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.


  1. David,

    What is your email address?

  2. Thanks for the blog post.

    The late George Pólya on emunah, yediah, and proof:

    "If you have to prove a theorem, do not rush. First of all, understand fully what the theorem says, try to see clearly what it means. Then check the theorem; it could be false. Examine its consequences, verify as many particular instances as are needed to convince yourself of its truth. When you have satisfied yourself that the theorem is true, you start proving it."
    At: http://books.google.com/books?id=-TWTcSa19jkC&lpg=PA76&pg=PA76#v=onepage&q&f=false

  3. You assert that there is no mitzva to prove His Existence. To support this assertion you have changed the Mitzva as Rambam states it, knowing that Hashem Exists א) לידע שיש שם אלוה, to your own notion -formulating a semantic formula which one professes belief in.

    What is the justification for this?

  4. דע, המעיין בספרי זה, שהאמונה (אעתקאד)1 אינה העניין הנאמר אלא העניין המצטייר2 בנפש כאשר מקבלים-כאמת3 שהוא כך כפי שהצטייר3.
    אם אתה מאלה המסתפקים בכך שהם מוסרים בדבריהם את הדעות הנכונות או הנחשבות בעיניך לנכונות מבלי שתצייר4 לך אותן ותאמין בהן, לא כל שכן שתבקש לגביהן ודאות - הרי זה קל מאוד, כפי שאתה מוצא רבים מן הטיפשים היודעים בעל-פה עיקרי-אמונה אשר אין הם מציירים5 להם משמעות5 כלל.

    שהאמונה (אעתקאד)
    אעתקאד. להלן, ח"א, פרק נ', מגדיר הרמב"ם: "דע, המעיין בספרי זה, שהאעתקאד אינו העניין הנאמר אלא העניין המצטייר בנפש כאשר מקבלים-כאמת (אד'א צדק if one holds it to be true) שהוא כך כפי שהצטייר". ולהלן, באותו פרק: "האעתקאד הוא לקבל-כאמיתי (תצדיק f?r-wahr-halten) את מה שהצטייר שהוא מחוץ לדעת (ד'הן (mind לפי מה שהצטייר בדעת. אם יחד עם האעתקאד הזה, הושג שאין משהו שונה מאעתקאד זה אפשרי כלל, ולא נמצא בדעת (ד'הן (mind מקום לדחות אעתקאד זה, ואין להעלות על הדעת אפשרות של דבר שונה ממנו - זאת היא ודאות". תרגומי להגדרות אלה שונה במקצת מתרגומו של נוריאל, אמונה, עמ' 46; נוריאל, הערות, בעיקר עמ' 40-50. והשוו וולפסון, מחקרים, ח"ב; רוזנברג ש., אמונה; מנקין, אמונה (בעיקר עמ' 119-126). וראו גם ריינס, אמונה, עמ' 33. על אעתקאד בכלאם המוסלמי ראו ון אס, הכרה, עמ' 70-74. ון אס אומר שמשמעות מונח זה בפי התיאולוגים הוא: ?berzeugung; doxa. המעתזלה הגדירו את הידיעה כ"אעתקאד של דבר כפי שהוא". וראו גם: פרנק ר., תקליד. אף-על-פי שנוריאל וקאפח הציעו לתרגם את המלה אעתקאד במלה "דעה" (וראו קאפח, כתבים, ח"ב, עמ' 588), מצאתי שתרגום כזה מתאים לשימושו של רב סעדיה גאון בביטוי אעתקאד בספרו אמונות ודעות, אבל לא לשימושו של הרמב"ם בביטוי זה במורה נבוכים. לעומת זאת, הביטוי "אמונה" נראה לי כתרגום מתאים לאעתקאד בכל הופעותיו בספר זה, ולכן, בכל מקום שמופיעה בתרגום זה המלה אמונה היא מייצגת את המלה אעתקאד, ובכל מקום שמופיעים הפֹּעַל האמין ונגזרותיו - הם מייצגים את הפֹעַל אעתקד ונגזרותיו, אלא אם כן צוין אחרת.- לתצדיק כהגדרה לאמונה (אימאן) בתיאולוגיה המוסלמית ראו אלאשערי, למע, פסקה 180; אלבאקלאני, תמהיד, סעיף 580; סמית', תצדיק; פרנק ר., כלאם; גארדה, גזירה, עמ' 361-364; גימארה, אשערי, עמ' 472; גריפל, סובלנות, עמ' 171-173, 176, 189-190, 262, 295, 321-322.

