Sunday, March 27, 2011

Plain Logic

Moshe Grylak's column a couple of weeks ago stirred up a lot of discussion on the blogs. He was writing about the crisis of faith amongst those who are ostensibly religious and committed.

Since his article I have spent many, many hours thinking of the correct response, were someone to ask me to justify his (or her - though in my experience this problem is predominantly a male issue - for some reason) beliefs and practices. I have come to several different conclusions (usually changing my mind every couple of hours or so), and am still working through various different approaches to the problem.

I was very pleased when someone told me tonight that Rabbi Grylak has written a follow up column where he gives part of his answer to such a person. I wasted no time in looking at his article. You can read it too, if you wish. Here is the link.

On the one hand I am quite disappointed with his answer. On the other hand, I think that he makes a very good point.

Both he and Harry Maryles make a similar point. It is this:
plain logic compels a person to believe. Simple common sense recognizes that nothing gets made by itself.

This is also known as the 'argument from incredulity.' The eye/human being/universe/world/[insert object here] seems too complex for my mind to imagine that it was made without a Creator. Therefore there must be a Creator.

This is similar to what Rav Shach writes in Avi Ezri, and many of the great Rabbis have shared this belief. This is William Paley's argument and the 'proof' of Chovos HaLevavos before him, and Rabbi Akiva's argument before him (though I'm not sure if this is a real midrash or not):

An apikorus asked Rabbi Akiva to prove that Hashem created the world. Rabbi Akiva asked the fellow who made his suit. The fellow said that it was the weaver. Rabbi Akiva then said to his talmidim, "Just as the suit is evidence of its weaver (because how else could such a complex garment come about, do you think two threads just got together and formed a garment?), so too the complexities of the world (which is a lot more than a garment) is evidence of its creator.

In fact, all it shows is how limited the human mind is when it comes to grasping the true brilliance of nature. There are many things that amaze us. They do not 'prove' anything apart from the way our brain works.

In addition this line of argument has at least two MAJOR flaws if this is used as a proof.

Firstly, many people have shown how flawed the world is. If creation is 'proof' of G-d, then we would (erroneously) infer that G-d is cruel and bloodthirsty, having created a world of hunger, pain and suffering. We would also be misled into thinking that G-d is far from perfect, since the world appears to us to be far from perfect. Do we really want to believe in a G-d who made over 60,000 species of ichneumonidae? Whether or not Darwin is correct about evolution, I think he is certainly right when he makes the point that:

"I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars"

The other major flaw in this argument (from a Jewish perspective) is that it has nothing to do with Judaism or Torah, mitzvos or prayer. Any theist could use this argument. This 'proof' no more helps someone in kollel than it does an Muslim, Hindu, Christian or Buddhist. I don't see how it comforts or helps anyone. And it is certainly not a kind of Deity who we could have a relationship with.

This post has become too long, and I haven't said half of what I wanted to say. But I will conclude with agreeing wholeheartedly with Rabbi Grylak on his second (and major) point.

He writes:

One educator asked me, “So what do you want me to do? Believe me, I do talk to them about emunah.”

“Don’t talk to them!” I replied. “Show them! Words won’t help here; experiences are what’s needed. From an early age, bring them into living contact with the world and its wonders. Take them to the planetarium, where they can see the vastness of the universe, get them excited from an early age, and at every age give them suitable experiences, and then teach them the prayer Vayevarech David, and they’ll know what David HaMelech meant when he said, ‘You have made the heavens, the heavens of heaven and all their hosts, the earth and all that is upon it, and You give life to them all.’ Take them to the zoo, and teach them about the incredible wisdom underlying every animal’s characteristics.

This is exactly what Rambam writes. Not as a proof of G-d (that takes 26 axioms and many pages in Moreh Nevuchim) but in order to 'Love G-d'. The more we learn about the world, nature, science, history etc, the more we grow to love G-d, which then leads to fear of G-d. It does not prove anything. But once a person comes to love someone else (or some G-d else) many of their 'belief' issues fade away.

For this reason it is such a shame that science and other disciplines are neither taught nor encouraged in traditional Hareidi society. Or even worse - science becomes 'kiruv tricks' by the likes of Zamir Cohen, which distorts both Torah and science. If we would encourage people to learn about the world, and to read about the wonders of creation, they would come to be filled with a love of G-d and a yearning to know Him.

Perhaps Mishpacha Magazine will change the world in which we live. Let's hope so.

