Saturday, November 24, 2007

Ralbag's Hakdamah la-torah: Tefilla or Perush?

A modern "introduction" to a work typically identifies an objective, as well an outline of the plan or method by which the author intends to realize his objective. There is much in Ralbag's introduction to the Torah that is therefore very familiar to us in this regard. Ralbag defines Torah as a tool of attaining wisdom and states a clear plan for helping the reader realize this attainment. What is incongruent in Ralbag's presentation is his interweaving of Tefilla into the introduction.
Blessed and most revered be the tzur ("rock"), foundation of all existence, whose “insight” (T'vunaso) , “wisdom” (chochmaso) and “knowledge” (Daato) bring into being, a system of existing things, whose existence exhibits a wisdom and grace which none but He can completely masig. Praised be the Creator, who, because of His desire to benefit the creations and facilitate their maturation, directed His hashgacha upon these lowly beings, developing them through the appropriate stages climaxing with the emergence of Mankind.
Our first intuition is to uncomfortably ignore the indiscretion of the Master, to interpret it as a vestige of ancient style. This serves the purpose of maintaining our intuition of what an introduction is and puts the burden of breaking convention on the shoulders of Ralbag. But an honest appraisal will not bear out our fervent wish that Ralbag be in agreement with us regarding the nature of introductions. His Tefilla is anything but a stylistic flourish lacking conceptual significance. This can be seen in the introduction to Milchomos Hashem where once again Ralbag begins with Tefilla. At the conclusion he emphasizes what he has done
אמר לוי בן גרשום אחר התהלה וההודאה לאל והשאלה ממנו להישיר לפנינו דרכו, ראינו בזה הספר לחקור
Tefilla is anything but a stylistic affectation, it is clearly a fundamental dimension of the introduction itself. As moderns however we are at a loss to honestly confront this phenomenon in the Master. What function does his Tefilla serve? What do we gain in our understanding of the subject of Torah through the Tefilla? Why doesn't Ralbag just define Hashgacha and its place in Creation rather than share a Tefilla with his readers?

If we look more carefully at the nature of Hashgacha we will understand the problem Ralbag is grappling with, as well as the unique nature of his introduction. Indeed, Ralbag himself paves the way in the continuation of His intro:
This hashgacha is not limited to the magnificence of man’s anatomy and physical abilities by which his physical existence is maintained. It extends to guiding man along the path of mental development- the one true fruit of human existence for whose sake alone the lowly material of Aretz is endowed with tzura to the extent that it is. We refer of course to the divine Torah, which is a regimen that orders those who practice it properly to true success.

It is vital that we keep in mind that it is impossible for us to completely apprehend the wisdom and grace expressed in the nature of the Torah’s existence. In reality we know but a pittance and are ignorant of much, as is the case with our knowledge of the nature of all existing things with regard to their wisdom and grace. In reality we masig but very little, as is well known to all those who do real research in the natural sciences- and come to appreciate the gap between our models of the of the laws of the Universe and their reality... It therefore follows from the fact that the Torah is divine, [that it’s nature will also only be incompletely understood].
It is intriguing that Ralbag defines the Torah as an instrument specifically designed to facilitate human wisdom, yet emphasizes that it is impossible for us to completely apprehend the wisdom and grace expressed in the nature of the Torah’s existence. In reality we know but a pittance and are ignorant of much. Why the emphasis on the need for humility?

The reader is of clearly one who Ralbag realises will fully expect a complete knowledge of of the wisdom of the Torah. Why is this? The answer goes to the heart of the nature of understanding Hashgacha. To be ignorant of Hashgacha is not just to lack an individual concept. To not understand Hashgacha, is to think that man naturally attains knowledge through his own power. It is to not appreciate the deep anti thinking trends in man that only Hashgacha can overcome.

To follow the modern course,to immediately identify an objective and detail the plan to attaining is wrong-minded. As Ralbag states so well אחר התהלה וההודאה לאל והשאלה ממנו להישיר לפנינו דרכו, ראינו בזה הספר לחקור

It is only after we state our dependence upon Hasgacha and request help through Tefilla that we can honestly speak about Hashgacha. We cannot use the modern introductory tool that presupposes man's intrinsic capacity to know to state that we indeed depend upon Hashgacha!
That would be an inherent contradiction and an incomplete understanding of what Hashgacha is. Rather we must enter the Masters tefilla a la גַּדְּלוּ לַיהוָה אִתִּי; וּנְרוֹמְמָה שְׁמוֹ יַחְדָּו
Hashgacha cannot be something that is talked about, it must be acted upon. To merely talk of Hashgacha is folly. How can we talk about Hasgacha without acknowledging our need for Hashgacha in order to talk about it? Before we talk about hashgacha we must engage in Tefilla with the Master- we must act as people who treat Hasgacha as a reality, and only after begin the stating of problems. Such problems,though superficially sharing an external form with a modern introduction, are essentially distinguished.

The Modern intro presupposes mans intrinsic power to solve the problems he sets out for himself. The Jew sees problems as an obstacle insurmountable by his own power , a basis for requesting illumination from the source of Hashgacha גַּל-עֵינַי וְאַבִּיטָה-- נִפְלָאוֹת, מִתּוֹרָתֶךָ.