    דע אתה המעיין במאמרי זה, כי הדעה 1 אינו העניין הנאמר בפה, אלא העניין שהצטייר בנפש כאשר מאמתים אותו 2 שהוא כך כפי שהצטייר.
    Rav Kapach edition
    אם אתה מאותם שמספיק להם *2 מן ההשקפות הנכונות, או שחושבים שהם נכונות 3, בכך שתאמר אותם בפיך 4 בלי שתשכיל אותם ותבינם, 5 כל שכן שתחקור בהם על הנכון, הרי זה קל מאוד, כפי שאתה [עד] מוצא רבים מן הפתאים תופסים 6 דעות שאינם מבינים להם עניין כלל.

    1. "אעתקאד" כאן מגדיר רבנו מושג זה היטב, ובהחלט אין לתרגמו "אמונה", כי אמונה היא השקפה התפושה בידי האדם במסורת וללא ידיעה יסודית, ולפיכך תרגמתי בכל מקום "דעה". ויפה תרגם ר' יהודה אבן תיבון שם ספרו של רס"ג "אעתקאדאת" דעות, אם כי בתוך הספר הסתבך ללא סדר. כי "דעה" היא השקפה שאדם מגיע אליה מתוך חקירה יסודית ותוך בדיקה מקיפה של ההקדמות אשר הובילו אליה, ואף תוך בדיקת המתקפות הצפויות נגדה, כדי לדעת אם היא עשויה להחזיק מעמד נגדן. ובדומה להגדרתו זו של רבנו הגדיר רס"ג בהקדמת ספרו "האמונות והדעות" פ"ד, ראה שם מהדורתי עמ' יא.

    See also Sefer hamitzvot - the first mitzvah where the word is "Ithakad"
    and is then translated in MT as De'ah - Leydah.

    Even the last understanding of the word is not "Hochacha" but "to know" which is a conviction which can be based on circumstantial evidence and does not necessitate empirical proofs. I believe that empirical proofs do not exist in this area as we are dealing with matters outside the categories we know.

  5. דע אתה המעיין במאמרי זה, כי הדעה 1 אינו העניין הנאמר בפה, אלא העניין שהצטייר בנפש כאשר מאמתים אותו 2 שהוא כך כפי שהצטייר.
    Rav Kapach edition
    אם אתה מאותם שמספיק להם *2 מן ההשקפות הנכונות, או שחושבים שהם נכונות 3, בכך שתאמר אותם בפיך 4 בלי שתשכיל אותם ותבינם, 5 כל שכן שתחקור בהם על הנכון, הרי זה קל מאוד, כפי שאתה [עד] מוצא רבים מן הפתאים תופסים 6 דעות שאינם מבינים להם עניין כלל.

    Just to set up terms. There is a basis of establishing conviction of פתאים lacking proper basis that Rambam is criticizing here. I would call it "faith". What would you call it?

    There is another basis of establishing conviction that Rambam approves of אלא העניין שהצטייר בנפש כאשר מאמתים אותו 2 שהוא כך כפי שהצטייר
    I would call this proof. What would you call it?

  6. מאמתים אותו 2 שהוא כך כפי שהצטייר
    in my mind it means becoming convinced that it is true. That is not always done through systematic proofs but also via a multitude of indication at times intuitive and at times by impressions one gets by observing our environment. Proofs on the other hand are logical deductions which I believe cannot apply to the Existence of God.

