Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Rain Rain Go Away

Isaiah 55:10-11

"For just as the rain and snow descend from heaven and will not return there, rather it waters the earth and causes it to produce and sprout, and gives seed to the sower and food to the eater, so shall My word that emanates from My mouth, it will not return to Me unfulfilled unless it will have accomplished what I desired and brought success where I sent it."

I guess God never heard of the hydrologic cycle?


Ben Avuyah said...

I'd be interested to know what rashi comments on that paragraph. He was at least aware that dew evaporated as the day warmed, in fact he believed an egg filled with dew would rise along with the water...

Mis-nagid said...

"I guess God never heard of the hydrologic cycle?"

You mean the guy who wrote that verse.

Yes, I know.

BrooklynWolf said...

I'm going to agree with Mis-nagid, but not in the way he thinks.

While traditional Chareidi Jews view the Torah as having been dictated word-for-word from God to Moshe, that does not apply to the rest of Navi.

For the rest of the Nevi'im, God gave them the message, but the way in which they chose to express it was their own. Isaiah never heard of the hydrologic cycle (barring those who maintain that Chazal [and the Nevi'im by extension] had perfect scientific knowledge, of course).

The Wolf

Mis-nagid said...

BrooklynWolf, I feel only sadness when I see a bright person like you so nakedly expose the hole cut in his head. Making unjustified exceptions like that is weird, even if you can't see the full extent of the strangeness while under the thrall of the cult.

thrall, meaning 1b: One who is intellectually or morally enslaved.

It's a book, BrooklynWolf. A book. Don't turn your brain off.

BrooklynWolf said...


I fail to see what the problem is. The verse is talking about God fulfilling his promise. As a metaphor, Isaiah uses the example that the rain and snow go down but do not come up. It's a perfectly valid metaphor, given the state of scientific knowledge in Isaiah's time; he didn't know that the water vapor *does* go back up. So, in it's context, it's a perfectly valid metaphor.

Where is the problem with this?

The Wolf

Mis-nagid said...

"Where is the problem with this?"

Nothing at all. I agree with you that it's a valid metaphor in its context, but I wasn't talking about Navi. You make your unjustified exception about the Torah, refusing to do what you did in your last comment: read it in the context of its human authors. Please reread your original comment and my reply; they should make more sense now. I'm sorry that I wasn't clear.

BrooklynWolf said...

Ah, I see. The problem was with the first part of what I stated.

In short, I still believe that the Torah was given to us by God. Plain and simple. Was it really dictated word-for-word, or did Moshe write it with Divine Inspiration? That, I don't know. But, especially as far as the Navi is concerned, even the most Chariedi person doesn't hold that it's "dictated from God" and therefore, a scientific error on Isaiah's part is no problem.*

The Wolf

* Of course, that is, unless you hold of the idea that Chazal (and by extension) the Nevi'im knew all of science - a position I most certainly do NOT hold of.

The Wolf

Orthoprax said...

"I'd be interested to know what rashi comments on that paragraph."

Good point, now I'm curious too. Ok, got my Mikraot Gedolot and Rashi here comments here that he basically takes it figuratively.

Rashi: 'For just as the rain and snow fall' and do not return empty, but do good for you.

He basically says that yes, precipitation evaporates, but the meaning is that it doesn't return without doing good stuff for you.

Amusingly, the translation in this book, Judaica Books (y'know the pink and red covered ones) take Rashi's understanding to heart and retranslates as "...and does not return there, _unless_ is has satiated the earth..."

Though also, interestingly, the Radack seems to go outright and call the whole verse wrong and simply says, "The heat and sun evaporates the moisture and returns it to the clouds; otherwise, no rainfall would be necessary."

D.C. said...

Your translation is inconsistent. You translated "ki im" in verse 10 as "rather," and in verse 11 as "unless." This confuses the metaphor.

There are places in Tanakh where it seems to make more sense as "rather," and there are places where it seems to make more sense as "unless" or "except." My inclination (for reasons having nothing to do with science) would be to understand, like Rashi, that it does mean "unless" here.

That being said, I would not be theologically disturbed if the metaphor weren't scientifically accurate. In fact, I wouldn't be disturbed even if that were the case in the Torah itself. Diberah Torah bi-leshon benei adam -- according to the cultural context of the time of Matan Torah. Is this really such a chidush?

Orthoprax said...

"Your translation is inconsistent. You translated "ki im" in verse 10 as "rather," and in verse 11 as "unless." This confuses the metaphor."

It's not "my" translation. That was a word for word Artscroll quote. But if we really want to examine the structure of the verses and the meaning of "ki im" in them then we'd need to understand what those key conjunctions mean.

I look towards the Malbim and his book "Ayelet Ha-Shachar" and he writes om pages 229-230:

"Anywhere that we find a condition created by a negation of the precedent, the condition is indicated by the words 'ki im' (e.g., 'I shall not send you unless [ki im] you bless me')… For whenever a condition negates its precedent, such that the thing is not fulfilled unless this is true, we find the words, 'ki im.' For the word 'im' serves as the conditional. In most cases we may interpret it as meaning, 'This thing will not be so, unless this condition is fulfilled.' For instance, 'He shall not eat of the kodshim, unless (ki im) he has washed his flesh with water.' Even where this is not stated clearly, it is implicit. 'You will not be inherited by this one; rather (ki im) one who will emerge from your loins' (Bereishit 15:4) means that the inheritance will not be created in any other way."

That was pretty clear. So does this kind of structure apply here?

Water won't return to heaven unless it supports plant life? Um, no. That's silly.

And God's decrees won't be fulfilled unless they are fulfilled? That doesn't even make sense.

I would say that "ki im" here means "but." That the first statement does not happen, but the second does. The word "rather" is more accurate than "unless" in my view. I suspect that the Malbim would agree.

"Diberah Torah bi-leshon benei adam -- according to the cultural context of the time of Matan Torah. Is this really such a chidush?"

No, just more apologetics. It has every sign of being written by fallible, ignorant people (not to say that they do shine from time to time) why won't you just see the evidence as it is?

Enigma4U said...


Had Isaiah hung out with Job, he might have learned a thing or two about geophysics. This is a quote from Job:

"He draws up the drops of water, which distill as rain to the streams; the clouds pour down their moisture and abundant showers fall on mankind. Who can understand how he spreads out the clouds, how he thunders from his pavilion?" (Job 36:27-29)

Amazingly enough, it seems Job almost got hydrologic right!

alex said...

Strange... Isaiah had a good enough reputation to make it into the Bible, but apparently he never learned past the first aliya in Bereshis. In Gen 2:5, "a mist ascended from the earth and watered the whole surface of the soil."

Orthoprax said...


Perhaps that just happened once as a miraculous event.