Thursday, January 15, 2015

Moshe's question and the law of noncontradiction

One of the three classic laws of logic is the law of noncontradiction: something cannot be A and not A at the same time.  I can’t be at work writing this and not be at work at the same time.  I don’t think we need to get into proofs – most everyone reading this will accept that this law is true and makes sense.

Does G-d obey the law of noncontradiction?  Can G-d make something that is A and not A at the same time? 
My goal is not to get into a debate about whether G-d can make a rock that he can’t lift or how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.  My goal is to explain a parsha in chumash. 

Moshe Rabeinu at the end of last week’s parsha questioned why the shibud had grown more intense as a result of his coming to Pharoah to ask for Bnei Yisrael’s release.  M’mah nafshacha: if it was time for Bnei Yisrael to be let out, then why is the oppression increasing?  And if it’s not time for them to leave, why was he sent?
The opening of our parsha is presumably a response, but if it is, it’s an ambiguous one.  Moshe is told that G-d revealed himself to the Avos as K-l Shakai, but not with the shem Havaya.  What does that mean and how does it answer the question?

The Netziv explains that the K-l Shakai defines the purpose of creation: to reveal G-d’s glory.  Whenever G-d intervenes in the world to further our awareness of his greatness and his presence, that’s K-l Shakai.
The shem Havaya simply means that G-d is immanent and in control of everything.

The problem is these two names seem to contradict each other.
M'mah nafshach: If G-d interacts with the world as K-l Shakai, then things that happen that hide G-d’s presence cannot be attributed directly to Him.  Those are roadblocks to K-l Shakai’s revelation, obstacles to seeing his glory.  

But if G-d interacts with the world as Havaya and everything is governed by hashgacha, then hashgacha can’t have to do with G-d’s glory because it means he is behind things that disguise his glory and presence and even cause it to be diminished.

As the Netziv writes, “Im shemi ‘K-l Shakai,’ aino hakol b’hashgacha.  V’im hakol b’hashgacha, al korchach aino choshesh l’kvodo v’ain zeh ‘Shakai.’”
Does the law of noncontradiction hold true when we are talking about G-d?

What Hashem was telling Moshe is that even the Avos could not fathom how Hashem could be both “Shakai” and “Havaya” at the same time, but they knew not to ask.  We cannot imagine the law of noncontradiction not holding true, but G-d is an exception.  For Him, both “Shakai” and “Havaya” can both be true at the same time.  Hashem can b’hashgacha be behind the oppression of the shibud increasing, and at the same time, that very same event which seems to contradict everything we would associate with G-d’s glory, is itself a manifestation of K-l Shakai, the revelation of his glory.    

The Netziv writes that this parsha was not just an answer to Moshe, but is a “limud l’doros.”  We can’t understand it all, and will never have all the answers.


  1. R Aryeh Kaplan taught (I think it's also in the reader) that it's a machloqes between the Rambam (Moreh 3:15) and the Ramchal (Qelach Pischei Khochmah #30). The Rambam considered logic part of Emes, and thus of the Essence of the Creator. The Ramchal considered logic a created thing, and therefore Hashem is not confined by it. I blogged on the topic at

    Modern logic has recognized systems in which there is no law of excluded middle and/or law of contradiction. Fuzzy Logic and Quantum Logic are no less true than the bivalent sort studied by Aristo and Boole. (Even probability can be used as a logic.) The question of whether a given shade is blue or aqua could be an answer somewhere between yes and no, in a way that is different than "I don't know". And it could be thought of as both in varying degrees or as somewhere in between. In fact, there are far more predicates that lack an excluded middle, and therefore the law of contradiction becomes iffy, than ones where every application is true or false.

    Which makes me wonder if the Rambam's position is tenable. At the least, one would have to take it meta, and talk about Logics being part of truth, rather than just the one system of logic he knew of.

  2. Q: Is light a particle or a wave?
    A: Yes.

    1. When it's a particle it's not a wave and when it's a wave it's not a particle. It's never both at the same time.

    2. Stick to Torah, you're fundamentally mistaken on Quantum Mechanics. What "great Unknown" wrote as a short koan, I also mentioned when I wrote about "Quantum Logic". In QM, things are often in a "superposition" of conflicting states. And therefore the usual logic goes out the window.