  7. What are these hakdamot that Rambam puts before the second Chelek of MN to be used for if not a proof ?

    תוכן העניינים:
    [25 הקדמות להוכיח מציאות אלוה]
    ההקדמה הראשונה -
    ההקדמה השניה -
    ההקדמה השלישית -
    ההקדמה הרביעית היא -
    ההקדמה החמישית היא -
    ההקדמה הששית -
    ההקדמה השביעית היא -
    ההקדמה השמינית -
    ההקדמה התשיעית -
    ההקדמה העשירית -
    ההקדמה האחת עשרה -
    ההקדמה השתים עשרה -
    ההקדמה השלוש עשרה -
    ההקדמה הארבע עשרה -
    ההקדמה החמש עשרה -
    ההקדמה השש עשרה -
    ההקדמה השבע עשרה -
    ההקדמה השמונה עשרה -
    ההקדמה התשע עשרה -
    ההקדמה העשרים -
    ההקדמה האחת ועשרים -
    ההקדמה השתים ועשרים -
    ההקדמה השלוש ועשרים -
    ההקדמה הארבע ועשרים -
    ההקדמה החמש ועשרים -

  8. Also please give a term by which we should refer to the manner of establishing conviction of the פתאים. Would you prefer to call this unJewish approach "blind faith"?

    1. Not knowing what one is looking for or trying to understand. When one apprehends God as changeable, angry, strong etc... in the real sense one is searching for an entity that does not exist. When one realizes that the entity he is looking for is unknowable, not subject to categorization he is searching for an entity one can believe in.

      If you think about it, the way Rambam approaches the second chelek is by first establishing that God is unknowable and only then does he entertain a logical presentation of plausibility.

  9. but ultimately after you go through all the proofs all you come away with is plausibility rather then proof! For plausibility you also need logic and hakdamot but they still do not produce more than plausibility.

  10. 1. So we agree that the Mitzva of yedia does require a systematic formulation and testing of terms and propositions?

    2.You say: "When one realizes that the entity he is looking for is unknowable, not subject to categorization he is searching for an entity one can believe in".

    I do not understand how this statement excludes proof, but somehow allows for "belief". How is even plausible belief in Him possible then? Plausible belief is also a kind of carefully formulated argument as you say: "For plausibility you also need logic and hakdamot but they still do not produce more than plausibility".

  11. The position of Rabbi J.B. Soloveitchik זצ"ל is here:


    (Once you fire-up the flash-thingy, see footnote 1 on pages 49-50, which are sheets 69-70.)

    Partial quote:
    << Maimonides’s term לידע (Yesode ha-Torah I:1) transcends the bounds of the abstract logos and passes over into the realm of the boundless intimate and impassioned experience where postulate and deduction, discursive knowledge and intuitive thinking, conception and perception, subject and object, are one. Only in paragraph five, after the aboriginal experience of God had been established by him as a firm reality (in paragraph one), does he introduce the Aristotelian cosmological proof of the unmoved mover. >>

  12. GE

    I think your second comment follows from the first.

    Based upon Polya:
    One must first formulate the proposition implied by Yesod Hayesodot and establish a preliminary Emunah in it. This Emunah will be based upon experience of the world as stabilized by means of the objective prism of Talmud Torah applied in real world halachic action.

    Based upon Rabbi J.B. Soloveitchik זצ"ל

    The accumulation of real world Halachic action gives a cosmic experience, which changes the entire framework of the person's sense of identity- in- the- world, as the Rav describes it. This transformed mentality perceives the terms and postulates, indeed the entire proof instrument, in an entirely new light. In this new framework, the proof of Hashhem is no longer divorced from the intuitive experience that was what Polya refers to as the emunah basis which motivated the proof, but rather, arises from it and confirms it.


    In essence I think you are saying the same.

    Is this correct?

    1. R.JS: "I think your second comment follows from the first."

      Your comment leaves unclear whether you're referring to the footnote in whole or in part.

