Rabbi Yehuda says, Light is created first, as for instance a king who requested that a palace be built and the place for it being dark, what did he do: he lit candles and lanterns, to know how to lay the foundations [thereof]; thus light was created first (Midrash Rabbah chapter 3) Whence was light was created? He replied that the Holy One, Blessed be He, enveloped Himself in it as in a robe and it shone the radiance of its glory from [one] end of the world to the [other] end (Ibid.) [Translator’s note: the Midrash Rabbah is an old collection of legends on passages from the Torah, and from the scrolls such as that of Esther]
In this chapter we shall look at the act of creation according to our knowledge in proportion to the state of the precious knowledge in our generation so that we may come in the next chapter to the boundary of the inquiry to which we bounded ourselves in the chapter on creation in its entirety. And as an introduction to our method [we would] have you understand the Book of Nature which is the key to the Book of Teaching (Torah) in the passage on creation which comes to teach us the way which leads us to the knowledge of man, according to the power of his senses and his gift of intelligence, by means of which man attains perfection of soul in the law of nature. On this paved road the man of research may walk securely and with profit, and no obstacle arises before him; for the door to the temple of nature, which generations of researchers have come unto, is open before him. There are many libraries filled with books on nature in which author after author has chosen for himself the path which was correct and proper in his eyes to teach understanding and intelligence to those of his generation in the realm of nature, in the construction of the world and its improvement [or “evolution”] as he understands, and among them those who found true judgement to judge from the late to the early, to give signs and portents that the laws and the foundations known at this time to those of this world, were the reasons for bringing the world into existence. Each and every one of the writers of books in such subjects throws forth ideas according to daily experiences according to the study of nature established by [the] institutions [of learning], and thus it is easy for such a writer to bring forth the work for its sake, and it is also easy for those who study deeply in his book to extract that which pleases their souls from within his book. But it not so in case of the essay we have before us. The aim of our looking into books on nature is, to gaze with pleasure upon the pure teaching which is hidden from us under curtains which hide the teaching of nature and to show it to all those who read it and request it, for much goodness is yet hidden in the lockets of its utterances [of] which till this day their mysteries have not been revealed. The more we raise up our hearts to lift the curtain in order that we may gaze upon face of the son of nature [i.e., man] which our Torah describes to us with the human stylus, the development of his ascent on the ladder of improvement, creation and perfection, the more will the eye of the reader see the hidden portions of the teaching of nature revealed in the teaching [or “Torah”: the word literally means “teaching”] of creation, and in this subject our Torah has surpassed the boundaries of the discovered and known laws of nature as of this day. Our trend which points in this direction hides in its bosom, apart from the previous desire which looks backwards from the beginning — the difficulty and strangeness which appears clearly in the eyes of the inquirer and the reader who is not accustomed from youth to leave behind what his ears are used to hearing as a general rule, and the clean text engraved upon his heart [and] in his memory with a sapphire stylus, and it is hard to change the old to the new, to accustom his ear and his heart to this. And we find always from this that it profits a man, if he sends forth his feet of inquiry into the expanse, a new path is paved before him, and before those of his generation is paved a wide road which rises to the heights of the house of freedom, in the wake of demands like these is known the soul of the inquirer, the freedom of his spirit and of his will, his taste [in] the principles of this thoughts in the subjects into which he is given to look. And this is the immortal spirit and soul of man which establishes for itself a memorial and an eternal name among the living, generation after generation and its demands, signalling for eternity action and selection of soul in the world of science and like a spectator giving unto the entire generation the ability to gaze upon their differences of opinion and upon the general state of intelligence among [those of] that generation. [Translator’s note: the Torah is the first five books of the Bible, namely Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy; it is sometimes also called the Pentateuch]
