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Friday, November 6, 2009

Why Learn Gemara - Part V - Addendum II

The Torah as God's Mind, the problem with this idea, and a first approach to dealing with the problem is all dealt with here. To briefly summarize: The Rambam, and others, teach that the key to Ahavat Hashem is beholding His wisdom in Torah and in nature. The difficulty with this is that much of the Torah is not necessarily the wisdom of Hashem, although certainly His will, since most of the Torah is dependent on human interpretation.

Now I will allude to a second approach, but stop there because I do not fully understand it. Just a thought to ponder. I am also partially quoting for the sake of space, so please see the sources I quote for a full understanding.

II. The Torah as a Verb

The truth of the Torah, the Godly wisdom found therein, is not an noun to be found but a verb to be developed and emulated. I quote below from three modern Jewish thinkers:

R. Tzvi Freeman, a wonderful writer at (and a wonderful person!) writes the following in an article entitled "The Murky Truth About Truth":

"So what is the definition of truth if even G-d can't decide? How do we claim exclusive rights on The Truth when you can't even agree -- G-d can't even decide -- what The Truth is?

"Obviously, we have to rethink the idea of truth. Maybe there isn't an ultimate piece of information that is the ultimate truth (like in Douglas Adam's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy where he is told that the ultimate truth is 46). Maybe truth isn't a fact at all. Maybe truth is more like a process.


"The advantage of human intellect is not necessarily in knowing but discerning. In other words, the ability to generate a plethora of varied perspectives, possibilities, hypotheses -- and then analyze each one to determine which works best in this situation.

"Anyone familiar with study of Torah knows that this is what it's all about. As soon as you begin learning the first line of Genesis, you are told that it can't be read with a single interpretation. It can't just mean that G-d started creating the heavens and the earth out of nothing, because there are far more facile ways of saying that. In your first step of learning Torah you are introduced to conflict-knots to untie and signposts to interpret.

"Torah learning is all about process rather than content -- how to approach a problem, how to generate lots of perspectives, how to analyze and compare them, how to determine which one works best as a reading of the text, which works best as a practical application, which works best as an ethical lesson... it goes on and on literally without end.

"Torah is not about G-d's ideas. Torah is about how G-d thinks about those ideas -- but using our human minds. But Torah is particularly about how we come to a final decision.

"Now it becomes easy to see how a Torah that makes an exclusive claim to truth has no qualms about "taking the truth from whence it comes." The truth of Torah lies principally in its process of evaluation and discernment between ideas. If someone else has made a valuable study of those ideas, developing them further and bringing the issues out into the open -- all the better. Now it's up to the Torah process to determine whether the axioms upon which this is based are acceptable or not, whether this is something G-d wants in His world right now or not, how it should be used and for what.

"This is how Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi describes the truth of Torah in chapter five of Tanya: When the human mind is absorbed in comprehending that if Mr. Simon argues like this and Reuven inc. argues like that, then the halachah will be such and such -- that is Torah and that is Truth. Not that he is learning about Truth. Rather, he is "thinking with G-d's mind." He is being Truth. That state of being, that experience, that process, that itself is Truth.

R. Micha Berger in Defining Geulah and Geulah and the Halakhic Process writes the following (very partially quoted):

"...[H]istory as a process by which Truth, which had to be compromised by the creation of Man, is planted again in the Heart of the Jewish People as Torah, and through that Man is refined, the Torah is refined, and Truth sprouts forth from the ground, reconciled with the refined human being at the culmination of history...Torah is not being described as Truth. Rather, it is the seed and process from which Truth blossoms.


"The purpose of halakhah isn’t directly to obtain the Truth. It’s to make the Truth bloom within us and be manifest in the world. Thus, the essence is our working the process...Torah, like life, is about becoming, not being."

Another interesting thinker, Stan Tenen, once wrote to me the following (also a partial quote):

"...Orthodox Judaism, halacha, and Talmud, et al., DON'T HAVE TO BE CORRECT to do their jobs.

"This is because the entire Torah system is a _living_ system, and living systems don't have to be perfect, because they self-correct, they grow, they mature, and they recycle...

"The fact is, we've kept ourselves stupid by flattening and denaturing the kabbalistic roots of halacha. We avoid Kabbalah because it's so often been hijacked by idiots, false messiahs, and anti-semites. But this leaves us without our own roots, and without our own references.

"...the sages who set the Talmud knew the priestly teachings of the science of consciousness which later became Kabbalah, so they knew to anticipate that some of their decisions might be objectively wrong, and they compensated for this. Living systems that know that they're alive take care of themselves, and plan ahead.

"Whether or not Talmud is accurate is not nearly as important as that the Talmud/Torah tradition is _alive_. That's its _singular_ achievement, and after all, it's the only necessary achievement to ensure Jewish survival. When times are better, repairs can be made...

"Judaism is _not_ truth. But Torah is alive, and its _process_ is Truth. There's a big difference."

3 comments: said...

There is a book out that may be relevant:

micha said...

The position you quote me on is from the introduction to the Qetzos and discussed by R' Chaim. It's not my idea.


TFreeman said...

You do not write what it is that you do not fully understand. That would be helpful for further discussion.