Final Lecture: In the Footsteps of the Kuzari - An Introduction (Part 2)

  • Prof. Shalom Rosenberg
By Prof. Shalom Rosenberg
NOTE TO READERS: This is the final lecture in our multi- year series on the Kuzari. We hope you have enjoyed the series and learned from it. At this point, we invite you to send Prof. Rosenberg your evaluations of the course, questions, comments, praise, critiques. Please email these to [email protected]
We wish to thank the series translator, Gila Weinberg, for the superior quality of her work and for her dedication over these past few years. We also wish her and her husband, Rabbi Menachem Weinberg, a warm mazal tov on the recent birth of their fourth child. Yehi ratzon she-tizku le-gadlo le-Torah, le-chuppa, u- lema'asim tovim!
Final Lecture: An Introduction (Part 2)
Faith: The Three Paths
      The positions of Jewish philosophers regarding the issue of faith is an integral part of their overall approach. In each important philosophical system we will therefore also find an approach to faith. Of course, we will not be able to set down all the approaches in detail here. However, I will try to define the main directions.
      The debate between these options is sometimes also a debate about the final goals, but beyond this, it is about the way people ought to behave. The different options are different alternatives. Mapping out these paths is our interest here. Usually people who discuss this topic distinguish between two options, however, it seems to me that this distinction is not enough. I would like to map out four possible paths.
      1. THE PATH OF INNOCENCE: In this path the questions have not yet arisen. Dealing with the questions is actually a self-reflection, in which the person looks at himself from the outside. Innocence is the state in which the person has not yet come out of himself. This does not mean that the simple believer is not aware that there are opinions which oppose his faith. However, the argument has not entered into his soul. It is not an inner debate between two voices which emerge from himself, but a struggle against voices from outside of himself.
      In a sense we can say that the innocent is not on a path at all - he has already reached the goal we strive for, while those who have lost their innocence have been taken from that point, from home, and thrown onto a path. The loss of innocence is the banishment from the Garden of Eden, an uprooting into existential exile, from which we search for the way back home. We still do not know if this uprooting is always and only negative. Perhaps it is a fall which brings about a higher level. Whatever our answer may be, this uprooting is one of the basic traumas of human life.
      What happens when this uprooting takes place, if it does take place? And what ought we, who are aware of the problem, do before this trauma takes place?
      In order to answer this question we will turn to the sources of Jewish philosophy, and we will transfer them from theory to practice. The practical and educational ramifications of these various approaches are great indeed, particularly regarding the stage before the trauma. There are those who insist upon maintaining innocence no matter what. However, there are those who offer alternative paths due to a situation which seems to them inevitable. Thus, the argument becomes bitter indeed. Now three central new contenders are participating. I will give them new names, in order to facilitate differentiating between them.
      2. THE INTUITIVE-PROPHETIC PATH: This is the path which values directly experienced inner certainty. This path gives up on the use of another medium, such as logical proof. This is the prophetic path, however, it is not limited to the prophets themselves. This path was described by Rihal through the distinction he made between sense [taam] and speculation [hakasha]. Sense is the immediate feeling, while speculation is step by step rational thinking.
      3. THE RATIONAL PATH: This is the path which uses rational proofs. It claims that the problem should be solved through the rational method. This path is shared by a family of thinkers. Rationality is characteristic of a method to be applied to basic givens. This is similar to the rules of chess, which we must apply to a given situation on the chessboard. Two of the groups in this school are in conflict. There are those who follow the severe rationalist path, and consider the entire world to be constructed according to rational principles, which the mind can discover and interpret by itself. According to this approach, the world is like a text of mathematics. Others, known as the empiricists, take an experimental path, and base themselves upon facts which are revealed in the world. The rationalist will search for God as an abstract mathematical axiom. His partner and opponent will search for Him in the wondrous order of the cosmos, or in the miraculous events of history.
      The rationalist path is, surprisingly, shared by Rihal and Maimonides, despite the great differences between them. This is really not a single path, but a network of paths, in which each philosopher finds his unique course. This explains the fierce arguments between those who follow the various options within this network of paths.
      4. THE PATH OF EXISTENTIAL EXPERIENCE: This approach claims that proofs are not powerful enough. The individual must add one more step, which can be termed the leap toward certainty. This is essentially a second kind of innocence. We will discuss this path separately.
