Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Ralbag's Preliminary Remarks on Sefer B'reishit

The following is a translation of the first two paragraphs of the Ralbag's preliminary remarks on Sefer B'reishit. Clearly this is fundamental to understanding B'reishit in general and the Ralbag's commentary in specific. Please feel free to ask for clarifications in the comments section.

Levi the son of Gershom says:

It is clearly evident to anyone who has seen the opinions of the people who lived at the time of Moshe our Master, peace be upon him, that in his days philosophy was greatly lacking. The majority of people did not admit to there being any other existence other than that which is sensed. And they had no sense of the formal cause whatsoever. Instead they thought that only a single 'matter' existed in actuality in every thing that exists. Some were of the view that what distinguishes one existence from another is only the condition of the parts of their 'matter' and in their appearance and the increase or decrease in the quantity of those parts. Some saw other reasons for change based on their individual perspectives. What the majority of people had in common at that time was that they did not see that there is an 'agent -cause'. Rather, they said that things exist spontaneously, without any 'agent-cause'. This is clear from what the Philosopher (Aristotle) cites of the opinions of the ancients in the second book of the Metaphysics.


Being that this was the case, and the intention of the Torah is to bring those who follow it to true perfection, as we mentioned, it is fitting that it should first establish for us as a foundation the true principle that there is an Agent-cause of all existing things and set us on the existence of the formal cause because without this principle there can be no gain whatsoever in the perfection of the soul. This is clear to anyone who has investigated the science of the existing things.

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