Thursday, February 22, 2007

Guest Posting By Rabbi Dovid Sears - Rabbi Nachman's Emphasis On Faith [Faith Vs. Reason, Part III]

Tikkun HaKlali - Jerusalem, 1904

We actually discussed this topic on this blog awhile ago, but it is worth taking another look at it in light of the sources cited in Parts I and II.

Echoing the sentiments of his great-grandfather, the Baal Shem Tov, Rabbi Nachman once remarked, "To the world, emunah (faith) is a small thing. But to me, emunah is a very great thing" (Sichos ha-Ran 33).

He also cautioned, "One who follows his intellect and wisdom [alone] can fall into many grave errors, and thus cause great evil, G-d forbid" (Likkutei Moharan II, 12).

Instead, we should fulfill the Torah’s mandate: “Tamim tehiyeh ba-Shem Elokekha . . . Be simple with Hashem, your G-d” (Deuteronomy 18:3). Cleverness as a pursuit unto itself is the biggest ego trip in the world. After all, the nachash, the snake in the Garden of Eden, was the only creature that the Torah called “clever.”

To some, Rabbi Nachman's valuation of simple faith as the supreme virtue sounds anti-intellectual and simplistic -- until one takes a closer look at his words in context of his teachings as a whole, and the path in avodas HaShem that he paves.

Attesting to the depths of Rabbi Nachman's thought, Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz, the beloved Rosh Yeshivah of the Mir, once remarked to his students that when he wanted to "open his mind," he would study Likkutei Moharan. (Shivcho Shel Tzaddik)

Rabbi Bezalel Naor writes of his teacher, Rav Zvi Yehudah Kook, son of Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook and Rosh Yeshiva of Merkaz HaRav in Jerusalem: "[Rav Zvi Yehudah] was once distressed by a certain article in which the author let drop that Rabbi Nachman of Breslov was not a philosopher. Rav Zvi Yehudah lodged the following protest: 'The description "was not a philosopher" is out of place, because by its negation it would take away from the described [Rabbi Nachman] original thought of any value.' "

(Rabbi Bezalel Naor, "Shir Na'im as a Reply to Maimonides," published as an appendix in "Shir Naim: Song of Delight")

What does Rabbi Nachman mean by "emunah pshutah?" Something less than reason – or something that transcends it?

Actually, it is both. Emunah is the foundation for da'as (knowledge or clear perception), which means that it is "lower" than da'as -- yet it also goes beyond it. As Reb Noson says in explaining one of Rabbi Nachman's teachings, "Faith only applies when something can't be understood. Where one can understand something rationally, faith is not relevant." (Likkutei Eitzos, "Emes ve-Emunah," 4).

Rabbi Nachman ventures into the thorniest questions of existence, and again and again explore the paradoxical nature of reality. Likkutei Moharan is recognized as one of the most profound works of Jewish mystical thought ever written. Given this, how can we understand Rabbi Nachman's great emphasis on faith?

Maybe the answer (or one answer) is that he wants us to embark on the quest for enlightenment, not mere philosophical knowledge, which is one-dimensionally intellectual. Emunah, as the Baal Shem Tov also taught, is the gateway to deveykus / cleaving to the Infinite One.

At the same time, Rabbi Nachman warns against the dangers of a too one-sided emunah. In Likkutei Moharan 255, he states that faith must be accompanied by intellect -- or one can come to have faith in the wrong people and the wrong things. We must use both capacities.

Another thing Rabbi Nachman says is that faith is the more "democratic" virtue. In Likkutei Moharan II, 19, he writes: "Know that this matter is not according to the view of [the philosophers]. If so, no one would reach the ultimate goal except the fewest of the few; namely, the great thinkers, the philosophers. What would be the fate of those of lesser stature, who lack the ability to engage in such intellectual inquiry, to attain such rarefied perceptions? This would exclude most of humanity. How would they ever manage to achieve the goal of life? However, in truth, the essential grasp of the ultimate goal is attained through simplicity alone – that is, through awe of G-d and performance of the practical mitzvos, with absolute simplicity."

