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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Welcome - part III: Intellectual Humility

אני לא מבין כל מיני דברים
אבל זה לא מפריע לי
כי אני
הקטן שבקטנים
The story is told of a student of the Maggid of Mezritch who fell from the path of Torah.[i] The Alter Rebbe commented that “even as this student began his studies a worm – the ego – was eating at him.” And as I continue to encounter skeptics, and the skeptic within, I see that the worm has only grown. Arrogance, the dual perspective that we understand more than we do and that we must make sense of everything that we do not yet understand, is a sure way to increase emotional dissonance during our intellectual journey in this life.
There are obvious reasons why intellectual humility is called for. Besides the sheer amount of information available today, we seeprogress in our own lives - seeing what we once thought certain overturned and what we once thought ridiculous to become our anthem. "Even Ma'asu ha'Bonim Hayita l'Rosh Pinah." And we see tremendous progress through history. R. Soloveitchik, commenting on a passage in Newman whose most important argument for Christianity was that G-d seems to have rejected the Jewish people, observed, that with the stablishment of the state of Israel this arguement is not as strong. Remember! This argument was around for 1500 years or so and the Jews held on to the string of faith. And of course let us not forget the Rambam's comment on Aristotle's cosmology and the findings of 20th century physics!
Lastly, intellectual humility comes much easier to those with an inclincation for the mystical and mysterious. Quantum physics and paranormal psychology provide good modern day motivations for embracing the mysterious. The bottom line is that we live in a stranger world than most college professors would like to admit. And the more one lives the more they see this with their own eyes.
So, in short, I close with a quote from R. Hirsch (Nineteen Letters, Letter 15): "But do not expect me to be an infallible master. I shall honestly show you where I mystelf am still in doubt and groping in the dark, and shall encourage you to continue studying by yourself."

[i] Perhaps Solomon Maimon?

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