      BTW: In my first comment I state my (present) position by way of commenting on Pólya. In my second comment I do not state my position, but simply acknowledge the qualitatively unique authority of Rabbi Soloveitchik זצ"ל in the Jewish world I come from -- something like the phenomenon in the epigraph to "איש ההלכה", here:

    2. i think so though i hope in simpler words!

    3. Here are two passages that I've found useful. I personally find them useful because they were written by hard-headed empiricists who were working to liberate psychology from the German philosophers. I wonder if they might provide part of a vocabulary that you find congenial.

      See on p. 221 the discussion that begins "There are two kinds of knowledge ...".

      That discussion cites another formulation which has some of its own nice twists ...

      See on p. 308 the discussion that begins "Beside the knowledge which has to do with Notions ...".

  13. David

    To get back to the origins of our discussion about “the source of faith is faith itself”.

    My objection to this statement lies in the contemporary mentality which equates "faith" with Emunah peshuta, ie precisely the approach Rambam rejects in your quote. As such, I believe most contemporary readers would view the statement “the source of faith is faith itself” as an endorsement of Emunah Peshuta and a rejection of Rambam's approach of MN.

    Can you in simple words interpret the words “the source of faith is faith itself” in a way that would be understood by a contemporary reader as instruction to read the MN and attain such yediah as this path allows?

    1. RJS, thank you for bringing this up. There is a world of difference between this statement and Emunah Peshutah which in my mind is close to atheism and possible Avodah Zara - strong words but I believe the truth must be said. Emunah Peshutah teaches that the simple believe in the existence of God without any sophisticated understanding of what God is , is the ultimate religiosity. A person just accepts blindly that there is a God, declares that He is one, not knowing exactly what one means other than that he is the greatest, strongest etc... and then goes and prays to this god that does not exist and does all kinds of ritualistic mitzvot, and lives the distorted life of many of our contemporaries, hashem yshmereinu.

      I am arguing that we have to UNDERSTAND that there is an entity that we cannot fathom, is completely unknowable, which makes Him unique, that we have to convince ourselves by using all our faculties that He exists and is responsible for our and everything else's existence and that nothing happens that is not a consequence of His will. That conviction has to come to us rationally using all our senses and faculties to convince ourselves thereof. Inductive and deductive logic are also part of the process but are not sufficient because they can only work for something that is in the same category as us and that would negate God's uniqueness. We therefore have to use multiple tools to convince ourselves of the existence and function of the ultimate unknowable. That is why "the source of faith is faith itself" is not the emunah peshutah of the fool and ultimately kofer, but the sophisticated and advanced faith of one who can apprehend that there is an unknowable entity as Rambam says "sham" that is responsible and the cause of all, who is independent, uncategorizable etc... who we know only by what He is not. Where I differ with you, if I do, is that I do not accept that there is a "proof", a mathematical type of proof that will alone gives us the ability to say QED there exists a God. Mathematical proofs cannot work for a "singular" category.

  14. What you are saying is that the source of faith is desire of yediah through דרישה וחקירה.

    דרישה וחקירה that you are speaking of involves exploration of all knowledge, not just faith itself.

    What the statement says,on the other hand, is that the source of faith is faith itself.

  15. דרישה וחקירה that cannot result in a definitive answer is ultimately faith in whatever way you want to present it. It is not an a priori analysis but rather a posteriori working towards understanding and become convinced of a preconceived notion.

  16. How is what you are saying different than any form of education? In any education worthy of the name,the student learns what it is beyond his current capacity to know.

    Yet, there is a distinct difference between education and indoctrination. In education, the student is encouraged to use his mind, to discover through what form of yedia is possible regarding a given entity. This educational process may be long, with many stages of development needed in the student. This will require the teacher to familiarize the student with many branches of knowledge and root him in logic, the skill of identifying what form of yedia is possible in a given area.

    In indoctrination an area is isolated from yedia. There is no explicit education in the areas place in general knowledge and no skill of logic formulated. These are deemed unnecessary because the conviction in the area is intrinsic, emanating from the area itself rather than from דרישה וחקירה.

    I do not see the value ever, certainly not in today's world, of using the language of those who advocate the indoctrination form of religion.

