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Why is it that people like the prophets, and other, more modern figures who are seen as being divinely inspired (the kabbalists, the Chasidic rebbes, etc.) never seem to be told secrets of science, nature, and other testable facts?

If they can learn from G-d the most esoteric details of the architecture of the soul and the attributes of HaShem Himself, surely they should be easily able to get information like how to cure diseases, how to prolong human lives, and how to build, say, an indestructible ship. They should be able to quickly learn answers to the practical and theoretical questions that are being tackled by science. But we never hear about anything like that. Why not?

Even as I write this question, I am aware of several stories from the Prophets and the Writings that seem to contradict its premise. But most of the examples I can think of--not having read everything--are of Hashem providing practical guidance in a single situation, not revealing knowledge of the natural world as could be presumably ascertained by science. Please forgive my lack of knowledge if I have truly missed anything; that's part of what this question is for!

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    "Hey Isaiah, in order to defeat the Assyrians, go dig up some uranium and place it in a centrifuge to increase concentration of U-235 isotopes. Then, construct..." – Double AA May 27 '15 at 23:26
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    "the kabbalists, the Chasidic rebbes, etc. never seem to be told secrets of science, nature, and other testable facts" maybe they aren't told any secrets at all, as prophecy ceased milenia ago. – mevaqesh Oct 21 '15 at 3:43
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    @DoubleAA remebmber; the world major uranium deposits are not in the Middle East: world-nuclear.org/info/Nuclear-Fuel-Cycle/Uranium-Resources/…. "Hey Isaiah, in order to defeat the Assyrians, go dig up some uranium from Australian, Congo, or Canada..." – mevaqesh Oct 21 '15 at 3:46
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    @mevaqesh - "as prophecy ceases millenia ago." You have no idea how many religious Jews misunderstand either the nature and constraints of prophecy or who actually possessed it and why. I have actually sat and had discussions with Hasidic "rebbes" who sincerely believe that, through secret powers granted them by "kabbalah," they possess both prophecy and ruah ha-qodhesh. They actually get angry when people challenge their claims and their "predictions." If people knew what was actually written in the halakhah about these things, they would never be taken in by these wannabe hucksters. Kt – user3342 Nov 19 '15 at 0:45
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There was once a book that had all the cures you are talking about, but it was buried.

In the mishna of Psachim 4:9 it says that the king Chizkia buried "the book of cures":

ששה דברים עשה חזקיה המלך על שלשה הודו לו ועל שלשה לא הודו לו. גירר עצמות אביו על מטה של חבלים והודו לו. כיתת נחש הנחשת והודו לו. גנז ספר רפואות והודו לו.

The Tashbetz writes (סימן תמה) that that book was a book that was given to Noah during the time of the flood and that in it was written the cures for all of the disease. Rashi on Psachin (page 56) explains that the book was buried since people would immediately cure any disease they had and would not repent their sins. The Rambam (on his commentary on Psachim 4:10) on the other hand claims that that is a retarded explanation (his words!), since there is no problem eating when you are hungry - there should be no problem taking medicine when you are sick! So the Rambam believes that the book included supernatural cures for diseases that otherwise the sick person would die from, and it is forbidden to use such cures. So while the book was for intellectual curiosity only it was fine, but when king Chezkia saw that people were actually using it he buried it.

