Shabbat Parashat Vayishlach| 5766
From the works of Hagaon Harav Shaul Yisraeli zt”l - The Realm of the Intellect and of Belief - Part I - From Perakim B’machshevet Yisrael, pp. 85-86
The line that separates between the realm of belief and that of intellect is also the line that separates the opinions of the classical Jewish thinkers into two camps. Does human intellect have a place in questions of the origin and purpose of the world?
The “intellectual camp,” whose lead proponents are R. Sa’adia Gaon, Rabbeinu Bachyei, and the Rambam answer, “yes.” “Know the G-d of your father and worship Him” (Divrei Hayamim I, 28:9). It is a mitzva of the Torah to find a basis for the foundations of our belief in the manner of logical proofs. However, the point of departure, even for this camp’s proponents, remains tradition and the inherited trait of belief. The Rambam warns about the shortcomings of the mind and the thoughts of the heart, which can cause doubts. “No one of you should be drawn after his limited intellect and imagine that his thoughts attain truth. So said our Rabbis: ‘After your hearts (Bamidbar 15:39)- this is heresy’.” The conclusion toward which we are driving through intellectual pursuit is known, and we are confident in advance about its correctness. We should not attribute the theological conclusions to the intellectual inquiries. The purpose of the research is “to clarify to us in actuality that which we know from the prophets of Hashem as knowledge” (R. Sa’adia Gaon). In other words, we are to give a cognitive, intellectual basis to the truth that we arrived at through tradition and legacy. It is similar to one who checks, through an alternate form of calculation, the amount of money he has after already counting it carefully. He is certain that, assuming he counted and calculated correctly, the two results will be the same. Since the foundation of belief is certain, it is also certain that to the extent that the power to judge and our logic are correct that “when we will delve into and investigate, that which we were informed by His prophets will emerge with full clarity” (ibid.).
This is how religious philosophy is different from general philosophy. The latter does not see itself as bound from the outset to any specific conclusion. There are two main reasons that these great thinkers mandated an investigation whose results are known in advance: 1) We can assume that it is within the ability of human intellect to reach solutions to complicated, philosophical questions, and, as a result, 2) the intellect must be the source for one’s feelings (see chapters 2 & 23 of the book).
The opposition to the aforementioned approach is beautifully expressed by R. Yosef Elbo, and its foundations are already found in the Book of the Kuzari (R. Yehuda Halevi). The nuclear content of their approach is: “belief is above knowledge through investigation.” The ability for the Divine Spirit to cling to the human intellect is attained specifically through belief. These opinions prefer the feeling of belief and the traditions from our fathers to intellectual factors in this matter. The Kuzari also stresses the inability of human intellect to actually attain truth in the theological realm. “Doubts creep in, and if you will ask philosophers about [these matters] you will not find that they will agree on one action or one thought” (1:13).
Even according to the approach that rejects intellectual inquiry in matters of belief, it is only because it considers these matters beyond the realm of the human mind. However, they also agree that it is impossible for there to be an obligation to believe in that which is contradictory to the intellect. As the Kuzari writes: “Heaven forbid that the Torah should come to say something which can be disproved by a proof or by physical signs” (1:67). [Ed. note- Of course, this does not mean that everything in the Torah must be in concert with our own logic, just that there is nothing that can be disproved.]
We will see more on the topic next week.
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This edition of
Hemdat Yamim is dedicated to the memory of
R’ Meir ben Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld o.b.m.