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Is “too perfect” a thing? Have you ever worried about being too perfect? Most of us worry that we aren’t perfect enough. But I know of at least one person who worried about being too perfect. Our collective grandfather, Abraham.
The Torah tells us that Abraham recovered from his circumcision in …

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Home » Lech L'cha

Lech L’cha: Stand Up for faith

Submitted by on November 6, 2005 – 5:15 amNo Comment | 1,603 views

She Chose to Sit

Rosa Parks, “symbol of the civil rights movement,” became famous in 1955 when she refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a bus in Montgomery Alabama. She was arrested, tried and convicted for violating a local ordinance but her small act of defiance sparked a boycott of the bus system and resulted in a US Supreme court decision that declared segregation on city buses unconstitutional.Hailed as one of the most important people of the twentieth century, Rosa Parks gave momentum to a battle that changed America. She became the first woman to lay in honor in the Rotunda of the United States Capitol in Washington DC, sharing the honor with the likes of Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy.Rosa stood up for her principles by refusing to stand up from her seat. Ironically, she will be remembered as the woman who stood up for sitting down.

The integration of counter notions is the paradox of which Judaism is comprised. Judaism teaches us to stand up but it also teaches us to sit down. In fact there are times when the only way to stand up is to sit down. Sounds like typical Talmudic logic, so what do I mean?

A Time to Stand

Judaism, as a religion, offers two components: Study of Torah and performance of the Commandments. Each requires its own approach. The Torah is a book of knowledge and demands an intellectual approach.As Torah students, we must ask questions, seek answers and subject those answers to  uncompromising and critical analysis. Blind faith is not accepted, on the contrary we are encouraged to research the issues, trace the sources, examine the mysteries and plumb the secrets. Conviction is not enough, it require cognition. Knowledge is not enough, it requires understanding.

A Time to Sit

Commandments on the other hand require exactly the opposite approach. Commanders impose discipline and expect obedience. The commandments are not suggestions, they are commandments. We are not told to consider them we are told to obey them, whether we understand them or not. (1)The Torah requires us to stand up and ask questions. The commandments require us to sit down and obey orders. Indeed, a soldier who questions a direct command deserves to be court-martialed.

 Stand Up to Sit Down

In truth the study of Torah also requires a measure of obedience and acceptance. The Torah is not an ordinary book of knowledge, it is divine knowledge.stand up for faith - innerstream The information stored  in Torah is on the surface accessible to human understanding but below the surface these divine words contain infinite wisdom.The measure of wisdom that we can glean from the Torah is infinitesimal in comparison to its true depth because the finite human mind cannot grasp infinite divine wisdom. When the human mind reflects upon the sub-surface reality of the Torah it can only respond in awe. We cannot attempt to comprehend, we cannot strive to understand, we can only marvel.The cognitive approach to Torah connects us only with its logic. The wholesome approach to Torah connects us with G-d. The marvel, astonishment and pure sense of conviction, the awe, wholesomeness and thrill of connection is what draws a link between G-d and ourselves.

Indeed, the only way to stand up and fully connect with the Torah is to sit down and marvel.

The Scholar’s Trap

It is difficult to combine the two. As scholars we possesses a veneer of sophistication that is borne out of our comprehension of Torah. We become somewhat familiar with Torah, somewhat relaxed and we lose our sense of reverence. We don’t experience the surge of adrenaline, the rush of emotion, that one should experience in the study of Torah. Over time we become desensitized and even somewhat cynical of the Torah’s Divine nature and inherent sanctity.The wholesome non-scholar is better equipped to connect with the Torah’s purity and divinity. The wholesome Jew views the Torah with a sense of astonishment, thinking, “wow, I have been given the opportunity to glimpse the words of the divine!”

Avraham’s Legacy

It is rare to find a scholar who is both sophisticated and wholesome. A Torah student who can stand up to ask questions and sit down to marvel and reflect. Who can focus on the need to comprehend and on the privilege of approaching that which lies beyond comprehension. Scholars often stand and ask questions, wholesome people often sit down and marvel but rarely does anyone do both.Yet this is the paradox expected from us as Torah students. G-d wants us to study and to understand but he doesn’t want us to be confined by the limitations of our understanding. He wants us to reach beyond our comprehension. He wants us to marvel. He wants us to be astonished. He wants us to confront the truth of his greatness. He wants us to feel deep within our souls the reality of his true existence.This was the legacy passed on to us by the Patriarch Avraham. Avraham was a great intellectual. He was a teacher of philosophy who taught the finer points of monotheism to many students. People came from all over to listen to Avraham lecture. He had a philosophical mind and used his formidable logic to understand Jewish theology.

Yet the Torah teaches that his heart was wholesome before G-d. Despite his sophisticated approach of study and comprehension he was able to accept in faith that which was beyond his understanding. He was able to sit down when he could no longer stand up. (2)

Avraham, as the father of the Jewish people, bequeathed this ability to every Jew. To ask questions and to insist on logical answers is laudable. To accept the truth of Torah even when our minds do not fully comprehend is inestimably meritorious. (3)

Footnotes

  1. We are not expected to simply obey and never ask questions, that is inconsistent with the Jewish ethos. The Jewish way is to obey and to ask. When our ancestors were offered the Torah at Mt. Sinai their response was, “We shall perform and we shall listen.” This response is widely interpreted as a commitment to both obey and to seek understanding but the order of priority is to always obey first and seek understanding later.
    First and foremost we obey. Then we seek understanding of those commandments that we are able to understand. We do not hold off on performance until we reach understanding nor do we avoid those commandments that we cannot understand. Our perfect willingness to obey is never impaired by a lack of understanding.
  2. Nechemia 9: 8.
  3. This is why Maimonides teaches that it is a Mitzvah to both know G-d and to believe in G-d. To know and to believe seems a contradiction. Must we believe that G-d exists or must we ascertain it and come to know it? The answer is that we must know that which is knowable to man and we must accept the unknowable on faith.
    We mustn’t think that since we are commanded to know G-d we are therefore only required to accept that which is knowable and are free to deny that which lies beyond the pale of human comprehension. No. We must know him and we must believe in him. Know him to the extent that he can be known and accept on faith that which lies beyond the outer reaches of human comprehension.

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