Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Shema and the Apostate Lustiger - The imaginative faculty at work.

In discussions with fellow bloggers who are trying to prove the existence of a personal God empirically with scientific methods, I have tried to get it across that is an impossible proposition. How can one use scientific methods to prove something that is outside the physical realm? The only thing we can do is, using the argument from contingency, argue for the existence of a, by definition, unknowable entity that we call God. That was the argument used by Avraham Avinu to discover God.

[ג] כיון שנגמל איתן זה, התחיל לשוטט בדעתו והוא קטן, ולחשוב ביום ובלילה, והיה תמיה: היאך אפשר שיהיה הגלגל הזה נוהג תמיד, ולא יהיה לו מנהיג; ומי יסבב אותו, לפי שאי אפשר שיסבב את עצמו.
(Hil Avodah Zara 1:3)

When this solid person [Avraham Avinu] grew older though still a youth, he began to think day and night wondering how it is possible that the firmament is constantly moving without a Cause. After all, movement cannot start without a prime mover.

(I will not repeat the details and versions of this argument as it has been discussed in great detail here and elsewhere. See Rabbi Maroof’s expositions on the subject in his many comments at various Blogs.)

Having accepted the existence of such an entity, defining that entity is left to the human mind.

והצורות שאין להם גולם, אינן נראין לעין, אלא בעין הלב הם ידועים, כמו שידענו אדון הכול בלא ראיית עין.
(Hil Yesodei Hatorah 4:7)

The Forms not attached to Matter, cannot be perceived by the eye [are not physical entities] and are only known in the mind just like the Lord of all we know without the perception of our eyes [in other words only in our minds].

So on what basis do we believe in a personal God? What is the meaning of all the descriptions that we append to Him? In fact, what is the meaning of our worship of God?

The answer is that we believe in prophecy. I am talking about the human mind being able to observe its environment, learn all the knowledge and science that is underlying existence and in the process intuit (sense) what God is. In my last two posts, I described the process somewhat. However how does one know that the God he senses is real and not a figment of his imagination? The answer is that we do not and it is our life’s work to try, making sure, we develop a correct understanding. To help us do that we were given the Torah by Moshe Rabbeinu. The Torah is the method that we use to improve ourselves, develop our minds, regulate our habits and actions, concentrate us into working towards the goal; get a correct understanding of God. It starts by defining the goal:

ד שְׁמַע, יִשְׂרָאֵל: יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ, יְהוָה אֶחָד.
4 Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one.

(I prefer to translate אֶחָד as unique). The idea here is that it is the goal of a Jew to “hear” [understand and be convinced] that God is unique, not just mouth a mantra. Uniqueness means that He is different from anything we can think or imagine in other words transcendental, a notion. How does one do it?

ה וְאָהַבְתָּ, אֵת יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, בְּכָל-לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל-נַפְשְׁךָ, וּבְכָל-מְאֹדֶךָ.
5 And thou shall love the LORD thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

Love is a function of intimacy. One has to get intimate with God by getting to know Him. It requires total personal commitment, בְּכָל-לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל-נַפְשְׁךָ, וּבְכָל-מְאֹדֶךָ and also a multigenerational effort –

ז וְשִׁנַּנְתָּם לְבָנֶיךָ

7 and thou shall teach them diligently unto thy children

The method is then laid out in the next segment of Shema –

יג וְהָיָה, אִם-שָׁמֹעַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ אֶל-מִצְו‍ֹתַי, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוֶּה אֶתְכֶם, הַיּוֹם--לְאַהֲבָה אֶת-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם, וּלְעָבְדוֹ, בְּכָל-לְבַבְכֶם, וּבְכָל-נַפְשְׁכֶם.

13 And it shall come to pass, if ye shall hearken diligently unto My commandments which I command you this day, to love the LORD your God, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul,

Keeping the Mitzvot, the commandments, helps us get intimate with God, in other words really know him. Without that process, we are at risk that our imaginative faculty will dictate our perception of God which is the continuation of the Parsha –

הִשָּׁמְרוּ לָכֶם, פֶּן יִפְתֶּה לְבַבְכֶם; וְסַרְתֶּם, וַעֲבַדְתֶּם אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים, וְהִשְׁתַּחֲוִיתֶם, לָהֶם.

16 Take heed to yourselves, lest your heart be deceived, and ye turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them;

If I were to summarize I would say that the Jewish commitment at Sinai and taught to us by Avraham, is to dedicate ourselves forever in finding God, making sure that we don’t let our imagination run away with us. Our God is unknowable by definition. We make Him personal and we do it in the process of trying to understand Him. Anytime we think that we have a picture of God we know we are off the right track. We keep Him in our minds, hearts, and daily life but not in our fantasy. Someone who lets his imagination take over gets lost in the tangle of idolatry.

I was reading an obituary for Cardinal Lustiger, the Apostate.

The moment of conversion came at 14, in Orleans, where his family had taken sporadic shelter in a Catholic household during the war. On Holy Thursday, he stole into Orleans cathedral to find it blazing with candles and flowers. The next day, Good Friday, he found the church stripped as a sign of desolation. Christ’s presence, followed by Christ’s absence, impressed him so deeply that he asked to be baptized.”

I believe that this is the most eloquent description of the dangers of the imaginative faculty. An emotion triggered by the imaginative is so powerful that it leads to an action: Idolatry. It is just this that Torah is here to prevent.

Our God is unknowable. When the question is posed why Judaism, why not Christianity, Islam? Are they also not Tradition based religions? Don’t they claim prophecy too? The answer is that Christianity leads to idolatry. It does not accept God’s transcendence in its full implication, notwithstanding what they mouth. The same goes for Islam though to a lesser degree. (Their goal seems to have been the same as ours but they are totally lost in a world of superstition and immorality.)

“Those, however, who think of God, and frequently mention His name, without any correct notion of Him, but merely following a mere imagining or following a belief adopted because of his reliance on the authority of somebody else, are, in my opinion, like those who remain outside the palace and distant from it. They do not mention the name of God in truth, nor do they reflect on it. That which they imagine and mention does not correspond to any being in existence: it is a thing invented by their imagination, as has been shown by us in our discussion on the Divine Attributes.” (MN3:51)

Unfortunately, there are many of our brethren who are also lost in a world of imagination. As long as they keep Halacha, the Mitzvot, though there is a good chance that at some future time they will find their way back to intimacy with God not “ a thing invented by their imagination”.

So you may ask, what is the purpose of finding this unknowable God? Is there a practical implication besides the Mitzvot, which according to this thesis are not themselves the goal?

I will discuss this in my next post.

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