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Midrash Tehillim 90:13 says that God created and destroyed 974 worlds before this one. What exactly does that mean?

I've heard it used in defense of a modern understanding of evolution and cosmology but don't really get why God would create a universe and destroy it 600 times, then create a universe and destroy it a couple hundred more times with our solar system, and then create it and destroy it another couple hundred times with slight variations of animal life. And then do the one final creation of everything again. I don't grasp the logic behind that interpretation.

So what exactly does it mean to create and destroy 974 worlds?

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    Very related judaism.stackexchange.com/q/15156/759
    – Double AA
    Jul 4 '13 at 5:13
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    @DoubleAA That seems to bring up something in Chagiga that it refers to generations that never were that are scattered out throughout history. Is this the same thing? If so why would anyone point to it as a way of explaining the age of the universe and the presence of fossils?
    – A L
    Jul 5 '13 at 3:31
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    this is also brought in midrash raba bereishis. with God saying this is not pleasing to Me before destroying it. which is quite puzzling given that He knows the future.
    – ray
    Apr 11 '16 at 20:21
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    Just to set the record straight (and this may invalidate several of the answers below), the Midrash here doesn't say anything about 974 worlds. It (and several other places) speak of 974 generations.
    – Meir
    Feb 5 at 20:12
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My rabbi, who is now passed put it as follows: (he was also a physicist back in the day)

this reply was given when he was asked about the nature of teshuva, and whether it is akin to having ones bad deeds simply erased from ones book of history? No, said he, "teshuva is Gd recreating your individual world anew from day one of creation, which includes that individual life story, minus the sin event"

which sparked a debate about how Gd can do such a thing-recreate the universe. and among other topics this came up as well:

the 974 destroyed and recreated worlds is not only an event which happened back in time, but an ongoing immense fission reaction of unimaginably massive proportions, which occurs constantly, to buffer the infiniteness of Gd and allow the finite universe to exist at all.

This mind bending concept is variously described in human terms in many ways, but all attempts to describe a physical action are too large to fathom, except by pure meditation on how Gd did and does create the universe, and sustain it.

The kabala talks of the tsimtsum-constriction, and various commentators describe this visually, but in order to fully appreciate the gravity of such a concept one must first attempt to attempt to appreciate how large Gd is, if at all possible.

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Yes, there are many Jewish legends that say other worlds ended and were followed. Rabbi Kaplan felt that there were other worlds before Adam and Eve.[1]

As it turns out, there are many midrashim with these imaginative tales such as G-d creating other cultures before the present one and destroying them, almost a kind of science fiction. However, Maimonides explains in his essay called Chelek that Midrashim are parables designed to teach people about proper behavior, not literal facts.

[1] See Kabbalistic book, Sefer ha-Temunah (Book of the Figure)

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  • This is not an answer. The question was "what is this midrash teaching us?" You say "it's a parable that is meant to teach us something."
    – Heshy
    Feb 5 at 19:26
  • @Heshy Yes, that's correct. It is only a parable.
    – Turk Hill
    Feb 5 at 19:44
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    So you didn't answer the question
    – Heshy
    Feb 5 at 21:35
  • @Heshy I did. Scroll up or see my answer here.
    – Turk Hill
    Feb 5 at 21:46
  • Second @Heshy. The question is, what does the midrash teach us? you only wrote that it teaches something, but didn't explain what that something is.
    – Harel13
    Feb 6 at 16:49
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I thought it explained how Noach could find favor in the eyes of Hashem when was about to blot out man from the face of the earth, since Psalms 105:8 states that Torah would given to the 1000th genearation -- for if God would have blotted out mankind after 974 + 10 = 984 generations there would have been just 16 generations left to 1000, not enough to make his name (= 26) known.

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  • That verse says that God remembers the promise for the Jewish people to have the land promised to the forefathers for a thousand generations. It doesn’t say that the Torah would be given to the 1000th generation after creation.
    – A L
    Feb 5 at 7:14
  • Psalms 105:8 as interpreted in Bereishit Rabbah 28:4 Feb 5 at 10:43
  • But is is also in this translation chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16326 'He remembered His covenant forever, the word He had commanded to the thousandth generation" זָכַ֣ר לְעוֹלָ֣ם בְּרִית֑וֹ דָּבָ֥ר צִ֜וָּ֗ה לְאֶ֣לֶף דּֽוֹר Feb 5 at 12:02
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I think this use of 974 is faulty, as confused the true teaching how we received Torah 974 generations early. in 26 vs 1000 = 974 Reference and reference in volume I 'the recent complex creation framework' in the YeC Moshe Emes series for Torah and Science alignment. Either way there was never 974 physical generations prior to Adam. If anything physical existed prior to day one, it reverted to absolute physical nothing by the start of day one. There is no scientific reason anything should have existed prior, once one understands all the applicable science. also volume III book one 'Adam to the Exodus' for the alignment of Torah testimony and ancient civ.

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    Roger, welcome to Mi Yodeya, and thanks for your first answer! If you haven’t done so already, you should take a look at the tour. I hope you'll look around and find other Q&A of interest and stay learning with us.
    – mbloch
    Apr 11 '16 at 18:45
  • It's not "Medrish," its Midrash. The phrase "the Medrish says" is incorrect also since there is no one single version of Midrash, most of them differ.
    – Turk Hill
    Feb 17 '20 at 3:23

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