Rabbijn Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo (1946) werd geboren in Amsterdam en woont sinds 1977 in Israël. Als kind van een Portugees-Joodse vader en een niet-Joodse moeder heeft hij een lange weg afgelegd. Op zijn 16e is hij ‘uitgekomen’ (Joods geworden) bij Chacham Salomon Rodrigues Pereira. Jaren later haalde hij zijn rabbijnentitel aan de orthodoxe Gateshead Yeshiva. In Jeruzalem richtte hij de David Cardozo Academy op. Rabbijn Lopes Cardozo publiceert regelmatig en neemt daarbij geen blad voor de mond.
In nagedachtenis aan de heer Aron (Dolf) Aronson z.l, 1919-2019, Amsterdam.
In one of his essays, Rabbi J.B. Soloveitchik questions the reason why the sages decided to include an “irrelevant” portion in the Torah reading on Rosh Hashana, informing us that Avraham, after coming back from the “Akedat Yitschak” (the trial of the sacrifice of Yitschak), was told that Milkah, the wife of his brother Nachor, had given birth and that his second wife also gave birth to several children. (Bereshit 23:20-24) What is the reason for the inclusion of this portion on Rosh Hashana?
Rabbi Soloveitchik explained that the sages did so to warn all Jews that even after such an overwhelming event as the Akedat Yitschak, little, if anything, was learned from this event. After hearing from Avraham what had transpired, his family went back to their normal day-to-day life, as if nothing had happened. While the Akedah was, no doubt, one of the most crucial moments in man’s history, carrying enormous moral consequences for all mankind, even Avraham’s family did not really take notice.
Such a thing could easily happen on the day after Yom Kippur. While this day often raises us to the highest level of spirituality, the “day after” may turn out to be just another day, in which nothing could even remind us that the day before was one of great moral and religious exultation.
Anywhere in the world, on the day after Yom Kippur, the synagogue service needs to be a completely different experience from what people are used to. Yom Kippur should still be in the bones of all synagogue participants. Its spirit should still be felt with every prayer. It is therefore completely impossible that synagogue services turn to their old ways in which prayers are, again, said as if “nothing happened.” The truth is that no prayer in the coming year could ever be the same. Anything else makes jollity of Yom Kippur, the Ten Days of Repentance and the essential meaning of Teshuva, repentance.
All of us, including myself, who do not feel that we together with the chazan try to implement a different and more spiritual synagogue service the “day after”, should understand that such a situation is a major tragedy. We ought to be taking action to change that situation. Nothing is more dangerous in religious life than indifference.
Delving further, one discovers a serious flaw in modern religious life. On some level it seems that many of us do not fully believe in their prayers on the High Holidays. While crying to God hundreds of times on Yom Kippur that He is the only One, we seem to deny this fact the next day when our prayers are, again, said out of habit. By saying that God is the only One, people express their absolute belief that God is the only real Power in this world and the Source for all life. This knowledge, after being forgotten over the last year, gets rediscovered and re-established on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. It should bring a transformation, wherein ever human being should wake up. He or she should see everything in a different light for all of the next year. If that is not the case then one’s life contradicts one’s beliefs. This is a serious matter. Even those who may not be so sure in their beliefs but still go to synagogue since they believe that Judaism may carry the truth and that prayers may, after all, be of help, will have to realize that their prayers cannot be the same. Anything less is “the curse of religious agnosticism.”
All this reveals is that in most cases the synagogue attendance is in serious trouble and that the daily attendance of services is no longer an indication of serious religiosity. Even the observance of other religious observances such as Shabbat and kashrut may no longer be the result of real religiosity. They may be nothing more than an expression of a traditional life style without a real religiosity. While this surely has value, it is far from enough. Religious life has to be devout and an upheaval. If it is not, it will ultimately disintegrate. “God is of no importance unless He is of supreme importance”, said Abraham Joshua Heschel. This should wake up religious thinkers and leaders and make them realize that a different form of religious education is of the greatest necessity.
