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David Baruch Wolk
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There are many people who do not know what they believe. They do not understand what they know or don’t know. It is unclear—any point. To them this is a reasonable position to take on reality. They hold, actually, that this is the preferred position; that is why they remain with it. They think something like this:
“I can’t actually deny the possibility of G-d’s existence. There is too much wondrous about existence. And I recognize that there seems to be some kind of impetus to events that seems to be generated by some kind of consistent motive behind it all. Yet no one has ever said anything on the subject that I can fully believe. Otherwise! It seems that most everyone has some partial sense of truth. Metaphorically I can speak of truth as being made up of many patches of color in various patterns, none of which exactly harmonize nicely as a whole; actually there is quite a lot of discord. Nevertheless, I am comforted by brief passages of relative order and harmony within the chaos. This is reality.
If I ever try to examine a certain strand of this matrix, to see if perhaps any one aspect of truth holds the key to some greater underlying unity and meaning, I am always able to follow its sense for a short while and then…nothing. After many trials like this, I find myself exhausted from the frustration of finding, again, only contradiction and confusion; therefore as I have aged and gained experience I no longer chase these illusionary promises of light. Preferable to relax and try to enjoy what I can of life.
As far as religion goes, to be honest, it has never been clear to me what is it’s true connection to G-d, or, in any case, any G-d that I can understand. Religious people seem to me in general to be fanatics if not altogether lunatics; I can’t possibly seriously relate to one of them. Either they quietly follow their intricate private religious procedures and are not interested in me in the least, or they’re only interested in foisting their dogmatic opinions on everyone. There’s not the least bit of normalcy to them.
And thus it must be for all the “truth’s” that are supposedly written in his holy books, though I haven’t bothered much to look at them. What’s the point? To become an academic? To be considered well-rounded? Wisdom I don’t think I’ll find there. If I wish to trouble myself for wisdom let me trouble myself to make sense of my own experience.
If I must admit the truth, some religious people some of the time appear to have a greater grasp on aspects of reality than I do. Yet I suspect that it is actually artificial, therefore I don’t pursue it. Many people are quite talented at assuming airs of intelligence or understanding. I think the religious are some of the foremost of this sort. I don’t need to be fooled by more “show-men” than I already have been.
Although, again, I must admit that they themselves seem honestly convinced of their beliefs. But to me this only testifies to man’s propensity to deceive himself. I have sympathy for them; life is certainly a puzzle and I can understand why it would be comforting to believe in something. But I, myself, don’t want to fool myself. I’m smarter than that.
Again, if I could hear from one person, or from one sect, a thorough and consistent explanation of reality that would speak to me, that I would listen to. But there’s no such person. Indeed anyone who would claim to have all the answers I would run away from him like from fire, he’s surely a scoundrel!”
It seems that the common denominator of this person’s problem is his unwillingness to exert himself too much in clarifying matters of belief. If someone could tell him…but, he himself doesn’t see to make himself into that informed person. He has already tried several times, more than enough!
Our sages, however, contradict him. They taught:. יגעת ולא מצאת אל תאמין One who claims that he labored and didn’t find; don’t believe him. In other words, his labor was not enough. For if he really tried he would find. One who wants the truth, in truth ,will search for it until he finds it.
In truth, it seems that there is another way to look at our poor fellow. I think, actually, that most of us resemble him, if not in degree, at least in kind. His problem can be explained as a problem of parity between his inner experience and his experience of “the world” which is apart from him. The world for him is full of all sorts of battles and contradictions of values, theories, etc. who can sort the true from the false? Inside him, this is certainly true, it is reality as I know it, I experience it, therefore I know it, it is true to me certainly and if I wish to hold onto my sanity I must hold unto this, to me. Even though my truth may not make sense to others and objectively I admit that their sense of truth is perhaps more correct, nevertheless I cannot give up my inner knowledge to any “objective” scrutiny, it is simply perilous to my very being.
Hazal teach us that every man is required to say (believe): the entire world was created for me. Thus, the world is really my world, so to speak; why then is it so foreign and threatening to me? The answer is that I do not claim responsibility for the world as I should, hardly at all. I separate myself from the world because I see it’s vast problems as too much for me. Yet Hazal is telling us in this that we are responsible for the entire existence, it is the way it is because of us, because of me. True, physically I cannot effect even the very slightest portion of existence, and if I look at myself firstly as a physical being, it’s no wonder that I get dizzy from it all and want to lay down.
But I am responsible for the world because I am firstly a holy soul which is attached to the highest source. Through my actions and speech and thoughts elevate or denigrate all of existence. In particular I have the power of Tefilla which is my principle tool to effect change. I am required to use and develop this power of Tefilla to the upmost extent.
Coincidely, I am commanded to learn Torah with every spare moment. Learning Torah teaches me what belongs in the world and what doesn’t. It imparts to me Da’as which is the knowledge to distinguish; between the holy and profane, permitted and forbidden, pure and impure, right from wrong, true from false, good from bad. The proper study of Torah will imbue me, in the words of the Mishnah (Avos 6:1) the following qualities:[the creation of] the world is worthwhile for his sake alone. He is called ‘Friend, Beloved.’ He loves the Omnipresent, he loves [His] creatures, he gladdens the Omnipresent, he gladdens [His] creatures. [The Torah] clothes him in humility and fear [of G-d]; it makes him fit to be righteous, devout, fair and faithful. It moves him away from sin and draws him near to merit. From him people enjoy counsel and wisdom, understanding and strength, as it is said: ‘Mine are counsel and wisdom, I am understanding, mine is strength (Proverbs 8:14). [The Torah] gives him kingship and dominion and analytical judgment; the secrets of the Torah are revealed to him; he becomes like a steadily strengthening fountain and like an unceasing river. He becomes modest ,patient, and forgiving of insult to himself. The Torah makes him great and exalts him above all things.
One can, and should, judge himself with regard to the above paradigm. To the degree that he does not embody all the above, to that degree he is still not learning Torah properly. Thus we know what “reality” should look like for us. A person who learns Torah properly elevates himself and the entire existence with him. He connects the entire universe in holiness to the eternal oneness of the Creator, blessed is He. No parity, no confusion.
May Hashem merit us, His people to draw nearer to Him.
April 13th, 2014
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