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To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicatedto the full recovery of

Yehudah ben Hadasah Hinde Malka

No Insignificant Concept in the World

It is a mistake to seek to confine Judaism's inner spirit and spiritual content to particular definitions. Its soul contains everything; all spiritual tendencies, revealed and hidden, are concealed in it, as everything is contained in the Absolute.


Rabbi Michael Herskowitzs

Iyar 5767
1. We Take the Same Position?
2. The Refinement of Alien Beliefs
3. Torah's Light Undermines Heresy's Foundations

We Take the Same Position?
Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, the Rambam, writes in his work "Guide to the Perplexed":

"When the chief of philosophers (Aristotle) was about to inquire into some very profound subjects, and to establish his theory by proofs, he commenced his treatise with an apology, and requested the reader to attribute the author's inquiries not to presumption, vanity, egotism, or arrogance, as though he were interfering with things of which he had no knowledge, but rather to his zeal and his desire to discover and establish true doctrines, as far as lay in human power.

"We take the same position, and think that a man, when he commences to speculate, ought not to embark at once on a subject so vast and important; he should previously adapt himself to the study of the several branches of science and knowledge, should most thoroughly refine his moral character and subdue his passions and desires, the offspring of his imagination; when, in addition, he has obtained a knowledge of the true fundamental propositions, a comprehension of the several methods of inference and proof, and the capacity of guarding against fallacies, then he may approach the investigation of this subject. He must, however, not decide any question by the first idea that suggests itself to his mind, or at once direct his thoughts and force them to obtain a knowledge of the Creator, but he must wait modestly and patiently, and advance step by step.

"In this sense we must understand the words 'And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God' (Exodus 3:6), though retaining also the literal meaning of the passage, that Moses was afraid to gaze at the light which appeared to his eye; but it must on no account be assumed that the Being which is exalted far above every imperfection can be perceived by the eye. This act of Moses was highly commended by God, who bestowed on him a well deserved portion of His goodness, as it is said: 'And the similitude of the Lord shall he behold' (Numbers 12:8). This, say our Sages, was the reward for having previously hidden his face, lest he should gaze at the Eternal."

The expression "We take the same position" used by Rambam after quoting Aristotle seems inappropriate here. After all, he proceeds to inform us that Aristotle was not scrupulous and careful regarding all of the preparations that must be carried out before a person begins to engage himself in such sublime matters.

The Refinement of Alien Beliefs
We may resolve this difficulty explaining that Rambam does not disagree with Aristotle regarding the obligation to inquire. Quite the contrary, he too is of the opinion that an individual must strive to acquire the true beliefs to the best of his ability and in any fitting and appropriate manner. However, when a person avoids the indispensable preparations specified by Rambam, preparations which call for the attainment of humility and refined character traits, his inquiries and clarifications will do no more than obstruct him. After all, they will all be based upon his insularities and his crooked channels of study. He will therefore necessarily miss his target, which is the attainment of truth.

In light of this, Aristotle's deductions - for example, those which are alien to the spirit of Judaism - do not derive from faulty research and inquiry. Rather, they are the result of the deformed underpinnings which served as the points of departure of his research, for he intruded and destroyed sublime matters without first achieving humility and refined character traits, and without all of the indispensable preparations which go with them.

Rabbi A.I. Kook explains that "all concepts are logical . . . we know that there is not a single insignificant concept in the world, there is nothing that does not have a place, because everything emanates from the source of all wisdom." The source of faith is also the source of disobedience. "The most destructive concepts are the decay of the most lofty concepts, however they arrive without first being rectified. That is, they are not aware of their value and their time." The broad horizons of the intellect contain the consummate and absolute significance of every existing concept and idea.

"Philosophy extends over but a known segment of the mental world. It is, by its nature, detached from whatever is outside its bounds. Therefore, philosophy itself is significantly torn inside. It lacks the capacity to grasp the adaptation of the consciousness, to see how all views, feelings, and propensities, from the smallest to the greatest, are bound to one another, how they effect one another, and how separate worlds manage to work together in an organized manner.

"Mystic vision is superior to [philosophy], for by its very nature it penetrates all of the depths of all thoughts, all feelings, all propensities, all aspirations, and all worlds, from beginning to end. Mysticism is profoundly aware of the unity in everything that exists, in the physical and the material, the great and the small. For this reason it does not differentiate between great or small; everything is important and everything is registered at book value. No movement is lost, no concept is null.

"The more a person ascends, and the stronger a person's relationship to the inner content of the world and life, [the more] he takes from any thought, whether his own or others, its timeless, rational, desirable kernel, which stems from wisdom's source, and he proceeds to ascend by virtue of [such thoughts], and they are elevated through him. Who is wise? He who learns from every individual without any limitation whatsoever" (see Avot 4:1).

