Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Highlights - chaburah in R' Tzadok haKohein

Last week we explained that humans are created unaware of G-d’s infinite presence so that they can earn schar by using bechira to independently come to a recognition of G-d. Humans are created b’tzelem Elokim, which R’ Tzadok interprets as humans possessing the creative capacity to change the world. This week we discussed the enigmatic gemara (Sanhedrim 99) which darshens the pasuk “adam l’amal yulad”. What type of ameilus are humans charged with? - the gemara debates whether it is ameilus of work or speech, and after concluding it is ameilus of speech debates whether it is speech of sicha or Talmud Torah, concluding it is the latter. Why is ameilus so critical to mankind’s existence? “Adam rotzeh b’kav shelo yoseir m’tisha kabin shel chaveiro”, a person desires one portion of his own more than nine portions of his fellow (Bava Kamma 38). Rashi explains that the one's own portion provides more pleasure because it has been earned through ameilus. Ameilus thus is the key to fulfiiling humankind's mission of earning schar and removing the stigma of nahama d’kisufa (see Michtav m’Eliyahu III:13). Anu ameilim u’mekablom schar – it is precisely because we engage in ameilus, which creates this sense of ownership, that our reward is called schar and not nahama d’kisufa. The debate of the gemara in Sanhedrin seen in this light is a debate over the mechanism by which mankind expresses the creative energy of being tzelem Elokim and acheiving this goal. Does our independence express itself only in the way we physically transform the world, or is its ultimate expression when we engage in Talmud Torah? We saw a distinction (see Sefas Emes 5640) between the attitude of the generations leading to Noach, who focussed on engaging in the physical building of the world, and the approach of Avraham Avinu, whose focus became ameilus in Torah.
For those who can attend the chaburah, we will IY”H this week finish discussing the significance of ameilus b’torah in this light, and discuss how Torah itself has a transformative effect even on the physical world. For a sneak preview, see the Ishbitza’s (vol 2) answer to the famous question of why Avraham did not perform milah before receiving the mitzvah. NEW TIME: Friday, 8:00, Tiferes Tzvi Yeshiva Minyan, 26 Columbia Ave. in Cedarhurst.

12 comments:

  1. > Last week we explained that humans are created unaware of G-d’s infinite presence so that they can earn schar by using bechira to independently come to a recognition of G-d.

    This is my number one issue. It seems impossible to prove the existence of God. And with the advancement of Science in general, constantly encroaching on areas and explaining them, God isn't looking any more likely. I can certainly see the desirability of believing in God (for most people), and why it should be a good thing, but how on earth can we be expected to believe it 100%? I know R Elchonon Wasserman famously asked this question and answered that everyone would see God inherently if not for their yetzer horah, but this isn't very widely accepted (and in fact seems to contradict R Tzadok above). So what's the answer? I honestly don't understand how God could expect us to believe in him 100% when the 100% evidence isn't there. The only logical conclusion that I can think of is that He doesn't insist on us believing (but that's somewhat contrary to Halachah, though not definitely).

    ReplyDelete
  2. As discussed once before, if you came to someone before your wedding (I take from your posts that you are married) and asked he/she to prove to you whether you should tie the knot, what could he/she say? The majority of marriages end in divorce, any belief on your part that you are an exception can probably be chalked up to subjective self-delusion, and you are just headed for trouble. Yet, you went ahead anyway and did get married. Prove to me that you did the right thing.
    >>>The only logical conclusion that I can think of is that He doesn't insist on us believing
    I'm surprised you have not at least considered the other logical possibility, namely that He expects us to believe without evidence. In fact, if we had evidence, it wouldn't call for much belief, would it? And now I imagine we will get mired in the question of once I believe without evidence, where do I draw the line - G-d, the loch ness monster, fairies? You can think of an answer to that one.
    R' Tzadok does not contradict R' Elchanan so much as operate at a different level. It's not mussar stuff about the yetzer hara thwarting your soul, its more about the existential tragedy of mankind always being one step removed from the Truth. Humanity is not built to have easy answers, but to struggle with the questions.

