December 22, 2010 6:33 pm at 6:33 pm #593648
I saw a question posted on a blog about this week’s Parsha. To tell the truth, it’s a question that I had for years. But now that I think about it, I realize that it has broader, practical applications.
In this week’s Parsha, we have the episode of Moshe killing the Egyptian. The verse says “Vayifen Koh Va’choh, Vayar Ki Ain Ish…” He looked this way and that and saw there was no one and killed him. The simple p’shat is that Moshe wanted to ascertain that there were no witnesses to the killing.
Rashi mentions on “Ki Ain Ish” that he saw that no descendant of his would convert. The implication is that if there were a future convert, he would not have killed the Egyptian.
The question asked on the blog is simply this: Of course there was no future descendant of his who would convert — he was going to die this very day! How could he possibly have a descendant who converts?
The simple answer is that Moshe determined that *were he to allow the man to live* he would have no descendants who convert. In other words, at that moment, the man’s future was not yet fixed. The timeline, as we science-fiction geeks would say, is not fixed.
OK, so far so good.
But then I began thinking about the concept of a “tefillah al ha-avar” — praying for that which already happened. The classic case of this mentioned in the Gemara is a man who hears cries in the city and prays that they did not come from his house. His prayer is considered a “tefillas shav” — a meaningless prayer — since the event has already happened. In other words, God does not (and, apparently will not) change the past. That portion of the timeline is fixed or, as we geeks would say “what happened, happened.”
But here’s the clincher — God is not a linear Being as we are. We live in a specific point in history — right now. We move forward in time (whether we like to or not), but we nonetheless live only in one moment. God, however, is not bound by linear time. He lives in all moments “simultaneously*.” He experiences all points in time (just as he is in all points in space) at the same “time.” To Him, “past” and “future” are meaningless as they only have meaning relative to your place on the timeline. (Could you use the term “west of God?”).
We saw above that God is willing to have the timeline changed if necessary. He allowed Moshe to kill the Egyptian even though he otherwise would have had future descendants who will now not be born. But that being the case, why will He not change the timeline to prevent something that happened (relative to our position on the timeline)? Why can’t the man pray that if the cry came from his house that God should change the immediate past to not have it come from his house?
In short, if we see from this week’s Parsha that God is willing to allow the timeline to be changed, why not allow someone to daven that the past be changed?
* I put the word in quotes because it implies time — but I lack a better word to use.December 22, 2010 6:49 pm at 6:49 pm #1111167
i dont see the kasha
of course Hashem can change the past or future. as far as His “Willingness” to change one but not the other…*We* do not live in all time at once. to *Us* the past has already occured and obviously from our perspective, cant be changed. the future, if there is such a thing, has not yet occurred and anything can happen, from our perspective it is not fixed, we have Bechira.
it makes sense to us to daven that someone should have a refuah. would it ever even enter our minds to daven that a certain person should never have become ill 2 weeks ago?December 22, 2010 6:53 pm at 6:53 pm #1111168
Wolf: The question (seemingly) is a fallacy.
Unless it is Shrodeger’s cat, the timeline already has or has not changed.
As such, it is still a Tefilas Shav.December 22, 2010 6:56 pm at 6:56 pm #1111169
i believe wolf is, quite properly, asking the question according to actual reality, which is Hashem, not according to “physics” or “metaphysics”December 22, 2010 6:57 pm at 6:57 pm #1111170
If you posit that HKBH is the Creator of time and does not live in linear time as we do, then you have to accept that the future already exists. Since He exists at all points in the timeline, the future portions of those timelines must already exist.
obviously from our perspective, cant be changed.
Why? If we can conceive of the idea through countless science fiction stories, it should certainly be within the capabilities of HKBH to do.
would it ever even enter our minds to daven that a certain person should never have become ill 2 weeks ago?
Why not? You’ve never had a moment where you said “I wish I hadn’t done that?” or “I wish that hadn’t happened?”
The WolfDecember 22, 2010 7:00 pm at 7:00 pm #1111171
If that is the case, what stops Hashem from not giving us the Torah, or not making his Shevuah to the Avos?
At some point, you have to deal with the reality that you see.December 22, 2010 7:04 pm at 7:04 pm #1111172
exactly Gavra, Hashem deals with us according to the reality that he has given us. Thats why the question is not a question. But wolf was asking specifically according to Hashems reality so to speak, and according to his question physics is not a limitinf factor.
i think were going to get nowhere here fast, we might already be thereDecember 22, 2010 7:29 pm at 7:29 pm #1111174Avram in MDParticipant
I love questions like this, I guess because I read lots of science fiction when I was younger. I think one possible answer may well be in your questions themselves: “I wish I had not done that” and “I wish that hadn’t happened”.
If Hashem would change the past in response to our tefillos, then we would be provided an avenue to place responsibility for our actions outside of ourselves. I can imagine it totally destroying the foundations of teshuva. For example, I can imagine the following sequence:
1.) Person does an aveirah, realizes and regrets.
2.) Person sincerely asks for forgiveness, but davens that the sin never happened (erase it).
3.) Sin still exists in the past (e.g., in the person’s memory or through the consequences of his action).
4.) Person interprets this as a rejection of his tefilla.
5.) Person projects some responsibility for the situation to Hashem, after all, if the sin were really so bad in Hashem’s eyes, He would erase it.
Basically the person would become so past-oriented, obsessing over the erasure of the past sin, that he would lose focus on the present and future.
Here’s a question I had when I read your post:
If Hashem did change the past, how would we know?
From our perspective, we exist only in the present. We cannot affect the past (but the past exists in our context as memory/recordings/history and effects on the present), and the future does not yet “exist” for us. If Hashem changed the past in response to our tefillos and we were aware of this (somehow retaining awareness of the now non-existent timeline), then we would be able to affect the past in a way. For whatever reason we aren’t supposed to have this ability… or know about it, at least.