      In the case of particle-wave duality, the usual example of how they're simultaneously true of the same photon is the double-slit experiment

    3. a) I'm impressed at your grasp of the issue. I, at least, have a Masters in Theoretical Chemistry.
      b) The universe is basically unknowable. However, the Borai created a superficially knowable veneer for us
      to wrap our minds around. Which is a precise analogy to the Shaimos Hashem.
      c) I saw b'shaim haGR"A that the Borai is essentially unknowable and cannot be named. To
      examine/name/know something requires being outside of it and distinct from it [this is part of the
      paradox of consciousness - being aware of one's awareness]. Everything we associate with the " "
      is a creation.
      d) As long as we're going there, and I'm not particularly concerned about my survival in
      this plane, consider the first posuk from a slightly different perspective. The subject is actually missing,
      being absolutely unknowable. There are three objects: the well known shamayim and aretz, and the
      less-well understood one - the concept of "Elokim". This is really the first tzimtzum - the concept/fiction that
      there could be something that could actually label " " with some title.
      Of course, then the first posuk really has eight words, including the virtual " ". Which is appropriate for
      l'ma'alah miderech hateva
      e) And of course there is the whole mehalach of the RAMCHA"L in Da'as Tevunos, where we discusses that
      while the world operates according the strictures of mishpat, the hanhaga of "YHVH" is constantly operating
      behind the scenes to bring creation to the proper desired ending - regardless of the demands/rules of Mishpat

      And if you are wondering if I understand any of this or not - is light a particle or a wave?

    4. I would like to add two notes from Professor John Wheeler.

      a) Since knowledge/measurement of a quantum state is what resolves the superposition, the entire universe was in a state of infinite superposition until a consciousness came along to resolve it [Wheeler was rather religious in a way].
      see, e.g.,

      b) A statement supposedly made to his class at Princeton after a grueling lecture on quantum mechanics:
      "If you understood what I just weren't paying attention."

      The latter is one of the leading aphorisms I live by.

    5. Related to (c) in your 8:44pm post, see the first of the Gra's 10 Kelalim

      I saw a quote much like 8:58pm (b) in the name of Neils Bohr: "There was a time when the newspapers said that only twelve men understood the theory of relativity. I do not believe there ever was such a time. There might have been a time when only one man did, because he was the only guy who caught on, before he wrote his paper. But after people read the paper a lot of people understood the theory of relativity in some way or other, certainly more than twelve. On the other hand, I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics."

    6. Much appreciate the cite. Much of my annotated work library is in storage in Eretz Yisroel, and I forget where I saw things.

  3. I don't really understand the netziv. The sheimos hashem aren't 2 different people chas'v, rather they are modes in which hashem relates to us. the shem is just a Simon informing us which mida we're dealing with. So How is it a contradiction? Why can't they coexist?

    1. How can increasing the burden of oppression be viewed as an act of giluy kvod shamayim, which is what the shem K-l Shakai is all about?

    2. A pair of perceptions that contradict are a dialectic, not a paradox. (Or, if you want to talk Kantian rather than neo-Kantian, an antinomy. ) And there are many of those. If we're talking perception and thus the human condition, we would be more surprised by consistancy than self-contradiciton. So I can see Yitzi's point

    3. Human perception is not the issue -- G-d's behavior (so to speak) is the issue. Does G-d takes control of the world only for the purpose of revealing his kavod or does he micromanage kavyachol every detail, irrespective of whether it brings kavod. The shem Shakai means the former is true; the name Havaya means the latter is true. How can it be both?

    4. I refer you to the Da'as Tevunos, Darkei Hanhagas HaYichud, pp. קפג et. seq. in the current Friedlander edition.

      So superficially that it's almost wrong: The revelation of Yichud is far greater after evil is supposedly dominant and then brought down. The greater the evil, the greater the ultimate revelation of Yichud. כיתרון האור מן החשך
      Thus allowing [and even, I suspect encouraging] evil to thrive is, granted, a temporary chillul HaShem, but the ultimate kiddush HaShem will be so much greater thereby.

      And, retroactively, the chill HaShem will be erased thereby [היינו כחולמים].

      Again, only ראשי פרקים where even עיון בעומק may be inadequate.

      An example much discussed by Rav Hutner on Chanukah: midrash Shir HaShirim on the posuk כי רבים בני שוממה מבני בעולה. - Klal Yisroel brings forth more צדיקים at a time of חורבן than at a time of מנוחה.

  4. Im Sorry I don't have a masters in quantum physics or ever went into logic etc.. but was my question addressed??

  5. (The QM bit was on a different fork on the comment chain.)

    I suggested that since -- as per the Rambam -- all theological claims are either (1) ruling out what is false about G-d or (2) how things look to people -- contradictions are not a problem. Many things in this world look in contradictory ways when we look at them from different angles.

    Neo-Kantians, like R' JB Soloveitchik, call these things dialectics.

    Like in the beginning of RJBS's essay "Community" "Is the individual an independent free entity, who gives up basic aspects of his sovereignty in order to live within a communal framework; or is the reverse true: the individual is born into the. community which, in turn, invests him with certain rights?"

    1. Ah yes, the philosophical analog of politics. Republicans say [or should say] your money belongs to you, but you have to give some to the government; Democrats say, your money belongs to the government, but we allow you to keep some.

      BTW, Rav Doniel Movshovitz was known for having a copy of Critique of Pure Reason in his bookcase. Although, when it comes to the topic of this blog, Hume might be a more comfortable approach.

    2. I Kant even figure out about Hume you are talking. Anyway, if Reb Doniel had Kant in his bookcase, it could be that his brother in law Rev Dessler left it there.