    ReplyDelete
  3. > Yet, you went ahead anyway and did get married. Prove to me that you did the right thing.

    Very poor analogy. I don't for a minute think I could prove it. Nor do I think this is the "one true marriage". I could have married other people and been happier, or not. Who knows? I chose my wife for various reasons, and I hope it works out. How is this in any way relevant to the existence of God??

    > I'm surprised you have not at least considered the other logical possibility, namely that He expects us to believe without evidence.

    Of course I considered that, but I rejected it because it makes absolutely no sense at all. Why on earth should God expect us to believe in things without evidence? That's just nuts.

    > In fact, if we had evidence, it wouldn't call for much belief, would it?

    True. But this paradox only exists once you start down the God path. If you don't, there is no paradox. If anything, the existence of this paradox is a proof for the non existence for God (as Douglas Adams points out).

    > And now I imagine we will get mired in the question of once I believe without evidence, where do I draw the line - G-d, the loch ness monster, fairies? You can think of an answer to that one.

    Yes, the only reasonable answer is that is is absolutely ridiculous to believe in anything without evidence, and a rational God coulsn't possibly expect you to.

    Your marriage analogy is especially misleading because I don't believe in my marriage in the sense that I am expected to believe in God. I hope my marriage works out, and I put effort into it. I hope I picked the 'right' spouse. That's all. A more appropriate analogy would be if I came home and told my parents I was marrying an invisible girl who is testing me with her invisibility to see if I will marry her even though I can't see her.

    ReplyDelete
  4. >>>Your marriage analogy is especially misleading because I don't believe in my marriage in the sense that I am expected to believe in God. I hope my marriage works out, and I put effort into it. I hope I picked the 'right' spouse. That's all

    And G-d hopes your relationship with him works out and expects you to put effort into developing it. That's all.

    >>>I could have married other people and been happier, or not. Who knows? I chose my wife for various reasons, and I hope it works out.

    And in the end, a believer might say had life turned out differently he might have chosen the path of atheism, but his heart led him down this path and now he is happy to have discovered such an uplifting and true relationship.

    G-d's physical invisibility is irrelevant. The only question is whether there is an empirical (proof) basis for trying to develop a relationship - and in both cases the answer is no, but one is moved to do so anyway. As with many other things in life, we act in ways that run contrary to what we can demonstrate through empirical proof. Try reading Malcolm Gladwell's 'Blink' and you will discover that most of our decisions are make unconsciously long before our conscious mind has enough evidence to process the problem. Much of the careful thought out rationalizing people profess to engage in is just cover for gut instinct.

    >>>Why on earth should God expect us to believe in things without evidence?

    Humans believe things without evidence all the time. You believed your wife was the right girl to marry, but could not prove it with evidence. Again, invisibility is irrelevant to the point that the decision making model you supposedly subscribe to (proof, evidence, or don't believe it) is belied by hundreds of day to day decisions people make.
    Another approach to your dillema would be to point out all the evidence available to one who seeks it that would lead one to believe. The evidence to the contrary exists to allow for free will. Were the evidence for belief more compelling, then the choice would not be free, would it?

    ReplyDelete
  5. > G-d's physical invisibility is irrelevant. The only question is whether there is an empirical (proof) basis for trying to develop a relationship - and in both cases the answer is no, but one is moved to do so anyway.

    Nonsense! In once case, my wife clearly exists, so trying to develop a relationship with her makes sense. In the other case, I don't know whether God exists or not, so trying to develop a relationship is isnane. By your logic I might as well try to develop a relationship with the invisible blue fairy who sits on my head.

    > Humans believe things without evidence all the time. You believed your wife was the right girl to marry, but could not prove it with evidence.

    Again, disingenuous and completely false analogy. I believed I was making a good decision in marrying her. I certainly didn't believe 100% that this was the 'one true marriage'.

    > Again, invisibility is irrelevant to the point that the decision making model you supposedly subscribe to (proof, evidence, or don't believe it) is belied by hundreds of day to day decisions people make.

