Jump to content


The Siba Rishona

  • Please log in to reply
5 replies to this topic

#1 Rabbi Shapiro

Rabbi Shapiro


  • Administrators
  • 1,423 posts

Posted 06 March 2011 - 09:19 AM

Everything that happens has a cause. Even accidents have reasons why they ended up the way they did. If someone rolls the dice and they land on nine, there were reasons why that happened. The force of the throw, the angle, the rigidity of the surface they land on, etc., all contribute to determine what number those dice will show. There is a reason for everything.

And there are reasons for the reasons, too. And reasons for those reasons. Nothing happens without a cause.

A cause is a reason something is the way it is, as opposed to a different way that it could have been. If the dice landed on nine, we can ask “What made the dice land on nine as op-posed to any other number?” If a flower is blue, we can ask “What makes it blue as opposed to any other color?” If some-thing exists we can always ask “What makes this thing exist as opposed to not existing?”

Because the dice could theoretically have landed on any number, and the flower could have been any color, and the object could have not existed, there had to be some reason that caused these things to turn out the way they did as opposed to any of the other ways they could have been.

The reason something is the way it is as opposed to another way it could have been is what we call the “cause” for that thing.

Anything that could have theoretically not existed (and of course that includes everything in the universe) has a reason that it happens to exist as opposed to not existing. Therefore, we are entitled to ask about any of these things: What made it exist if it was possible to have not existed?

The answer to that question identifies the cause of its existence. Everything that could have not existed has such a cause (or more than one cause) for its existence.

Similarly, every single thing that did happen could have theoretically not happened. And so we can ask: Why did it happen as opposed to not happen? Of the two possibilities that could have been – (a) it should happen and ( B ) it should not happen – what caused it to happen as opposed to not happen?

Under other circumstances, the dice would have fallen on six and not nine – so what circumstances were in place that caused the dice to fall on nine and not six? Under other circumstances, I would not have been born – so what circumstances were in place – what happened – that caused me be born as opposed to never born?

Any given thing could have been different than it currently is, under different circumstances. Everything that is, is because some circumstances caused it to be so. The circums-tances that make things be the way they are now – that is their cause. Everything has a cause. And the cause itself has a cause as well, because that cause would have been different under different circumstances.

But now we have a problem: If everything has a cause, and the causes also each were in turn caused by something else, “ad infinitum,” where did it start? All these things which caused other things had to start somewhere, because infinity can never be reached. And the amount of causes that have already happened therefore cannot be infinite.

Thus, the amount of causes that stretches back into the past must be finite. And if so, they had to have a beginning - a first cause, which itself had no cause at all.

This means that this first cause has no reason or reasons for why it is; nothing created it, nothing makes it what it is. There are no circumstances that govern what the first cause is. The first cause could never have been different than it is, because there is nothing that causes it to be as it is. And it certainly could never have not existed, since nothing causes its existence.

The First Cause is what we refer to when we say “Hashem.”

And since there are no factors which make the First Cause what It is, It cannot be defined. A definition explains what makes something exist as it does. If I were to give you the definition of a table, I would tell you that it has legs and a base and it is designed to have things placed upon it. The definition of table is a list of the things that cause it to be a “table” and not something else. But Hashem has nothing that caused Him to be Him. Hashem could never have been anything else, no matter what other factors would have been different.

The most important thing we can know about Hashem is that He is causeless.

This means that whereas everything in the world has a reason for its existence and why it is what it is, Hashem has no such reason. Nothing caused Hashem to exist, and there is nothing that makes Hashem is the way He is.

If I ask you to define yourself, I am asking you what makes you the unique being that you are. You would give me a list of qualities, attributes, a description of yourself. If I ask about the definition of me, I will get the same thing, just personalized for me. But when we ask what makes Him Hashem, there is no answer.

All the components of Hashem that we can list, all of His attributes, His actions, and things that you think make up the identity of this Being called "Hashem" are really not a defini-tion at all, nor do they actually make Him Hashem. You may think you can say that what makes Him Hashem is His abso-lute power or unlimited wisdom, et cetera, but that is not correct. If that were so, then those things would be the “cause” of Hashem’s existence. They would be what make Him Hashem. But Hashem has no causes.

