Contemplating Childbirth and Divine Revelation

Have you ever thought about these?

Nathan Lopes Cardozo

vrijdag 19 mei 2023

When a child is born, the first question that should come to mind is: what should we tell him or her, when they grow up, about the importance of their birth and the purpose of their life? After all, what right do we have to bring a child into the world without informing him of this important fact? Is there anything more heartless than giving birth to children and not letting them know why they were given life?

What right do we have to throw children into the turbulent jungle that is our world, a world that will fill them with anxieties and uncertainties, without giving them a clue as to the higher purpose of their lives? And why, despite all the possible anxieties, it is worthwhile for the child to live. (Or should we agree with Nobel prize winner Albert Camus (1913-1960) when he claims that there is only one philosophical question: whether to commit suicide or not because there is no meaning or purpose to life? )

The question of the significance of life is fundamental to all human beings. The issue is not that we may not discover the answer to this question. Rather, the absence of this question has become the greatest tragedy of modern life.

Is it perhaps due to the fact that many human beings are terribly afraid of the possible answer?

What if the answer does not respond to what we desire it to be? What if the answer spoils our likes and dislikes? What if the answer means giving up the “good life” in which I am the exclusive arbiter to decide how I behave, and instead indicating what I ought to do?

This question of the purpose of life also stands at the root of relating to the Torah as the word of God. The literature on this subject seems to indicate that many of us have convinced ourselves that it is not. But the question is: why did we? If, even for a moment, we would contemplate whether the Torah could be the word of God, we would investigate all the pros and cons and then decide. But many of us do not undertake such an investigation; we do not truly contemplate the possibility that the Torah may be the word of God.

Do we not bear the moral duty to investigate this matter when we know that for thousands of years our ancestors sacrificed their lives for this belief and died “al kiddush Hashem”, “in sanctification of God’s name”, and this Torah. Morally, may we ignore this?

Indeed, perhaps the Torah is not the word of God – but to assert this without any serious contemplation should be terribly disturbing for all of us. Is it not that many of us have a priori decided that the Torah cannot be the word of God because the possibility that it is, is terrifying? And the consequences are tremendous. Thus, did we find an “intellectual” argument to justify our pre-existing conception. Did we perhaps first establish the answer and then constructed the question accordingly?

Now, many will claim that the above observations are incorrect. After all, has not biblical criticism demonstrated beyond doubt that the Torah is not the word of God? Has it not been proved that the Torah comprises many documents written by different human beings spanning many time periods?

True – or so it seems. There is however one important “but.” Anybody who has carefully studied biblical criticism knows that it never truly contemplated the possibility that the Torah is divine. Since the days of Spinoza in the seventeenth century, and perhaps even earlier, the Bible was considered to be the work of mortals. When reading the works of Spinoza, one wonders whether he ever considered the possibility that the Torah is divine. His whole pantheistic philosophy had already excluded this postulate at the outset.

One wonders: is it not more honest to consider that biblical criticism itself was an attempt to avoid the question of the Torah’s divinity?

What is at stake is not that the arguments proposed by biblical criticism are incorrect. They probably are correct – but only within the context of literary analysis, science, history or even from the perspective of archeology. The question is whether these disciplines are the right approach to the question of the divinity of the Torah.

We may formulate this in another way: should the biblical text be “read” or “heard”? There is a major difference between the two: reading is external, while hearing is internal.

Reading only requires one’s eyes. But, when we “hear” something, we understand and experience the melody emanating from its core. Such hearing incorporates one’s whole being. All one’s faculties are touched, including our emotions.

It was Goethe who stated that “what issues from a poetic mind, wants to be received by a poetic mind.” Any cold analysis destroys the poetry – all that remains are useless potting sheds.

This would seem to be true about the Bible as well: what issues from a biblical mind wants to be received by a biblical mind. But who possesses a biblical mind? Who dares to possess a biblical mind?

The biblical man is a man of faith. He sees God everywhere. In the clouds and in the sky, in a flower, the birth of a child, a storm, the sunlight and in the beauty of music. The nonspiritual person will explain all these away in naturalistic terms – something the biblical man considers very superficial and a denial of the truth.

The biblical man claims that the nonspiritual man has lost the art of astonishment and wonder. And even when this man is surprised, it does not shake him to the extent it does biblical man. The question is not whether one is taken by wonder but what to do with this feeling of wonder. Nonspiritual man has been absorbed by his brain. He solely desires intellectual proofs – but acquisition of scientific data themselves does not affect radical transformation in a person.

Faith runs deeper than knowledge. When an insight of faith occurs, all limbs quiver and move and an upheaval agitates one’s entire being – for his full reality lies in the balance.

Faith is not a state of passivity, of silent acceptance, but the result of an inner war wherein the man of faith struggles to persistently maintain his radical astonishment. This is only possible when he acts on this faith so as to keep it alive and nurture it.

In other words, one must “act biblically.” One must understand what the Torah transmits for us to hear and thus to transform his entire being. One must be prepared to shiver from head to toe – which is only possible when the individual is immersed in the experience in his entirety, not merely with his intellect.

The nonspiritual man does not live the text of the Torah; he is deaf to its melody and music. This is akin to one solely having read the notes of Mozart’s compositions and complaining that the music lacks beauty. Because this individual fails to play the notes, he has not heard the music nor felt the vibrations and the beat! As such, the biblical critic is tone deaf.

Only one who lives the notes can hear the Divine voice. One must taste the biblical commandments, experience them with his whole being and be transformed by them; then he will hear the Torah as it truly is. One must hear in the doing. Consequently, it is not enough to simply observe Shabbat or eat Kosher – this is mundane routine. One must experience Shabbat, live it, undergo its transformative powers and exit it as different individual.

The difference between a scientific reading of the Torah and a religious hearing of the melody of the Torah’s text is therefore enormous – it is the difference between heaven and earth.

Just as one cannot prove the music of Mozart to be true, so one cannot prove that the Torah is divine. To hear is to become involved, and when one is not involved, one misses out on the very essence. A great musician does not play music, he lives the music. Every day is an exciting adventure and a fresh discovery, a new Mozart, and a new transformative experience.

So it is with the Torah. It must fill one’s bones and move him to the very core of his being. Only then will he become a biblical man and acquire the ability to be transformed by the music of the Torah’s teachings and commandments.

The crucial question is: who among all of us, those who are secular and even those who “religious”, myself included, are not hard of hearing? Oh, when will I really hear?

8 + 2 = ?

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