Twilight Creations

Twilight Creations

Mishna Avot 5:6

Interactive Learning Module

1. Introduction

  • The Mishnayot of Avot 5 contain various lists of ten, seven, and four things, such as the ten utterances of creation, ten tests of Avraham, seven characteristics of a wise man or four traits of a scholar.
  • This module will focus on one such list, the ten items which were created at dusk on Erev Shabbat, as enumerated in Avot 5:6. The list includes items as diverse as a rainbow, the tablets and tongs.
  • What connects all the objects mentioned and what are we meant to learn from the fact that they were created at twilight?
  • As we explore various approaches to the Mishna, we will touch on a number of philosophical issues including: the nature of the miraculous, freedom of choice, Divine immutability, and fundamentals of faith.

2. The Ten (Plus) Creations

  • Let's begin by exploring the Mishna and the various items which are said to have been created on the eve of the first Shabbat.
  • Which ten objects are listed? What four other items are mentioned as additional possibilities? For one explanation of what each item might refer to, see R. Ovadyah of Bartenura.
  • What appears to be the common denominator between the various objects?
  • What is the import of "twilight" time? Why might these objects have been created specifically then and what message does the Mishna wish to impart by sharing this fact?
  • For further study: Compare our list with those in Mekhilta DeRabbi Yishmael Shemot 16:32, Sifre Devarim 33:21 or Bavli Pesachim 54a (from the words "והא תניא עשרה דברים נבראו בערב שבת").

3. Does Nature Change?

  • Let's now see how various commentators have answered these questions.
  • We'll begin with Rambam, but to more fully understand his reading of the Mishna, let's look at a statement he makes in his introduction to Avot, Shemonah Perakim.
  • About three quarters of the way through the introduction, he writes:
    אך הרצון היה בששת ימי הבראשית, ושימשכו הדברים כלם על טבעם תמיד כמו שאמר מה שהיה הוא שיהיה ומה שנעשה הוא שיעשה, ואין כל חדש תחת השמש.
  • What does Rambam posit about the immutability of the world? What problem does such a belief present for the existence of miracles?

4. Preprogrammed Miracles

  • Let's now turn to Rambam on our Mishna, reading the first few lines, until "וכן השאר".
  • According to him, how does our Mishna account for the presence of miracles, despite the unchanging nature of the world?
  • Why, though, are only these miracles listed and why are only they created at twilight? How does Rambam account for all the miracles not included in the list, such as the splitting of the sea? [See the continuation of Rambam's commentary.]
  • Rambam's position is implied already by R. Yochanan and R. Yirmeyah in Bereshit Rabbah 5:5-6.
  • What does each mean when they say that already during Creation, Hashem "made conditions" with each of His creations that they will act in a certain way in the future?

5. Questioning Rambam I

  • According to Rambam, our Mishna is attempting to deal with the immutability of nature and the simultaneous existence of supernatural phenomena by suggesting that all miracles were actually preprogrammed into the natural order and thus do not contravene it.
  • He distinguishes between miracles which were associated with a specific day of Creation, and preprogrammed then, and those which were unconnected and therefore created at twilight.
  • Meiri questions whether this distinction is valid. [See the second paragraph of his commentary, from "ויש לתמוה מפני מה" until "לעת שנברא הארץ".]
  • Which objects listed in the Mishna does he suggest could have been linked to one of the days of Creation and created already then?
  • Given this difficulty, see the opening lines of Midrash Shemuel who offers an alternative explanation of why these objects were created specifically at twilight. According to him, what distinguishes them from the rest of Creation?

6. Questioning Rambam II

  • Meiri questions Rambam's reading of the Mishna on conceptual grounds. Let's now turn to Abarbanel who argues against it, and the assumptions upon which it is based, for much more fundamental reasons.
  • Scroll about a third of the way through Abarbanel's commentary, Nachalat Avot, to the paragraph beginning, "והדעת הזה בעיני הוא הריסה" and read until "עשו כלה ואם לא אדעה".
  • What theological issue relating to free will does Abarbanel suggest arises from Rambam's position regarding the world's immutability?
  • Now, let's skip a few paragraphs until the section beginning "סוף דבר כי אם היה הדבר כן" and read until "על כן אמרתי שהדעת הזה הוא הריסה בשורשי התורה האלהית".
  • What second argument does Abarbanel make here? Why does he think that supernatural phenomena are crucial to belief?