    The the MT and MN go to great lengths to guide a Jew to seek the highest yedia that knowledge of Hashem allows and gives a very distinct path how to do so.

    I understand that the attitude of Torah to knowledge is complex and is not well categorized in conventional language today. It is neither the "knowledge" as we are familiar with science, nor faith as we are familiar with from religion.

    Yet even so, in Halachic man, the Rav guides us to align ourselves with the sense of knowledge of the man of science and reject the "faith" of the man of religion. This is because the notion of science connotes education in evidence based דרישה וחקירה while the "faith" of religious man is rooted in indoctrination in imagination.

    I find the statement "the source of faith is faith itself" to have the exact effect the Rav seems to advocate avoiding, seemingly aligning ourselves with indoctrinating religion as conventionally conceived.

  17. I refer to Halachic Man page 141 in footnote #4.

    The individual who frees himself from the rational principle and who casts off the yoke of objective thought will in the end turn destructive and lay waste the entire created order. Therefore it is pereferable that religion sould ally itself with the forces of clear, logical cognition, as uniquely exemplified in scientific method, even though at times the two might clash with one another, rather than pledge its troth to beclouded,mysterious ideologies that grope in the dark corners of existence, unaided by the shining light of objective knowledge and believe they have penetrated to the secret core of the world.

    1. Rabbi Sacks,

      What are you thinking? What could be more the unifying thrust of this blog as a whole, or Mr. Guttmann's articles in Hakirah, etc., than precisely the point Rabbi Soloveitchik makes in that footnote?

      To fling at him (of all people!) a 1944 criticism of Nazi spirituality is not less than obscene. Anyone who has repeatedly pondered Halakhic Man will recall that footnote as a unified Gestalt, rather than as a text-snippet.

  18. GE, thank you for your support. RJS does like to pick certain texts and read them as standalone ignoring the context. But so do we all at times.

    RJS, I was not talking about indoctrination but about not beginning as a tabula rasa when it comes to speculation about matters that we as humans cannot get to through what you call scientific methods. If you are truthful with yourself could you prove the existence of a God in a way that it could not be questioned and possibly refuted? How could you when you know upfront that you cannot fathom Him no matter how much you tried? In fact His "existence", the subject of your proof, is equivocal. Your proofs are just one of many circumstantial and intuitive indications that His "existence" however you understand that is more than plausible. It then takes a lifetime of struggling and searching to reach higher and higher levels of conviction and apprehension and the most one can hope for are to find His traces! Unless you believe in a physical God I don't know how you can argue. Ultimately faith is indeed the source of faith itself. It is a faith not based on indoctrination but on intelligent assessment of the available evidence and conviction based on that assessment.That assessment ultimately requires a leap of faith by definition.

    I hope I am clear enough.

  19. GE

    I am not flinging any accusations at David, nor Rav Lichtenstein for that matter. I am merely explaining the source of my personal difficulty with the language of a particular statement,that is all.


    First of all I want to make sure that you did not think I was accusing you of supporting an indoctrination program. That was certainly not my intent. Since both you and GE heard me that way I just want to make certain.

    If that is accepted, we could perhaps profit from further discussion.

  20. RJS,

    I did not take offense for even a minute. I understand your difficulty and where you are coming from because for a long time until recently I was closer to you than to my current thinking. However as we are rereading MN and I am getting a new look at negative knowledge I came to realize that there are different levels of conviction and understanding based on unprovable but compelling evidence.

    On a related matter let me ask you the following on the first perek of hilchot AZ tells us first

    לא היה שם מכירו ולא יודעו, אלא יחידים בעולם, כגון חנוך ומתושלח ונוח ושם ועבר. ועל דרך זו, היה העולם מתגלגל והולך, עד שנולד עמודו של עולם, שהוא אברהם אבינו עליו השלום.

    why does rambam add this if

    וליבו משוטט ומבין, עד שהשיג דרך האמת, והבין קו הצדק, מדעתו הנכונה; וידע שיש שם אלוה אחד, והוא מנהיג הגלגל, והוא ברא הכול, ואין בכל הנמצא אלוה חוץ ממנו.

