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Tashbetz VI: Bashert Print E-mail

writingsWe have seen that both Rav Hai Gaon and Maimonides discuss the Talmudic saying that a man’s wife is destined for him forty days before he is formed. Moses Gabbai b. Sham Tov,

puzzled by the saying, turned to Rav Duran for help. Moses points out that in the science of astrology there are two opinions as to the time at which a man’s fate is determined by the stars. Some say that it is determined at the moment of birth, others at the moment of conception, both these opinions make sense. But how can a man’s fate be determined forty days before conception, which is what seems to be implied in the Talmudic saying? Forty days before conception there I no entity upon which the stars can have nay effect.

Rav Duran first notes that the earlier teachers found another difficulty in the Talmudic passage. How can it be fated at all whom a man will marry, since ‘everything is in the hand of Heaven except the fear of Heaven’ and marriage, as a religious obligation, belongs to the ‘fear of Heaven’, the area in which free will operates and where there is no determinism? Maimonides, therefore, understands it all in moral terms, the saying does not mean that it is determined categorically beforehand whom a man will marry. Only that it is determined that a virtuous man will be helped to find a suitable mate. It depends on the man himself to be the kind of person suitable for a particular wide and she for him. Man is free to propose to whichever woman takes his fancy, but it depends on God’s decree whether she will accept him.  Duran believes in astrology and argues that, even according to the opinion of the Talmud that Israel is immune from the influence of the stars, this does not apply to marriage, where, as the Talmudic saying with which we are concerned has it, it is fated who shall marry whom. As for the difficulty raised by the questioner, the answer can be given either according to the Kabbalah or according to philosophy.

According to the Kabbalah, all souls were created at the beginning when the world was created, and the Talmudic reference, that forty days before the formation of a child it is proclaimed ‘the daughter of So-and-so to So-and-so’, is to the soul in Heaven. According to philosophy, the passage has to be understood as referring not to forty days before conception but before the full formation of the child in its mother’s womb, it is worth noting how Rav Duran, while accepting the truth of the Kabbalah, is prepared to advance a solution, ‘according to philosophy’, which, in fact, contradicts the Kabbalistic doctrine.

Rav Duran is, none the less, suspicious of the extremes to which the adherents of philosophy can be led, in a Responsum on a reported allegorical interpretation of the story of Noah’s ark, he warns against the kind of allegory that leads people to deny the historicity of the Deluge. For all that, Rav Duran admires Maimonides’ philosophical works and vehemently attacks the view that Maimonides leans towards an acceptance of the Aristotelian notion of the eternity of matte, All this in no way affects Rav Duran’s complete adherence to the Kabbalah, in another Responsum he explains the Kabbalistic idea of combing letters to form divine names and concludes: ‘I am no allowed to explain more of the Kabbalistic mysteries than they allowed me… The combination of letters is a great mystery. Bezalel knew how to combine the letters by means of which the world was created. These matters must not be recorded in writing. The can only be conveyed verbally to one who is worthy.’

Rav Duran deals with the question considered by the Rashba and other thinkers. The Rabbis say that the Torah was created two thousand years before the creation of the world. But how could there have been any ‘years’ before the world was created? Rav Duran replies that the meaning is that if there had been heavenly bodies before the creation of the world, impossible though it is, the time that the torah preceded the creation would have been two thousand years. This is, in fact, the reply given by the Rashba.

Finally, like the Rashba, Rav Duran deals with the duty of residing in the holy land. His questioner asks whether it is true that one who goes t live in the holy land has all his sins pardoned as soon as he enters its borders, provided he repents of them. Furthermore, if a man sets out on a journey, is it counted as if he had actually lived there?

Rav Duran quotes the passage at the end of tractate Ketubot on the supreme religious advantages in living in the holy land. Those who are buried there will be spared, at the time of the resurrection, from having to toll through underground tunnels in order to reach it, the place where the resurrection will take place, ( it is noteworthy that Rav Duran, for all  his philosophical interests, can take this quite literally.)

Consequently, says Rav Duran, the answer to the first question is in the affirmative; a man who resides in the holy land does have his sins pardoned. As for the second question, yes, even if he did not actually arrive in the holy land but had the intention of so doing, his sins are forgiven. The rabbis say that a good intention is counted as actual performance of a good deed and so said the king of the Khazars when the Haver departed to journey to the holy land.

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