הלכה זו היא תוספתא, אבל ראיתי לפרשה ג"כ לפי שיש בה תועליות. ספר רפואות, היה ספר שהיה בו סדר רפואות במה שאין מן הדין להתרפות בו... ומחברו לא חברו אלא על דרך הלימוד בטבעי המציאות לא כדי להשתמש במשהו ממה שנכלל בו, וזה מותר כמו שיתבאר לך שדברים שהזהיר ה' מלעשותם מותר ללמדם ולדעת אותם, כי ה' אמר לא תלמד לעשות ובא בקבלה אבל אתה למד להבין ולהורות. וכאשר קלקלו בני אדם ונתרפאו בו גנזו. ואפשר שהיה ספר שיש בו הרכבת סמים המזיקין כגון סם פלוני מרכיבין אותו כך, ומשקין אותו כך, וגורם למחלה זו וזו, ורפואתו בכך וכך, שכשיראה הרופא אותם המחלות ידע שסם פלוני השקוהו ונותן לו דברים נגדיים שיצילוהו, וכאשר קלקלו בני אדם והיו הורגין בו גנזו. ולא הארכתי לדבר בענין זה אלא מפני ששמעתי וגם פירשו לי ששלמה חבר ספר רפואות שאם חלה אדם באיזו מחלה שהיא פנה אליו ועשה כמו שהוא אומר ומתרפא, וראה חזקיה שלא היו בני אדם בוטחים בה' במחלותיהם אלא על ספר הרפואות, עמד וגנזו. ומלבד אפסות דבר זה ומה שיש בו מן ההזיות, הנה ייחסו לחזקיה ולסיעתו שהודו לו סכלות שאין ליחס דוגמתה אלא לגרועים שבהמון. ולפי דמיונם המשובש והמטופש אם רעב אדם ופנה אל הלחם ואכלו שמתרפא מאותו הצער הגדול בלי ספק, האם נאמר שהסיר בטחונו מה', והוי שוטים יאמר להם, כי כמו שאני מודה לה' בעת האוכל שהמציא לי דבר להסיר רעבוני ולהחיותני ולקיימני, כך נודה לו על שהמציא רפואה המרפאה את מחלתי כשאשתמש בה. ולא הייתי צריך לסתור פירוש זה הגרוע לולי פרסומו.

  • +1 related judaism.stackexchange.com/q/39002/5514 – Shoel U'Meishiv May 28 '15 at 7:56
  • @yechezkel Thanks, great answer. But if the Rambam was right about his explanation, then we are back at square one. Why didn't G-d reveal cures we can use? – SAH May 31 '15 at 13:01
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    @SAH the Chatam Sofer (Baba Kama 85a) writes that it is because unlike hunger, disease is an event that occurs specifically to make people repent, and for that reason writing a book that eliminates the need to do tshuva will only work for the people's disadvantage. Also the Maharsha on gitin wrote that while you are allowed to go to a doctor, God does not want cures to be public knowledge so that there will be a period when he is suffering (either to make him do Tshuva, Kaparat Avounot etc.).. – yechezkel Jun 2 '15 at 16:00
  • ספר רפואות was not scientific, it was all mystics, like talismans and names etc. Scientific means you understand how it works,, understand the mechanism. – Al Berko Nov 13 '18 at 7:49
  • If the book was given to Noah, how come the gentiles didn't retain it? – Al Berko Nov 13 '18 at 7:51
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If Hashem wanted a ready-made world with nothing left to explore, He could have just stayed with a כסא הכבוד, or better yet, הוא ושמו. This world was created with the theme of constant improvement. Almost all sciences are still unfinished, even language.

The same goes for Torah. Although the prophets and Tanaim knew more Torah than we do, the Torah grew and continues to grow with the years. There is a more detailed Torah with more finite definitions that constantly come up. The late Chachamim expound on the early ones. This is similar to a tree: the trunk is the strongest and carries all the nutrients, but the more it branches out the greater the tree. This we find in Eliyahu Zuta (2), that the Torah is raw material and is meant for us to grow it.

The job of the prophets was to guide us to stay in the path of Torah. There was no constant divine intervention explaining Torah. In fact, in Temura 16 we find that when Yehoshua forgot 300 laws Hashem said to him that He can't teach them to him, since the Torah can only be passed down from Moshe Rabbeinu. On the other hand, it is developed to the extent that Moshe Rabbeinu himself wouldn't understand what Rebbe Akiva was deriving from the Torah.

Therefore, in Torah as well as earthly knowledge, we were given the raw material and it is our job to develop it. This is also encompassed in the idea of Adam Harishon discovering fire and producing the mule. We are given a natural world and we elevate it to an intelligent and holy level.

Something else to keep in mind is what the Ben Ish Chai writes in his Imrei Bina. He writes that although Shlomo Hamelech knew nature in its full depth he didn't disclose it because of how dangerous it would have been. Just think what the Roman, Greeks, Crusaders, Russians, Arabs, Babelonians would have done with the technology available to the Germans. And what would the Germans have done with the technology available today. They would have rendered any bunker or hideout, useless.

I know of a Tzaddik who was Niftar about 60 years ago, who was asked about taking a pregnancy medicine, I believe it was called DES. At the time it was considered safe by everyone. He warned the Chassid not to take it. He added, "it will soon be written up in all the papers."