    If avraham started from scratch without any outside interference why was it important to tell us that there were a few who retained the old traditional knowledge? why
    ודבר שגרם להם לטעות, זה שעובדים את הכוכבים ואת הצורות, עד שאבד האמת מדעתם

    why did he need to find an explanation for the error of their ways if simple logical deductive proofs were sufficient?

    I can go on through rambam in many places and show you more where this underlying motif of tradition is present.

  21. DG: "... to pick certain texts and read them as standalone ignoring the context. But so do we all at times."

    I dissent from your categorization. It was a text which:
    (1) carried the authority of one such as Rabbi Soloveitchik;
    (2) causally linked the danger of a future shoah to errors in ha-ikar hagadol.
    I can't think of a type of text which one should fear more to interpret, let alone misread, let alone in a public forum.

    I should stress that this kind of thing is not at all unusual in my orthodox world, particularly at the time of year when the institution of Yom Ha-Shoah draws comment.

  22. The nature of man is social, even more so in educational affairs than material ones. It is in the nature of man to have an understanding of Hashem as the basis of this educational governance, as indicated by the very terms Shem Hashem, which indicates a communicated knowledge.

    The presence of the natural educational system of humanity is the essential feature of there even being a Olam or a world of man. It is in this sense that we speak of Mitzvot being the great good that allow for Yishuv Haolam hazeh and it is in the same sense that we speak of Avraham being Amudo shel Olam, the educational pillar upon whom the very world of human education is founded.

    To be sure, it would have been ideal if Adam or Noach or at least someone prior to Enosh had been Amudo Shel Olam.

    The fact that Avraham, a post Enosh personality, had to be Amudo shel Olam is a tragedy. The tragedy lies on the fact that the Shem Hashem based world, is limited and surrounded by hostile "worlds" founded upon imagination based thought systems.

    Avodat Hashem in this evolution of man becomes in large part a process of release from AZ imaginary systems that came about post Enosh.

    It is for this reason that Rambam speaks of the individuals who knew Hashem, not because they had any impact on Avraham. Avraham, in order to be Amudo shel Olam had to understand the Shem Hashem in a way that could release his fellow men from their systems of imagination.

    יב כיון שהכיר וידע, התחיל להשיב תשובות על בני אור כשדים ולערוך דין עימהם, ולומר שאין זו דרך האמת, שאתם הולכים בה. ושיבר הצלמים, והתחיל להודיע לעם, שאין ראוי לעבוד אלא לאלוה העולם, ולו ראוי להשתחוות ולהקריב ולנסך--כדי שיכירוהו כל הברואים הבאים; וראוי לאבד ולשבר כל הצורות, כדי שלא יטעו בהן כל העם, כמו אלו שהן מדמין, שאין שם אלוה אלא אלו.

    יג כיון שגבר עליהם בראיותיו,

    Avraham himself discovered the Shem Hashem as well as the way to teach the Shem therapeutically, to a world העולם מתגלגל והולך,lost in imagination. This, even though Avraham had no teacher or influence whatsoever.

    ט ולא היה לו לא מלמד ולא מודיע דבר, אלא מושקע באור כשדים בין עובדי עבודה זרה הטיפשים.

  23. GE,

    I did not belittle the reading of texts out of context - on the contrary - I agree with you but unfortunately it is common when quoting writings of great men. I find myself guilty of doing the same at times, though inadvertently, especially in the heat of an argument. It is indeed the writings of men like the Rav Z'L whose writings suffer the most from such distortions because they are authoritative and at times difficult to understand because of their depth lending themselves to these misinterpretations.

  24. RJS,

    "It is in the nature of man to have an understanding of Hashem as the basis of this educational governance, as indicated by the very terms Shem Hashem, which indicates a communicated knowledge."

    Please explain what this means? On what basis do you link education with God? Is it really men's "natural" educational push to know Hashem?

