Monday, January 21, 2008

Rational Religion

R. Avigdor Nebenzahl, in his Sichos on Shemos (I believe no. 13, sorry but everything that follows is paraphrased from [faulty] memory), quotes the Mekhilta that explains the change from "זכור - Remember" in the fifth commandment as said in Exodus (20:8) to "שמור - Guard" in Deuteronomy (5:11). Both words were said at the same time. In the words of the Lecha Dodi poem, "שמור וזכור בדבור אחד השמיענו א-ל המיוחד - "Observer" (Shamor) and "Remember" (Zakhor) in one act of speech, the One and Only God made us hear" (translation from R. Jonathan Sacks' prayerbook).

R. Nebenzahl poses a problem to this explanation. R. Yehudah Aryeh (Leon) of Modena, a controversial scholar of the seventeenth century, stated that Judaism rejects miracles that are logically impossible. A miracle may contradict nature but it must be conceivable. This is in contrast to Christianity, where logically impossible miracles are accepted. If we accept this principle of R. Yehudah Aryeh of Modena, which R. Nebenzahl does, then we must ask how it is conceivable for two words to be said at the same time, by the same voice. It is logically impossible.

Click here to read moreWe cannot reject logic in favor of illogical belief. It says in Mishlei (21:16): "אדם תועה מדרך השכל בקהל רפאים ינוח - Whoever wanders from the way of understanding will rest in the assembly of the dead." God gave us our minds to be used. If you accept things uncritically then you will accept anything!

R. Shimon Shkop (Sha'arei Yosher 5:2), in explaining that the obligation to pay a debt is from a logic that is more basic than a Torah command, goes further and writes:

Even though at first it seems odd for what obligation is there on a person to do something without a command of the Torah to do it, when one delves into this matter one can understand that even without a command to serve God and fulfill His will one is still obligated to do so from logic.
Logic is the basis of our relationship with God and serves as the foundation of our religion. If we accept religious beliefs that are counter to logic, we are undermining the basis of the Jewish worldview.

Therefore, suggests R. Nebenzahl, "Zakhor" and "Shamor" could not literally have been said at the same time. Rather, since we are discussing prophecy, they must have been prophetically received simultaneously.

(As a parenthetical note, the reader of R. Nebenzahl's book is directed to a later essay that discusses the limitations on human intellect and on individuals as well. This must be humbly recognized, albeit without rejecting the principal of a rational religion.)

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