While this essay is being written, the State of Israel finds itself in one of its most critical moments. Once more the existence of the Jewish State is at stake. Antisemitism is on the rise in many countries, and Jews will have to wake up and understand their responsibilities.
In these difficult days, synagogue services throughout the world, should undergo a serious religious transformation. It is the obligation of every Rabbi or Rabbanit to do everything in their power to make this happen. If we do not, we have gravely violated our mission. At this time in Jewish history no Jew can go about his way without undergoing the feeling that she or he has come to a crossroad. All of us have to be careful that we are not guilty of lip service. Sure, it is a very difficult task but at least we should try our utmost.
If we do, we will be able to enter our Succah and wave the lulav with the feeling that we really have accomplished something great and are indeed fulfilling the commandment to be joyful on these days. “Joy is man’s passage from a lesser to a greater perfection”, said Spinoza. (Ethics, 3,defs. 2,3) Right he is!
May all of us succeed, at least a little. Chag Sameach!
In former times, no hours were more extraordinary in our forefathers’ lives than those just before the onset of the awesome day, Yom Kippur. These comprised moments of such intense religious upheaval in the human soul that it was as if the world became a different planet, one in which all normal human needs and worries fell away. The solemnity of these awe-inspiring hours was hard to carry. (1) Testimonies of these moments have reached us through the writings of our forefathers and by oral transmission. (2)
What was our forefathers’ secret to reaching this state of mind and heart?
The venerable Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook z”l, Chief Rabbi of Palestine before the Jewish State was established, mystic, and one of the most original thinkers ever, draws attention to a strange phrase at the end of the Al Cheit confessional prayer, which is said on this awesome day: “My God, before I was formed I was of no worth; and now that I have been formed, it is as if I was not formed.” Rabbi Kook explains that the first part of this confession is indeed easy to understand. Before I was formed I was obviously of no worth, since I did not yet exist! The world was not yet in need of me. But why should man say that once created, his existence is as if he had not been formed? Is the fact that he now exists not proof that his life is of great significance? What, then, is the meaning of this strange confession that his existence is as if he does not exist? Rabbi Kook goes on to explain the import of these words in a simple but penetrating way: When I was not yet formed, I was obviously of no worth, since the fact that I did not yet exist meant that there was no need for me to exist. But now that I have been formed, there must be a reason for my being: a mission that I am to fulfill, something that only I am able to accomplish. Consequently, my existence is of crucial importance not just for myself but for all of mankind and the entire universe. So, what is it that I now confess at this solemn hour? That I have neither been living up to that mission nor succeeded in my attempts to accomplish it! And if that is so, then my whole existence is called into question. As such, I have returned to a situation in which my existence is of no value, just as in my prenatal condition. So, “now that I have been formed, it is as if I was not formed.” (3)
This awesome thought is the focal point of Yom Kippur. Am I worthy to have a claim on life? Or, have I been born but lost my right to live? This is by far the most important question for man to ask. The trembling of the earlier generations on Erev Yom Kippur was indeed that of great pachad (fear) – not fear of punishment or death, but of not rising to the challenge of living in God’s presence and fulfilling one’s destiny!
Our forefathers understood those hours to be decisive. It was a time of great spiritual embarrassment. What if I have not lived up to my mission – a mission that only I, among the billions of people, can accomplish? And only now, at this very moment in history! What if I fail? Then this mission will never be fulfilled – neither now nor later. For what purpose, then, have I been created? It was this sense of inadequacy that was acutely felt during those hours in the lives of our forefathers.
Yom Kippur is also a day on which we are prohibited to eat. But we need to understand the significance of this prohibition. Why is the denial of food so important? One of our great teachers, Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heschel (1748-1825), the Rebbe of Apt, also known as the Ohev Yisrael (lover of all Jews), provided a significant answer to that question. On the fast of Tish’ah B’Av, the day commemorating the destruction of both temples, he would ask, “How is it possible to eat on such a day?” Just thinking about the disasters that befell the Jewish people can cause a total loss of appetite. There is no way that one is able to eat on such a day!