    You're trying to argue that people make practical decisions on how to act based on incomplete evidence. Sure. People also make decisions based on hope, even hope for unlikely things (e.g. taking painful treatment when there's only a 10% chance of sucess). Sure, no argument there.

    However none of these cases involve BELIEVING in the truth of a proposition 100%, they mereley indicate a course of action. Your argument only works as a type of Pascal's wager - Maybe I should try to believe in God, because that may be the best course of action in my life. Sure. But it says nothing to whether it is true, and it is certainly not rational to believe in it 100%. You can hope, sure. But belief is different.

    > The evidence to the contrary exists to allow for free will. Were the evidence for belief more compelling, then the choice would not be free, would it?

    This is just a restatement of your paradox above, which only goes to prove that a) Either God doesn't exist or b) He doesn't care whether you believe in Him or not, or C) God is irrational. Since I think you will discount (c), that only leaves (a) or (b). Your choice.

    ReplyDelete
  6. >>>In once case, my wife clearly exists, so trying to develop a relationship with her makes sense. In the other case, I don't know whether God exists or not, so trying to develop a relationship is isnane.

    G-d is not a 'thing' like your wife that you can 'know' using physical evidence. So in that regard it is not the best analogy. A better analogy is a committment made to a cause, e.g. as I quoted in another comment thread, Patrick Henry's statement of 'Give me liberty or give me death'. One can make an argument that liberty leads to the best form of government, but one can also argue to the contrary (as a socialist might). The issue can never be resolved absolutely by way of evidence or proof (lots of socialists are still out there arguing their cause), but that does not undermine the entirely reasonable committment of a believer in the cause of liberty. And belief it indeed is, with 100% committment; Patrick Henry was not hedging his bets and either is anyone who accepts G-d. I think that answers all of your questions except the paradox, but I have no idea what you are saying there.
    One final point - I think it significant that the word 'da'as' does not really mean knowledge. True ontological knowledge of G-d is impossible. It means relationship, which entirely is possible even with One who is unseen, mysterious, and beyond our ability to conceptualize.
    You also seem to think of belief as either/or, when it is a progression of many many levels. The scale of free choice tips need only tip slightly based one man's choice and a relationship is entered; that relationship reinforces the bond between man and G-d and leads to further committment, which in turns further strenghtens the relationship, and the cycle repeats. All G-d requires of man is to make that small initial step with a true heart - pischu li pesach shel machat, etc. you know the rest.

    ReplyDelete
  7. BTW, just with respect to the Ishbitza (which is the point of this post), I think the R' Tzadok we will IY"H learn this week relates to these issues, but you have to wait until next week to get it (or come to the shiur if you are in the neighborhood!)

    ReplyDelete
  8. > A better analogy is a committment made to a cause

    OK, now we're talking! So its a commitment to a certain ideal (or idea). What I would call hope. Not the certain knowledge that God does exist, but the commitment to the idea that He might, and acting as if He does.

    ReplyDelete
  9. > One final point - I think it significant that the word 'da'as' does not really mean knowledge. True ontological knowledge of G-d is impossible. It means relationship, which entirely is possible even with One who is unseen, mysterious, and beyond our ability to conceptualize.

    You lost me at the end. How exactly is a relationship possible with something beyond our comprehension? Any bit of 'relationship' that we have must inevitably be with some aspect of God that we have somehow 'comprehended', i.e. created a false illusion in our mind. Hence any relatioship is always with a false conception of God, and not with God as He really is.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Anonymous12:00 PM

    "And with the advancement of Science in general, constantly encroaching on areas and explaining them, God isn't looking any more likely."

    This may be the most primitive thought I've heard in the J-blogshere world. Have you read anything about science and religion in the past decade other than Dawkins? See Slifkin's new book for a nice summary of how incredibly ignorant you are and wrong.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Slifkin's new book? I hadn't heard of that. OK thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Anonymous8:41 AM

    Challenge of Creation

    ReplyDelete