Thursday, May 31, 2012

Bshem Hashem El Olam

Rambam begins each and every one of his S'farim with a part of a verse ויטע אשל בבאר שבע ויקרא שם בשם ה אל עולם. If one does not pause to think about it, the verse is easily overlooked, or perhaps brushed off as a unimportant literary flourish. Upon reflection however, this dismissive treatment of Rambam's use of verse hardly does justice to his genius and careful writing style.

In fact, the conceptual centrality of בשם ה אל עולם to all works of Talmud Torah becomes apparent if we carefully consider the message of this verse. The reference is to Avraham Avinu's battle to restore the concept of Hashem's unity to its proper place in the world human thought, the foundation stone of all service to God. Avraham was alone against all mankind in this struggle, living in a time when the foundational concepts of "world" and "service to God" had been subverted. This process is described by Rambam in Hilchot Avoda Zara Chapter 1.

Human success is built upon the reality of a natural world, one in which research and discovery of the Craft of the El Olam is the basis of service to God. Abrahams' brethren degenerated into a world of magical thinking, the prison of myth based religion. Rambam describes the process by which Avraham became Amudo Shel Olam, the very pillar upon whose discovery the world of human thought and its derivative service to Hashem was restored.

This process began with Avraham rediscovering the notion of His Wisdom, a unified sense of causality underlying all events in the universe. This unified sense of causality, inevitably points to "kav ha-tzedek" a unified sense of natural law in which mankind is but a special case of the world of causal phenomenon. In the course of understanding the unique challenge of applying his understanding of "kav hatzedek" to his own real world political community, Avraham encountered the source of myth based religion first hand.

As an animal species, man seeks a simple vision of his environment, one easily applied to immediate survival needs. Such simple visions remove the need for theoretical thought, the careful research needed to attain true abstract notions of the world of "universal causality". The simple vision supplants the world seen through the prism of thought and research with a myth based world, religious systems arising out of folklore in which the peoples need for security is easily satisfied. Sadly, the distorted myth based world ultimately gives rise to tyranny, a regime of corrupt individuals who subvert the simple minded peoples need for security to their own material interest. In exchange for performing religious rituals that "secure Gods blessing" these priests and religious elites attain fabulous wealth and power for themselves at the expense of the people. This form of "religion" is hateful to God, it is Avoda Zara, a distorted alien service.

It was precisely this kind of tyrannical political regime that Avraham saw in his own community of Ur Kasdim. He confronted the leadership of his own community, demanding that the irrational myths be removed and that rational pursuit of His Wisdom be restored as the exclusive basis of service to Hashem. The regime fought back, fearing loss of their priviledge and power. Avraham only escaped with his life through extraordinary fortuitous events, clearly beyond his own, considerable, political abilities to anticipate.

Avraham subsequently abandoned his homeland in favor of a grass roots movement, offering an alternative to those few who were open to releasing themselves from mythology. He used a variety of ways to make his alternative way of life known, as pointed to by the verse,ויטע אשל בבאר שבע. An Eshel does not naturally grow in the dry desert environment of Beer Sheva, it requires considerable research to make this happen, especially in Avraham's time. The unusual sight of the eshel in the desert attracted attention to a human lifestyle of a very different kind, capable of supporting life in new ways. (Rabbi Rosenthal based upon Ibn Ezra).

It is in this context that Rambam's use of the verse בשם ה אל עולם can be appreciated as the proper introduction to every work of Torah. Each and every piece of Torah must be seen as an instrument of "calling in the name of El Olam", extending the world of causality and thereby liberating a domain that had, at best, been imprisoned in the world of myth and folklore and ,at worst, served the agenda of self serving tyrannical leadership. This foundational concept is the basis of true service, seeking success on the basis of discovering His wisdom revealed in the natural world.