On Yom Kippur he would ask, “Who needs to eat?” This is a day when man surpasses himself; when he outdoes himself; when man lives, at least for a few hours, on a level where the question whether he is worthy to have been created must be answered with a dazzling YES. During these hours Jews are likened to angels, and angels do not eat. (4)
But perhaps there is still another meaning to the question How is it possible to eat on such a day. Only once a year is a Jew granted just over 25 hours to contemplate these words: “And now that I have been formed, it is as if I was not formed.” Who, then, has time to eat or even think about food at such an awe-inspiring time?
The great tragedy of our generation is that for many of us, even as we enter Yom Kippur and observe its laws, there is no longer a feeling of pachad (fear) or of trembling before God. We have lost the art of grasping the greatness of the day. It becomes more and more difficult each year. Even when we fast and say the prayers, we are not haunted by the question of having been created versus not having been created. In secular society, there is no longer a feeling of shame regarding what we do with our lives. Anything goes. We have been deadened by daily needs, occupations and pleasures. We are “allrightniks” – neither contrite nor even embarrassed.
But with a little more thought, we Jews can realize how privileged we are to have one day in the year to be jealous of our forefathers’ religious authenticity. We should want to pay millions of dollars for the ability to participate in even an hour of such genuine religious experience as they had on Erev Yom Kippur. Their great secret was trembling in awe of the Master of the World, while fully cognizant that they could actually turn their lives around and say, “Yes, I was created, and I am worthy.” Who would not dream of experiencing such hours?
Just reminding ourselves of this dream makes Yom Kippur a day filled with meaning. We should at least dream bold dreams, and we should dream harder.
Gemar chatima tova
(1) This may be the reason why we start saying the longer viduy (confession prayers) during the afternoon prayers even before Yom Kippur and before partaking of the seudah hamafseket, the last meal eaten prior to the fast. The upheaval in the soul at that time would be so great that one could indeed die from the experience before Yom Kippur has even started.
(2) See, for example: Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff, The Rav: The World of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (New York: Ktav, 1999) vol. 2, pp. 169 and 170. See also: Abraham Joshua Heschel, ed. by Susannah Heschel, Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1996) pp. 146-147. (The author is the grandson of the Ohev Yisrael and bears his name.)
(3) Olat Re’iyah, vol. 2, page 356.
(4) Heschel, ad loc.
Once upon a time, in a large, gloomy palace high on a mountain, where the night wind howled outside its massive walls, there lived a wicked king – a real one. His beard was long and his voice boomed like thunder. More than that a king does not need.
Wherever the king travelled, his citizens would grovel before him in the dust, and if they failed to do so, they were knocked into it anyway. You see, O reader, how mighty our king was.
In the course of time, the King produced a son called Democratio. This prince had one remarkable feature – he possessed a completely hollow head. It is hard for us to grasp this idea because our heads are so full. (Though were they otherwise, we would find it even harder.) For a long time, even the prince himself was not aware of his peculiarity. For one thing, he could not tell that his head was empty precisely because it was empty. But most of all, nobody would have dared tell him, because it is not wise to tell the king’s son the truth unless, of course, it is pleasant.
But truth will out. One day, the prince ran pell-mell up the stairs and banged his royal head against a wooden beam. It rang audibly, just like an empty champagne glass. The prince was most surprised. He tapped gingerly on the side of his skull and indeed it emitted a light, clear echo.
“Dear me!” the astonished prince exclaimed. “Could this valuable head of state, really be empty?” He hurried to the physician of the royal household. “Examine this head,” the prince commanded, and so the physician did. It was a tricky task indeed to tell the prince the truth, especially because he wanted to keep his own. But, the physician was a very wise man. He took his small silver hammer and tapped gently on the important head. It made a clear, beautiful, empty sound.
“Your Majesty,” the physician announced, “I congratulate you. It is quite empty.”
“Really?” the prince said, “Is it really hollow?”
“Oh yes, Sire,” and the physician bowed low. “It is extremely rare, especially with such a magnificent sound!”
“But”, the king’s son said, “when my father dies, then I shall have to reign. How can I with an empty head?” The physician tiptoed silently to the door and locked it. He bent towards the royal ear and whispered: “Thou hast a most unique head to reign! Whenever there is a conflict of opinion in the land, do as follows: Listen first to one party and send it away.”
