Time and Eternity in Jewish Mysticism: That Which Is Before and That Which Is After


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Kabbalah: The Zohar

The definition of a natural movement is the movement of a body to its natural place in the world. Aristotle explains that the natural place attracts the body, while the body moves naturally to its natural place. Crescas opposes this definition. In his opinion, place is the part of dimension that a body occupies within the infinite expanse of the universe; dimension without matter is only place in potential.

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In his opinion, the movement of fire is caused by the diverse weights of the different bodies that are aflame, and not by the existence of a natural place. It is important to note too that in the thought of Crescas, the universe does not have any corporeal place. The universe is an infinite void containing an infinite number of worlds separated from one another by part of the void. Crescas devotes the sixth part of the second essay to the question of free will.

Kabbalah: The Zohar

After all, why should God tell humans what to do if He knows that they have to break the law? It would seem that a robust freedom of choice is essential to maintaining the significance of God's commandments. Nevertheless, the pious Crescas does not accept this reasoning. To refute the above supposition while maintaining the relevance of the commandments, Crescas uses the first four chapters of Part Six to develop an uncompromising determinism that lives in harmony with human choice and a system of reward and punishment that are restricted to the realm of personal feelings and self-judgment.

Ironically, in developing his theory of choice, Crescas quotes frequently from Abner's book Ofrenda de Zelos without citing him by name. It is worth examining how Crescas develops his position in more detail. After introducing the issue of free choice vis a vis the Torah, Crescas in the first two chapters describes the different arguments both rational and theological for and against freedom of choice.

Crescas then reaches the conclusion that the decision making process is fundamentally deterministic, though people voluntarily choose the attitudes and feelings behind their own actions. For example, if we isolate a person hesitating between two options from the causes that influence him, such as his education and the influence of society, then we might think that this person truly chooses to do either of the two options.

But upon closer analysis, if we take in to account all of the causes that influence his will, we reach the conclusion that these causes determine his will to choose only one of the two options. In Crescas's opinion, humans are like bronze. A piece of bronze can be made into a lot of different things: a ball, a sword, etc.

However, someone i. The same is true of people: they themselves can choose between different possible options, but their relation to external causes determines their choices. We can see how Crescas views strong determinism through the way he likens human functioning to an inanimate object like bronze. It is important to note too that Crescas defines the will of man as an accord between the attractive force and the imagination — two forces that are common to humans and beasts.

Continuing into the middle chapters of Part Six, Crescas similarly explains the notion of possibility and accident. Things are only possible in their relation to themselves. This deterministic description of the world based on rational arguments resolves the theological problem of the contradiction between the free will of man and the foreknowledge of God. In Crescas's opnion, free will, in the sense of an originative cause that is itself uncaused, to decide and act does not really exist.

God is the first cause and knows all the laws of the world. Therefore, He knows the entirety of that which He has determined.


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Crescas solves the second problem by saying that the forbidden things are naturally bad. The punishment of the sinner is not a special act of divine providence to punish him, but rather the natural consequence of the sinner's bad actions. At this point we can solve the first problem: according to Crescas, the goal of the Torah is to influence people to do right.

The only way to influence someone to do something is to give him enough causes to do it. The Torah is only another cause that tries to influence humans to do good. It is also the reason why God reattribute's only the actions that are under the control of one's choice and the will of humans.

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The aim of the retribution is to guide people towards doing what is right. According to this, aiming to reattribute other actions that are not under the control of humans will be inappropriate. Regarding the two latter chapters of Part Six, my opinion differs from that of most scholars. In these chapters Crescas tries to answer the question of whether there is a difference between people that sin happily and those who are forced to sin and feel sad about doing their evil actions.

Crescas also addresses the question of the obligation of various beliefs. These chapters are not based on the determinist book of Abner, and Ravitzky thinks that they are anterior to the other chapters and exist almost verbatim in the Passover sermon. Some scholars understand these chapters as a departure from the deterministic opinion of Crescas.

If the external person does something bad and the inner self is unhappy, it is not truly a sin because the true person does not want to sin.

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Instead, a deterministic process has coerced the external person into performing the act of sin against his conscience and his true will. According to this interpretation, the inner will of humans is under their control, but the regular will that decides their actions is the conclusion of a deterministic psychological process.

