Friday, November 25, 2022

Education is critical for faith

 Chovas HaLevavos (1:2): The second way to know something is to rely upon a tradition because he believes the one who taught him the tradition. However, he doesn’t know whether it is in fact true through reason and understanding. Relying solely on tradition is comparable to a blind person who is being led by a sighted person. It is possible that he is in fact being led by another blind person who in turn is led by a whole line of blind people. Each one of the blind people placing his hand on the blind person in front of him while the leader of these blind people is a sighted person. If the sighted leader is negligent and fails to guard them or if one of the blind people stumbles or accident - then all of them would suffer the consequences. They would deviate from the path or fall into a hole or be blocked by some obstacle. Similarly, the person who understands G d’s unity solely through the rote learning of tradition cannot be sure that he won’t come to believe in polytheism when he hears the arguments of the heretics. He might come to alter his understanding and err without being aware of it. That is why our Sages said (Avos 2:14): Study Torah diligently and know how to answer the heretic.

Ibn Ezra (Shemos 20:1): Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi [author or Kuzari] once asked me why G d said I am the L rd your G d who brought you out of the land of Egypt rather than “I am the L rd your G d who made heaven and earth and created you? In reply, I told him that different people are on different levels of emuna in G d. At the lowest level are the masses who simply believe everything they have been told about G d from their ancestors. The next level up are those that believe because of what they read in the Torah which G d gave to Moshe. However, if these people were challenged by a heretic who claimed that G d did not exist they would be speechless because they wouldn’t know how to refute the claim. In contrast, the person who has studied the sciences, valuable aids to the perfection of his soul, will readily perceive the handiwork of G d in metals, plants and living creatures and in the human body itself. He will know the intricacies of the function of each organ and how they work together. Afterwards he will study the heavenly bodies which are the work of G d. He will learn about the eclipses of the sun and moon. Through his knowledge of the amazing intricacies of nature, he will come to recognize that these are unquestionably the handiwork of G d. In addition not only are the wonders of nature only fully appreciated by the scholar but also the complex subtleties of theology. In contrast, the signs that G d performed in the redemption from Egypt were fully convincing to everyone - both the learned and unlearned the adults and the children.

Ksav V’HaKabbala (Bereishis 12:2): The existence of G d, His unity, His intervention in human affairs and His powers are known to us either by means of intellectual analysis or by faith. Having both means of knowledge is the ideal because intellectual analysis is not sufficient for every situation. That is in part due to the variability in the quality of thought depending upon circumstances. When times are bad, a person simply doesn’t think clearly and then it is easy to fall into the snares of doubt concerning the truth of these things. On the other hand, faith by itself is not a respectable position. When exposed to questions from skeptics it is possible that that his faith will weaken. Thus we see that faith is an aid to knowledge and knowledge supports faith and that they need each other. One should not stop studying the truth of his faith. However, if he fails to understand some aspect of it he should assume that the problem is with his intellect and he should continue to rely upon his faith. (Because of the importance of having both knowledge and faith, the men of the Great Assembly decreed the beracha of emes (truth) and emuna (faith) which follows the saying of Shema. Emes refers to that which is known clearly through the intellect while emuna is that which is accepted because of the traditions from our forefathers. 

Shaloh (Shaar Osiyos 21): Reishis Chochma states: A person should not do mitzvos in a mechanical fashion. It seems then that a person needs to investigate and to truly know to Whom he serves and from Whom he fears. Similarly, Dovid [Divrei HaYomim 1 28:9] told his son Shlomo: You should know the G d of your father and serve Him. If mitzvos are done mechanically - then they are done erratically and faith is not fixed in his heart. Consequently, if someone comes and challenges his beliefs with proofs and questions it is possible that he will be defeated. However someone who serves G d from knowledge in his heart will never be defeated.” What the Reishis Chochma says is very true and is in agreement to all that I have previous stated….

Rabbeinu Bachye (Devarim 13:7): It is possible that the Torah is alluding in this verse to two approaches to faith. The first is based on tradition and the second is based on knowledge and wisdom. A person who believes because of the tradition that he received from his forefathers has a good faith since he has a true tradition. However it is not a perfect faith since it does not involve wisdom and understanding - just acceptance. This is analogous to a blind person who is traveling in a column of blind people. Each one is rests his hand on the blind person who is in front of him. As long as the column is led by a sighted person, they will definitely travel on a good and direct path. This is comparable to those who rely totally on the tradition passed down by the ages from Moshe. We definitely will succeed in following his path which was heard at Sinai by all the people and transmitted by our ancestors. However, this type of faith is not perfect. Because if a person has faith entirely because of tradition, if he hears attacks on the tradition from mistaken and heretical people he has no certainly that he won’t be influenced. Since his faith is mechanical without understanding, it is definitely possible that he will be influenced - either by accepting their arguments or having doubts about his beliefs. This is just like a blind person who is not secure that he won’t stumble while a sighted person who relies on himself doesn’t have to be concerned about this. Thus, a person who understands his tradition is secure that he won’t be turned from his faith because his understanding can refute challenges to his beliefs. Therefore, a person should not rely totally on tradition but should learn and become knowledgeable until his faith is complete and thus have faith both from tradition and understanding. That is what is meant in Avos (2:19): Diligently study Torah so that you can know how to refute the heretic. That is why the Torah indicates here that there are two aspects off faith - understanding and tradition…