“All right”, the prince said.
“Then hear the other party and send it away as well.”
“Fine”, the prince said.
“That is all”, the physician said.
“But”, the prince asked, “which party is right?”
The physician carefully looked around to make sure that nobody would hear and quickly replied: “The larger.”
The old wicked King died. It was a marvellous day of flag-waving and rejoicing; but amidst all the festivities, the nervous new king ascended the throne with a heart full of foreboding. But he needn’t have worried. In fact, he managed to the satisfaction of nearly everyone. The reputation of his wisdom rapidly spread beyond the country’s borders, and the secret of his hollow head stayed right in that head, which shows, dear reader, how easy it is to hide nothing!
One fine day the king organised a great dinner. I cannot begin to tell you how magnificent this feast was. It was of such stately extravagance and incredible proportions. The tables were laid with the most expensive gold cutlery and the finest bone china. The aristocracy trod softly and in awe, as though the Messiah himself was expected to attend. There was soft music, so gentle that it could barely be heard; yet, its absence would have been noticed. Few words were spoken, little was eaten. After all, the guests were too refined to display their base inclinations. The conversations, although quite meaningless, were held in the most elegant Latin. In short, a delightful evening by the standards of the nobility. King Democratio could hardly contain his delight. His glittering eyes revealed his great satisfaction.
Then, by chance, the king glanced into the reception hall. His expression became suddenly severe. Standing at the entrance of the palace door was an old, dusty man gasping for breath.
“Hey”, the king called, waving his scepter, “what is this?”
“What?”, the king called, descending from his royal throne.
“A crisis, Sire”, he exclaimed. “A crisis has come over the land.”
“A what?”, the king asked.
“A crisis, Sire…”
“Well”, the king said, “that is bad.” He did not know what a crisis was, but he understood that it was something sad, and therefore he looked as a king should look at such a moment.
“This is a great pity”, he declared, and his heart became restless.
The next morning, when the king awoke in his stately bed, he thought about the crisis. What a pity it had to come and spoil everything. It had all been going so well despite his empty head.
“First of all”, he said to himself, “I must find out what a crisis is.” He summoned all the wise men of the land. Majestically, they walked through the streets to the palace, their long beards flowing before them, sighing under the weight of their wisdom. Some of them had heads so heavy with wisdom that they nearly tumbled off their shoulders. You can understand what a deep impression this made. They told the king the meaning of a crisis.
It took them three days to finish, though barely a few minutes had passed before the eyes of the king were filled with tears, since his heart was good and compassionate. He listened carefully. Then the wise men fell silent.
“Are you finished?”, the king asked.
“Yes, Sire”, the wise men said, “that is all.” And left. And the king sat on his throne alone. Evening came, and he sat in the darkness and began to cry – a small, sad figure.
Confusion and emotion seized the country. There had to be a solution!
First, there came a royal decree to write as many books as possible about the crisis. The books did not have to be completely true, but they did have to be fat. There also had to be many, many meetings, each with at least two speakers, an introductory discussion, a concluding debate, a vote of thanks and, if possible, a word of sincere tribute. Filled with courage, the citizens began their work. As far as the books were concerned, the nation split into two working groups, those who wrote about the disaster and those who read about it, agreeing with the authors on how disastrous the disaster really was. But most of the time was spent at the meetings. Evening after evening the citizens listened and applauded.
The king himself worked even harder. He did nothing but wade through the growing mountain of literature from early in the morning until late at night. He learned what money was, who owned it, who did not own it, and who should own it. He learned about workmen and how they worked. He learned the laws of supply and demand, of price and value, and an amazing thing began to happen! Slowly his head filled up. It gradually became heavier and heavier until it was completely filled.
