Tuesday, February 28, 2012

"The Source of Faith is Faith Itself", (Harav Aharon Lichtenstein) .

In a discussion with my friend Rabbi Yoni Sacks we disagreed about the meaning of Faith – Emunah. Is Emunah a purely rational process or is a leap of faith required? Can one believe in God based on rational proofs or must one go beyond the rational and involve the intuitive and the emotional? The discussion arose after we both watched the presentation by Harav Aharon Lichtenstein at an event promoting the book Mevakshei Panecha available here starting at about 1:04:00. Rav Lichtenstein states “the source of faith is faith itself”. Rabbi Sacks objected to that statement based on the Rambam’s rational approach to Yediat Hashem – knowing God.  I felt otherwise and saw this as an opportunity to clarify my thinking.

We start our daily prayers with the Pessukei Dezimra, the verses of praise, and we introduce the concept of contemplative prayer with verses from King David’s repertoire of poetry and thought. The first chapter we recite (Sfardim the first one indeed, Ashkenazim the first after the introductory blessing – Baruch She‘Amar) is from Divrei Hayamim 1:16 verses 10 and 11 -

  י  הִתְהַלְלוּ, בְּשֵׁם קָדְשׁוֹ--  {ס}  יִשְׂמַח, לֵב מְבַקְשֵׁי יְהוָה.  {ר}  

10 Glory ye in His holy name; let the heart of them rejoice that seek the LORD.

יא  דִּרְשׁוּ יְהוָה, וְעֻזּוֹ--  {ס}  בַּקְּשׁוּ פָנָיו, תָּמִיד.  {ר}      

11 Seek ye the LORD and His strength; seek His face continually.

Those who contemplate God are seekers, they are eternally seeking without any hope of ever finding what they seek - בַּקְּשׁוּ פָנָיו, תָּמִיד – seek His face continually. We humans can never reach the goal we seek of Knowing God – we can only eternally seek Him and by doing so establish in our minds and hearts His presence, without ever really knowing Him. So what is the process of seeking? How does one seek out and spend a lifetime looking for what we know we will never find?  The answer is that we have to really understand and absorb why we cannot know Him, why He is so elusive. By understanding why we cannot ever hope to find Him, we develop an abstract sense of Him. The way we arrive at that understanding is by getting to know our own world, our environment, our material surroundings and realize why that cannot be the same category of being that God is. Rambam presents this Mitzvah as follows:

המצווה הראשונה
היא הציווי שנצטווינו בידיעת האלהות, והוא: שנדע שיש (שם) עילה וסיבה, שהיא הפועל לכל הנמצאים.
וזהו אמרו יתעלה: "אנכי ה' אלקיך"

The Mitzvah is to know God, to know that He is the cause for existence. There is no Mitzvah to “prove” His existence – the Mitzvah is to know Him. We are supposed to define Him not prove His existence. So too in Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah when Rambam enumerates the Mitzvot, what is referred to as the short count, he writes
א) לידע שיש שם אלוה

He presents it as knowing that there is an אלוה an attribute that defines God from our perspective as the dominant force that brings and keeps things in existence see MN 2:30[1]. So too in the Halacha itself Yesodei Hatorah 1:1 we read:

א  יסוד היסודות ועמוד החכמות, לידע שיש שם מצוי ראשון.  והוא ממציא כל הנמצא; וכל הנמצאים מן שמיים וארץ ומה ביניהם, לא נמצאו אלא מאמיתת הימצאו.

Again the presentation is not to “prove” that He exists but to know what He is – the First Existent etc… What we are saying is that God is the cause of everything and we know that it is so because it fits with our understanding of the universe we live in. We are further compelled to go one step further and also define exactly what we mean by God –

  לפיכך אין אמיתתו כאמיתת אחד מהם.  [ד] הוא שהנביא אומר "וה' אלוהים אמת" (ירמיהו י,י)--הוא לבדו האמת, ואין לאחר אמת כאמיתו.  והוא שהתורה אומרת "אין עוד, מלבדו" (דברים ד,לה), כלומר אין שם מצוי אמת מלבדו כמותו.

Truth is a word that defines something in relation to something else that is false. Truth is therefore relative. In this case we need to “know” that this is not the case with God. There is no relativity and therefore it is a different type of truth. Understanding this point is the most a human can hope to find in his search for God - that there is no other existent like Him; He is in a category by Himself. We can only know that – that He is NOT like anything else but what He is, is eternally elusive.
Know that this is really the case, that those who have obtained a knowledge of God differ greatly from each other; for in the same way as by each additional attribute an object is more specified, and is brought nearer to the true apprehension of the observer, so by each additional negative attribute you advance toward the knowledge of God, and you are nearer to it than he who does not negative, in reference to God, those qualities which you are convinced by proof must be negated. 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.” (MN 1:59)
Ultimately the existence of God is a belief because by definition God is unknowable, the only thing we can know about Him is what He is not. How can one prove with scientific and material tools the existence of an entity that does not fall under any category? I must accept “the source of faith is faith itself".

[1] אבל אלוהי השמים 4, וכן אל עולם 3, הוא מבחינת שלמותו יתעלה ושלמותם 15, הרי הוא אלוהים, כלומר: שופט והם נשפטים ולא בעניין משילה 16, כי זה הוא עניין קונה 2, אלא הוא מבחינת השפעתו יתעלה במציאות 17 והשפעתם 18, הרי הוא האלוה לא הם, כלומר: השמים.