Rabbeinu Bachye (Pirkei Avos 2:19): One should learn diligently in order to be able to answer the heretic. Even though you have the true faith which you have received from your father and your father received it from his father in a line going back to Moshe on Sinai - nevertheless this should not be viewed as sufficient. You also need faith based upon wisdom and knowledge. That is because if you only have faith based on received tradition, it is likely that you will hear the words of heretics that will twist your heart after their views. Therefore, it is necessary to also have faith based on knowledge and wisdom. If you have such faith then when you hear their words you will be able refute their views with intellectual proofs and obviously you will not be influenced by them. However, the heretic that you should argue with is only the non Jewish one but not a Jewish one - since it will just deepen his rejection of religion (Sanhedrin 38b).

Rav S. R. Hirsch (Nineteen Letters #18): [The leaders of Orthodoxy] became at first enemies of this philosophical spirit, and later of all specifically intellectual and philosophical pursuits in general. Certain misunderstood utterances [e.g., Bereishis Rabbah 44:1] were taken as weapons with which to repel all higher interpretations of the Talmud . . . The inevitable consequence was, therefore, that since oppression and persecution had robbed Israel of every broad and natural view of world and of life, and Talmud had yielded about all the practical results for life of which it was capable, every mind that felt the desire of independent activity was obliged to forsake the paths of study and research in general open to the human intellect, and to take its recourse to dialectic subtleties and hairsplitting. Only a very few [e.g., R’ Yehuda HaLevi’s Kuzari and Ramban] during this entire period stood with their intellectual efforts entirely within Judaism, and built it up out of its own inner concept [Drachman translation]…. we are left with two generations confronting each other. One of them has inherited an uncomprehended Judaism, as practiced by men from habit, a revered but lifeless mummy which it is afraid to bring back to life. The other, though in part burning with noble enthusiasm for the welfare of the Jews, regards Judaism as bereft of any life and spirit, a relic of an era long past and buried, and tries to uncover its spirit, but, not finding it, threatens through its well meant efforts to sever the last life nerve of Judaism - out of sheer ignorance [Paritzky translation].

Rambam (Moreh Nevuchim 1:50): You should know that knowledge concerning religious beliefs is not simply utterings of the mouth. Rather they are what is manifest in the soul when it has been ascertained that it is true as understood. However, if you are of the type for whom it is sufficient merely to repeat correct views or at least those that you assume are correct views without understanding or thought about them - that is a very easy yet superficial path. You will find many fools who hold views that they don’t understand at all. However if you are one of those who have aspirations to elevate your heart to the highest level  - that is the level of understanding…There are in fact no meaningful beliefs without thoughtful understanding what these beliefs actually are. In particular, to verify as best you can that what you imagine to be true is objectively that way. If you have established that there can be no rational basis for rejecting the belief or doubts regarding the belief - then you have certainty that your understanding is correct…. Rather than being a person who can only utter things without having internalized them, a person should be one who knows the truth even if they don’t publicize their knowledge. This is as the pious people have been commanded (Tehilim 4:5), “Commune with your own heart upon your bed and be still’.