    In fact the majority of humankind couldn't care less whether Hashem exists or not other than because they are told that He is "salvation", healer etc... There are always a few philosophically inclined individuals, a minority among the intellectuals and the educated who are concerned with metaphysical issues and most of those deny the existence of God.

    ולא היה לו לא מלמד ולא מודיע דבר, אלא מושקע באור כשדים בין עובדי עבודה זרה הטיפשים

    The way I read this in context with the rest that Rambam writes, is that Avraham had no reason to investigate the minority position of Shem et al because he was מושקע באור כשדים בין עובדי עבודה זרה הטיפשי. His questioning compelled him to look at it. He then developed his own advanced understanding of that postion as eventually Moshe took it to a higher level.

    If you read Rambam carefully, he does not see AZ as a standalone theology developed by imagination but as a deviation and misinterpretation of tradition based knowledge of God. The complete rejection of that misinterpretation was only accomplished at Sinai - as the midrash says that the nachash put into adam Zuhama and only Israel at Sinai was cleansed.

    See MN 1:36

    ואתה יודע שהעובד עבודה זרה אינו עובד אותה בהנחה שאין אלוה זולתה....
    אולם אותם כופרים [חייבים מיתה], אף-על-פי שהם מאמינים במציאות האלוה, שכן כפירתם מתייחסת לזכות המגיעה לו יתעלה בלבד, דהיינו, העבודה וההערצה, כמו שאמר: ועבדתם את ה' [אלהיכם וברך את לחמך ואת מימיך והסירֹתי מחלה מקרבך] (שמות כ"ג, 25) כדי שמציאותו תיראה איתנה באמונת ההמון13. אך הם חשבו שזכות זאת14 היא לזולתו. זה היה גורם להֶעְדֵּר מציאותו יתעלה מאמונת ההמון, כי ההמון אינו משיג אלא את מעשׂי הפולחנים ולא את משמעויותיהם ולא את מהותו האמיתית של הנעבד בהם,

    It always comes back to knowing there is a God based on preconceived premises rather than proofs. It is only the advanced civilization that has a mitzvah of yediah which I understand is developing convincing arguments for a preset premise rather than starting from scratch. That process brings you closer to HKBH and develops a stronger conviction of the unknowable.

  25. David

    You say
    If you read Rambam carefully, he does not see AZ as a standalone theology developed by imagination but as a deviation and misinterpretation of tradition based knowledge of God. The complete rejection of that misinterpretation was only accomplished at Sinai - as the midrash says that the nachash put into adam Zuhama and only Israel at Sinai was cleansed.

    If AZ originates with a "deviation from tradition" you are saying that that it is natural for there to be a tradition.

    Isn't "deviation" and "misinterpretation of tradition" a move away from what is natural to man- a clear knowledge he is taught by his parents and the wise of his community?

    This natural state of knowledge is also implicit in the Midrash about the snake. The natural state was Adam before the cheyt, the insertion of "zuhama" is alien to our nature as tradition bearing citizens and an external feature to us.

  26. David and GE

    I would advise showing the proper context and interpretation of a text to people you think are misinterpreting or losing context.

    Asserting that you think that people you disagree with are losing the context or interpretation is unnecessary. It is obvious from the mere fact that there is a disagreement.

    1. Now you are bent out of shape. lets agree to keep personal assessments out of the public discussion.

    2. No worries, only very mildly.

    3. R.JS, I'll have to figure out whether, like Rabbi Soloveitchik, I have to drag in Kant, Spranger and the rest of the חברה who are "alive" at footnote 4. If Spranger is needed it'll take me around a week to obtain the book. That whole beginning section is framed as a מחלוקת with Spranger, arguing that he's obliviously culture-bound rather than Wissenschaftlich. (There's much in common with MN here, and for some of the same reasons: even philosophers prefer to keep their heads well-attached.)

