Sunday, September 10, 2006

Larry, Curly, and Mo: The Three Aspects of Man

I’ll get back to systems of השגחה another time. For now, I have something else to share

If you look at the various Jewish philosophers of the past 1,000 years, you’ll see that they point out that we can categorize the motivations for behaviors people into three distinct categories.

The first includes all our instinctual behaviors: if we’re hungry, we look for food. If we’re tired, we look for a place to sleep. At this level of motivation, the differences between us and animals are negligible. The Rambam’s term for this type of behavior is “כח טבעי” – “the natural drive”. The מהר"ל calls these “כוחות הגופניים” – “physical drives.”

The next level is harder to define. It includes such motivations as jealousy, restlessness, revenge, hatred etc. An animal sees something and either wants it or doesn’t. It doesn’t see something, decide it doesn’t want it, but then change its mind when it sees that another animal has it. That’s a peculiarly human trait. Likewise, animals may attack animals that they see as threats, but they don’t take revenge just because the other animal wronged them in the past. But Man does. These motivations are either called “כח החיוני” (according to the Rambam) or “כחות הנפשיים” according to the מהר"ל.

Finally, we have the finer motivations of man. Ones that center on Man’s sense of dignity and identity. This also includes motivations that emerge from our intellect, our moral compass, our philosophies, and our religions. These motivations are far removed from the base requirements of food and shelter. The Rambam calls these the “כח נפשי” (confusingly, this is the same name the מהר"ל used for the previous step), and the Maharal terms these “כחות השכליים”.

Note: this is based on the מהר"ל ספר דרך חיים - פרק ד משנה כב.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Technical Stuff

Is anyone having trouble reading the Hebrew fonts? Should I stick to English and/or transliteration?

On a different note, you should be able to post comments now. I fixed the settings.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

. . . and Then There Was Nature

Last time we discussed the origins of the supernatural; the aspect of God known as רחמים or יקוק.

We turn now to nature.

Hashem decided that Man could not live within a world where God’s presence was continuously and imminently felt. Instead, He created a world that – more or less – could run by itself. He created nature and its rules.

According to nature, if you throw something up, it will inevitably fall down. The question of whether that particular object “deserves” to fall down is meaningless, everything must fall down. Likewise, if a man’s boat capsizes in the middle of the sea, the laws of nature decree that that man must die.

But just as there are laws of nature, including gravity, so too there are laws of nations that govern when nations will rise and when the fall. And there are “laws” that govern how people act and interact.

Have you ever noticed that the name “א-לוקים” is plural? What does it mean? אל can mean not just “god” but “judge”. In other words, "א-לוקים" means “the powers”. This name of God refers to God acting through the system of natural laws/powers that he set in motion. Systems that function without direct, divine intervention.

People tend to think of דין as being synonymous with שכר ועונש (reward and punishment). But in essence, they’re not. דין refers to a passionless set of rules that apply regardless of extenuating circumstance. Thus, the מידה of דין and the מידה of א-לוקים are one and the same.

Most people’s lives, most of the time, are governed by this attribute.

But, as we’ll see next time, there are systems in between the benevolence of רחמים and the faceless nature of דין.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

In The Beginning . . .

We need to begin at the beginning. More precisely, before the beginning. At which point all we have is Hashem. This aspect of God was/is essentially timeless, unchanging, perfect, and eternal. This aspect of God is referred to every time we use the Tetragrammaton (a fancy word for יקוק). As Chazal point out, the root of this name is הוה = being. Thus, this name is interpreted as “The One Who Was, Is, and Will Be.”

At this point in time, there was no world. Just Hashem, and things seem fine and dandy. Yet, Hashem didn’t seem to be able to leave well enough alone. He “decided” to create the world. Why? Great question. Without giving an actual answer – since this is one of those ineffable things – the reason seems to lie in another aspect of God’s nature – רחום. To look at this root, we find the word “רחם” – “womb.” Rachamim, then, is best described as the feelings a mother has for that which comes from her womb: a maternal sense of caring. Hashem created the world to exercise this aspect of his essence.

This conjunction, then, is critical in understanding Hashem’s hashkacha: רחום and יקוק come together. And all relate to a state both prior and external to the natural world and the natural order. When we ask for rachamim , we are adressing this aspect of God. In particular, we are asking for God to relate to us in a non-natural (dare I call it "supernatural"?) way. (At a later point, we’ll see how this identity is critical in understanding Tefilah.) It is worth noting that prophecy and miracles fall under the general rubric of the יקוק aspect of God.

From a certain perspective, this would have been the ideal way for Hashem to relate to our world: one where man can interact directly with a revealed Being. And in fact, a famous midrash discusses how Hashem “originally” wanted to create a world primarily with this מידה.

But, for reasons related to the essential nature of human kind and free-will Hashem chose to “hide” himself behind the veil of nature.

But more on that next time.