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Friday, June 25, 2010

Torah min HaShamayim

"'This emanated from Hashem; it is wondrous in our eyes' - This means that the intention to believe in Torah that it is from heaven, and all of its details and particulars, is above our intellectual comprehension..."

-(Vilna Gaon, Kol Eliyahu, Tehillim 118:23)

The Mystery of Revelation

The nature of prophetic revelation is certainly mysterious. I have often said that the most common verse in the Torah is the most mystical: "Vayidaber Hashem el Moshe leimor- And G-d spoke to Moses, saying..."

The statement that "Vayidaber Hashem el Moshe leimor" includes two connected by different propositions. First, that there was a revelation of the Divine that culminated in the written (and to some extent oral) Torah, and, second, that this revelation occured at Mt. Sinai sometime in the late second millenium. When thinkng about faith it is important to distinguish between these two propositions. Is one investigating the "historicity" or "composition" of the Torah objectively or is one really in the pursuit of the denial of revelation? Chief Rabbi Sacks and R. Nathan Lopez Cardozo view the approach(es) of Biblical Criticism as the latter. This is not to say that there are no questions, but it is to say that there are also no answers for the one who a priori denies revelation and the possibility of miracles that the revelation records.


I will now present to seemingly opposing views on why modern man has such difficulty in accepting revelation (both of the Divine will and Divine action) and Torah in particular.
R. Shalom Dovber Schneerson writes that in different historic eras there were diferent levels of Divine emanation. During the first Beit ha'Mikdash the normal level of Divine emanation was that of Yetzirah. After the destruction of the Second Beit ha'Mikdash that level disappeared and the level was that of Asiyah (Yom Tov shel Rosh Hashana, b'sha'a sh'hikdimu, pp. 861 and 1440-50, referenced in R. Nachman Cohen, Mirrors in Eternity, pg. 443). Thus, modern man is looking at the Torah from a perspective lower than that in which it was written.

R. Jeremy Kagan (The Jewish Self, pgs. 16-17) further develops this point: "If we find the Torah irrelevant when trying to determine our humanity and how to attain it, we must ask where the fault lies. Is it possible that this document, which has nurtured the soul of man throughout recorded time, has nothing of interest to say on a subject that so troubles the spirit?...If we are incapable of finding guidance in the Torah, perhaps the fault lies with us; perhaps we have lost the ability to read it. The Torah testifies about itself that it "is not an empty thing," to whcih the Talmud adds, "These words are not empty. If they appear empty, the emptiness is in you." Why are we deaf to the Torah's message? What are we missing?

"Our sages would answer that the emptiness which renders us incapable of relating to the Torah derives fro our loss of a natural sense of connection to transcendent Spirit. This sense of connection defined man in an earlier era and incorporated the spiritual dimension of reality into his moment-to-moment awareness. When transcendent Spirit defined experience, the Torah's spiritual perspective on reality was familiar and natural.

"Human awareness of the spiritual center of existence, however, has been fading continiously for more than three thousand years. A criticial juncture was passed when prophecy disappeared almost two and a half thousand years ago. At that point we lost sight of the transcendent Source at the foundation of our individual being and our world, and we can to understand ourselves and our world as essntialy physical. The Torah's spiritual vision ceased to be a natural description of reality."

Closely related to this approach is formulated by John N. Oswalt (The Bible Among the Myths, pg. 12): "But the idea that this world is not self-explanatory and that revelation from beyond it is necessary to understand it is profoundly distasteful to us humans. It means that we are not in control of our own destiny or able to make our own disposition of things for our own benefit. This thought, the thought that we cannot supply our ultimate needs for ourselves, that we are dependent on someone or something utterly beyond us, is deeply troublesome...The turn away from outside authority of all sorts to extreme individual autonomy was utterly inimical to the idea of revelation." In other words, modern man's overemphasis on the "I" has led to his inability to confront the "Thou."

However, there is a different, although not necessarily contradictory, approach as to why we have difficulty relating to the Torah specifically. This approach maintains that, although the message and content of the Torah is eternal, the presentation is very much tied to the historical context in which it was delivered.

R. Kook (Orot ha'Emunah, pg. 25, translated by Yaacov Dovid Shulman) characteristically follows this approach:

"There is such a thing as denial of faith that is like acknowledgment of faith. And there is also such a thing as acknowledgment of faith that is like denial.

"A person may acknowledge that the Torah is from heaven. But his picture of heaven is so distorted that it contains not even a trace of true faith. On the other hand, a person may deny that the Torah is from heaven. But his denial is based only on what he has learned from believers whose minds are filled with empty and confused thoughts. As a result, he decides that the Torah must have a higher source than that. And so he seeks its source in the greatness of the spirit of humanity, in the depth of ethics and in the Torah's spirit of wisdom. Although this has not yet brought him to the heart of truth, such a denial is considered acknowledgment. And it steadily comes ever closer to faith. A confused generation of such people must certainly improve.

"This question as to whether or not the Torah is from heaven is merely one example that illustrates all questions of faith, general and particular: the relationship between how they are perceived and their core being, the latter being the goal of faith."

R. Bachya (Chovot ha'Levavot, Sha'ar ha'Bitachon, Chapter Four; see Marpeh Nefesh there on anthropomorphisms; Ibn Ezra on Devarim 32:39; Rambam, Ma'amar al Techiat ha'Metim; also see Rambam on Karbonot in Moreh Nevukhim III:32, 49) takes this apporach even further and suggests that even the content of the Torah was limited due to the historical context in which the Torah was given. He suggests that the reason why Olam ha'Bah is not explicitly mentioned in the Torah is because Israel at that time was not sufficiently spiritually mature to understand that concept. While I do not believe that this explanation is fully correct, it nevertheless gives us a model with which we can deal with similar issues. Perhaps modern man cannot accept the revelation of the Torah because they seek something yet higher and lofiter. Their spirits do not find satiation in the Torah because they yearn for Torat ha'Moshiach which will dwarf the original revelation (Kohelet Rabbah 11:8).

If we follow this second approach how is modern man supposed to connect to the Torah? This question will be addressed in an upcoming post.

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