7. Immutability of Hashem

  • Abarbanel questions Rambam on two grounds, noting that if one posits that miracles are preprogrammed, this implies that man does not have free will, for if punishments such as the flood are predestined, what room did man have to repent and avert the disaster?
  • He further argues that Rambam's assumptions imply that Hashem does not have the power to overturn nature. Moreover, they remove a crucial building block of faith, as seeing Hashem overturn nature testifies to His having created it in the first place.
  • This leads Abarbanel to a different reading of the Mishna. Scroll down a few more paragraphs to the section beginning "אבל אמתת הענין הזה הוא כך".
  • What theological issue relating to Divine immutability does he suggest the Mishna is trying to address?
  • Do you agree that the need to change nature via miracles implies that Hashem did not foresee the future or that He is regretting His original plan?
  • Is it true that Hashem never changes His mind? How does Abarbanel explain Bereshit 6:6's statement that Hashem "regretted" making man and His subsequent decision to destroy the world?

8. Meiri

  • Abarbanel posits that the Mishna's list comes to show that Hashem foresaw the need for all future miracles, and that His later overturning of nature does not imply that He regretted the original plan of Creation.
  • His reading, like that of Rambam before him, assumes that the common denominator between all the items of the list is that they are miraculous.
  • See Meiri on our Mishna who questions their shared assumption. Scroll to the third paragraph which begins, "ועדיין ראוי לתמוה".
  • Which items listed in the Mishna does Meiri point to as being natural objects?
  • Does this observation necessarily undermine the above readings of the Mishna?
  • If so, what else might be the common denominator between all the items listed?

9. Fundamentals of Faith

  • Let's turn to R. Hirsch who agrees with Meiri that what links the various objects in the Mishna is not their supernatural nature, but their common goal.
  • He writes that these objects were created on Shabbat eve because they, like Shabbat, were meant to be " אמצעי חינוך לאדם להרגילו בהכרתו של... הבורא".
  • Thus, for instance, R. Hirsch notes:
    פי הארץ שנפתח לאובדנם של קרח ועדתו, עדות לשליחות האלוקית של משה... פי הבאר... עדות נאמנה כי ה' משגיח והפרנסה בידו... תופעת הקשת... אות לארך אפיים שהוא נוהג ביחס לתעתועי האדם....
  • What other fundamentals of faith might each of the other objects testify to?

10. Protecting Am Yisrael

  • Let's close with one final reading of our Mishna, that of Midrash Shemuel. Begin with the second paragraph, "ואפשר עוד לומר".
  • According to R. Shemuel de Uceda what does twilight on the eve of Shabbat represent? [To read the Midrash he is referencing, see Pirkei De Rabbi Eliezer 20.]
  • What is the common denominator between all the objects listed?
  • How does each object benefit and protect Am Yisrael? Which provide spiritual protections, and which physical?
  • How does this theory account for the inclusion of "מזיקין" in the list?

11. Summary

  • We have seen several approaches to our Mishna and different understandings of the message it means to impart.
  • Rambam and Abarbanel agree that the common denominator between all the objects created at twilight is their miraculous nature and assume that the Mishna mentions their creation in order to address a connected theological problem.
  • For Rambam, the issue is the existence of supernatural phenomena given the immutability of the world, while for Abarbanel it relates to the immutability of Hashem.
  • R. Hirsch, in contrast, suggests that all of the items are created on Shabbat eve since they, like Shabbat itself, testify to the nature of Hashem and proclaim some foundational belief. The Mishna, then, becomes a list of "principles of faith".
  • Finally, Midrash Shemuel sees in the list a catalog of items which served to ensure the physical and spiritual survival of the nation, each protecting Am Yisrael in one of these two realms.

12. Additional Reading