First i would like to thank you for the beautiful work you have on your site, it really changed my life thank you so much, a friend told me this shabbos the i should read safer habris i would like to know if you have anything to tell me before i am going to waist my time and learn it
It seems that what you were recommended to read is Sefer Ha-Berit by Pinhas Eliyahu Horowitz (c. 1765 — 1821 CE). This book includes some notions from natural sciences which were accepted at the time the book was written. However, the author of Sefer Ha-Berit used those notions, for the most part, to illustrate concepts and sayings from the realm of Kabbala and mysticism. This approach, aside from bringing together things belonging to two principally different realms (that of scientific knowledge, achieved through experimentation, observation and logical analysis thereof, and that of mysticism, which has no place for the tools of experiment and observation), also imposed severe limitations on the utilization of scientific knowledge in Sefer Ha-Berit.
Thus, for example, the author of Sefer Ha-Berit fully accepted the notion of the four elements, which originated with ancient Greek philosophers and which was accepted by important rabbinic figures in the Middle Ages (see, e.g., Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of the Foundations of the Torah, chapter 4). According to this notion, all the matter on Earth is composed of four basic elements: earth, water, air and fire, while everything which exists in the heavens is composed of a further, fifth element (ether) that is fundamentally different from the four elements composing the earthly matter. This is what Sefer Ha-Berit says:
Know, oh my brother the kind reader, the secret of the verse ‘These are the generations of the heaven and the earth when they were created [be-hibbar’am]’ (Genesis 2:4). The intent here is that [God] created them by five (the numerical value of the Hebrew letter he), as it says in the chapter Ha-Qometz: ‘Read not “when they were created [be-hibbar’am]” but “by five he created them [be-he bera’am]”‘ (Babylonian Talmud, Menachot, fol. 29b). The secret of this is that the Prime Mover… had created five worlds, four of which are called Nobility [atzilut], Creation [beri’a], Production [yetzira] and Making [‘asiya]… They are the secret of the four letters yod-he-waw-he, the Tetragrammaton, which are the secret of the four elements that compose all the worlds: yod [corresponds to] Nobility and the secret of the element of water, he [corresponds to] Creation and the secret of the element of fire, waw [corresponds to] Production and the secret of the element of air, he [corresponds to] Making and the secret of the element of earth…
Now, the lowermost of all [the worlds] is the World of Making (i.e., the material world), and the four elements therein are all called together the Earth of Making, which comprises the matter of all the worlds…
The Heaven of Making consists of seven levels. Their names are: Clouds [‘aravot], Foundation [makhon], Habitat [ma’on], Loftiness [zevul], Highness [shechaqim], Firmament [raqia’] and Curtain [wilon], and this is their order, from above downwards… Now, what were these heavens created from? From a simple matter and a simple form, which the Creator, blessed be he, had created before, had joined them together, and from this he created the heavens and the [heavenly] spheres which he made; then God placed them on the sixth level of heavens from above, which is called the Firmament [raqia’]…
Now, because this matter is purer than the matter of which the four material elements were made — those material elements which are called together the Earth of Making — and because this form is purer than that of the four material elements, the heavens are pure and are considered spiritual as against the four earthly elements.”
(Sefer Ha-Berit, part 1, section 1, chapters 1-2)
It has to be noted that in 1661 Robert Boyle had already proved that the four earthly elements, as they were conceptualized by the Greek philosophers, were not really elements — i.e., they were not substances incapable of being divided into more basic components by chemical processes (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chemical_element#History). In fact, fire is not at all a separate substance but rather a specific state of inflammable substances (whose compositions are different one from another) which is caused by chemical processes that lead to a quick rise of temperature in those substances.
Moreover, in the 16th century Tycho Brahe showed that the comets move above the orbit of the moon (relative to Earth), and thus he also proved that in the heavens (which, in the view of the Greek philosophers, included everything from the orbit of the moon and above, relative to Earth) there are material bodies undergoing processes of decomposition, which in this case result in the formation of a cloud of dust and gas that has the form of a tail following a comet. This discovery raised a great difficulty for the notion that all the heavenly bodies are composed of the fifth element, which is principally different from the elements comprising earthly matter. And since in the period in question that notion was shared by all scientists, even the greatest astronomers (such as Johannes Kepler) tried to settle the difficulty by raising some far-fetched theories (see http://www.vigyanprasar.gov.in/dream/apr2001/comets.htm).
In any event, by the time when Sefer Ha-Berit was written (the early 19th century), the notion of the four elements composing all earthly matter and the fifth element composing everything in the heavens was totally rejected by the scientific world. The author of Sefer Ha-Berit did include in his book a description of comets (part 1, section 3, chapter 5), but he did not mention at all the difficulty which the existence of comets posed for the notion of the elements utilized in his book — just as he refrained from mentioning the discoveries of chemistry that undermined the notion that earth, water, air and fire are the basic elements of earthly matter. Thus, the author of Sefer Ha-Berit preferred his mystical inclinations to scientific facts, and this example illustrates his whole approach to the issues on which he wrote.