Ramchal (Mesilas Yeshorim - Introduction): If you look carefully at the world today you will find that the majority of brilliant minds devote most of their energy to esoteric analysis and profound wisdom - each one according to their interests and nature. Some are totally devoted to studying the natural sciences such as physics and biology. Others study the practical issues of engineering and architecture. Some are totally committed to business while others are interested in understanding holy things such as Torah. Of those devoted to Torah, some concentrate on understanding theoretical halachic issues while others focus on medrash and still others work to master practical Halacha. However only a tiny minority of this Torah group make a serious effort to study and understand issues relevant to perfecting their service of G d e.g., loving, fearing and coming close to Him and other issues of piety. This neglect is not because piety is viewed as unimportance. In fact, everyone would say that piety is extremely necessary and that no one can be considered wise unless he has mastered all these matters. However, they justify their failure to study these important issues by saying that the concepts associated with piety are so obvious and well known that there is no need to devote significant time to understanding them. Consequently, study of these matters is left to the less than brilliant minds - to those close to being retarded. In fact since only simple folk devote themselves totally to piety, it is typically assumed that anyone who engages in these studies most be dim witted. However, the consequences of this attitude are extremely damaging both to the intelligent and the not so intelligent. The intelligent end up lacking true piety because they don’t study it and therefore very few individuals are actually pious. The unintelligent lack true piety because they are unable to comprehend it. Consequently, the majority of mankind mistakenly thinks being pious means to say incredible amounts of Psalms, to make very long confessions of sin and to subject oneself to debilitating physical activities such as fasting, and immersing in ice and snow. In other words the “pious” person is one who engages in activities that are universally viewed as repellent and debasing. In fact, true piety is desirable, pleasant, and very far from this common stereotype. It is quite obvious that something that people are not really concerned with doesn’t impact their daily lives. Therefore, even though the basic ideas of piety are familiar to everyone - if you don’t seriously think about them they have no impact on your life. Piety is not something innate, natural and intuitive like sleeping or eating… It requires a conscious program to acquire and develop… Therefore, even though the ideas are easily comprehended and it is obvious how piety manifests itself in life, but piety is not implanted in some one’s heart unless he consciously pursues it. Consequently, since every intelligent person acknowledges the need for piety…what will he answer G d concerning his neglect of developing his piety? Does it make sense to be totally devoted to abstract and arcane theoretical analyses of Torah and Halacha while totally neglecting that which G d unequivocally demands from us?… Shlomo said (Mishlei 2:4–5):If you will seek it like wealth and search for it like hidden treasures then you will come to understand fear of G d [and find knowledge of G d]. He didn’t say then you will understand philosophy, science, medicine, laws or Halacha - but then you will understand fear of G d. Shlomo is clearly stating that fear of G d is acquired only with the same type of effort one devotes to becoming rich or finding treasure… Why doesn’t a person at least set aside some time to look into the matter even if he is already committed to other activities?

Alter of Kelm (Chochma v’Musar 2:62): Why does it say [in the Amida prayer said three times a day] ‘Our G d and the G d of our forefathers’? The answer is that there are two types of people who believe in G d. The first believes in G d entirely because he is following in the footsteps of his ancestors but nevertheless his faith is strong. The second is one who comes to religious faith because of intellectual investigation. Their religious faith, however, is not identical. The first one has the advantage that it is impossible to persuade him to give up his beliefs even by presenting many facts that seem to contradict - Heaven forbid - his faith. That is because the strength of his faith comes entirely from traditions received from his ancestors which he has never questioned or even thought about. However, there is a problem with this approach in that his faith is simply reflexive habit without any inherent personal meaning to him. This is in contrast to the independent thinker who came to believe in G d through his intensive investigations. He not only has strong faith but one which is all encompassing on a personal level since it engages both the intellect and the emotions. However, this approach also has a critical weakness in that his beliefs are open to refutation - Heaven forbid - if someone should show him strong proofs against his conclusions. Therefore, one who has the advantages of both approaches is superior to someone have one approach alone. That means that while a person should learn from tradition what is true, he should also investigate to understand what these truths are. This is the proper approach to faith. That is why we say ‘Our G d and the G d of our forefathers’ [He is the G d of tradition but is also the G d we have come to understand more deeply and meaningfully through study and thought]. This can be used to explain the verse (Tehilim 34:9), ‘Taste and see that G d is good’. The ‘taste’ refers to our personal investigations and ‘see’ refers to seeing that which our ancestors did.


  1. OK a quick vort on some our greatest philosophers :
    Shlomo hamelech, and Rambam.
    Shlomo wrote 3 famous Books, Shir hashirim; Mishlei and Koheleth.
    Shirim is about Love, mishlei about living and serving Hashem, whilst koheleth is ultimately how to prepare for our journey out of this life.
    Rambam also had 3 major works, commentary to the mishnah, Yad, and the Guide.
    His commentary to the mishnah, is not really Shir hashirim, more an intro to system oral Law. The Yad is more practical, in a sense is more parallel to mishlei. The moreh actually incorporates mishlei and koheleth. Both how to learn what the words really mean, and also on how to prepare for death, or to prepare for the real life of the olam ha emet.

  2. There are two kinds of leaders
    The first works to educate and raise up his followers so they will embrace his vision with willing enthsiasm.
    The second works to keep his followers ignorant so they will mindlessly follow him and fulfill his vision so he can be raised up.


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