“And now”, the king said, “we shall apply all that we have learned.” Laws began to spew forth from the palace. Good laws, intelligent laws, refined laws. But the incredible happened. The crisis remained. The misery grew, and the citizens became impatient. And when the king heard of this he laughed and proclaimed new laws, even more intelligent and more sophisticated. But the misery kept growing. The king grew a beard, and his beard became gray. Every night he lay in bed awake, slowly going mad. Until one night he suddenly sat bolt upright. Struck by a blinding flash of inspiration, he marvelled at his own wisdom. Then he lay down again and slept a pleasant sleep.
The next day, royal couriers on horses hastened into the neighbouring countries; they blew on brass trumpets and sang a great song: “The king has found a solution!”
One hundred and twenty monarchs were invited to Democratio’s kingdom to put everything in order in one enormous meeting. Flags were hoisted, and people flooded the streets to see the mighty kings. There they were! They came from the north, south, east, and west. Only one king was not invited. His territory was too small, and one could do without him. After appearing on the palace balcony, where they met with a rapturous welcome from the crowds, they withdrew to deliberate. Each king naturally had a vast retinue of chroniclers, scholars and private secretaries who formed themselves into upper-committees, middle-committees and lower-committees. These were divided into main-committees, and again into sub-committees that were further divided into bodies of legal advisers, sub-advisers and sub-sub-advisers. It became an enormous writing crowd. At the end of this momentous day, the King offered his people a few words of reassurance from his royal balcony, and the populace left, being satisfied.
The next morning, the hundred and twenty kings rose early and carried on, creating sub-sub-sub committees. In this fashion, many days passed, until the web of committees became so complicated and intricate that further branching became impossible. In the meantime, King Democratio had become very tired. Each evening he appeared on his balcony to reassure his good people that progress was being made.
But this terrible tale of woe gets no better. The crisis remained, and the situation further deteriorated. King Democratio could no longer continue. His beard grew totally white. He met with the sub-committees and the sub-sub-committees. He told the authors of the papers about their responsibilities. He dined with the kings. And, most difficult of all, he kept speaking about the fantastic results of the conference, which would no doubt lead to a solution.
But the people began to grumble, like tormented creatures. They expected bread, but received only papers and strange statements. One evening a crowd began to gather under the royal balcony – stark, silent faces pinched with worry. Soldiers came and dispersed the crowd, but the next evening they came back. The soldiers were cruel, and people were tortured. But they still came from all directions, more and more people, forming an enormous crowd. They called out for the kings. So the kings came out onto the balcony. Thousands of fists were raised, a powerful cry rose from the crowds and the kings stood with bowed heads. They tried to speak, but they were not heard. They asked for silence but got none. Then one sharp voice raised itself above the tumult of the people: “There was another King who was not invited!”
King Democratio peered down over the balcony. “And who is that?”, he asked mockingly.
The crowd was silent for a moment; then the same voice called: “You kings, fools, jesters of wisdom and intellect, who gave you crowns on your heads and ermine-trimmed cloaks on your shoulders?” And the hundred and twenty kings fell silent. The lonely voice had spoken:
“We, with all our hundred and twenty kings, are powerless if One more King is not invited.”
And, dear reader, if you will ask why some kings thousands of years ago managed so successfully, remember that they invited the other King as well …
* Based on the writings of well-known Dutch author Godfried Bomans (1913-1971).
This week an experiment with a new way of presentation: the podcast!
These interviews are unedited. Nathan Lopes Cardozo is still experimenting and hopes that the quality will improve. The topics are (in Nathan’s words): highly unusual, but he is sure you will enjoy them.
Here are the first three brief (10 to 15 minutes) podcasts:
In memory of Bluma Shoshana bat Ephraim HaLevi z"l, Barbara Berger Kessler, on her 18th yahrzeit.
I appreciate your response to my Thoughts to Ponder 646, dated 6.6.2019, and titled "Is the Torah Divine? Thoughts for Shavuot on Combustibility." In that essay I asked whether it is possible to answer this question by means of an academic approach to the text, which was initiated by Spinoza in the 17th century. My argument was that if the Torah is indeed divine it would probably not be receptive to academic scrutiny, because the academic approach would be unable to use its conventional methods to verify or deny its divinity, since it is not suited to answer that kind of question.
