By Rabbi Yitzchok D. Frankel
Agudath Israel of the Five Towns
The Torah details how long each person lived in the generations that preceded the Mabul, as well as for those that followed the Mabul. One major outcome of all these dates is that we know we live in the year 5,773 (and counting). But why is it important that we know all this information about the life spans of the first generations of mankind?
A further question revolves around the situation that exists today regarding how we keep track of time. In the early generations, legal documents were written based on the years of the kings. The Gemara’s discussion in the beginning of Tractate Rosh Hashanah is based on the fact that all documents were dated from the beginning of a king’s reign.
Even in the time of Bayis Sheini, when there were no more proper kings, we find that all the legal documents were dated according to what is called minyan ha’shtaros, “the counting of documents.” In this way of counting, documents were dated according to the reign of Alexander the Great. Thus, we have a truly unique system of dating called minyan ha’shtaros!
It was not until long after the destruction of Bayis Sheini that the present system used by Jews today began to be practiced–that of counting from the Creation of the world.
What significance does our current system of dating have? Obviously, it was not important to count from Creation in the earlier generations. What happened that made it now important to count from Creation? The sages who introduced the present system could have chosen any starting point, any date to count from. They could have chosen to count from Bayis Rishon, from Bayis Sheini, or from any other significant event.
I believe that Heaven’s hand directed us to our current dating system so that everyone, wise and ignorant, should know that the world is 5,773 years old. Why? Because the world does not look like it is 5,773 years old! This is the great trial of modern times, of scientific discovery, beginning when the scientific method was initiated in the mid-1200s. That is when the development of science as we know it began.
Throughout these last centuries, and all the more so in these latest few generations, science has created its own religion and has begun to veer sharply from knowledge of HaKadosh Baruch Hu. For this very reason, Hashem wanted us to know clearly and unmistakably how old the world really is. He wanted us to count from Creation for all our significant documents–kesubos, gittin, and promissory notes–as a symbol of our emunah, our trust, in the veracity of what the Torah says. If the Torah says that the world was created in six days, and that this took place 5,773 years ago, then we will base all our legal and financial transactions on that fact.
Thus, if someone comes along and claims that the world isn’t as old as the Torah says it is, or is older than the Torah says it is, he will be viewed as mouthing obvious kefirah. He is denying the facts.
So in order to impress this upon us and make it clear beyond a doubt, to the point that it is basic, public information, the Torah details the years from the day of Creation, and we count from day one. Every schoolchild knows what year it presently is and thereby knows how many years ago the world was created.
This serves to strengthen the Jewish people’s belief in what the Torah says, so that if we are confronted by scientific claims to the contrary, we will know whom to believe. Indeed, HaKadosh Baruch Hu chose this to be a major trial of our times: Will we believe what He says in His Torah, or will we look for some skewed way to reconcile the Torah’s account with the prevalent views of the world around us?
Rabbi Frankel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. At local stores: Machat shel Yad Beraishis.