Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Hekah Es Shinov? ...I Wish!

In an article on Cross-Currents discussing the vagaries of religious belief systems, Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

"I’ve had to duck more times than I can remember as the academic world hurled salvos at us believers."

He was addressing the issue of challenges made by various academic disciplines against the Torah.

This line struck me. In fact it screamed out at me! On the one hand it is comforting to know that there are others out there who, like me, have had to “duck” these issues many times. But it is discomforting to know that as well. I would rather have heard a tour-de-force argument once and for all proving the legitimacy of the Torah narrative and the stupidity of her adversaries. In the words of the Haggadist (when the Rasha... the skeptic son... ridicules his believer father): “Hakeh Es Shinov”... answer him sharply! But instead I read that Rabbi Adlerstein ducks... just as I duck. Yet I believe B’Emunah Shelaima while I duck the critics.

Belief is a matter based not so much on facts, contradictory or otherwise, but primarily on experience and intuition. This usually comes in the form of Mesorah, the chain of transmission, father to son, which we believe extends back to Mamad Har Sinai. Physical proof has never been part of that transmission. For all their attempts at it, the proofs of various Rishonim seem to have big holes in them. No less a scholar than Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik recognized this. One of his most brilliant students, Rabbi Marc Gottlieb, once related that after Kant, the Rav basically just swept away all the Rishonic “proofs” of the Torah. Reason could not dictate belief. God is unknowable in the physical universe.

So questions remain: Why believe? Why not just assume... null... until it is disproved? Belief transcends fact. It is greater and more powerful than fact. One need not observe it order to know it. Fact, on the other hand can only be believed if experienced with at least one of the five physical senses. Belief has no such physical limitations.

As powerful as belief is, one cannot explain why one believes what one does. Furthermore, why do some of us do it with such conviction? Why one belief system over another? Why Judaism and not Islam? And intelligence has little to do with it. Was there ever a truer believer than Rabbi Elijah Kramer? And were there many with greater genius than he? Is it fair to say that because he was born into it he therefore believed it without question? Did he not have the questions I have? Were there no skeptics that challenged Rabbi Kramer’s faith? And he was not alone in his resolve. Throughout the millennia, there were many Gedolim who were great geniuses in every generation that believed unquestioningly in God and His Torah.

So in the end I remain as does Rabbi Adlerstein... ducking the tough questions. And I continue to believe in God and His Torah the way my forefathers did before me. Of course I consider it a sacred duty to pursue the answers as best I can. But questions?... I got a lot, and I’ve learned how to duck pretty well.