If intellect were the greatest virtue, that would leave 99% of the Jewish People out in the cold! And not only the Jewish People. In Likkutei Moharan I, 62, Rabbi Nachman states: "The completeness and adornment of faith consists in bringing close those who are distant, according to the paradigm of "All of them will call upon the Name of G-d" (Zephaniah 3:9) – even gentiles will draw near to the faith of Israel, to "serve Him with a common accord" (ibid.).

Defection of Youth

One of the comments to a previous posting expressed concern that our youth might become turned off to Judaism if they are told to rely upon simple emunah. Is there a significant number of Jewish youth today who have gone "off the derekh" due to a lack of philosophy?

I find this highly doubtful. It may have been true to some degree in certain times and places, when the intellectual climate was rationalist to an extreme and this had an impact on our society, too. (Two examples immediately come to mind: early medieval Spain, which produced the RaMBaM's Moreh Nevuchim / Guide of the Perplexed, and 19th century Germany, which produced Rav Hirsch's Horeb.)

However, we live in the heyday of "post-modernism," in which the conundrums of particle physics and the resurgence of interest in mysticism have created a new intellectual sensibility. Today's problems are different than those of past generations, as Chabakuk Elisha observed. For many, it is the lack of spirituality in the Judaism to which they are exposed that is the problem. For others, it is lack of physicality! Anyone who is genuinely concerned with this problem must analyze the full spectrum of cases and not just leap to conclusions.

In his opposition to rationalist philosophy, Rabbi Nachman seems to be following the position espoused by Chazal and reaffirmed by the kabbalists. His view seems to be in line with that of his great-grandfather, the Baal Shem Tov, as well as the Rabbi Yeshaya Horowitz and the MaHaRaL, among many others. I'll try to look up a few sample quotes from "Shnei Luchos HaBris" and "Sefer Gevuros Hashem" for a "PS" to this post in the near future. G-d willing.

Yet all of these Gedolim were profound thinkers, who grappled with the "great questions" in their own ways. Clearly even the opponents of philosophy were not advocating an escapist approach, or one that left the intellect begging for dimes in the subway station. Rather, they sought to avoid reducing the Torah to the limits of human reason, and even to elevate the ordinary mind so that we might attain perceptions higher than reason.

In this spirit, Rabbi Nachman often quotes the Sefer Bechinas Olam: "The ultimate knowledge is 'not-knowing' " (Likkutei Moharan I, 24:8, and elsewhere).

Another quote that sheds light on this aspect of faith from a kabbalistic perspective: "The power of faith is very great. Through faith and simplicity alone, without any sophistication at all, you can reach the level of Ratzon / Desire. This is beyond even that of Chokhmah / Wisdom."

10 Comments:

At February 22, 2007 at 11:35:00 AM EST, Anonymous A Yid said...

=======
Actually, it is both. Emunah is the foundation for da'as (knowledge or clear perception), which means that it is "lower" than da'as -- yet it also goes beyond it.
=======
Tzemach Tzedek defines pure emuno being above the daas. So the mitzvo of Emuno applies to something beyond human capacity to perceive with the intellect. Also notice, that it is not universal for different people. This is the relation of "makif" and "pnimi". Rebe himself discusses it in Likutey Moharan. What one can perceive with his daas, for another is beyond him, and he can only apply emuno to it, until it will change from makif to pnimi for him as well.

 
At February 22, 2007 at 12:06:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rabbi Sears said:
"One of the comments to a previous posting expressed concern that our youth might become turned off to Judaism if they are told to rely upon simple emunah. Is there a significant number of Jewish youth today who have gone "off the derekh" due to a lack of philosophy?
I find this highly doubtful. "

Rabbi Sears is 100% right. Concerning boys from frum homes that go off the derech these days,
if they are not from broken homes or had bad experiences with a particular rebbe or school, it is usually because they got involved in "taivos olam hazeh" (no need to go into details) and once they are involved in these things it can be very difficult to stop and they will already have a chevra, as support, that is doing the same things and then as an exuse they may say "how do you explain this and that in the Torah?" This is just to get rid of their guilt of doing aveiros.

 
At February 22, 2007 at 3:34:00 PM EST, Blogger A Talmid said...

Most people I know that grew up in frum homes, from MO to Shtreimel, start off with emunah peshuta, believing simply what the Gemara and sforim say. Only after they start learning secular subjects such as philosophy, science or medicine do they start with the questions. Then they search out for the seforim that fit what they determine is the truth.