[Translator’s note: at the time when this article was written, there being no officially accepted Hebrew word for “evolution”, the author has used the word hishtalmut, which literally means “achieving perfection”, in that regard; but it is not always clear as to when he uses the word in this sense, as meaning “evolution”, and when, at other times, he uses it in its more traditional sense; and so in translation there is a degree of ambiguity which unfortunately cannot be avoided]
Many have been the wise men and Rabbis who already tried their powers to find solutions to the riddles and the questions concerning the Creator and the creation of the world, their relationship and their actions concerning man, his being and his [inherent] value, the relationship of his soul and capabilities in comparison with every living thing, the goal of man’s soul and its powers, and some among them found solutions in the teachings of faith and some in the wisdom of religion and of traditions, some in Greek philosophy and some in the pure critique of wisdom understanding and knowledge, and some tried with the help of the heroes who dedicate their days to the wisdom of the Kabbalah which is hidden wisdom [and] which only those who delve in such things can know and appreciate — we [for our part] have set our faces to search for solutions in the study and science of nature, [and] accordingly the reader should know in advance that this road is [kept] before our eyes in every corner of our research, and from this point of view places us on our wave, we go forth to find where dwells the light, and from this point of view [lit., “from this side”] we shall try to inquire of our beloved Torah, we sons of Jacob — [we who] meditate upon it day and night [and have done so] for thousands of years, — as to how creation took place by itself and natural science in the essence of its mysteries. And the road to this inquiry, by itself, [lies] in the understanding of those who wrote our Torah, which is the aim of all our toil, therefore it is not our desire to bewilder and confuse our reader [lit., “confuse our essay”] with the words of our forebears known even to us, for the ornament of the methods of the first [to delve into these subjects], you will see with the eye of your intelligence — there will be dovetailed references in our book, and in spite of that our heart did not turn to the subject which is before us only on knowledge of nature, which helps it to arrive at the goals of our inquiry, and this you will find in every explanation of the book of our Torah and our ancestors — an excessive attempt to compare the appearance of our Torah to the work and appearance of nature, to the Greek studies famous among our nation, which bound in shackles every action and reality in nature and dragged along behind the laws of logic and the teachings of philosophy, as is known to those who hold fast to wisdom. And against those with imagination whom the researcher Lessing mocks that his blood with the power of their imagination shows nature, to the visions of the ancients, are seen in view in our books, which never shone on these ancients the light of the wisdom of nature. Against distortions like these shall be our attempt, in a straight path and a wide road, upon which our foot shall stride without encountering obstacle or narrow place, we shall pass upon the king’s highway, walking along on the eternal pathways of our Torah, and establish in the area of its study and its stories taken from nature the reality which is behind it are drawn the true ideas and every free request which is in it we shall know the true power of the living soul which is within us. —
The beginning of our handiwork is to take sight of the dearth of our attainment [of the knowledge] of all creation, from astronomical science which [plays a] leading [role] in our generation and that is looking into the discoveries of the English astronomer Bradley [and in particular that] which is known by the term “Die Abirruug [sic!] des Lichtes” and science expresses it as “aberration” and we shall keep it in our sights along the path we are treading. The discovery of the above-mentioned astronomer is based on the following study: the speed of the light of the stars which courses in the expanses of the universe which is connected to the rotation of the earth which rotates and travels along its path, is subject to the jurisdiction of the intelligence, for we do not see the stars actually in the place they lie, but slightly displaced to the side on which the wind of the globe blows. And to establish the matter on [a] simpler path easier to grasp, we shall consider the daily experience, which the actions of every day will express to us and prove to us the idea of the disposition of the exalted subject which we are discussing.
