Sunday, December 18, 2016

Logical Transcendence

Rav Lipman Podolsky z"l 

To do, or not to do? That is the question. On the one hand, Hashem expects us to act. No one ever suggested to sit at the table and have faith that the protein on the plate will somehow find its way into our digestive system. A fork must be wielded. At the same time, it is readily clear that without Hashem's constant guiding Hand, we would not be able to hold that fork, or chew that cholent, or anything else for that matter. "If Hashem will not build the house, in vain do its builders labor on it; if Hashem will not guard the city, in vain is the watchman vigilant (Tehillim 127:1)." Bitachon -- complete effort buttressed with complete faith. A formidable challenge.

"Take care lest you forget Hashem your G-d... lest you eat and be satisfied, and you build good houses and settle, and your cattle and sheep and goats increase, and you increase silver and gold for yourselves... and your heart will become haughty and you will forget Hashem your G-d... And you may say in your heart, 'My strength and the might of my hand made for me this wealth.' Then you shall remember Hashem your G-d, for it is He Who gives you strength to make wealth... (Devarim 8:11-18)."

Yaakov, in preparation for his imminent reunion with his murderous brother Esav, planned for three eventualities: 1) He arranged a peace offering; 2) He prepared for war; 3) He davened (Rashi 32:9).

The first two steps seem prudent. Esav was a man of extremes. He appeared as either a saint or Satan. Nothing in between. Thus, Yaakov, not knowing which Esav he would encounter, prepared for both.

But why did he need to pray? Everything that the Merciful One does is the greatest good that can be (Brachos 60b). Either way you slice it, the outcome is the will of Hashem. What does Tefilla accomplish? This is a major philosophical issue, the bulk of which unfortunately does not fit within the scope of this short article. But let us try to touch upon one aspect of Tefilla.

Bitachon is our backbone, without which we are mere sniveling amorphous fragments of flesh. Bitachon sets the tone, the direction, to all our endeavors. The acquisition of this virtue requires much practice and perseverance. This is one reason we daven. Davening instills in us the knowledge of our dependency upon the limitless kindliness of the Merciful One (See Sefer HaChinuch 433). When we, prior to any endeavor, preface with a prayer acknowledging our absolute impotence, we transform ourselves from physical to spiritual, from animal to angel -- we come to know Hashem.

Of course, this is a lengthy process. Tefilla, like all natural medicine, has a build-up effect; an occasional dose accomplishes little. Nonetheless, when the prescription is taken faithfully, regularly, three or four times a day, the result is robust, spiritual health.

Thus Yaakov, although he had prepared for all conceivable eventualities regarding his meeting with Esav, he did not forgo his medication, his vital need to daven. Especially at this crucial crossroads in his life, Yaakov had to demonstrate that all his endeavors were fruitless without Divine assistance. Indeed, Hashem is hiding within the very endeavor.

"The heavens bespeak the glory of G-d (Tehillim 19:2)." Everywhere we investigate, we behold the unmistakable fingerprints of Hashem. Under every rock; inside every cloud; through the lens of every electron microscope and the Hubble Telescope, the concealed Handiwork of the Creator is revealed.

Still, sometimes in our weakness, amidst all of the weeds and thorns, we do have difficulty discovering the elusive Rose, the inimitable indication of His Presence. The world is called Olam, from the root meaning invisible, for the Creator wished to remain for the most part inconspicuous. On the other hand, the gematria of HaTeva (Nature) equals Elokim (with a Heh), implying that there is no nature, merely a manifestation of the infinite will of Hashem.

Every electron orbiting every neutron and proton is somehow subject to directives from Above. The very fabric of space maintains its integrity only through His incessant influence. But this fact is cloaked within the physical. "You make darkness and it is night (Tehillim 104) -- this is the physical world which is similar to night (Bava Metzia 83b)." It's dark out there, difficult to see -- there is plenty of room for error. But one trained in the art of perceiving Hashem should have no trouble.

Chanuka is the holiday of Bitachon. The Greeks preached a philosophy of atheism. What the philosophers could not fathom with their intellect, simply did not exist (Ramban Vayikra 16:8). An infinite Creator did not conform to their weltanschauung. They failed or were unwilling to look beyond the physical, and they therefore perceived no infinite. So convinced were they of their ideologies, they ventured to graciously force them on all they conquered.

We have always known that sometimes that which the eyes cannot see, the heart can. Not everything is rational (at least humanly). Har Sinai was not rational. Prophecy is not rational. The continuity of the Jewish People is not rational. Yet here we are (and where are the Greeks?). The Greeks worshiped logic. Thus, they outlawed the observance of the chukim -- mitzvos that transcend human logic.

One act that appears completely out of sync was the Greek undertaking to defile all of the oils in the Bais HaMikdash (Bach, Ohr HaChaim 670). What was their intent?

Defiling is not rational. The oil is still physically intact -- yet the "squeamish" Jews would hesitate to use it for their Menorah. The Greeks wanted to rob us of our neshama -- the imperceptible quality of spirituality we carry within. The result: A new mitzva, one of light, another concept that seems to defy logic.

As we wrote last week, the war of Chanuka has not yet come to an end. This is not merely a commemoration of some long-ago event, but rather a veritable re-living of the events, to walk once again in the footsteps of the Macabees, and to fearlessly wage war against the enemies of Hashem. As we approach Chanuka, as we near the battlefield, let us look in the mirror and ask ourselves, what are we: Creatures of human reason, or of G-d (Infinite Reason)? Do we need everything to be logical before we act? Do we precede our endeavors with a short Tefilla, a brief acknowledgement of our gross incapability? Do we sincerely believe that Hashem gives us the power to make wealth, or do we relegate those ideas to a once-a-year Torah reading?

May we have a meaningful Chanuka.