PS I found the source of the Rabbi Akiva story. It is from Midrash Temurah

Wikipedia tells me that
According to A. Jellinek, the Midrash Temurah was composed in the first half of the 13th century, since it drew upon Ibn Ezra and upon Galen's dialogue on the soul, even though it is cited by Me'iri and Abraham Abulafia

So it is not actually earlier than Chovos HaLevavos. Oh well.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

New Segulah

Unfortunately my neighbour's home was burgled last night. Har Nof is having a massive spate of robberies - that was the third one that I know of this week.

Anyway, I just hope they didn't get his whisky - what with Purim next week.

So I thought it was quite mean this morning when the Gabbai in Shul gave him Peticha. Taking the valuable Torah out of the ark just after being burgled seems to be rubbing his face in it.

But then I realised it is actually a segulah. Because pretty soon after taking out the Torah - everything is put back again exactly where it was, and they look the door and keep it locked for a very long time.

May all the enemies of the Jews be locked away for a very long time (or do teshuvah, as Bruriah said to Rabbi Meir).

Fish and Adar

It seems that there is a custom to give goldfish out at kindergarten during the month of Adar. Perhaps this is because the 'Mazal' (astrological sign) of Adar is Pisces

I think the (Jewish) source for the connection between months and constellations is Sefer Yitzirah, which writes:


1. The simple letters are twelve, namely: He, Vau, Zain, Heth, Teth, Yod, Lamed, Nun, Samech, Oin, Tzaddi, and Quoph; they represent the fundamental properties, eight, hearing, smell, speech, desire for food, the sexual appetite, movement, anger, mirth, thought, sleep, and work. These symbolize also twelve directions in space: northeast, southeast, the east above, the east below, the northwest, southwest, the west above, the west below, the upper south, the lower south, the upper north, the lower north. These diverge to all eternity, and an as the arms of the universe.

2. These twelve letters, he designed, formed, combined, weighed, and changed, and created with them the twelve divisions of the heavens (namely, the zodiacal constellations), the twelve months of the year, and the twelve important organs of the frame of man, namely the right and left hands, the right and left feet, two kidneys, the liver, the gall, the spleen, the intestines, the gullet, and the stomach.

But now I have another suggestion to offer as to why goldfish are associated with Adar. Because they tend to die on Taanis Esther! (Well, we've had one goldfish, and after more than a week it died today - which by coincidence is Taanis Esther. Therefore the statistically most likely date for all Sedley goldfishes to die is Taanis Esther!)

And then we can fulfill the verse in the Megillah (9:22):

כַּיָּמִים אֲשֶׁר־נָחוּ בָהֶם הַיְּהוּדִים מֵאֹויְבֵיהֶם וְהַחֹדֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר נֶהְפַּךְ לָהֶם מִיָּגֹון לְשִׂמְחָה וּמֵאֵבֶל לְיֹום טֹוב לַעֲשֹׂות אֹותָם יְמֵי מִשְׁתֶּה וְשִׂמְחָה וּמִשְׁלֹוחַ מָנֹות אִישׁ לְרֵעֵהוּ וּמַתָּנֹות לָאֶבְיֹונִים

As the days when the Jews rested from their enemies, and the month that was reversed for them from grief to joy and from mourning to a festive day - to make them days of feasting and joy, and sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor.

(and in the meantime I have a crying daughter who is very upset!)

I told her that the goldfish has now gone to the big fishbowl in the sky, and it is not death, but rebirth...

PS Anyone want a slightly used fishbowl?

Genghis Kahn wouldn't be happy...

... but I am very proud and glad to be part of the country and religion that saves lives. I'm glad that we are not barbarians.,7340,L-4043536,00.html

IDF forces and local paramedics helped save the life of a Palestinian woman and her newly born infant Wednesday, at the settlement where Fogel relatives are sitting Shiva for the five Israelis brutally murdered last week.

Please pass on the message to Roger Waters. The wall between Israel and the Palestinians is not a wall around the West Bank, but a wall protecting the citizens of Israel from terror attacks. Remind him that 'The Wall' of his album was built in self defence, and tearing it down destroyed Pink, and started the entire cycle all over again. (I don't think Israel has become as psychotic as Pink though). Tell him that he has been misled and lied to by the advocates of the Boycot, and finally, tell him to read this reply by Kobi Oz of Teapacks (which I always thought was Tipex)