If everything that could have not existed needs a reason that it exists, then couldn’t we prove the existence of a Siba Rishona even without the infinity part of the equa-tion? In other words, even if it would be possible to have an infinite regression of causes, wouldn’t those infinite causes also need a reason that they all exist? So even if there would be an infinite amount of causes, since all those causes could have not existed, there must have been a cause-less cause? Put it this way:

Everything that could not have existed needs a cause for its existence.

Therefore, the causes also need causes, be-cause they, too, could have not existed.

Therefore, no matter how many causes you will have, (even if there is an infinite amount of them) they will still need a cause.

Therefore, there had to be an uncaused cause.

In theory that is true – even if we had an infinite regression of causes, all those causes would need a reason they exist as opposed to not existing. But once you assume that an infinite amount of causes already exist, then all those causes that need causes would already have them. All your question accomplishes is to point out that a quantity of causes equal to infinity is still not a sufficient amount of causes to explain how everything got here, since even an “infinity” amount of causes would need more causes to explain why they exist as opposed to not existing. Therefore you need to end the chain with a Siba Rishona.

That of course is true. But it is only true because you assumed that we can add more causes to an already infinite quantity of them, consequently having more than an infinite amount of them as a result. If that is true, then yes, even if we do have an “infinite” amount of causes, we would still need more causes to have made the infiniate amount of causes happen.

But if you can not add anything to infinity that would result in a quantity greater than the one you had before you added to it, then what you are saying won’t work. Because if we have an infinite amount of causes, then no matter how many we need, we would already have them!

But you are correct. If one supposes an “infinite amount” of causes, then that supposition carries with it the need for more causes, because it changes infinity from the unreachable to the reachable. But anything that exists – even an infinite quantity of them – needs a reason why they exist. So either infinity is unreachable and you can never have an infinite amount of causes, or infinity is reachable, and then you need even more causes to explain how the infinite amount of causes exists.

But I heard that there are different types of infinity, some greater than others. If that is true, wouldn’t infinity be countable?

No. Even if there are infinities of different amounts, you can still never reach even the “smallest” infinity, so there could not have already been an infinite amount of causes.

#2 yidel



  • Members
  • 9 posts

Posted 04 April 2011 - 10:56 AM

what does "different types of infinity" mean?
here is a question: if god would have put in a bucket a coin since...ever, how many coins will i have now?
ps. ty rabbi, this post gave me understanding of the insanity of the question "who created god"

#3 Rabbi Shapiro

Rabbi Shapiro


  • Administrators
  • 1,423 posts

Posted 04 April 2011 - 07:00 PM

See here regarding the different type of infinities.
If Hashem would have put a jelly bean in a bowl since whenever, the amount of jelly beans in the bowl would be finite. This is because your scenario, where Hashem puts each jelly bean in one at a time, requires that time exist. If it wouldn't, then there would be no such thing as one "after" the other, or one "at a time." In order to have before or after, you need time. So what you are really asking is, if Hashem would have put a jelly bean in a bowl from the point when time was created, and continued doing so until now, would the amount of jelly beans in the bowl be finite or infinite?

The answer of course is finite.

To ask could Hashem put jelly beans in a bowl one after the other without creating time is like asking "Could Hashem put the jelly beans in the bowl one after the other without having one come after the other?" which is of course one of those non-questions.

For sources regarding time being created, see what I wrote on page 55 in my sefer צדה לדרך here.

#4 taon



  • Moderators
  • 421 posts

Posted 12 April 2011 - 05:33 PM

But dis it relevant what types of infinity there are? Even if there were a "finite" infinity, which doesnt make sense, we aren't speaking of that infinity since it's just a term used to explain what is unreachable?

#5 Rabbi Shapiro

Rabbi Shapiro


  • Administrators
  • 1,423 posts

Posted 12 April 2011 - 06:52 PM

You're right. And that's what I answered, in different words. Even the smallest infinity is unreachable. It's just that I have heard this question asked in response to the First Cause argument so I decided to preempt it.

#6 emoticon



  • Moderators
  • 27 posts

Posted 13 April 2011 - 06:52 PM

That article about the different infinities is really... cool, for lack of a better description. Really cool.
I think mathematicians havta be the first to admit that there's a Hashem, because the systems are all too perfect and brilliant to have occurred without a designer.