Sunday, April 18, 2010

An interesting read...

...with a few very important ideas that I know I can benefit from ruminating about. Maybe you can too.

I'm going to post it in full, so that you don't even have to follow a link. That's how important I believe it may be. Let me know what you think!

It is time to stop justifying G-d. Morally speaking (1), His ways are sometimes inexcusable. Allowing a Holocaust in which six million Jews were killed in the cruelest ways imaginable, causing unbearable pain to innocent children, is morally intolerable. Creating earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados and other "natural" disasters which kill people and other creatures is insufferable. Any attempt to justify these deeds of G-d is to profane His holy name.

G-d is too great to be justified. In fact, trying to do so undermines His very being. It is an attempt to bring G-d into the limited dimension of human comprehension, which invalidates His total otherness. It is like explaining a three dimensional reality with the aid of a flat surface — a hopeless task that would ultimately lead to the worst of prohibitions, idol worship. Idol worship is an endeavor to limit the Infinite to the constraints of the finite.

To believe in G-d is to believe not only that there is ultimate meaning to our existence but also that this meaning is completely beyond our comprehension. We do not know why G-d created the universe and man; to know that, we would have to be G-d. We would have to abandon the human condition and confront a metaphysical reality that our brains are not equipped to absorb. A reality that asks us to do the impossible — to utterly reject our thoughts, go beyond the shore of our reason and enter into the unfeasible situation in which G-d's thoughts become ours.

As long as we do not know why G-d created anything, we cannot deal with the question why G-d allows, or even causes, so much pain to be inflicted on us. Only if we would know why the world was created would it be possible to see if there is a need for pain and if it could be justified.

The very fact that we do not know why G-d created the world forces us to admit that we cannot know what place morality and justice plays in the divine scheme of things. It may well be that morality is only one of many necessary elements in creation and that it sometimes has to yield to other divine considerations. Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard spoke of the "teleological suspension of the ethical" when he discussed the moral problem inherent in G-d's asking Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac.

From a moral point of view, it is clear that the creation of the world is unjustifiable as long as even the slightest form of pain accompanies it. The anguished cry of even one baby undermines the very moral pretext of creation. However, we cannot infer from that that G-d does not exist or that He had no "right" to create the world. It only means that by purely moral standards He had no right to do so.

Any attempt to explain all of G-d's deeds in terms of moral standards is doomed to fail. It only leads to apologetics, which ultimately produces no satisfactory explanations. That does not mean that G-d is not moral or that He lacks the attributes of goodness, mercy and other lofty qualities which could make man happy. What it does mean is that morality and justice is not the whole story.

The need for morality is the necessary result of creation, not the purpose of creation. In fact, moral criteria may be required to temper the severe conditions under which the divine purpose of creation had to be realized. This may also be one of the goals of Halachic living. It is G-d who asks us to live by His Law so as to moderate the consequences resulting from His creating the world in a way necessary for it to exist. To argue that He created man so as to grant him happiness is of little meaning

To argue that He created man so as to grant him happiness is of little meaning once we ask why man needs to be happy at all and therefore to exist.

To argue that good can exist only in relationship to that which is bad is to ask why there is a need for good to exist at all when it can only be accomplished through the creation of that which is seriously flawed.

To argue that G-d formed man so that he can earn his reward in the world to come is of little comfort once we realize that man would be much better off having never been created. What, after all, is the virtue of reward when it constantly comes at the cost of so much pain? It is true that not having been created would deny us happiness, but in what way is this to our disadvantage? If we would not exist, we would never know what we fail to enjoy. Would, then, our non existence not be more pleasant than our existence? To try and answer this question is to ask for the impossible.

The great rabbinical schools of Beis Shamai and Beis Hillel fully realized this fact: Man was created despite moral norms, that he realizes the need to live his life most carefully. And it is in this knowledge that he will find great joy. Only by acknowledging that human existence is beyond all moral comprehension can man realize how important it is to G-d that man nevertheless needs to exist. Not because man knows what G-d's reasons are, but because he knows that it holds ultimate meaning in His eyes.

To deny G-d's existence on the basis of the Holocaust is to misunderstand His supremacy. To try and justify His ways is to violate His omnipotence.

To live a life of Torah is to live a life of the greatest nobility in the presence of G-d, fully aware that the purpose of life is to live the ultimate mysterious "why" while never understanding it. Therein lies its meaning.

(1) Morality: Ethical behavior. Attempting to prevent human suffering and living by the highest ethical standards with the goal of achieving the greatest amount of happiness.

The author is Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo, and this article was brought from the Jewish World Review website.


Karma Dude said...


Shmuel said...

Yeah, you can say that again. I'm still going over it, slowly taking it in...

Shmuel said...

'Creating earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados and other "natural" disasters which kill people and other creatures is insufferable.'

Is this meant to speak against those who posit that such natural disasters are punishments meted out for certain transgressions? What about the many gemara sources that those same people produce as textual proof for such a precednt?

'To deny G-d's existence on the basis of the Holocaust is to misunderstand His supremacy. To try and justify His ways is to violate His omnipotence.'

I understand that Rabbi Cardozo stresses this all from a "moralistic" standpoint; in a moral sense, we cannot fathom why God does what he does.
But what about the many many Jewish texts that are dedicated to understanding the meaning behind these events?
"Tzaddik V'Ra Lo, etc." is one of the deepest secrets of creation, and aren't we taught "In all your ways, know Him"? How does this desire mesh with Rabbi Cardozo's outlook?