Thursday, October 11, 2007

Rebbe Nachman and the Philosophers--part 1

Some people are aware that Rebbe Nachman spoke out strongly against getting immersed in the study of philosophy, especially Jewish philosophy rooted in the Aristotelian worldview found in some of the works of the Rishonim. Unfortunately, many people misunderstand his position as just another form of anti-intellectualism. A closer examination of his work reveals that Rebbe Nachman's approach is really all about appreciating what one stands to lose by engaging in philosophical speculation, more than what is wrong about the content of the material itself. (I have to admit that he doesn't like much of the content either!)

So what could be so wrong with a work like the Moreh Nevuchim that Breslovers didn't even like to refer to it by name? They would call it the "Sefer Mem-Nun," as if even the word for the theologically confused could infect them with the same disease. But this really exposes the issue--it all has to do with seeing lack of emunah as a disease. If building a straightforward and loving relationship with G-d is the core of my Judaism, dwelling on questions for which I am almost certain to find no fully satisfying answer due to my human limitations, or cultivating an attitude of intellectual detachment in my effort to seem sophisticated or wise, is going to scuttle all my best efforts.

The following story illustrates the point well:

The Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, found his son, Reb Leib, zt”l, learning Moreh Nevuchim a number of times, and on each occasion he reprimanded his son, “This is not the way to true greatness.” Reb Leib didn’t argue, but when he was alone, he continued learning from the Rambam’s work. It was only when the Chofetz Chaim saw that rebuke alone wasn’t helping and took the sefer away that Reb Leib protested. “But I don’t understand what the problem is! The Rambam delved in philosophy, and who can compare to him? Chazal even tell us that Avraham Avinu came to belief in Hashem through philosophical speculation!”

The Chofetz Chaim replied, “You cannot construe Avraham Avinu as proof since he lived in a generation of idolaters and had to find his own way to true emunah. The Rambam also is no support for your study of chakirah because he wrote his book for those already influenced by the non-Jewish philosophers, for people who required help extricating themselves from the confusion such philosophies bring in their wake. This is the reason for the name of the work, the Moreh Nevuchim: Guide for the Perplexed.

The Chofetz Chaim continued, “But we are not perplexed! We know that Hashem appeared before the entire Jewish people at Mount Sinai and spoke to us! Why start from Aleph Beis? You can compare what you are going through to a child in his father’s arms. The father hugs and kisses his child and attends to all of his needs. If someone were to approach the child and ask, ‘Who is holding you?’ he would instantly respond, ‘My father.’ Any attempt to convince him otherwise would surely be futile. The child knows with his whole being that this is his father!”

The Chofetz Chaim concluded, “Woe to the child who still needs proof that the one who protects and cares for him so lovingly is his father! Even if you prove this to the child’s intellectual satisfaction, he will still not feel the natural bond of love which exists deep down between every child and parent. Unless this child gets in touch with his deepest feelings, he will always feel coldly toward his parent!”

2 comments:

Yehudi01 said...

What an incredible post..I thoroughly enjoyed reading through your blog! I look forward to coming back often and reading your latest! L'Shalom, Yehudi

... said...

Yehudi,
Thanks for the positive feedback. Pass on our link, and you're welcome to send in questions or whatever for future posts.
Micha and Yehudis