Let us cause to bring before our eyes this vision: A steam railway locomotive travels at speed, and a man shoots an arrow from his quiver [or a bullet from a gun] at the target which is the wall of the locomotive, breaks through one of its sides, and the arrowhead [or bullet] makes a hole in the opposite side, up to the point that the walls of the wagon attest to the holes made in them. We shall now wait till the locomotive comes to rest and approach and see the pierced holes and it becomes clear to us that the arrow or the bullet paved for itself a path which we had not paved [for it] at the beginning of our proposition. The two holes seen by us in the walls of the wagon are not lined up with each other, but the opening of the hole in which the arrow entered is further forward from the other hole, which is in the opposite wall of the wagon, [and is] is somewhat to the back of the wagon. If we push a rod through the holes from end to end we shall bend the rod backwards in a diagonal fashion; and the observer, will certainly judge that the marksman shot his arrow at his target [so as] to go through it and set his face at a diagonal. Although this was not so, for the marksman aimed his arrow as straight as could be, and the arrow or the bullet also flew straight into the railway train, yet the observer will believe that its path was bent on account of the testimony of the walls of the wagon for [they lie] along a path which is not straight and which was unexpected. To explain this phenomenon requires a little observation: during the time the lead bullet burst through the external wall, and flew through with all its speed — the width of the locomotive — to penetrate the other wall from the inside, and that from one wall of the locomotive to its opposite wall, in this amount of time the wagon of the locomotive travelled a certain distance forwards on the earth, and the second wall which was penetrated in its time was therefore not exactly opposite the first but was now a certain distance behind the place where the first hole was created.
The experiment explained above, teaches us a large number of things about the light of the stars which impinges upon the earth, which is ceaselessly rotating and revolving in its course. Let us bring before us the following image: An observer of the stars watches a particular star through his instrument; we find that the observer and his instrument, as well as the earth upon which they are located, are travelling at speed round and around the sun. The light of a distant star shining from afar, travelling through space, flashes on the upper surface of the glass of the instrument, and thence to the lower surface thereof behind which lies the eye of the observer; and during this brief time, the earth moves a certain distance forwards. The ray of light falls like the arrow or bullet — into the observation instrument at an angle, if indeed the instrument is aimed in a straight line at the star. And if the observer wishes to aim at the star which is shooting rays of light, like arrows, into his instrument, he will have to cause the windows of his chamber to face the forward side, that is in the direction in which the earth is moving in its course, and we cannot call by the same name this situation, except that the star appears to be in a location, in which it most definitely does not lie.
In the degree in which we gauge the instrument of observation, we gauge also the eye of man. The glittering of the ray of light shines first upon the pupil of the eye and a little later falls upon the retina, at which location a string [of the retina] is stretched and a sensation of light occurs. Although this is a short span of time, within these short moments the earth moves a little; here too the ray of light paves for itself a path at an angle and we obtain an abundance of light from a location at which in reality there is no star at all! —
This phenomenon which we have called light aberration will be before our eyes in the explanation of the new discovery and an introduction to the subject at the threshold of which our article now lies.
As in the case of many discoveries in science, so it happened in the case of aberration: the inquirer was searching for the solution to quite another problem, and this discovery appeared to him. Bradley was trying what other sky-gazers had already tried; research into the estimation of the distance of the stationary stars from the earth. He well knew in his heart that the measure of these distances is beyond telling, the stationary star nearest to us is thousands upon thousands of times farther away from us than is the sun, withal the strength of his desire prevailed and his pride grew strong to have command over this matter which had evaded researchers from time immemorial, and for an entire year he gazed with his eye at a star so that he might break though the veils which hide that law. —
The scientist said in his heart, if he were to incline his instrument to a star which faces the path of the earth as it revolves around the sun, during the course of a year he would see a change in the location and the position of that star and that would be something from which he might learn, to know the distance of that star from the earth.
In his estimation, this star should at least have shown some slight movement from right to left; when the earth went down in its revolution, the star should have shown some rise; when the earth moved to the left the star should have shown some movement to the right; and if the earth were to return to its path step by step, the star should have been seen as if it were held back to some extent. Hope appeared in Bradley’s heart. For the window of his experiment, for during space of an entire year, which the earth would describe for itself around the sun there would be a substantial spherical movement in the opposite direction, in the image of his star, and according to the relationship of the great circumference of the earth’s revolution, against the rim of the star, [which would] stand in judgement to the end of its path in the calculation of its distance from the earth. This project was perfect, [and] founded in the path of science; however in its time the handiwork of the observing instrument was not completed, which handiwork was completed by the astronomer Bessel in our generation who carried it to completion.