      If I may use the term, I will say that for the innocent, even if he is aware of the existence of opponents, the war has not broken out. The intuitive path speaks of the existence of enough "passive resistance," which the individual must develop. The rationalist path speaks of the existence of weapons with which one can gain victory. The final conclusion is that we must go to war. The existential path, which is too sophisticated for the ordinary private, teaches that this is a unique kind of war, in which there are no outward pronouncements of victory. There is no objective judge. The real judge is you. And what is demanded of you is an action, a gesture of faith. At that point you essentially announce victory in the war.
      This last position at first glance seems very strange indeed, since in science, law and in many other areas, we are used to hearing an objective and absolute verdict. This is precisely the reason why this position demands more sophistication, a sophistication which permits us to understand that an objective verdict is not always possible. There has never been, nor will there be such a verdict in the area of morality or faith. This sheds a completely different light on the fact that problems and doubts exist. The book of faith, according to this approach, does not look like a book of mathematics, as the rationalist would like us to think, nor like a physics book, nor even like a history book, as the empiricist believes, but like a narrow bridge which we must cross on the basis of the inner decision of each individual.
      If the other paths are paved roads, the path of existential faith is one we clear for ourselves.
Educational Ramifications
      The philosophical issues which we have mentioned are not merely theoretical. They have a definitive impact upon our choice of an educational approach, and this choice can literally define the appearance of our people in the future.
      What principle ought to guide us in the education of the individual, and in our spiritual lives in general? This is the issue under debate. If we return to the example of banishment from Eden, there are many who admit that although after banishment all implements of war are to be used, this is not true before the banishment. They claim that the weapons are weapons of destruction which destroy society, like medicines which, if uswhen we are well, will cause dangerous side effects, to the extent of endangering our lives. The debate rages between two paths, between the path of those who wish to preserve the original innocence, and those who believe in exposure. It is very easy to recommend the path of faith and disqualify the access to philosophy. And indeed, it is perhaps possible to claim that faith has no need of philosophical speculation. However, the central claim of Jewish philosophy has always been wider. It continues to serve as an important model for us, even if classical philosophy has been destroyed from the foundations.
      The central and eternal principle of Jewish philosophy is the willingness to contend with the principles which guide each generation's thinking. We are not exempt from responding to the intellectual powers which influence us. In fact, dealing with foreign philosophies will bring us once again to the truths of our philosophy.
      There are many who believe they hold the solution to the problem. If we were speaking of a merely theoretical question, the response would be of less moment. However, here we have fateful practical ramifications. And indeed, it is difficult to understand how people take upon themselves the responsibility of disqualifying other paths. Although in general it is right to beware of a multiplicity of theories, it seems to me that this precaution is not appropriate to the area of Jewish philosophy. The three directions are each appropriate for different spiritual personalities. And whoever disqualifies one of these paths is guilty of violating a basic principle of Judaism: not to cause any Jew to leave its embrace.
Rabbi Kook's Approach
      Rabbi Kook teaches us that the wellspring of natural faith is within the soul of each individual. However, this is not all; this is only one dimension. There is another dimension in which we must develop our faith, and it not in our souls but is expressed through the Torah. Only the organic development of both of these dimensions will help us achieve true faith, Torah faith [Orot Ha- emuna, 74].
      Rabbi Kook uses the example of the seedling, which we uproot and replant. This is a traumatic act, which can be regarded as parallel to the exile we spoke of earlier. However, here we do not face the extremes of faith and heresy, but a different problem: the necessity to ascend through different stages of faith. Yet this growth is accompanied by uprooting, and uprooting is always a risk. According to Rabbi Kook, the key to success lies in the replanting: "One must take great care that the replanting is done immediately following the uprooting, before the moisture dries up and the seedlings are exiled from their limited freshness." Uprooting is not merely a possibility, it is also a necessity. "And thus they are uprooted by many causes, these early ideas of faith, from their place." Here we find echoes of the two extremes in kabbalistic terms, "mochot de-katnut" and "mochot de-gadlut," which describe the necessary stages of development not only in the microcosmos, in man, but also in the macrocosmos. On all the levels in the world, uprooting and exile are a prerequisite for growth.
