Sunday, August 26, 2007

Action Oriented Theology - Emulating God.

In my last post, I explained that God is Truth and Unknowable. I also discussed how the intelligent human being, in his quest for understanding his own existence, has the overwhelming urge to find Truth. However, the most he can expect to apprehend is what God is not. Here is how Rambam puts it in MN1:59 -

There may thus be a man who after having earnestly devoted many years to the pursuit of one science, and to the true understanding of its principles, till he is fully convinced of its truths, has obtained as the sole result of this study the conviction that a certain quality must be negated in reference to God, and the capacity of demonstrating that it is impossible to apply it to Him.”

In other words, the approach to finding God is to look at nature, try to understand it, and in the process become convinced why the scientific concepts developed, cannot be ascribed to God. The idea is that the only way we can look for God is by looking at the results of His supposed actions. There is no way to know neither His essence nor therefore, how He performs an action - if He acts at all - that results in what we observe. We therefore look at the results and follow them backwards up the chain of cause and effect, hoping to arrive as close as possible to the original First Cause. Clearly, science is the cause and effect trail that needs to be followed. As we follow that trail, we start perceiving concepts that are almost non-physical such as energy, gravity and quasars and even more astonishing, quantum mechanics and its uncertainty theory, where even the familiar system of cause and effect become blurred. We still have to stop and understand that this too is not God, just something caused by Him. If we can understand it, it must not be God. As man continues to understand the underlying concepts of his environment, he may come across even more sophisticated “non-physical” concepts. He has to know that that is also not God, but even more, understand why it is not. That exercise brings one closer and closer to knowledge of God. However, all it does is bring you closer but that is all. It never will let man “know” God’s real essence.

As we engage in this quest for Truth, we are not satisfied with just thinking or knowing, in the popular connotation of the word “know” (thank you Yehoshua for your comment), about God. We also want to connect with the Divine and become one with it. There develops a strong emotional attraction, a feeling of love and an urge for fusion. At the end of Hilchot Teshuvah Rambam describes the following internal processes that a seeker experiences:

העובד מאהבה, עוסק בתורה ובמצוות והולך בנתיבות החכמה--לא מפני דבר בעולם, לא מפני יראת הרעה, ולא כדי לירש הטובה: אלא עושה האמת, מפני שהוא אמת; וסוף הטובה לבוא בכלל

One worships [God] out of love, learns Torah, performs Mitzvot and walks in the paths of wisdom for no other reason in the world, not out of fear of evil nor to gain any good, other than to “do” Truth because it is Truth. [Truth for its own sake.] The good will come in a general way[1]. [Rambam is purposely not specific. Whether physical or spiritual, good and evil are not reasons enough for this search for God.]

He then expands further:

[ג] וכיצד היא האהבה הראויה: הוא שיאהוב את ה' אהבה גדולה יתרה רבה, עזה עד מאוד, עד שתהא נפשו קשורה באהבת ה', ונמצא שוגה בה תמיד--כאלו חולי האהבה, שאין דעתם פנויה מאהבת אותה אישה שהוא שוגה בה תמיד, בין בשוכבו בין בקומו, בין בשעה שהוא אוכל ושותה.

What is the proper love? One loves God with such an exceedingly great and strong love, that the mind is bound with the love of God and is immersed in it at all times. It is like the person that is suffering of lovesickness, where his awareness cannot free itself from this woman that he is so immersed in at all times, whether lying down or standing up, eating or drinking.

And finally:
[ו] דבר ידוע וברור שאין אהבת הקדוש ברוך הוא נקשרת בליבו של אדם, עד שישגה בה תמיד כראוי ויעזוב כל שבעולם חוץ ממנה כמו שציווה ואמר "בכל לבבך ובכל נפשך" (דברים ו,ה; דברים י,יב; דברים ל,ו): אלא בדעה שיידעהו. ועל פי הדעה--על פי האהבה--אם מעט מעט, ואם הרבה הרבה.

It is clear that God’s love will attach itself to a person’s heart only if he immerses himself in it properly and at all times, leaving aside all else, as ordered “with all your heart and all your mind” dedicated solely to its knowledge. Love is commensurate with knowledge. [The Truth is not an easy find. It requires total dedication and immersion. The emotion (love) is a result of knowledge, of the rational faculty.]

יא לפיכך צריך האדם לייחד עצמו להבין ולהשכיל בחכמות ותבונות המודיעין לו את קונו כפי כוח שיש באדם להבין ולהשיג, כמו שביארנו בהלכות יסודי התורה

Therefore, a person must dedicate himself to understand and comprehend the sciences and concepts that let him know his Owner as far as a man can understand and grasp [Him], as we explained in Hil. Yesodei Hatorah.

Rambam is describing beautifully what this knowledge of God is. It becomes an obsession that eventually takes over your life. It is an intimate cognition of HKBH. It is in the same context as

א וְהָאָדָם, יָדַע אֶת-חַוָּה אִשְׁתּוֹ.
1 And the man knew Eve his wife;

However, I am focusing here more on the method used in this discovery. Rambam describes the tools used as, עוסק בתורה ובמצוות והולך בנתיבות החכמה and ותבונות. Torah sets the goals and provides the Mitzvot which help make the potential seeker into a perfected human. Without that, he will fall prey to his imaginative faculty and arrive at erroneous conclusions. Having started on this path of self-perfection, a person now studies Chochma and Tevunah, science and logic[2], observing his environment and getting a sense of how all this functions. When looked at from a proper perspective, a perspective taught to us by our great prophets and teachers, we perceive the results of God’s will. In this endeavor to “know” God, to cleave to Him, we now want to emulate Him. It is the only way we know that we can somehow feel as one with Him.

I will use one general example to illustrate. We look at nature and we see that HKBH has made it such that it self perpetuates. There is a clear system that allows for the survival of the whole, of the categories and of the sub categories all the way down to species. If a human were responsible for such a system, the emotion, the impetus for creating it without garnering any benefit would be loving-kindness - Chesed. We therefore say that HKBH is loving and kind. A person who wants to emulate Him so that he can cleave and become one with Him - “know” Him - uses that same emotion as an impetus to act.

I believe that one can glimpse an interesting concept that is at the core of Rambam’s understanding of Mitzvot and self-perfection. At first, a person works on combating his narcissism so that he becomes a better person and can get a proper understanding of God. He develops his ability to think of others and do good without reciprocity. That blunts his own personal biases when he contemplates the world in his search for God. It helps him not to confound God with nature, as he no longer is the center of the universe. (There is much more to this but I don’t want to digress). Once he gets an understanding of God and wants to cleave to Him, he now does the same thing as a way to emulate God and become one with Him. The act may be the same - the quality is different. The theology of Judaism is action oriented. It is not just a way of understanding existence; it also in the process requires actions and adds different meanings to them as we progress.

This brings us, just in time for the Yamim Nora’im, to the 13 Midot of Rachamim. But that is for another post.

There is much more to write on this subject and I will. I will however take a break until after Labor Day, as I will be away for a few days.

[1] I translated literally for good reasons. I do not want to digress.
[2] I translate Tevunah as logic. It is really critical analysis the root being Bon from Binah which is differentiating, bein. Chochma is the information and Tevunah is what one does with it.

No comments:

Post a Comment