Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Unity of Torah 2

Ralbags solution:
Ralbag's approach is that the Torah's presentation is intended for a very specific audience - the Geulei Mitzraim. According to Ralbag the Geulei Mitzraim suffered from Egyptian beliefs of materialism. In this belief system all things can be explained in terms of combinations of material parts-much like atomic theory today. This belief, by definition, excludes the possibility of Tzura, a reality of universal ideas underlying the observable material structures. Accordingly, Ralbag says, it was necessary to establish the true principle that, in fact, there are real universal ideas beyond material structure.

Ralbag’s approach seems to only add to our difficulties however. It does not seem to show a resolution to the problem of understanding the Torah's unity. Ralbag instead adds to our problem by suggesting that the Torah is meant to be read out of order, with the story of Yetzias Mitzraim before that of Creation. If Geulas Mitzraim is the precondition to recognizing the unity of Torah then why not make Geulas Mitzraim, rather than Creation, the first story?

Upon further reflection we see that Ralbag cannot possibly mean that we should read the Geulas Mitzraim story first. The story of Creation is obviously the first story in the book and must, therefore, be read first. What Ralbag means is that there is an experience of being a Yotzei Mitzraim that must occur prior to being qualified to recognize the unity of Torah at all.

The original Yotzei Mitzraim did not experience the momentous events of Geula through reading a text - they lived through the events and had them explained by Moshe Rabbenu and the Elders. The intent was for Jewish civilization to be built on this story, to be relived, generation after generation through a tradition of storytelling father to son. “Zechor es hayom hazeh. Limaan tizkor es yom tzescha mieretz mitzraim kol yimei chayyecha. Vihigadita libincha bayom hahu laymor.” The whole concept of a reading and formal education began at Sinai and the written Torah, which were actually relatively late events in Jewish development.

No child begins his intellectual development from reading, per se. Reading and formal education always presuppose a prior vision of the world and man's mission in it that is established in earliest youth through informal education – through modeling and sharing the civilization's stories with one's parents. The child who enters school is already deeply imbued with his civilization's vision of the world that the educator must contend with and build upon in the readings of school. So too in Jewish education - the reading of Torah presupposes the view of the world and human mission that arise from “vihigadita livincha.”

How does this experiencing of Geula, which Ralbag points out as the qualification to begin reading the Torah, help us overcome the difficulty of the two contradictory themes of B'reishis? How does being a member of the Geulei Mitzrayim civilization enable us to understand how to use these stories as the introduction to the unity of Torah?

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The unity of Torah

This is a long post I have just re-edited based upon our Shabbos class.Its original name was Torahs place in redemption and the quest for Malchus Shamayim. As in the first presentation I will present it in sections. Please feel free to comment on any one as we go along.

Is there a Unity in Torah:

The educated reader seeking to view the Torah as a unified whole, is confronted with deep difficulty: the Torah seems to defy all conventional norms of unity.

Typically, a book uses obvious conventional devices to reveal its unity to the reader. An essay will have a thesis statement, a textbook an introduction to its topics , a literary work a theme that guides the plot. The Torah, presents itself in a way that seems to be almost designed to obscure its unity. Rather than revealing unity, the Torah fragments into two themes from its very outset- the story of Creation.

The first theme, found in the first account of Creation, is “the lawful universe”. This theme is well suited to works of popular science, ones whose guidance lies in understanding theoretical general laws embodied in the harmonious systems and sub-systems of Shamayim Va-Aretz. For instance, a book on physics would discuss how gravity expresses itself in various circumstances, one on biology would show how DNA controls genetic patterns. As such, the first account's focus is the "big picture" of Creation as a whole and is not exclusively preoccupied with man and human life, on the contrary, the emphasis is on man as but another part of Creation. Such presentations demand a detached, objective strategy on the part of the reader. Very much like a star show, we are taken on a tour of the various "days of creation" guided by a detached impersonal narration, typical of a planetarium. The tour describes the universal order expressed in the perfectly calibrated mechanisms of all galaxies including our home, the Solar system. Even when presenting our terrestrial home the star show maintains its absolute universality; one can almost hear the planetarium narrator emphasizing over and over that Earth is but a part of a vast theoretical universe bereft of human drama or emotion. The tour would go something like this:

Scene 1) Separation of light from darkness, heaven from Earth, oceans from dry land. God named the light day and the darkness night and found them to be good.

Scene 2) Orderly Motion of planetary bodies. God found the orderly motion to be good.

Scene 3) Time and seasons. God found the orderly times to be good.

Scene 4) Orderly cycles of reproduction and food supply in the animal Kingdom. God found the orderly cycles of reproduction and food supply to be good.

Scene 5 Creation of man

Scene 6 end of universal creation -Shabbos God found the orderly creation to be very good.

As we have seen in star shows, the sort of reader who enjoys such detached, works is himself a certain kind of personality - known to us as a “scientist”. It is hardly accidental that the narrator tends to emphasize and re-emphasize that man is but a part of a world of universal material order, that we are in fact merely another example of star dust. The “scientist” is by disposition attracted to seeking unity via a universal order expressing itself in various circumstances. He is comfortable living in a world that includes others of his disposition - the hallways of science/math departments or research labs. As such the scientist seeks a liberation from problems that are real in his world- apparent lacks in the universal order. Such a reader is obviously disinterested in viewing the world from the subjective framework of the humanities and social studies departments. He has no problems in this world from which he needs liberation.

Without any warning or explanation, the second account of Creation introduces a theme of disinterest to the “scientist” and of use only to the “humanist” - “human civilization”. Rather than revealing a universal order, this theme reveals a uniquely human world, a perspective typical of the humanities. The focus of the humanistic second story is therefore the "small picture" of Aretz and the life pursuits of its residents, Adam and Chava, in the "irresistibly fascinating qualitative world" with all of its observable detail. Other creations, if they are mentioned at all, are not described independently of their relationship to man, only as instruments of human design. Good examples of this approach are movies such as "2001 A Space Odyssey" or "Men in Black". The orderly planetary system is portrayed as being merely a background for human drama occurring on "the small picture" or stage of Earth. The second account takes a "fly on the wall" view of scenes from the exciting drama of Adam and Chava. In stark contrast to the first depiction of the clockwork universe, we immediately identify with the action of the second account whose scenes would be something like:

Scene 1) A desert-like world without life giving resources of rain and crops

Scene 2) The creation of man as a living creature

Scene 3) The creation of Gan Eden - the ideal home for man

Scene 4) The creation of vegetation pleasant to look at and good to eat

Scene 5) Creation of entertaining animals for man to explore and name

Scene 6) Creation of a wife for Adam as true friend, partner and mate

Scene 7) The snake’s enticement of Chava and the downfall of man

Why does the the Torah not conform to our expectations of unity? Why does it present two themes appropriate to the problems of mutually exclusive readers? Much as we would like to answer that the Torah in reality offers two separate liberating paths simultaneously- we cannot. After the first chapter of Brayshees “the lawful Universe” theme seems to totally vanish from the scene - there are no more stories that continue the detached scientific motif. From the story of Adam and Chava onward all stories focus on human centered topics proper to the theme of human civilization of the humanist. Why does the Torah raise the hopes of the scientific reader only to dash his hopes from the second story of creation onward with discussion of interest only to the humanist’s world of man?

Most people deal with this conundrum by focusing exclusively on the stories of Torah that appeal to them. The question of the overall unity of Torah as a work is ignored. But is this respectful to the divine work? Surely the Torah should be expected to have a unity at least equivalent to that of a work by a human author?