parallel worlds

parshat terumah

Many religious world-views include a belief in other worlds.  As stated in other posts, the Hebrew Bible is refreshingly slim in its descriptions or dependence on worlds to-come, worlds below, pre-existing worlds and parallel worlds.  To my mind, this is significant and requires diligence on the part of the reader to make sure that hellish “twilight zones” and utopian “better places” are not surreptitiously introduced by commentators, teachers or preachers.

Which brings us to Parshat Terumah and Exodus 25:9 regarding the construction of the Tabernacle….

“According to all that I am going to show you, as the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furniture, just so you shall construct it.”

כְּכֹל, אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי מַרְאֶה אוֹתְךָ, אֵת תַּבְנִית הַמִּשְׁכָּן

וְאֵת תַּבְנִית כָּל-כֵּלָיו; וְכֵן, תַּעֲשׂוּ.

A simple reading would take this verse to mean that although God was going to verbally describe the details of the construction of the Tabernacle, He was, like any good architect, also going to provide a hard-copy pattern or blueprint. But the Rabbis… showing their Neo-Platonist colors.. took this pattern as a reference to God showing Moses the Ideal form of a transcendent Tabernacle. As Harry Austryn Wolfson writes in his seminal work on the Jewish philosopher Philo:

“According to this Jewish tradition there had been in existence an ideal tabernacle or, as it is usually called, sanctuary, prior to the building of the visible tabernacle in the wilderness; and it was that ideal tabernacle which God showed to Moses as a pattern for the visible tabernacle.” [i]

Wolfson suggests that “For the Hellenistic Jews it was quite natural to blend such beliefs in the preëxistence of things with the Platonic theory of Ideas.”

The Tabernacle and it’s vessels were not the only things that the Rabbis, under the influence of neoplatonism, suggested existed or preëxisted in other worlds.  According to this line of thought, the Torah itself preëxisted before the world (and before its revelation at Sinai).[ii]  Similarly, the absurd belief that the Patriarchs observed the Torah was introduced.  The ahistorical notion that  laws such as not eating leavened bread during Passover could exist before the Exodus had even occurred is a heresy.  [iii]

It is important to point out the introduction of these eternal worlds and preëxistent  truths because they dilute that which is so radically revolutionary about Judaism… Creation and the Giving of the Law.[iv]

Creation… especially creation from nothing (ex nihlo – Yeysh meAyin) means that there is NOTHING inevitable about our world. Our world and our lives truly do and did not have to be. Our world is radically contingent… Creation (Briot haOlam) means that the world as we know it is unthinkably different from the philosopher’s notion of the Divine.

The Philosopher’s God is eternal and perfect; our world is material, finite, imperfect, made up of disconnected moments and in flux.  All creatures, including man, are similarly radically contingent.. Man is ultimately made of dirt and is given a name; Adam, to prove it.

The same is true of the radical nature of Matan Torah.. the giving of the Torah. It is radically contingent on the shared history of God and a particular people who began a journey at a particular moment in time. The Passover holiday is radically contingent on the shared experience of the Exodus and to imagine it celebrated centuries before the exodus shows a lack of wonder at the radically contingent world and Torah we have been given. A belief in an immutable and eternal world and timeless Torah is an implicit rejection of the possibility of God’s presence in history, the covenantal interaction, the evolution of our law and beliefs and ultimately, a rejection of the responsibility that radical contingency places on us.

John, in the Fourth Gospel consummates the marriage between Biblical Creation and the Eternal worlds and forms of Neo-Platonism and Greek Hellenism.  “In the beginning was the Idea”. [v]  Christianity rejected the radical contingency of the giving of the Hebrew Torah and the covenant, but ‘ק can expect more from our Rabbis and scholars and we need demand more of ourselves as we celebrate a Hebrew Bible that includes only One World…. A world that we, it’s accidental inhabitants need to accept full responsibility for.

new jerusalem


[i] Wolfson continues: “This tradition is expressed in two ways, Sometimes it is said that the ideal sanctuary was created by God prior to the creation of the world (Babylonian Talmud Pesachim 54a Nedarim 39b  Tanhuma Numbers, Naso 19 ) … This ideal sanctuary is referred to as the “celestial sanctuary” (Genesis Rabbah 55:7 bet Ha-mikdash le-ma’alah..). Besides the sanctuary, there were also ideal models of all its vessels, and these, too, were shown to Moses when he was in heaven. This belief in the preëxistence of the tabernacle and its vessels is part of a more general belief in the preëxistence of certain objects or actions which were subsequently to play a part in scriptural history. … The preëxistence of some of these occurs also in the apocalyptic literature. Two of these preëxistent ten are also mentioned by Hellenistic Jewish writers. First, the preëxistence of the Law is affirmed by them in their identification of it with wisdom which in Scripture is said to have existed prior to the creation of the world. Second, the preëxistence of the tabernacle is stated in the following verse: “Thou gavest command to build a sanctuary in the holy mountain and an altar in the city of thy habitation, a copy of the holy tabernacle which Thou preparedst beforehand from the beginning.” Wisdom of Solomon 9:8 (Philo: Foundations of Religious Philosophy in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Harry Austryn Wolfson, Harvard University Press (1947) p182-184)