You called my response "self-serving at best." And: “If we cannot use our rational faculties to try and understand the world then the entire project is not worth discussing. This is just hiding behind an artificial and childish fence. It is clear that the Torah makes many statements that can be empirically tested and found to be false. You can't just sweep these contradictions under an ever-widening carpet of denial.”
You continue: “Your second argument seems to say that unless a person is of sufficient spiritual level they cannot perceive the true divinity of the document. To quote, ‘Their receptivity to the divinity of Torah is proportionate to the condition of their soul.’ Thus, all of us who have made serious and long term attempts to find this divine origin and failed are excluded. Our efforts are dismissed not by some rational argument, but by simple fiat. Oh, if you don't see the divinity there, that is because your spirit is too base. You are not a refined enough individual.
These kinds of dismissive and irrational arguments may be of comfort to those who are happy to wrap themselves in the four cubits of halachic Judaism and ignore the outside world, but I was very surprised to see them coming from you.”
You then continue with the following observations: “I have always wondered how people could believe in what seems to outsiders to be such an absurd document as the Book of Mormon. If you read their testimonies, they say the document speaks to their souls and they don't need any outside validation. This is your argument too. The Torah satisfies a deep spiritual need. I can respect the subjective reality of your perception of the divinity of the Torah. This subjective connection with the Torah is what has sustained Yiddishkeit over the centuries. Clearly for those that feel it, this connection is deeply important, even to the point where it becomes the single source of their identity.
A little later you write: “Subjective realities though are not a solid basis for a belief system. Without such a solid basis, Yiddishkeit (Judaism) is just one more man-made attempt to understand our mysterious existence. When I first became frum (religious) I had hoped to find such a solid basis. I never did.
So the reason for my disappointment is that I had hoped for more from you than the standard arguments that ‘only the wise can see it’, and the anger comes from a place of continually being dismissed and belittled by Orthodox establishment in which I invested so much of my life.”
I am sorry that it took so long for me to reply, due to serious personal problems. I will now try to respond to your questions and observations. Due to time limitations, I'm unable to answer all your questions, but I hope I'll make sense and I hope that it will be helpful. I'll be able to deal with the other questions at a later stage, in several of my Thoughts to Ponder.
For now, let me deal with only one question: whether or not it is possible that a god actually spoke to human beings, as recorded in the Torah, and especially at Sinai to hundreds of thousands of people. After all, such a claim runs contrary to all our experiences and seems to be absurd and completely unscientific.
The second question that needs to be discussed is: Do the many biblical textual inconsistencies, contradictions, mistakes and differences in style – all clearly seen by any biblical scholar – prove that the Torah is the result of many authors throughout many different ages? For most people, the obvious answer would be that it couldn't possibly be a text dictated by God, and surely not word by word, and definitely not at one specific moment in history such as at Sinai!
In other words, all empirical evidence seems to run contrary to the claim that it is (completely) divine.
It is important to realize that the second question is closely related to the first one, since we would have to admit that even if it were possible that God spoke at Mount Sinai, the many problems mentioned above concerning the actual text would disqualify the Torah from being an accurate account. As such, it could not have been dictated or conveyed by God, since God would certainly not have made these "textual mistakes”.
I will not deal with the second question now, nor will I discuss other questions such as what does "revelation" actually mean, what about archeology, the book of Mormons, the relationship between science and belief, and so many other issues, because it would result in a complete book (which I do hope to write one day). As I wrote above, I will deal with them later.
As you surely know, I am a former follower and great admirer of Spinoza, who laid the groundwork for all the different forms of critique, by which later philosophers denied the possibility that a god ever spoke to humankind. Spinoza was also the father of all Bible criticism, which proved that the Torah's text is full of inconsistencies, contradictions and various literary styles. So I indeed came to a conclusion similar to yours: The Torah is a human invention and does not carry any divinity. As such, it made no sense to claim that God had ever spoken to a human being. In fact, the Torah seems to be a mediocre book compared to the great works of the Greeks and other philosophers.
