Worlds in Collision
Michael Hamm from Brooklyn, NY wrote:
I heard something astounding recently. It was related in the name of the Alter of Slabadka, Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, but I have my misgivings as to whether he could have said such a thing, as it does not comport with what I have always understood to be the Torah's outlook.
It began with three questions: How was it that the Egyptians had thick darkness at the same time and place that the Jews had light? Similarly, how could the same glass of liquid be blood for an Egyptian and water for a Jew, as the Midrash relates? Lastly, what is the explanation of the idea that each person should say, "bishvili nivra haolam -- the world was created for me." If it was created for me, then how can someone else claim it was created for him?
The answer given was that there is more than one reality: Hashem creates a separate world for each person, and what is true in my world is not necessarily true in the next fellow's. Most often, people's worlds coincide; thus, for example, both my world and my colleague's include the fact that he and I conversed this morning. However, sometimes worlds do not coincide, realities differ; thus, the same glass of liquid was blood for some and water for others.
The implications of this bother me. In the example I gave, my colleague's world and my own coincide in the fact that we conversed this morning. But how do I know that that is really so? Perhaps in my world we conversed, but in his we did not. Indeed, perhaps in my world he is my colleague, whereas in his world we've never met. Or, perhaps outside my world he does not exist!
Dear Michael Hamm,
Not presently having access to the Alter's works I cannot verify that he actually said that. However, it sounds like a valid approach to understanding the Torah.
The concept is that, outside of the physical world, there is also the immediate spiritual world that surrounds each individual. I heard a wonderful story that amplifies that idea. Once the Ba'al Shem Tov wanted to enter a shul to pray. However hard he tried he could not pass through the entrance to the shul. When his students asked him what the problem was he answered that the shul was full of unanswered prayers and that he couldn't push his way in!
Was the shul full of unanswered prayers? Not for anyone else. But for the Ba'al Shem Tov it was a reality that was as impenetrable as a solid wall. There are "things" happening in every place at every moment. Our not sensing them does not mean that they are not there or that someone else cannot.
Still, it's clear from midrashic texts that both the Jews and the Egyptians were aware of each others' relationship to the blood or water. That is, the Egyptians saw that the Jews were drinking water and the Jews saw that the Egyptians were drinking blood. Furthermore, each understood why their realities were different at that moment.
So, your colleague exists, as do you. If not, you would know.