Skip to main content

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.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Thought for the Day: Thanking HaShem Each and Every Day for Solid Land Near Water

Each and every morning, a Jew is supposed to view himself as a new/renewed creation, ready for a new day of building his eternal self through Torah and mitzvos.  We begin the day with 16 brachos to praise/thank/acknowledge HaShem for giving us all the tools we need to succeed.  We have a body, soul, and intellect.  We have vision, mobility, and protection from the elements.  Among those brachos, we have one that perhaps seems a bit out of place: רוקע הארץ על המים/Who spreads out the land on/over the water.  After all, it's nice to have a dry place to walk, but does that compare to the gratitude I have for a working body and vision?  As it turns out, I should; as explained by the R' Rajchenbach, rosh kollel of Kollel Zichron Eliyahu (aka, Peterson Park Kollel).  Your best bet is to listen to the shiur; very distant second is to continue, which I hope will whet your appetite for the real thing.

First... since we have dry land, I don't have to slog to work through even a foot…

Thought for the Day: Using a Mitzvah Object for Non-Mitzvah Purposes

As I am -- Baruch HaShem -- getting older, I am more cognizant of the fact that I'd like to stay as healthy as possible right up the moment I leave this world.  Stuff hurting is not the problem (I am told there is an old Russian saying that once you are 40, if you wake up and nothing hurts -- you're dead), stuff not working, however, is a problem.  To that end, for several years now I commute to work by bicycle (weather permitting, 30 minutes on an elliptical machine when weather does not permit).  I recently took up some upper body weight training.  Not because I want to be governor of California, just simply to slow down loss of bone mass and extend my body's healthy span.  Simple hishtadlus.  I have an 18 month old grandson who is just the right weight for arm curls (yes... I am that weak), so I do about 10 reps when I greet him at night.  He laughs, I get my exercise; all good.  (Main problem is explaining to the older ones why zeidy can't give them the same "…

Thought for the Day: Hydroponically Grown Humans... I Feel Sick

I am quite openly not at all objective about abortion in particular and the treatment of human embryos and fetuses in general.  I am, after all, the survivor of a failed abortion attempt.  Not "thought about it, but couldn't go through with it"; not "made appointment, but then chickened out at the lost moment"; but, "tried a procedure, but was unsuccessful in attempt to abort".  Nonetheless, I try very hard to listen to the liberal arguments (which I also used to chant as part of the general liberal catechism), and am genuinely empathetic to the plight of women who find themselves in that difficult position.

What I heard on NPR this morning, however, has left me feeling physically ill.  You can read about it, if you like, but here's the bottom line:  Scientists in Cambridge have achieved a new record, they fertilized a human ova and then kept it alive in vitro (that is, in a test tube/petri dish in a laboratory) for 14 days.  The scientist involve…