But because of Spinoza's strong condemnations of the Torah and general religious beliefs – as expressed mainly in his famous Tractatus Theologico-Politicus – which were not always too convincing, I wondered whether he was telling the whole story and didn't overlook some crucial issues. So I started to consult many significant Jewish and non-Jewish works on the Torah and, even more importantly, tried to get a better grasp on issues of faith and belief in general. (At that time I was completely secular.)
Many of these books were not written by conventionally religious people. Some were clearly secular. To mention a few: Immanuel Kant, Blaise Pascal, Max Weber, Alfred North Whitehead, Ludwig Wittgenstein, George Steiner, Mary Midgley, Anthony "Tony" Tol, Walter Kaufmann, Reinhold Niebuhr and Rudolf Otto. And those who were religious were surely not (Jewish) Orthodox by any means. Still, their writings made me aware that Spinoza's overall claims and conclusions needed to be sincerely questioned. In fact, they made me wonder whether Spinoza had become the victim of his own theories and had overlooked many issues.
Later on, I realized that the same could be said concerning many other Bible critics and anti-religious thinkers post Spinoza, until this very day.
Let me first of all discuss the question of what kind of revelation we are dealing with and then we can ask whether or not such a revelation is possible.
Surely it is not the "godliness" that we are used to speaking about that is at stake. When we normally discuss "godliness," we often mean a kind of divinity that is established on the basis of the laws of nature and within our day-to-day experiences. For many of us, their consistency and beauty make us believe that we are encountering the divine.
But this is not what we mean. What we're looking for is whether there was ever or could ever be a divine verbal revelation that violated the laws of nature or would violate these laws as we know them; in other words, one that lacks all natural consistency and historical explanation. One that took or will take place under totally miraculous circumstances, such as Mount Sinai fuming with smoke like a furnace, and subsequently "quaking" (Shemot 19:18 ), accompanied by thunder and lightning, and causing people to tremble and fear for their lives (Ibid. 19:16). We also need to ask how it would be possible for this divine text to include empirical untruths.
Furthermore, we need to inquire whether this experience was indeed recorded in the text of the Torah as we know it today, which according to Jewish Tradition (or at least some of its classical sources) was dictated by God, although this is not entirely clear from the Torah text itself.
To my surprise, the first thing I learned when reading these books, was that scientific reasoning and logic, while tremendously important, were indeed not equipped to deal with that question. The reason was obvious: They would no longer be scientific and logical.
After all, scientific inquiry depends on laws that necessarily exclude the possibility of exceptions. Nature's general constancy is what allows for scientific inquiry and why its results are so powerful. But revelation is revelation only insofar as it demonstrates an existence beyond the consistent order of things. For revelation to serve its purpose, which is to make a highly unusual impression on those who experience it, it must be exceedingly extraordinary.
This is also true about logic. Logic is a difficult concept to pin down (what's logical about logic?), but what it means in most cases is: reasoning conducted or assessed by strict principles of validity. What the word "validity" means is open to interpretation, but we can state with certainty that the kind of revelation we're speaking about is not logical.
In other words, authentic revelation lacks resemblance to other kinds of experience and to logic.
What is important to remember is that we are trained to think in terms of categories and sameness, something we inherited from the Western world view. And anything extraordinary, in the full sense of the word, is automatically excluded and considered impossible.
What this really means is that revelation is not so much rejected because of any proper a-priori reason, but rather because our minds have been indoctrinated to believe that whatever cannot be replicated should not be taken seriously.
But this is clearly a fallacy. Just because something cannot happen again does not give us a reason to claim that it could not have happened.
In fact, we know this to be true. For example, there will never be another person like you in the world, with the exact genetic makeup and life experiences. Yet you exist. You, and every other human being you see, are walking and talking proof that one-time-only events can and do happen.
This is not an argument that therefore revelation definitely took place. Perhaps it did not and will never take place. But what it does mean is that on the basis of the foundations of science and logic such a claim cannot be verified or denied. Science and logic cannot, by definition, decide this matter.
