Wednesday, February 08, 2006

What is the Torah's mission statement? -

A lot of weight seems to be put on the historical and scientific elements in the Torah as if it is to be seen as a history book or a syllabus on physics, zoology,biology etc... Questions are raised therefore about it being Divine when it would appear that it does not stand up to contemporary knowledge. World history and archeology seem to contradict and disprove many of the stories both in the Pentateuch (Chamisho Chumshei Torah) and Nach. Physics and Astrophysics makes one question the story of Breishis. Biology and Zoology makes one question the laws of kosher animals, birds and fish, the laws of Tzoraas and so on. When allegorical explanation of the psukim are proposed, some feel they have to suppress their critical sense and accept them if one wants to remain a religious person. Some will try to separate between religion and science, saying they operate in two different realms. These issues are old ones and had to be addressed by many over the generations. The earlier written record we have of these issues after the Gemoro (there are plenty discussions there) was R. Saadiah Gaon followed by R.Haay Gaon, R. Shmuel Ibn Gvirol , R.Avrohom Hanosi, R. Yehuda Halevi, Ibn Ezra,Rambam et al. Later Maharal was faced with these issues when confronted with the new theories proposed by Tycho Brahe and R.Azaria di Rossi during the same era. The Vilna Gaon's talmidim, R.Menashe of Ilye and others also had to deal with the issue of Torah and science. It is noteworthy that explanations that seem like apologetics at first blush were accepted and Judaism continued its course. One must realize that quite bright people, in fact exceptionally bright ones in any milieu, such as R.Chaim, R. Meir Simcha,the Rogatzover to name just a few of the most famous ones, did not balk at this and remained faithful Jews. I marveled at that for a long time and even entretained the possibility of a conspiracy by the elite to lead people along like fools to retain control a la Karl Marx. (see Rambam Hil Avoda Zara Chapter 1. how he describes the strategy of the idolatrous priests). Of course that is ridiculous and I knew I was missing a very important key to resolve this question.

As a businessman I know that for a business venture to be successful, one needs to develop a plan with a clear goal that one wants to reach. Once one gets engaged in implementing the day to day processes and deal with crises as they arise, the goals get set aside and forgotten in the heat of the moment and every so often one needs to remind oneself of the goals that were defined at the outset. That is why a mission statement is needed that will always remind all involved what they set out to accomplish.

Let us start with how Rambam in Moreh presents the Torah's mission. In 3:27 he states that the Torah has two goals the first and most important one is the welfare of the soul namely "soundness of beliefs and correct opinions" as translated by Pines. In other words a theology and an ontological understanding of the cause (First Cause) of the reality we live in. The second one, which is a tool to reach the ultimate goal, is the welfare of the body. The way Rambam puts it "the welfare of the states of the people in their relations with one another through the abolition of reciprocal wrongdoing and through the acquisition of a noble and excellent character".

The ultimate goal of understanding our reality ontologically is the most difficult thing man can accomplish. It is understanding beyond the physical reality he is active and lives in. It is difficult enough for the talented individual, it is an almost impossible task if it is the goal for a nation, even more if it is the goal for the whole of humanity. The Torah undertook to accomplish that difficult task. "Pru urevu Umilu'u es horetz vekivshuoh". That is not addressed to Jews but to mankind in general. It is expected to take control of the world it lives in and understand it. The word vekivshuoh , to conquer is to know - "Hagam likvosh es hamalko ". R. Soloveitchik so eloquently describes this aspect of man in his seminal "Lonely man of Faith". This and the second part of man "leovdo uleshomro" which is the welfare of the body, leads to the lahat haCherev Hamishapechet - The shine of swirling blade, that reflects the momentary glimpses of metaphysical truths. (See the introduction to the Moreh) - (I will deal with this aspect in detail at a future time).

Realistically this enormous task of learning and apprehending is a multi generation effort undertaken over millenia. It had to take root in a small group of people who then evolved and grew, dragging along the rest of the world by slowly infiltrating the thought process and formenting creative thinking across all of humanity. This has been remarkably successful as witnessed by the Judaeo- Christian and Judaeo Islamic world in the West. (see Rambam Hilchos Melachim 11:4 uncensored versions). With man's development of modern communication the rest of the world has been impacted by these movements originally started by Avrohom Avinu. There are very few places left in the world where these ideas have no impact either by being assimilated or by reactions to them. (Reactions even antagonistic ones do impact the reactionaries).

That being the Torah's mission, it is in that light that it has to be viewed. Looking at it from this perspective all the questions take on a different tone. What is it telling and trying to inculcate in us so that we can fulfill its mission? How does it want us to understand our reality theologically? We need to analyze and perceive its nuances by looking back on how it has brought us to where we are now and where is trying to take us going forward. As I said in an earlier post - the Torah is a guide- a system that when followed it directs mankind almost imperceptibly to develop in a direction that will eventually bring it an understanding of its true reality.

I am hoping to deal with the various issues, from this perspective, such as the stories in the Torah, Taamei Hamitzvos, Yedias Hashem, Nevuah, Torah min Hashamayim etc... not necessarily in any specific order but as my wandering mind, reading and events trigger thoughts, questions and sometimes answers. I hope that from constructive comments and discussions we can collectively come to a better understanding of the Torah and our personal goals and how the two are interrelated.

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