation of the world in ten utterances – this is as the Tanna said in Avos: “With ten utterances the world was created. What does this come to teach us – surely it could have been created with one utterance? Rather, it was to exact punishment from the wicked who destroy the world that was created with ten utterances, and to bestow goodly reward upon the righteous who sustain the world that was created with ten utterances.” That is to say: see what a beautiful and sophisticated world was created and prepared for you; you, man, the conclusion of the acts of Genesis, and take care that you do not destroy it. “Take care that you do not damage and destroy my world” (Koheles Rabbah 7). How do we destroy the world or establish it – the Torah proceeds to tell us. This is the entire Torah. From the ethical perspective – the Torah, including the acts of Genesis, are relevant to every person, and can be studied by every person. The truths of the acts of Genesis are relevant only to scholars who are suited to studying them, and are in the category of “God’s secret is for those who are in awe of Him.”
Part II to come soon...