  • Source for the Ben Ish Chai and you have my +1 – Y     e     z May 28 '15 at 4:05
  • I wrote, in his Imrei Bina. It's written in a Tshuva among very few other Tshuvos on similar topics. Easy to find if you have the Sefer. – HaLeiVi May 28 '15 at 4:18
  • loewian, thanks for the link. Very interesting considering that this Tzaddik was Niftar in 1955 while it was still considered safe for another 16 years. – HaLeiVi May 28 '15 at 14:05
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    @HaLeiVi Thank you so much. This is an excellent answer. One thing that I don't feel any of these answers has addressed, though, is why (if you believe in mystical texts) G-d seems so forthcoming with other secrets of the universe. I daresay the answer is "Because it's easier for humans to make up"? – SAH May 29 '15 at 4:52
  • @yEz I just (finally) added the Ben Ish Chai. – HaLeiVi Nov 18 '15 at 21:40
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Putting aside the aspects of e.g. the creation story (as interpreted by the medieval Rishonim) that have been confirmed by modern science (e.g. creatio ex nihilo, evolution [see e.g the Drashot Haran], "intelligent design", non-determinism/quantum mechanics) as well as predictions about apocolyptic devastation that strikingly parallel aspects of a nuclear holocaust (e.g. Isaiah 2:19; Zechariah 14:12), etc., there is no reason to assume G-d would want to share medical secrets with the masses (otherwise, he could have not created the diseases to begin with). The shortening of human life and diseases themselves are explicitly described as inventions of G-d created in response to man's sins. There is a medrash (Berachot 10b) that Solomon wrote a book of all medical treatments that was subsequently hidden by Hezekiah exactly for this reason - people were making use of it and avoiding repentance (see also Bereshith Rabbah 65:9). (It's probably also noteworthy that much of the innovations of the modern world, such as the shift from an agricultural society, are often blamed for, amongst other ills, the rise in the incidence of depression, suggesting that modern technology is not necessarily as desirable as one might think.)

  • Judaism believes in non-determinism? – Double AA May 27 '15 at 23:40
  • @DoubleAA By non-determinism I mean (obviously) not that everything is entirely independent, but that some things are somewhat independent - a belief that is only (very) gradually becoming accepted in the scientific community because of quantum mechanics. – Loewian May 27 '15 at 23:55
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    "the rise in the incidence of depression" I'll take that with polio and smallpox vaccines any day. – Double AA May 28 '15 at 2:48
  • "somewhat independent" what does that mean? You mean like conditional probability? Covariance? – Double AA May 28 '15 at 2:49
  • @DoubleAA Yes. (The point is that the dogmatic and extreme determinism that dominated Western intellectual thought for millennia was rejected by Jewish thought from the beginning and was only forced down the throats of the Western intelligentsia in the 20th century by the new discoveries in physics. [and they're still resistant in the neurosciences.]) – Loewian May 28 '15 at 3:23
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+50

Man's blessing in Gen 1:28 reads:

וַיְבָרֶךְ אֹתָם, אֱלֹהִים, וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם אֱלֹהִים פְּרוּ וּרְבוּ וּמִלְאוּ אֶת-הָאָרֶץ, וְכִבְשֻׁהָ; וּרְדוּ בִּדְגַת הַיָּם, וּבְעוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם, וּבְכָל-חַיָּה, הָרֹמֶשֶׂת עַל-הָאָרֶץ.

And God blessed them; and God said unto them: 'Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that creepeth upon the earth.'

God created the heavens and the earth. Shouldn't He be the only master?

Gen 2:15 sheds more light on God's task for Man:

יִּקַּח יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים, אֶת-הָאָדָם; וַיַּנִּחֵהוּ בְגַן-עֵדֶן, לְעָבְדָהּ וּלְשָׁמְרָהּ.

And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.

God could have made a perfect garden that needed no tending. Instead he left this task to Man.

Perhaps we may surmise that God has left the physical world in the hands of man to do with it what he may. Part of subduing the earth is learning about and exploiting how it works. In Gen 4, God didn't teach Cain to farm or build cities, or Abel to shepard, or Jabal to herd cattle and pitch tents, or Jubal to craft wind and string instruments, or Tubal-Cain to forge weapons. They used their curiosity and creativity to innovate and achieve, as Man has done, from hunting and gathering through the Space Age. God has made the nature of our existence on earth, and the innovation thereof, our business. This is as opposed to mysticism and spirituality, the domain of unknowable God in which we dabble at His pleasure.

