31 May 2018

The Supremacy of Divine Reason by R' Ephraim Sprecher

the light of 17 Sivan 5778

Further thoughts from R' Ephraim Sprecher on "Naaseh v'Nishma". This week's video, on Parashath Beha'alothkha, is at the end of this article.


The Talmud (Shabbat) states that an apostate said to Rava, "You are an impetuous people for you put your mouths before your ears!"

Our mouths before our ears?!! What the apostate referred to was "Naaseh v' Nishma", the famous phrase uttered by the Jewish People when we stood at the foot of Mount Sinai and G-d asked us if we would accept the Torah. "We will do, and then we will hear," we replied enthusiastically. As our response implies, we committed ourselves to follow the Torah's Mitzvot without first asking what responsibilities this commitment would entail.

"You should first have asked what was in the Torah," the apostate continued. "If you felt able, then you could accept the Torah. If not, you could then refuse it."

Our first impulse might well be to sympathize with the position of the apostate rather than that of Rava. Why did we not first inquire from Moshe about the Torah? Then we could have responsibly weighed the obligations that the Torah would impose on us. Does Judaism call upon us to serve G-d unquestioningly without asking for explanations or seeking reasons?

Are we to assume that Torah Judaism views faith and rational thought as mutually exclusive?

We have all learned that the world is made up of atoms. In fact, no one alive has ever viewed an atom only the energy trails left behind by elementary and subatomic particles. In the absence of any better hypotheses, we assume the existence of atoms.

We have all learned that the universe began with the Big Bang. Scientists tell us that before this great cosmological cataclysm occurred, neither time nor space existed. But what exactly does that mean?

The science believer claims a rational faith, a faith in observation and experimentation. Rational faith serves every one of us every day of our lives. If a physician tells a patient that he needs an operation, the patient will probably rely on the doctor since the patient recognizes that he doesn’t know enough to diagnose himself.

The faith, demanded by Torah Judaism, is no less rational for it is built upon sound and logical evidence available to anyone who is honest enough to examine it. Therefore, if G-d tells me that observing the Mitzvot of the Torah is to my benefit, I will certainly take His advice, for He created me; He knows me even better than a parent knows her child.

So there was nothing impetuous about Israel's acceptance of the Torah sight unseen, for we did not accept the Torah on faith at all. We accepted it on trust, a trust more solid than the most compelling scientific truth.

However, trust is only the first step. "Naaseh V'Nishma," the Jewish People said. The Hebrew word, "NISHMA", implies much more than hearing the Mitzvot. It implies studying them diligently, laboring to develop an understanding of them and to discover meaning and relevance within them. That which we originally accepted based on trust, we can then accept based on knowledge.

Thus, the Midrash Tanchuma in Parshat Shemini states, "You must not allow your Yetzer Hara to mislead you saying, ' G-d prohibits Israel from partaking and enjoying the good things in life.' ''

"G-d replies to Israel, 'Whatever I have prohibited to you, I have offset it by other things that I have permitted you. For example, I have prohibited you to eat blood, but I have permitted you to eat liver which is full of blood. I have prohibited you from eating pork, but I have permitted you to eat the fish known as Shirbot which tastes similar to pork. I have prohibited you from having sexual relations with another man's wife, but I have permitted you to marry a divorced woman, who was once another man's wife. I have prohibited you to wear shaatnez, but I have permitted you to wear a linen garment with wool tzitzis. I have prohibited you from eating the fat of a domestic kosher animal, but I have permitted you to eat the fat of a wild kosher animal.'

This trust in G-d has enabled us to survive as a nation since that first Shavuot, 3,330 years ago. Always confident in the Supremacy of Divine Reason, we stand assured in our faith and trust in G-d!


Current Events in the Parashah & Haftarah: Beha'alothkha

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The ignorant apostate could really not fathom who and what G-D is.
The bnai Yisrael just experienced what no other person/people on earth ever experienced and literally heard the voice of H'. It was inevitable that they should respond by declaring 'naasse v'nishma' and said it together with one heart and one voice!

The typical human being is hard pressed to reach the spiritual heights wherein he knows that there is a Creator and does not compare in any way the human being to the Omnipotent G-D. The apostate was thinking with his finite mind because he cannot fathom the Infinite.