[ii] In the first verse of the Torah the Rabbis play on the similarity between a description of the preëxistent Wisdom in Proverbs 8:22 The LORD brought me forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old: and Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning” .. or with “Reshit” … now Wisdom-Torah.

The Torah declares: ‘I was the working tool of the Holy One, blessed be He.’ In human practice, when a mortal king builds a palace, he builds it not with his own skill but with the skill of an architect. The architect moreover does not build it out of his head, but employs plans and diagrams to know how to arrange the chambers and the wicket doors. Thus God consulted the Torah and created the world, while the Torah declares, IN THE BEGINNING GOD CREATED (1:1), BEGINNING referring to the Torah, as in the verse, “The Lord made me as the beginning of His way” (Prov. 8:22). (Genesis Rabah 1:1)

[iii] This perverse belief is commonly accepted in the Orthodox Jewish community today, which is surprising since the primary sources for these historical anachronisms, is in the extra-biblical Book of Sirah (included in the Septuagent but not Hebrew Bible) and the Pseudepigrapha such as the Book of Jubilees whose relevant verses are paraphrased here:

The (Book of Jubilees) author’s … practice of founding essential legal practices in the time of the ancients of Genesis rather than in the age of Moses. For example, … Noah first celebrated the Festival of Weeks (see 6:17–22) and later Abraham, too, observed this holiday, which became the anniversary of the Noahic, Abrahamic, and Mosaic covenants (6:17–22; 15:1–2). The Festivals of Tabernacles (16:20–23; 32:4–9, 27–29) and Unleavened Bread (18:18–19) and the Day of Atonement (34:17–19, which commemorates Jacob’s torment on learning of Joseph’s “death”) also were introduced in the age of the fathers. The author’s reason for antedating these practices can only be surmised, but it is clear that he wished to impress upon his audience that these essential acts of obedience to the covenant were not the innovations of a later age that were imposed upon the religion of the patriarchs. They had been in force since earliest times, were inscribed immutably and eternally on the heavenly tablets (of the numerous cases, see, for example, 3:10, 31; 6:17; 15:25; 16:28–29; etc.), and in some instances were practiced in heaven (Sabbath [2:30]; Festival of Weeks [6:18]; circumcision [15:27]). These provisions were to be observed scrupulously in the present if the ideal future was to be realized. (Anchor Bible Dictionary, Book of Jubilees see also (Two Views of the patriarchs: Noachide and pre-Sinai Israelites, Joseph P. Schultz in Texts and responses: Studies presented to Nahum N. Glatzer.. ed. Michael A. Fishbane, Brill Archive, 1975)

[iv] I don’t use the inaccurate translation of Matan Torah as “revelation” since it is tainted by preëxistence. Reveal-ation presupposes an already existent law that is now being revealed.

[v] The natural progression of this thought process, is of course that since the world of Ideas or Platonic Forms is superior to the messy world below (Beit hamikdash shel matah) then our focus should be towards this ideal world. The early Christians took this leap by emphasizing the New Jerusalem. This Jerusalem was no longer a contingent and particular Jewish Capital city, but a universal idea… a Form a Logos. Such thinking produced a new covenant (aka The New Testament – Brit Hadash) which, unlike the Old Covenant, was not based on a reciprocal relationship and shared history between God and a particular people, but was an immutable ideal. A new covenant, based not on shared history, practical deeds and commandments, but based on faith… on an Idea. No surprise that The Fourth Gospel of John comes directly from the previously referenced rabbinic interpretation of Genesis Rabah 1:1 “In the Beginning was the Idea (Logos)

1 Comment

Filed under Bible, divine birth, immaculate conception, Judaism, miracle, Religion, social commentary, Torah

One response to “parallel worlds

  1. orna

    Interesting post. The parsha name “teruma” can refer to giving in the present…. whether the world is pre-existense or not, we can all agree that we need to give to better the world we were given.

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