And behold, when the above-mentioned astronomer dived into the depths of the great caverns, he found that which he had not especially requested; he saw that the stationary star does not lie in the place of its resting when the earth changes its movement. And after concentrated, precise and penetrating observations to which he dedicated many years, the heavens were laid bare before him like a book for the star was seen by the eye of the observer, — under the movement to sway backwards, when the earth passed before it — as before his face was witnessed moving. And this sight according to his previous method, brought him to the sure [or worthy] idea, which we spoke of above — that the ray of light which falls into the lenses of the instrument, or into the pupil of the eye, because of the simultaneous movement of the earth, is bound to be seen diverging from the straight line and its distribution bent, and its light will go astray.
That which Bradley discovered about a [single] star that its light appears to come from a location in which it does not actually lie, is revealed to us as of this day as applying to all the stars, and from the finding of its utterances and proofs that the aberration of light from all stars is the same emerges a triumphant vision and a decisive proof: that every ray of light, coming from every one of the heavenly bodies, and shining on every corner of the world, will always be displaced by a certain amount and that is in one second one-and-forty thousand German parsangs. [Translator’s note: One parsang was an old measure of distance, about 4 miles]
The law and theory established as a result of this discovery about rays of light applies [lit., “moved”] not only in every expanse of the world, but even this law applies to all light whether great or small, whether it be far from us or near to us; one-and-forty thousand parsangs in one second, will measure every ray of light whether it is bright or dim, near or distant, coming to us from every end [of the universe].
With the help of this law the great scientist Bessel measured the distance of a fixed star in the constellation of the Swan, one of those nearest the sun and found it to be at a distance of fourteen billion parsangs, which is very hard for human beings to understand for a locomotive capable of travelling at the rate of two hundred parsangs per day would take two hundred million days to get there — and only with the help of the speed of light can we give any kind of meaning to such a great distance: the light leaving this star, travelling at the speed of light, takes ten years and three months to reach us. The astronomers Schtroffe and Ergalander also girded up their loins, and tried to find the distances of other fixed stars and found that according to the speed of light, the light from one star would reach its neighbour after more than ten years; and according to their estimations it is clear that of ten stars, appearing to us grouped together in the evening skies, the farthest is ten times the distance from us as compared to the one nearest to us. And according to the theory well established in the eyes of all scientists of our generation, who have pondered upon the speed of light, a ray of light from this tenth star reaches us after having travelled well over a hundred years — ! [Translator’s note: the names Schtroffe and Ergalander are given in the original in Hebrew letters, and it is not clear whether the romanisation given here is correct]
Even then we would not be satisfied with having conceptualised such a great distance, were not our instruments showing us stars in the evening skies by the hundreds and the thousands, [each of] which [is] certainly sufficiently distant from [the] other to require the light from each to reach its neighbour after ten years, and that one of the hundreds, is a hundred times more distant than the first which sends its light to us and that it is one of thousands which puts to shame [even] that distance, and whose light falls now into our eyes, this star has been sending its light to us for the last ten thousand years, and ten thousand years ago the sparks of light began to fly on the wings of speed and with all the velocity and power at their rays’ command, the voyage coming to an end at this time — and if the law of aberration proves that even to the light of the fixed stars the law of speed applies, which we have proved for light in general, then we come to the great recognition, that in the discovery of the law of the speed of light, is recognised a great law of nature, for the truth of this law of nature has reigned these ten thousand years, and this is a time period more ancient than [that which] our forefathers believed to have been the very time of creation, and this clear knowledge will allow us to enter into the sanctuary of our observation.