      We can look at the problem from a different perspective. Essentially, growth is putting potential into action. The basis of this approach is the belief in the presence of faith deep within each individual: "in a hidden chamber [lies] the divine light which pulses in the soul with its own great strength" [72-75]. This faith can be termed "natural faith," however, like every process, it needs nourishment. And the nourishment it receives will decide its level of development and even affect the direction its development takes. This nourishment is the Torah. To use a different image, the Torah is light in a process that natural man must undergo:
"That he become illuminated with the light of Torah, of tradition and Kabbala ... [which will] protect [his soul] from mistakes and straighten its path, 'for Your words are a candle at my feel and a light for my path.'"
      There is harmony between within and without: the Torah is the meaning of the concept of "segula," or inner choseness, and it is the source of the joy we experience in our love of the divine commandments.
The Kabbalistic Model
      Simple, innocent faith can be described in Kabbalistic terms as a point [73]. In the language of the Kabbala, this is the level of Chokhma, or wisdom. >From that point "stems the power of the highest fear of sin ... which experiences any practical blemish in the deepest recesses of the heart." This is the level of Bina, or understanding, in which the practical side is experienced in the heart itself. Yet this is also the place "from which depths the flow is healed, the power of practical, intellectual, emotional and aspiring repentance..."
      This faith, in its simplicity, includes all the positive traits: "all of the truth and all of the praise, all of the strength and the glory." Perhaps Rabbi Kook was actually explaining the meaning of the Kabbalistic spiritual level of Tiferet, or glory, which is the quality of mercy, when he writes that one of the outcomes of this faith is "[the love] of people and the highest level of patience and of mercy" [74].
      Man's response is religious, and it is described through the spiritual level of Malkhut, or kingship. Kabbala speaks much about the division between the level of Malkhut and the highest levels. The separation describes "the religiosity which is separated from divine governing Toraitic purification" and therefore, the Kabbala teaches us, it falls into the hands of the Other Side, and in Rabbi Kooks words, "it drowns in the depths of the dark nature of foul illusions and evil" [76]. The redemption of religion is the redemption of that religiosity, "and that point which is exiled in the lowest dungeons rises higher and higher, separated from all its dross, is revealed in all its glory..." [76]. Only then is it worthy of "eternal kingship."
      If I understand Rabbi Kook's writings correctly, to complete the picture we must say that religiosity, Malkhut, is the representative of Chokhma, since in Kabbalistic symbolism, Malkhut is the daughter of Chokhma. However, in Malkhut there is dross and the possibility of error exists.
      Rabbi Kook writes,
"What wells up from the depths of the heart, to draw closer to God, is a natural whole and health instinct ... the natural instinct of the soul, which in man originates from the soul of He who infuses everything with life." [80]
I will add only one thing more. Faith is under no circumstances another name for human weakness. "Man must believe in his life, in both his material and his moral powers" [1]. Paradoxically, faith in God must be expressed through faith in ourselves.
The Dangers
      What is the process that brings man abandon his faith? It seems to me that one of the mistakes we make, when trying to pinpoint the reasons for this change, is the sin of generalization. How do we know that all people are the same? From among all the personalities that exist, I will describe four which seem to me particularly significant. In the classic sources of Jewish philosophy we find various discussions of this problem. Rabbi Saadia Gaon wrote about it in his introduction to his "Emunot Ve- deot." He points out eight reasons, which I will present below in my own format, and in a different order.
      One of the central ideas in Rabbi Saadia Gaon's discussion is that the existence of the Torah and also the belief in it demand a war against a number of basic psychological mechanisms which exist in man and are stumbling blocks to his ability to recognize the truth. Perhaps one can term these psychological mechanisms the "Evil Inclination," which is with us from birth, and whose overcoming is the goal of education. Religion must combat various components of this inclination:
      1. Religion demands a constant effort against a kind of natural force existing within us, which is expressed by the instinctive feeling that the truth is heavy and bitter. This power is expressed through the experience of being drawn after oudesires "and he hurries to do it quickly, without thought."
      2. Religion depends upon a perspective of the future. In this context, religion is in constant battle with laziness, which expresses the power of the past and the present. Laziness symbolizes the difficulty of making efforts in the present for the sake of the future. On a deeper level, laziness expresses inertia and even paralysis, which is caused by the illusion that man cannot alter his situation and his fate. In this battle between the present and the future, there also exists an instinctive human tendency to fool ourselves, and to be convinced by the first thought which occurs to us.