In a letter to Rabbi Pinchas HaCohen, Rabbi A.I. Kook writes, "Regarding alien faiths, I will tell you my opinion, for elimination and destruction is not the purpose of the light of Israel. We likewise do not seek the general ruin of the world and all of its nations; rather, we desire their rectification and elevation, the removal of their constraints, [for if this path is taken] the result will be that they will attach themselves to Israel and be greatly enlightened . . . And this applies even to idolatry, What more so religions which are partially supported by the light of the Torah of Israel."

Torah's Light Undermines Heresy's Foundations
The Talmud relates (Shabbat 30b):

"Rav Judah son of R' Samuel ben Shilath said in Rav's name: The Sages wished to hide the Book of Ecclesiastes, because its words are self-contradictory; yet why did they not hide it? Because its beginning is religious teaching and its end is religious teaching. Its beginning is religious teaching, as it is written, 'What profit hath man of all his labour wherein he laboureth under the sun?' (Ecclesiastes 1:3) And the School of R' Yannai commented: Under the sun he has none, but he has it before the sun. The end thereof is religious teaching, as it is written, 'Let us hear the conclusion of the matter, fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole of man' (ibid. 12:13)."

The fact that it begins with words of Torah and ends with words of Torah proves that in the eyes of the Torah, these matters do not contradict each other. Rather, they are words of truth that compliment each other. It would appear that the following Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 28:1) should be understood in the spirit of the previous one:

"Binyamin ben Levi stated: The Sages wanted to store away the Book of Ecclesiastes, for they found in it ideas that leaned towards heresy. They argued: Was it right that Solomon should have said the following: 'Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth (ibid. 11:9)? Moses said, 'Go not about after your own heart and your own eyes' (Numbers 15:39), but Solomon said, 'Walk in the ways of thy heart, and in the sight of thine eyes' (Ecclesiastes loc. cit.)! What then? Is all restraint to be removed? Is there neither justice nor judge? When, however, he said, 'But know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment' (ibid.), they admitted that Solomon had spoken well."

And this would appear to be the best way of interpreting the words of R' Elazar, "Learn Torah diligently and know how to respond to heretics." In other words, when the heretic's arguments are seen in the light of the Torah and viewed against its spacious horizons, its foundations simply crumbles.

In light of this we must be cautious when arguing over opinions. R' A.I. Kook thus writes in a letter to Rabbi Moshe Zeitel: "In general, this is an important principle when warring over opinions, that if an opinion comes to negate something from the Torah, we must begin not by confounding it but by building the palace of the Torah so that it rise above it. By doing this, we ascend via the Torah, and through this ascension the opinions are revealed. And then, when we are not pressured by anything, we are able, with a heart replete with security, to wage war for them also."

Elsewhere he describes how to relate to the outbreak of alien opinions which flow in and "seize many hearts and distort the roads and sidetrack many of our young from the paths of life to the paths of death. Those who defend the opinions of Judaism cry out, oppose the evil opinions, divulge their falsification and their lie via a clarification of the limits of Judaism." On this note R' Kook makes two observations - one methodical and the other practical:

a) "It is doubtful that by such an approach they will succeed in reversing that which has already began to erupt like a volcano."

b) "Especially mistaken are those who seek to confine Judaism's inner spirit and spiritual content to particular definitions, though it is possible to define it from the perspective of its overt content and its perceivable history. Its soul contains everything; all spiritual tendencies, revealed and hidden, are concealed in it in lofty integration, just as everything is contained in the Absolute. Any such restriction of Judaism is tantamount to clipping its saplings and comparable to erecting an idol . . . "

In other words, the complete abolishment of alien opinions and their removal from the sphere of Judaism is a methodical error, for if such ideas forcefully penetrate a person's inner world, he will make the mistake of thinking that Judaism is foreign to his spirit. As a result, not only is it unlikely that such an approach will draw people near, it is even liable to distance them.

But the principle objection is the practical one. This approach does not reflect Judaism's all-embracing world view, its inclusive soul, and hence it constitutes a distortion of Judaism's path, a clipping of its saplings. Therefore, when it comes to education and explanation, we must demonstrate how our propensities can be actualized in their absolute moral completeness, specifically as illuminated by the Torah of Israel.
Some of the translated Talmudic and Midrashic sources in the above article were taken from, or based upon, Davka's Soncino Judaic Classics Library (CD-Rom). "Guide to the Perplexed" excerpt taken from the Dover edition, translated by M. Friedlander.
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