So, from where comes the belief that revelation may be possible? If science and logic can't help us out, what makes us even consider the possibility? What other faculty is available to us to contemplate the prospect of revelation? Believe it or not, this depends on our openness and capacity to wonder, to be perplexed and stand in amazement, which happens when we have no other way of dealing with something extraordinary.
This is difficult for us to swallow, educated as we are in the Western way of thinking. After all, it runs contrary to all that we stand for. Aren't wonder, perplexity and amazement all emotional expressions that are somewhat laughable because they're the result of our lack of scientific knowledge, or they are what we feel when we encounter the laws of nature?
But we have to be honest: Is that really true? Or, are we hiding behind a shield so as not to be confronted by the question: Do our emotional expressions of wonder and perplexity really come from a lack of knowledge, or do they present something that we don't want to admit to because it undermines our certainty that with science and logic everything can be explained?
In other words, the question that we need to ask ourselves is: Are we prepared to realize that there may be more to this world than science and logic?
Immanuel Kant, in his introduction to his famous Kritik der Reinen Vernunft, responds to this as follows: It is the nature of human beings, because of their reasoning, to be tormented by questions that reason can neither deny nor answer because the questions completely surpass the capacity of cogent reasoning and scientific investigation.
It is this ambiguity that is inherent in all human beings. It is the ambivalence that drives people beyond themselves and despite themselves. We're not speaking here about questions that will one day be answered through scientific inquiry, but about issues that deal with meaning, and questions about human significance. It has to do with weltanschauung, the way we see ourselves and the world. And while science may be able to give us more information about such matters, to help us with these questions and formulate them better, it will not be able to answer them, and for very good reason. They surpass science and logic.
It is here that religion comes in. The attempts to express the ineffable and to deal with that which cannot be expressed are the basics of ritual in every religion. It's not the description of a reality but a way of speech. This is all very complicated, and there are many opinions among the philosophers on how to deal with it all, but that is beyond the purview of this essay. The fact itself, however, cannot be denied.
This means that the a-priori deduced rejection of revelation, based on the fact that it cannot be proven via scientific means, is not a sign of progressive thinking but rather of an intellectual and spiritual stagnancy. It is too easy to be lulled into a sense that the well-defined laws and ordered progression of events constitute all that reality has to offer. After all, we know that this is not true! The tragedy is that, due to indoctrination, we've become mentally shut off from what can happen suddenly and without precedent.
Because our forefathers were still open to the prospect of unexpected occurrences, they had little reason to doubt the possibility of revelation on a grand scale. It was not their intellectual primitivism but their open-mindedness, their willingness to see what in fact happened or could happen rather than what they expected or understood. This gave them the capacity to wonder and therefore to trust their belief in the possibility of revelation.
This, I believe, is what Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg (1785-1865), in his HaKetav Veha-Kabbalah, had in mind. Rabbi Mecklenburg was a deep and unusual thinker, as proven by this remarkable work, which I quoted in my earlier essay, Thoughts to Ponder 646.
While standing at Mount Sinai, a person who was less prepared – which really meant less open to wonder – experienced only a minimal level of revelation. Those who were more open to the unexpected, and possessed the faculty of profound amazement, experienced more revelation and "heard" more.
That people today, including me, are even less equipped with the art of profound wonder means that we are confronted with a huge problem. We're not even open to the possibility of revelation, because we've been indoctrinated to believe that only science and logic can determine such a matter.
Again, this doesn't mean that therefore revelation took place. It does, however, mean that even if it did take place, we moderns would not have been able to detect it. This is not "self-serving at best"; this is a spiritual tragedy.
To my regret, I must stop here. Many more very serious issues, several of which you mention, are at stake. But time and space forces me to leave them for future essays. The topics of science, logic and religious belief have been discussed by some of the greatest minds. Many different approaches have been suggested. The topics that we are discussing here, including your observations and criticism, are all related to these very approaches.
Hopefully, we will get to them in the near future. I pray that you are aware of the fact that writing an essay such as this one takes much research, many hours of labor and a great amount of concentration. It may therefore take some time before I am able to expand on these matters, especially so because many other people have been asking me difficult questions, which I must respond to as well. So I ask you to bear with me. Thanks!