Personally when I read about true teshuva and how G-d enacts a miracle and erases our sin (as if it never happened), it makes me think. Is our perception of the past Hashem’s reality?December 22, 2010 7:31 pm at 7:31 pm #1111175
To quote a well-known philosopher:
Anything that happens, happens.
Anything that, in happening, cause something else to happen, causes something else to happen.
Anything that, in happening, causes itself to happen again, happens again.
It doesn’t necessarily do it in chronological order though.December 22, 2010 7:46 pm at 7:46 pm #1111176
i changed my mind
i think its a good kasha
and i believe i have the answer
you know the Gemorrah re a granary of produce. you can ask for the amount to be larger than it actually is (changing the past) but NOT if you already measured it and know how much is there.
so Hashem DOES change the past in certain circumstances but CHOOSES not to do so in other circumstances, apparently when it involves rewriting our daas.December 22, 2010 7:50 pm at 7:50 pm #1111177
Well, that’s the uncertainty principle, exactly. You can know where it is, but now how much. Or vice versa.December 22, 2010 7:53 pm at 7:53 pm #1111178
so Hashem DOES change the past in certain circumstances but CHOOSES not to do so in other circumstances, apparently when it involves rewriting our daas.
Hence Shrodeger’s cat.December 22, 2010 8:14 pm at 8:14 pm #1111179
I’m afraid you are getting carried away.
Hashem knows that you will Daven and He knows what will actually happen. This has absolutely nothing to do with Moshe Rabbeinu looking into the fellow’s future generations. Do you think he saw people munching on pizza? He looked with Ruach Hakodesh into the person’s future.
A person, like a tree, has fruits. With Ruach Hakodesh, Moshe was able to look deeply into this man’s soul to see if he had any true spark within him; if any child from him down through the ages will ever convert.December 22, 2010 8:23 pm at 8:23 pm #1111181
By the way, even if there would be a point to the question, keep in mind that we also are not supposed to ask for a Ness, although a Navi or someone with the stature of Rebbi Chanina ben Dosa, can ask for or expect one. So, you have some explanation here just in case you don’t understand what I wrote earlier.December 22, 2010 9:06 pm at 9:06 pm #1111182
you know the Gemorrah re a granary of produce
Either I don’t know it or I’m just not recognizing it from your reference. Please elaborate.
The WolfDecember 22, 2010 9:09 pm at 9:09 pm #1111183
Here’s a question I had when I read your post:
If Hashem did change the past, how would we know?
We wouldn’t. And hence your issue of
If Hashem changed the past in response to our tefillos and we were aware of this (somehow retaining awareness of the now non-existent timeline), then we would be able to affect the past in a way. For whatever reason we aren’t supposed to have this ability… or know about it, at least.
is not an issue.
The WolfDecember 22, 2010 9:11 pm at 9:11 pm #1111184
Well, that’s the uncertainty principle, exactly. You can know where it is, but now how much. Or vice versa.
Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle has to do with the location and motion of subatomic particles. I don’t think it has anything to do with the subject at hand.
The WolfDecember 22, 2010 9:22 pm at 9:22 pm #1111185tobgMember
I agree with Mod-80 but i want to add to it.
The difference between Gemaras where “a man who hears cries” and “granary of produce” is that in the first case other people heard that cry also. And some of those people may even have been close enough to determine that those cries were coming from that mans house so we say what happened, happened. But in the case of granary he can still pray until he or anyone else for that matter looks inside since Hashems plan has not been revealed yet.December 22, 2010 11:33 pm at 11:33 pm #1111186
No, no. The uncertainty principle can clearly be extrapolated to grain in a granary.
Phrased otherly, it means: if you don’t see it, it isn’t true — and even if you did, it might not be.December 23, 2010 1:48 am at 1:48 am #1111187
Mod80, That’s quite some leap from finding more to changing the past.
A side point: Just because science fiction discusses something, that doesn’t make it a true concept. If I where to make a novel about a place where “up” was switched with “left”, that wouldn’t validate the concept as a real one.
But anyhow, it seems that you would rather perpetuate the thread than consider it answered.December 23, 2010 5:17 am at 5:17 am #1111189answermanParticipant
your question has nothing to with Hashem changing the past or the future but rather it has to do with the machlokes rishonim if a person can kill another person that is not predestined to die or since he killed him that was predestined the ohr hachaim in vayeishev says that people can kill someone who is not predestined to die but animals cannot therefore reuvain wanted to save yosef from the brothers but did not care about the snakes and scorpions in the pit here as well moshe was killing a mitzri that was not predestined to die so if he would had future descendants convert he would have let him live since people have bechira they can change someone elses destiny but without this it would be predestined so therefore if Hashem doesnt have to he keeps it predestined unless He decides otherwiseDecember 23, 2010 2:22 pm at 2:22 pm #1111190
answerman, that applies to every murder. Wolf’s question, however, is about the fact that Moshe Rabbeinu saw future generations of that Mitzsh, who he killed, and so what was he seeing. Wolf went on to assume that Moshe Rabbeinu manipulated the future, hence the rest of the thread.
This was all because of the mistake of confusing Moshe’s looking into the person’s generations with Hashem’s knowledge of what will actually happen.November 9, 2015 9:20 pm at 9:20 pm #1111191👑RebYidd23Participant
If we have free will, there is always what would have happened. Because otherwise, if there was no alternative to the sequence of events as it happens, our actions would have no consequences and therefore we would not be responsible for ourselves. Everything a person does manipulates the timeline, whether we know what would have been or not.
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