Imagine having a shaila on any subject and then searching for the Rov that will say it is permitted. Reb Gedalia Schor ZY’A used to say Daas Torah is when a person follows a Gadol and listens to what he says, even if he doesn’t agree with the view. When someone has his own personal view on something and searches out for a Gadol that agrees with his opinion that isn’t Daas Torah. If you ask me it sounds like bargain hunting.

What I don’t understand is why someone would assume that if a secular source contradicts the Gemara that automatically the Gemara is wrong. Why not assume the secular source is wrong? And if the secular source is right, maybe they just don’t understand the Gemara properly and the two could be reconciled. There are many difficult Gemaras dealing with laws of damages and the like, yet we don’t say the Gemara is wrong. We work hard till we find a solution and if we can’t find a solution then we have to realize that we can’t always find an answer for everything. When Moshiach comes he’ll explain it all to us.

 
At February 22, 2007 at 3:54:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about the issue, when Chaza"l argue about the metzius, like the issue with lice?

 
At February 22, 2007 at 4:25:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

------------------------------------
How about the issue, when Chaza"l argue about the metzius, like the issue with lice?
-----------------------------------
I heard one of the major poskim in the Yeshiva world say he was able to find explanations to all those thing in Shas that people say don't make sense because they are contradicted by science or whatever else. He said it takes a lot of effort and just because we might not be smart enough to figure them out that doesn't mean they're wrong.

He explained, for example, about lice growing from sweat. The lice lay eggs, nits, and without the sweat of the human body the eggs won't turn into lice. So both views are right. Lice doesn't actually come from sweat it comes frome eggs layed by other lice. Yet the other is also right, that lice comes from sweat - although the eggs are produced by lice the eggs won't turn into lice without the help of the sweat. If not for the sweat the nits will not turn into anything.

 
At February 22, 2007 at 8:09:00 PM EST, Anonymous Smashed Hat said...

The problem is that if the lice come from eggs and not from sweat, what do we do about the Gemora that says it is permitted to kill them on Shabbos?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe zatzal concluded that the lice (kinim) of today are a different species than those discussed by Chazal, and the halachah in this case is that we cannot kill them on Shabbos.

 
At February 22, 2007 at 8:54:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

smashed hat:
What the Lubavitcher Rebbe said is great. maybe accorcing to the other Rabbi the one that holds they can be killed on Shabbos says since they have no life on their own straight coming from other lice it is as if they come from sweat.

 
At February 23, 2007 at 11:50:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

========
The Lubavitcher Rebbe zatzal
concluded that the lice (kinim) of
today are a different species than those discussed by Chazal, and the
halachah in this case is that we
cannot kill them on Shabbos.
=========

Such conclusion defends the view, that Chazal couldn't make mistakes in evaluating the metzius, but it pretty weak defence.

 
At May 29, 2007 at 1:13:00 AM EDT, Anonymous yehoshua halevi said...

it's interesting to note the shoresh of emunah, aleh-mem-nun sofit, it relates to the word for "caring, nursing"(numbers 11:12) see the etymological dictionary of biblical hebrew, from r' s.r. hirsch. the idea of caring/nursing reminds us of the motherly aspect...if we contemplate the deep affect of mothering on our sense of security/life/tenderness/compassion...we also remember the root of rachamim(compassion/mercy/love) is rechem..."womb". the point here being that emunah/faith is perhaps rooted in our sense of being cared for in the most profound, complete way. this may be why our connection to the shechinah especially on shabbat is so primary. notice how H" won't let a week go by without our reconnecting/regenerative experience with the emunah of the shechinah.

reb dovid sears is to be highly thanked for his great work bringing reb nachman's work to today's generation. and "a simple jew" is to be gratefully thanked for bringing all these wonderful sources to our awareness with an admirable sense of chesed.
shekoach simple jew!!!

 
At May 29, 2007 at 1:24:00 AM EDT, Anonymous yehoshua halevi said...

important note: the idea of emunah related to nursing came from my beloved teacher, rabbi levi meier, chaplain of cedar-sinai medical center. y. halevi

 

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