The Thermodynamics of History (revised)

(This is the second in what I hope will be a series of posts be”H about whether reward and punishment are caused by the actions they address, or meted out by Hashem more directly. The first can be found here. This post has been significantly revised and expanded since its original form.)When you drop a drop of ink into a cup of water, the ink spirals around in some chaotic pattern and eventually diffuses until the entire liquid is a uniform light blue. Even though each time you repeat the experiment the dance and spiral is different, something about it in the general is predictable. If you had different snapshots of the sequence that were significantly far enough apart in time, you could place them in historical order. Entropy always increases until it reaches the maximum. The system runs a certain way, reaching equilibrium.History also has a known final state — the Messianic Era. The colorless, pure potential of this world will be eventually assigned a meaning represented by the sky-blue of techeiles, of the vision of sapphire paving stones under the heavenly throne during the revelation at Sinai (Exodus 24:10). Even though people have free will, and therefore how the process unfolds is not fixed, the general parameters are known. And, like the ink in the water, it’s hard to understand the purpose of any particular dance or spiral in the process of history. But, we are tending toward an equilibrium.

And that means anything not in the equilibrium state will eventually cease to exist. At the end, there is no clear water. And, at the end, there is no evil. Evil must inherently destroy itself, or else there could be no guarantee of that Messianic equilibrium.

This guarantee is inherent in the definition of good and evil. In “Hashem and Morality“, I commented on the fact that the word “tov” (like the English word “good”) has two meanings: functional and moral. When we say “This is a good pen”, we are speaking functionally — the pen is very effective at doing what pens are supposed to do. Similarly, a “bad pen” is one that leaks, is dried out, or is otherwise not a good writing tool. In that essay, I suggested that one meaning derives from the other. Hashem defined moral good in terms of our function. “A good person” is not only a moral judgment, but also a functional one; someone who is doing “the good and the right” is performing his function in this world.

Therefore it’s not only that the system is designed to lead to a particular end-state which lacks evil, and therefore we know that the forces of history must prune it away. Rather, evil is — by definition — that which isn’t part of Hashem’s ideal state for man. We are warned not to do it, we are told it has the label “ra” (evil), because choosing it will be part of is that which is destined to be pruned away. The labeling of an act as “ra” or “cheit” (sin), is akin to hanging up a sign warning of a cliff; Hashem is warning us to avoid that which causes suffering. Because they run counter to both our design and our future end-state, one is joining that which will be destroyed — and therefore are ra, shattering, breaking, activities.

This is, perhaps, what Hashem means in Devarim (30:19), when He says, “… I set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse, so that you shall choose life…” The commandments and prohibitions are simply a list of what happens to cause blessing, because it fits the plan, as well as the reverse.

From this perspective (one which we will be”H discuss further in those future entries on this subject), not only isn’t punishment seen as meted out, it’s logically prior, not the consequence, of evil.

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  1. March 18, 2007 – כ״ח באדר תשס״ז

    […] It also means that many people don’t live up to the role they could have ideally had. History has an equilibrium state but an individual’s final outcome is up to them. […]

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