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Thought for the Day: Why the HaShem Refers to Epochs of Creation as Days

Chazal say you should know how to answer an apikorus.  Anyone who has learned a daf or two of gemara knows that they following diyuk (precise dissection) is accurate: "know how to answer", indeed; "actually go out and answer", avoid.  Anyone who has had a minute or two of conversation with an apikorus feels deeply the wisdom of that advice.  However, it can't always be avoided.

I was in a sukkah with a very nice and intelligent goy with no particular religious leanings.  He asked me, "I heard this Reform rabbi say that so-and-so is certainly in a high place in heaven.  Can they just do that... make up anything they want and state it as Jewish belief?  What is the Jewish belief of heaven and hell?"  I mean, come on, this non-religious but well educated goy has noticed that Reform rabbis just say whatever comes into there minds and asks me for affirmation and the real explanation... no one could possibly expect me to let that go.  What ensued was a few hours of intense and meaningful discussion.  I had only one interest: to present my understanding of reality, no holds barred, with enough evidence to exemplify the rationality of Torah doctrine.  I was mostly successful, and also discovered a deeper evolution/Torah creation conflict.  (I had no intention to sway him; I was just glad to have a rational sounding board.)

Of course "why I don't believe in evolution" came up.  Before I could get more than three words out, however, a very vocal and completely dogmatic atheist joined the conversation and shouted out (they are like the ugly American tourist who thinks his nonsense gets more consideration with shouted).  The words I wanted to get out were, "Take the evolution of birds from dinosaurs, for example.  For scales to turn into feathers, you need millions and jillions of years of creatures who don't walk well (as their limbs become more birdlike) and who can't get fly... that's a recipe of dinner for -- not survival of -- the fittest."  Before I could say that, however, the self-proclaimed priest of Atheisinity shouts: No, no... it's all about the DNA homology (deep similarities) between reptiles and birds!  That's an old argument and the answer is simple: you are imposing cause-and-effect from your philosophical beliefs onto a chart of correlations.  The Tree of Life is a nice categorization of species based on their DNA complexity just as the Periodic Table is a nice categorization of elements by their nuclear complexity.  The Periodic Table says nothing about nuclear synthesis and the Tree of Life says nothing about evolution.

"What what about the seven days of creation?"  asked the rational apikorus.  I gave the (again) standard answer that the sun was not even created till the third day, so it can't possibly mean what we mean by that word.  "True... but the people who read the account had a sun, so I guess you are telling me that the account is just poetry.  Ok."  No, not ok, my mind screamed.  I told him it is not poetry, but is extremely precise.  However, I could not come up with a decent explanation of the use of the word "day" in that context that satisfied even me, let alone my friend.

The next morning I saw a S'porno (to B'reishis 1:5) that opened my eyes to both the underlying problem and its resolution.  The word "day", says the S'porno, refers to any epoch where light is dominant; analogously for "night", which refers to any epoch with darkness is dominant.  The terms now-a-days, continues the S'porno, refer to our daylight time and nighttime, since that's our common experience.  (I once wrote  about a similar phenomenon regarding the Physics versus common usage of many everyday words).  That answers the surface question, but there is a deeper motivation to the question.  We know that language, just as everything else in our world, is a creation.  They believe that language, just like everything else in our world, evolved.  For them, day must mean what people say because people made up the word.  For us, though, Lashon HaKodesh is the language that HaShem first created and then used to create the physical world.  All of the words in the Torah come from a higher place and are then pressed into service to describe the mundane.

Here I thought I was explaining the Torah point of view, and the whole time HaShem was really preparing me to finally appreciate the question that this one S'porno was addressing.  One down... lots and lots to go...

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