Rav Dessler’s Approach to Creation

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(You might want to see also Different Approaches to Creation, a survey that just touches on a variety of opinions, as well as Divine Timelessness.)
I think that in order to understand Rav Dessler’s position about the nature of time during ma’aseh bereishis one needs to start with MmE vol II pp 150-154, aptly titled “Yemei Bereishis veYemai Olam“. Comments of my own that I feel can’t wait for the end of the maamar are in square brackets.
Rav Dessler opens by defining the nature of time-as-we-know-it. In the first two paragraph he establishes the connection between time and free will. The flow of past to future is that of desire to fulfillment.In the section “Havchanas haZeman“, Rav Dessler points out that time passes as a function of the number of experiences we have. When we have more experiences, we have more opportunities for choice, for fulfilling desires.

But while man’s choice now revolves around many issues, Adam qodem hacheit [AQH] had only one choice, and therefore didn’t have the same connection to the flow of time. [pg. 151] We can not understand what time was like to AQH.

The next section is “Zeman Sheishes Yemei Bereishis“. It opens with the assertion that since the 6 days of bereishis were before the completion of creation, the havchanas hazeman was different. The six days are “diberah Torah kelashon benei adam” (the Torah talks like the language of people), that the Torah’s discussion of ma’aseh bereishis (the act of creation) is like explaining something to a blind person by drawing parallels to touch.

[Does that qualify as justifying allegorization of the narrative altogether? His phrase is “bederekh dimyon” (in the manner of comparison). But at least with regard to time, Rav Dessler is saying the Torah’s terminology is one of dimyon, not literalness.]

Rav Dessler quotes the Ramban (1:3) who explains that the 6 days were literal days of hours and minutes, and also the 6 sephiros from Chesed to Hod. According to Rav Dessler this means that to our perception it would be 6 literal days, but the core of the issue is that of 6 sephiros. The Bahir says that this is why the pasuq says “ki sheishes yamim” — through these 6 days, 6 sephiros — “asah H’ es hashamayim ve’es ha’aretz…” — Hashem made the heaven and the earth….

[Sidenote: The Rambam also identifies the days of creation with steps of unfolding creation, rather than a measure of time. See this entry.]

[pg 152] Rav Dessler again quotes the Ramban (this time, 2:3) who draws parallels between the 6 days and the subsequent 6 millennia. The Ramban sometimes says that one is “romeiz” (hints at) the other, sometimes “kenegdo” (corresponding to it), and sometimes the actual identification — that the day “hu” (it is) the millennium. From this Rav Dessler concludes that the Ramban identifies the two — the current millennium is the same thing as the Friday of creation, which seems to us to be a hint to it, or corresponding to it.

The Gra identifies the 6 days with the subsequent 6 millenia, and [pg 153] had Adam not eaten from the eitz, the world would have only lasted those 6 days, and the first Shabbos would have been olam haba. And in the end of days everything will return to their maqor. And (emph Rav Dessler’s or Rav Aryeh Carmell’s) “the present is this time, which is knowledge of good and evil.” Rav Dessler understands the Gra to mean that the six millenia we’re living through is a post-sin perception, it is entirely a product of our knowledge of good and evil.

The last section “Zeman: Qevi’as Mahuso” (Time: Establishing His Nature) takes it’s name from the nature of the person. With each moment and each impression, some of the potential of the person is actualized. People think of themselves as stable, and the world moves around them. But this is an error.

It says in Nidah 30b that a baby before birth sees “from the end of the world until its [other] end”. But when he’s born, he enters the hiding caused by time, the unity of creation speaking the Unity of the Creator is concealed, and only the present seems real. In the world of action (olam ha’asiyah), every moment is fixed by the action. [pg 154] Every moment following the Torah adds some light to his mahus, and similarly ch”v in the reverse. Through his free will [thus connecting this definition of the time to the one in the opening of the lecture] he establishes his nature, thereby giving a flow to time.

Rav Dessler compares our perception of time to looking at a map through a piece of paper with a small hole in it. One can move the hole from city to city along the roads. But that progression is a product of how we’re looking at the map, not the map itself. After death, the paper is removed, and one can see the entirety — not a progression.

Hashem is the One Who “looks until the end of generations” because He can see the whole. Rav Dessler closes with an exhortation to learn Torah, do mitzvos, cling to the truth, to rise beyond seeing the world through a little hole in the paper.

Some more of my own thoughts:
Rav Dessler holds that time-as-we-know-it flows, time-as-AQH-knew-it barely flowed, and time before AQH didn’t flow at all. Because the concept of a flow from past to future is so central to what people think of when they read the word “time”, I think it’s fair to say that time didn’t exist during the act of creation, only something more like “Time” (capitalized in the style of Platonic ideal, but in quotes) or “block time”.
Why “block time”? It’s Paul Davies’ term. Davies is a philosopher in Australia who published some popular books on science and philosophy. one of them titled “Time’s Arrow” about where the flow from past to future comes from. (He also has Scientific American article on the subject available on line.)
In relativity, the universe is not so much a 3D movie as a 4D sculpture. The flow of time isn’t inherent in relativity, and it’s difficult to explain why time is experienced so differently than the 3 dimensions of space. This 4D “block” lead to the term “block time”. This sculpture sounds much like Rav Dessler’s “seeing the entirety”, so I think the use of his term is meaningful when speaking of his view of “Time” during creation, the end of days, or of a soul before and after its life.

It is interesting to follow the parallel between Rav Dessler’s metaphor and Davies’ to explore how Rav Dessler’s position compares to R’ Yaakov (“Gerald”) Shroeder’s resolution of the time of creation issue. To start: both dismiss the notion that 6 days does not rule out it also being something else.

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