      In the meantime: Do you know Rabbi Lichtenstein's 1996 essay The Rav at Jubilee: An Appreciation (Tradition 30:4/1996). [1] As son-in-law and תלמיד מובהק his take on things is worth contending with. (AFAIK, all of Har Etzion and his collaboration with Rav Amital is a commentary on texts like HM.) Here's a suggestive bit from the 2nd half of the article:

      << He has opened for us new vistas of spiritual experience ... It is not as if we had engaged in the quest of U-Vikkashtem miSham and had faltered. We had simply never thought in those categories. It is not as if we had felt tremulous anxiety as lonely men and women, but in a minor chord. Mired in the pursuit of mundane daily concerns of faith, most of us had simply never confronted that reality. The Rav did. ... >> (p. 50)


      [1] Available online at
      http://www.traditiononline.org/news/article.cfm?id=104742. There is a reduced-quality facimile at
      (IIRC, it was also reprinted in a collection of essays in the early-2000s.)

  27. the natural state of a "mind" without a body, a theoretical existent, a Tzura which Rambam tells us is a construct, is indeed to have an understanding for something similar to itself. if there were such an entity it would "know" hashem to a point - the Makom Iyun Moshe was shown at Nikrat Hatzur. Humans are a composite of Tzura and chomer, one never exists without the other. their natural tendency is to deny the existence of a non physical entity. They are taught by their parents that such an entity exists based on the "unnatural" achievement of certain unique individuals who have overcome their natural tendency and have "experienced" God. They then struggle so that their natural tendency to chomer does not take them to imaginary places where the God they were taught remains in a separate category unknowable.

  28. R.JS: "[I]n Halachic man, the Rav guides us to align ourselves with the sense of knowledge of the man of science and reject the 'faith' of the man of religion."

    I object to your interpretation. To say "guides us" instead of "guides us in part", while simultaneously inveighing against anything inconsistent with your image of rationality, has the effect of radicalizing what Rabbi Soloveitchik writes. Section I of Halakhic Man (p. 3-5 in Kaplan tr.), which lays out the subject of the work, tells us that Rabbi Solveitchik seeks to "guide" us toward his ideal of 'Halakhic Man' (HM), who is constituted [1], as a kind of system, with components of both 'homo religiosus' (HR) and 'cognitive man' (CM). Neither he whose personality "embraces" only HR, nor only CM, is a HM, as that is not "anti-nomic". [2] [3]

    Agains this background, fn. 4 warns that the HR-only configuration has certain exceptionally dangerous species. I interpolate, on empirical grounds, that the HM synthesis requires a favorable systems-synthesis of environment, rav, and talmidim. If the systems-synthesis is not feasible, one must choose the CM-only configuration. (The gist of this seems to me to resemble Radak on מלכים ב 17.)

    1. Very few could possibly be competent to evaluate the feasibility of the HM-systems-synthesis in concrete cases.

    2. I find it easy to believe that in definite concrete cases Rabbi Soloveitchik might have directed CM-only; that would be entirely consistent with Halakhic Man. I also find it easy to believe that he might have directed this on the basis of environment alone; i.e., even in a case in which rav and talmidim were exceptional.

    3. In fn. 4 Rabbi Soloveitchik does not give clear criteria for the exceptionally dangerous species of HR, but delimits his notion using the names of philosophers and philosophical trends. It is not at all obvious to me that "emunah peshuta" (even if we rashly posit that it is a single intelligible phenomenon, rather than just a conventional pigeon-hole) falls under the warning of fn. 4. (I fully grant that we know, based on many other sources, that Rabbi Soloveitchik worked tirelessly to ameliorate "emunah peshuta".)

    [1] "Constituted" is an entirely inadequte word. Interpret in light of pp. 3-5.
    [2] In fact, this can be known entirely from The Halakhic Mind.
    [3] Bearing in mind, however, the caveat of fn. 1.

  29. I hope it is clear that it is entirely irrelevant to my point that I am not a disciple of Rabbi Soloveitchik זצ"ל. It is the stuff of nightmares to conjure an alternate history in which he had not lived. (See, e.g., Dr. Tovah Lichtenstein's article in the present Tradition.) Primum non nocere.