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Thought for the Day: Adherence to Torah Demands an Open Mind

There is a famous (among math and science grad students) anecdote about the mathematician, Pierre-Simon Laplace.  Laplace was once lecturing and stated that some point was obvious.  One the of students raised a question on the point because he didn't see it as an obvious conclusion at all.  Laplace, so goes the story, went to the side of the room and worked for fifteen minutes filling and erasing the blackboard.  He finally finished and turned back to the class, "Yes; it is obvious."

That's what a scientist means when he says something is obvious: it is directly provable from the data.  It may not be a one or two step process, but the conclusion is inescapable.  That's called having an open mind.  The polar opposite of that attitude is, of course, "nya, nya, nya, nya, nya-yah; I can't hear you".  Or, more poetically, "we hold these truths to be self-evident".  Once something has been elevated to the status of "self-evident", the discussion is finished.  All religions and dogmas are built on a foundation of self-evident beams.

Orthodox/Torah Judaism, by contrast, has no such foundation.  The seminal work on Jewish philosophy -- Chovos haLevavos -- begins with careful and thorough exposition proving (using Aristotelian logic) the necessity of the existence of G-d.  The m'chaber of the Chovos Levavos was taking nothing for granted, no truth as self-evident.  You want to be true, you need to prove yourself.

This is not to say that one does not need a healthy dose of emuna/faith to live according to the Torah.  There certainly is a place and time for leaps of faith.  However, we both minimize and constantly strive to eliminated them.  This is not much different than the leap of faith I take every time I put my foot down on the floor.  I assume, based on past experience, that the floor will support my weight.  I have no evidence the the floor will support my next step, just loads of experience that it always has in the past and I have no reason to expect the next step to be different than the last thousands or millions.  That kind of "blind" faith the Torah does demand.  After all is said and done, after all the factors are considered, it takes as much faith to believe in the Torah and HaShem as it does to believe that the floor will support my next step.

Not self-evident; evident.


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