From the days of yore, from the years of one generation to the next, philosophers of the time have tried to introduce to us the concept of the unknown, [the concept of] limitless time and the place upon which there is no dawn. However there is a great difference between the concept and knowledge which is [a result of] fine study in fundamental spiritual inquiry on the one hand, and the concept which is derived [lit., “extracted”] from the [actual] existence of the world, on the other. The great and lofty law of the speed of light, in conjunction with all the other devices of the study of science in our generation, measuring with special accuracy the distance of fixed stars from us, will give power and strength to the researcher to make a decision regarding the foundations of truth, regarding the axiom of nature which is the concept [derived] from the world generally, this law will prepare the warm-hearted man to find a measuring stick to measure out and draw a line upon times and seasons, on expanses and areas not given to limits according to our concepts.
The speed of light, which in a short time passes over and exchanges faraway locations and the lofty idea, that the messenger or angel of light [spoken figuratively] which comes to us from [great] distances, travels along its path for ten thousand years before it reaches us, and began its journey at times and seasons which have long ceased to exist; both as one come to teach us the equivalence of space and time, in a relationship the more clear to the mind of man here on earth.
The light of the sun reaches us, approximately eight minutes after having left its resting place, the light of the moon after about a second and a quarter, the light from the planet Mars after forty minutes, twenty eight asteroids between Mars and Jupiter, sending their light to us after fifty minutes, and Jupiter after an hour and eighteen minutes, and Saturn after six hours, while Neptune after nine hours: all calculated accurately and exactly according to the law of the speed of light.
The law of the speed of light is a law which includes all the laws of nature, and points to the general cause which describes every portion of the limitless universe. And this law is the key to most of the sublime knowledge and discoveries in our times, and will enlighten us in the essay we are attempting [here].
During most of our being occupied with this inquiry we shall [have to] change our knowledge and our attainments which we have had since our youth. Now shall be broadened the limit of our knowledge of our [very] lack of knowledge, which is the aim of knowledge, and we shall know that we cannot give a measure and a value to the number of days the world has existed, the world which in its entirety is long [of duration], in the measuring of another place distant many parsangs in a moment, in which we shall measure traces of the lights of the sky, from the earliest days of the world, we shall measure the insignificance of our attainments, and the minuteness of our being and our existence in the universe. The great natural law we spoke of earlier teaches us to recognise creation from a different aspect from that we had thought of hitherto. We shall understand that there in the sublime heights, there beyond the existing lights [of the heavens], already there were since time immemorial thousands of worlds older [than ours] and there deep in the abyss of the great sea — from which rages the foundation of the light or as the great Humbold would call it, the vapour of the world — there will yet be found world-systems unknowable!
From our understanding of the laws of nature and of the existence of worlds which are clear to us we have obtained a great light and it becomes clear to us that far from us, inhabitants of the earth, is the knowledge of the beginnings of nature — that which is known by the name of “the science of that which lies beyond nature” — and it is not in our hands to erect boundaries to the world, to set law and beginning to any entity, since reality is far more ancient than any of our achievements, and that which we attribute to the first cause, the initial hypothesis, the first action, has no relationship [to it] at all, and there is no trustworthy word in reality for the beginning that has no beginning, but that we speak of sublime matters hidden from the masses of people, [and] that approximately is the reduced nature [or “dearth” or “paucity”] of our attainments. And this dearth is according to the preparation of the soul in the heights of knowledge and the capacity to grasp and attain in fine and vigorous studies. From the day of applying the hidden science of discoveries in existing nature, and solutions to old riddles [which] were discovered and known in the halls of learning — as will be clear and as we shall show in the chapters that follow — from that was discovered the dearth [or “paucity”] of our learning, and our humble status [lit., “value”], and we shall think of having pride in the human race, if we shall rise up to speak of the marvels of the far-flung universe, where doubtless exist creatures far better than ourselves, and their attainments no doubt greater and firmer than ours — even though [it] will [be] desire[d] to discover the secrets of the First Will, and it may seem that that which is higher than the Highest is seen eye to eye, and [that] we can converse with and attain the Creator of limitless Reality!