      Our good traits can also become a stumbling block. In a sense, we can say that all of our traits can become stumbling blocks.
      3. Desire is not the only danger. Pride, which makes us unable to admit "that there is wisdom which is hidden from us," is a danger as well. Rabbi Kook emphasized the dangers of jealousy of God, which is the central element of Nietzsche's philosophy.
      4. Man's lack of independence can also sometimes be a danger. Rav Saadia Gaon warns against "a word which man hears in the name of one of the deniers and has reached his heart and crushed it, and will continue to crush it for all the days of his life." This time it is a defect in a human defense mechanism, similar to a defect in a defense mechanism against heat.
      A third level of problems stems from those who are faithful to Judaism.
      5. "He has heard a weak reason from one of the faithful and he thinks that all of them are thus." This is similar to the problem of the marketer who is not aware of the importance of packaging.
      6. The conflict with religious people can cause a conflict with God. This teaches us the importance of Kiddush Hashem, the sanctification of God's name. As Rabbi Saadia Gaon comments, "A fool does not know that his enemy cannot get from him what he reaches on his own:" we are not aware that the results of our reactions on the sinner can be much worse that the actions of the sinner himself.
      As Rabbi Saadia Gaon testifies, he wrote his book for the person who has questions about prayer and providence, about suffering and exile, about Scripture and tradition. In other words, the philosopher and his answers are not enough to satisfy the deeper conflicts which disturb mankind.
      When we relate to the problems of Jewish education, it seems to me that we can define at least four distinct personality types. I will use a classic image to illustrate this - the four sons of the Passover Haggada: the wise, the wicked, the rebel, and the one who does not know how to swim against the tide. I will try to describe them in general outlines:
      The one who does not know how to swim against the tide is the person who follows the general consensus, and abandons his faith because of social pressure. This pressure is applied directly by society, but its most effective expression is definitely through movies, television and other electronic media.
      The rebel rebels against his father, and through this rebellion discards the God of his father as well.
      The wicked son throws off the shackles of faith in order to remove the shackles of the commandments. The ideology is the slave of the wicked son's interests and personal desires.
      However, it seems to me that the wise son is also faced with possible obstacles. It would not be fair to see every sinner as the wicked son.
The Generation
      The state of the individual is the state of the generation. Rabbi Kook directed our attention to the fact that in his generation, the generation of the renewal of the Jewish State, there were many who became heretics, not because of their evil tendencies or small- mindedness, but actually because of their greatness. However, regarding a different social group of the same generation, he wrote in a letter to Rabbi Yitzhak Isaac Halevi: "The world has separated itself from all of this ... [field of Jewish philosophy], because it has abandoned all spiritual thought, and has chosen the wisdom of life and practicality instead." The abandonment of Jewish philosophy is a result of a psychological change in society, which has lost interest in spirituality and has become pragmatic, perhaps even materialistic. However, "it is true that the loss of the spiritual oil in his thoughts causes his much pain, and removes all the charm and grace of life, and therefore it is clear that in the end he will return to search for the spiritual treasure which he abandoned, in his hurry to grasp the material of life."
Paths in Education
      It seems to me that in light of the principles I have mentioned, we can describe in general terms a few of the problems we face. The child is given a truth first and foremost by his parents. The two sides of that truth are symbolized in the parents. The father represents Torah, the mother Tradition.
      The relationship between the parents and the child is a symbolic relationship, but also an actual relationship. The rebel is the child who does not succeed in distinguishing between the two. In his case, the conflict with his parents becomes a conflict with the faith of his parents.
      Eventually the child encounters a different world, different in its perceptions and its norms. At that point the danger of being drawn into the stream is born. The life of the believer, of the Jew, perhaps of anyone worthy of the name of man, is a constant struggle against the current. Here lies the potential for failure.
      Of course, another simple option exists, that of avoiding the encounter. This is the type of existence which we allegorically call a "ghetto." Life is removed from the current, and the waters are still and calm. However, the stream is history, it is the march toward the future, the changing of the world. Is it not possible to build a different stream within the ocean, or perhaps to alter the direction of the flow of the river itself?
      Each of these four personalities has a unique trait which characterizes him. The significance and rarity of the different types changes from generation to generation and from period to period. Each personality has a path. Among all the paths, we are particularly responsible and committed to the wise son. This book is dedicated to him.
(Translated by Gila Weinberg)
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