Throughout Scripture, God's communications to Man focus beyond all else on a unique brand of ethics and morality, and on our service of Him. He communicates these things to us because in our physical plane of existence a certified and objective approach to spirituality is entirely beyond our reach. Esoteric mysticism is no exception to this. We have no tangible way of examining God, so we rely on Him for that information.

Man was given this world to explore and shape in whatever way he sees fit. Only God know's and can explain Himself and His intent.

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My first impression answer to this question is that the purpose of a Prophet is not to deal with the scientific and physical problems of the society in which they live. As I see it, the job of a prophet in general was to tell the people they were doing something wrong spiritually/religiously and try to have them repent. They are the religious compass when the Temple has become corrupt or unreliable. The purpose of a prophet is to ensure the thriving, or in most cases survival, of God's word. This is demonstrated most strongly by Jerimiah and Eliyahu but can also be seen in Samuel, Hulda, and others. To answer your question, the prophets would not have been given scientific knowledge because that was not their concern. Their job was more spiritual than physical salvation.

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    Is that the same Samuel whom Saul went to to find his donkeys? – Double AA Nov 19 '15 at 3:44
  • @DoubleAA Yes. He was the only one with the authority to coronate a king as he was the only non corrupt religious leader. – SophArch Nov 19 '15 at 3:47
  • So if his job "was to tell the people they were doing something wrong spiritually/religiously and try to have them repent", then why did Saul think to go to him to help find his donkeys? – Double AA Nov 19 '15 at 3:55
  • @DoubleAA I could easily be wrong but in Samuel 1 Perek 9 Pasuk 9 Saul is told what a prophet is by his servant and has him described as a seer that just goes by a different name. My impression was that Saul was living in the outskirts so to speak and needed to be told that there was a prophet nearby, and what a prophet could do for him. Samuel's goal throughout the beginning is to create the best monarchy he can, becuase the people want a king and he thinks it is a bad idea. I may have interpreted Saul and Samuel incorrectly but I believe my view of most prophets still stands – SophArch Nov 19 '15 at 4:02
  • Samuel was still trying to preserve God's word when he argues against a king in the first place but fails. He is still the religious authority in the land though. – SophArch Nov 19 '15 at 4:04
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I think this is a very good question. Throughout the Tanach, the prophets seem to be dealing with moral code. They are here to bring moral progress only, yetzirat nishamot. In terms of dispensing wisdom, Hashem has worked with people who are steeped in a subject to develop them in context of the work they do. Prophets learn deep revelations in moral wisdom though a lifetime of social and experiential learning, such as Moshe being raised in the palace of Pharaoh. With regard to scientific wisdom, Hashem works with people who are steeped in that learning specifically: Einstein, for example, (who was a maamin, connected to God) worked in the field of relativity and quantum physics and his work brought about one of the most significant scientific leaps in history. If Hashem chooses to make a prophet who is also a scientist, this might be an avenue by which through Divine guidance a prophet would bring about scientific progress.

Of course, what I've written until now depends on the idea that the past is an indication of how Hashem will deal with these matters in the future. However, one tenet of our faith indicates that this will not be so. And that is Techiyat Hamaitim, the revival of the dead. Some prophecies have operated on something of a supernatural level, especially Mosaic prophecy, which included Manna in the wilderness, and the splitting of the sea etc. As we know, the last of the Rambam's 13 principles of faith was Techiyat Hamaitim (the revival of the dead). (As an aside, this is ironic considering the Rambam is credited with being a great rationalist.) Something like reviving the dead, long after their bodies have decayed, defies all scientific and rational logic. It is obvious therefore that for this to happen Hashem will bring about an era that leapfrogs over scientific wisdom. During these days we will likely encounter a prophet or prophets that have knowledge that supercedes our current scientific methodologies in bringing about healing and cures. Until then, all prophets, whether they have indeed made requests to learn other wisdom (requests of course that are not mentioned in Tanach), have been guided by Hashem to improve people's ethics first. It appears that Hashem does not wish to bequeath the kind of miraculous progress your question alludes to until we have perfected our souls and our middot.

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