[Translator’s note: the name Humbold is given in the original in Hebrew letters and it is not entirely clear what the romanisation should be]
The speed of light is the great teacher who will enlighten our eyes to conceive [of] creation in general, and will portray in our minds that which is called the Ancient of Days and of No Place, and that in fact is our initial concept, what we may call the “method of reduction” in creation, and to that pointed Rabbi Yehuda in our study even though in his days it was not known, in the measurement of the speed of light, but with the keenness of his intellect, and with the finest internal feeling, he grasped the most accurate measure of the dearth of human attainment in the [conceptualisation of] initial creation, and he too went up in his inquiry above all those of his generation and dared the strength of his soul to interpret for the sake of scientific knowledge — which stands against information and habit in the people and decided against counting and calculating the order of the world which is conventional in the mouths of men, to deny them their knowledge and non-recognition; and in the garb of [a] parable erected world boundaries, which he called: “How to lay the foundations” for inestimable time, since he saw that there is something prior to the lowly world — which is called in our tongue: “For he requested that a palace be constructed”, a prior, older and higher world, and from it, by which I mean, from the beginning of knowing and understanding in it will begin the calculation of world order not capable of being systematised, and according to the system [or “method”] of reduction built his esteemed and enlightened essay, which awakens strength to listen with great attention, to these words: “Rabbi Yehuda says”:
[Translator’s note: later on in this essay the author translates the term “method of reduction” into German as "System der Beschraenkigung"; this may give a somewhat better idea of what he means by this term, which in general seems somewhat obscure]
Light was created first.
Thus grew [or “increased in stature”] the school [or “system”] of the study [of] light, in the study of the beginning of creation, until it was set firmly as a foundation in their eyes and they asked: Whence was light created? For in this question is laid the well known question [lit., “doubt”]: “What is inside [light]?” — which stands to uncover the foundation all absolute attainments — and permitted themselves to teach: That within it the Holy One, Blessed be He, covered Himself [or “was enveloped”]. How great was the strength of the wise men of that generation to imagine a form for its Creator and to fix for the teaching that the Holy One Himself, Blessed be He, is enveloped by light and shines the radiance of His splendour from one end of the world to the other.
Even though we cannot ascribe a lie to our souls and to our forefathers, relating to them all the new discoveries which in our generation have been indulged in by the wise men of the time, since all know [that] at the time in which our fathers and forefathers of blessed memory lived there were not yet available the tools and other means which bring to clear and pure knowledge, all the same we can decide without hypocrisy and narrowness of inclination — that they of blessed memory sometimes also saw far and uttered words after [them] according to their penetrating gaze, and these are the true foundations laid at the foundations of their utterances [and] will prove and unify in fact the matters that stand at the height of the world of science in our generation — [and] their utterances touching lofty matters like these are not set apart from the general problems which hide all things that are yearned for — which is in contrast to the experience of simple people — [but are] in short hidden expressions, and therefore it is necessary to go over their utterances several times until one reaches their intended object [or “objective”], and especially in the study of the science of nature and [of] what lies behind nature. And that in my opinion is the foundation of the Kabbalah, which hid the studies of sciences such as astronomy and its studies in secrets of tractates of the Mishnah and parts of such tractates, upon which was commented: From the beginning emanated ten “spheres” [Sefirot] and the first “sphere” (called the Kether Eliyon [literal translation: “Highest Crown”], or the Ancient Holy One) emerged, and after that Wisdom [Hochmah] and Understanding [Binah] and these are the three reliable [or “trustworthy”] connections. However it was never possible for the world to relate [suitably] to them and grasp them and due to their grandeur they broke and descended lower and their lights arose to their places, and this is the secret of the refraction of the instruments [of God in creating the universe — according to Talmudic doctrine].1 And to these hypotheses of the Kabbalah known according to science to recognise by it the First Cause according to the method of reduction, but they clothed their words in gowns of secrecy as Rabbi Yehuda enlightened us in our Midrash.