Such is the usual interpretation, and in and of itself this interpretation is accurate. However other scholars understand these chapters as Crescas is that Crescas is not concerned here with finding a morsel of free choice in a highly deterministic world, but is rather addressing a very different problem: He only wants to answer the question of external obligation and the parallel issue of culpability. Back in the fifth chapter, Crescas had described punishment as a natural consequence of sin.

After this rational assertion, it would seem that there is no logical difference between a voluntary and involuntary sin in terms of punishment. Therefore, in these chapters he wants to tell us, indeed reassure us, that an externally forced man doesn't have any punishment for his sin it is for certain that he is speaking to and about the Jews that were forcibly converted in According to these scholars in these chapters Crescas is not speaking about how man is ultimately distinct and free of determinist processes of the soul, but rather about how man through this determinist process wants to do good, yet due to some cause, external to the determinist psychologist processes, is forced to sin, and hence is not culpable — if indeed there was such a negative external cause that led to his sinning.

Crescas thinks that the retribution of humans is a function of the interior psychological process of choice. If this process exists the man can be reattributed for his act. However if this process does not exist there is no retribution.

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The fact that choice and will are entirely deterministic in the view of Crescas has nothing to do with retribution. According to this opinion Crescas thinks that the use of will and choice are the criteria for retribution but are not free at all. This deterministic understanding of the world no doubt ultimately influenced Spinoza's opinion. Regarding the question of astrology, [ 28 ] Crescas holds a very moderate opinion: On one hand, the stars have a general influence on humanity, but on the other hand, it is quite easy to free ourselves from their influences.

Human choice and divine providence are both superior to the influence of the stars. Crescas devotes an important portion of the sixth part of the second essay to the question of the soul's essence. In this discussion, Crescas speaks of the different goals that the Torah fulfills. The Torah helps people to fulfill their different worldly goals, such as their relation to themselves health, morality, etc. In this part of the essay, Crescas's explanation is close to Maimonides' rational explanation of the divine commandments.

But the Torah also helps humans to get a spiritual reward in the hereafter. On the subject of the essence of the soul along with reward and punishment after death, Crescas builds a philosophical critique of the Maimonidean-Aristotelian opinion and proposes instead a more traditional view.

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Regarding the topic of soul's essence, Crescas holds a platonic opinion: The soul naturally continues its life after its separation from the body. The reason for this immortality of the soul is that the soul is a spiritual substance with a potential for knowledge. As a spiritual substance, the soul has no opponent between its different parts and any causes of loss. In his proofs that this definition of the soul is right, Crescas critiques the different opinions of Aristotelianism. The main stream of the medieval Arab Aristotelian opinion on this topic apart from Ibn Sina is that only human knowledge can survive the death of the body.

But there are very different opinions in the Aristotelian school about this subject.


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  5. An example of this divergence is the opinion of Gersonides, who understands that the knowledge of immaterial law accords the possibility of life after death for the individual. In spite of this, Averroes as Crescas understand his view claims that no individual immortal existence is possible after death all the knowledge of all people returns to its source in the active intellect. In his critique of the Aristotelian opinions, Crescas uses the different arguments [ 30 ] that diverse Aristotelians attack each other with to ultimately refute all Aristotelian opinions.

    Crescas tries to prove that the soul and not the mind holds the potential for knowledge. After this step he argues that the true goal of the soul is not rational knowledge but the love of God.

    Time and Eternity in Jewish Mysticism: That Which Is Before and That Which Is After Time and Eternity in Jewish Mysticism: That Which Is Before and That Which Is After
    Time and Eternity in Jewish Mysticism: That Which Is Before and That Which Is After Time and Eternity in Jewish Mysticism: That Which Is Before and That Which Is After
    Time and Eternity in Jewish Mysticism: That Which Is Before and That Which Is After Time and Eternity in Jewish Mysticism: That Which Is Before and That Which Is After
    Time and Eternity in Jewish Mysticism: That Which Is Before and That Which Is After Time and Eternity in Jewish Mysticism: That Which Is Before and That Which Is After
    Time and Eternity in Jewish Mysticism: That Which Is Before and That Which Is After Time and Eternity in Jewish Mysticism: That Which Is Before and That Which Is After

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