Conversation: Deity is Knowable
(Isaac Newton Thought So)
‘Vanity’ in Ecclesiastes
Congregation of Peoples
Conversation: Deity is Knowable
A couple of Noahides were insisting: “Nothing about God is knowable, everything is mere belief, not proof.” Au contraire, we argued, referring to tons of convincing evidence to the contrary, that God has definite qualities, and interests. Obviously, no way does He force belief in Him on anyone – He has structured Creation so that a thinking being has free will to accept Him as God or not – but the evidence of His reality, and His nature, is so overwhelming, so far beyond the threshold of evidence we require to make informed decisions and reach conclusions in other areas, that “honest skepticism” on these subjects isn’t really honest.
We insisted: To claim that injustice anywhere proves that no God of justice exists is not an honest argument. The Creator of the Universe and the Father of Eternity deserves from us, his extremely mortal creatures, the benefit of the doubt. To decide that injuries to me or others declare the feckless incompetence of God or prove that He’s indifferent, or nonexistent, is hogwash.
Sir Isaac Newton, in his time - when the Jews were generally despised and all in exile, and the Land of Israel seemed cursed, before the discovery of the “Big Bang” Creation of Everything from nothing, and before man began making real sense of the Noahide Law, and other key propositions of Torah - still managed to acquire enough evidence on the nature of Deity and Torah to become God’s faithful servant.
Newton was born in 1642. If he could do it in his time, we should too.
Newton’s approach – according to the great John Maynard Keynes (the father of the doctrine called Keynesianism) who was commissioned to comprehensively examine Newton’s unpublished papers, exclaimed upon Newton’s “careful learning, accurate method, and extreme sobriety of statement.” He concluded with a description of Newton – who spoke of his own adherence to the Seven Noahide Laws - as "a Judaic monotheist of the school of Maimonides.”
Some background: Archives, Aish Ha Torah, "Isaac Newton"
And companion piece on Newton by Rav José Faur.
Israel starts every day praying, “My Master! Open my lips and my mouth will declare Your praise! Blessed are You…” with a recitation of God’s characteristics: “the Almighty, the Great, the most high Almighty, etc., and – this is particularly interesting – the observation, “Who possesses everything.” The Hebrew, konéy, is often translated as “creates” but the actual idea here is that everything is of God, emanates from God and belongs to God.
“The heavens are the heavens of the Lord (HaShem), but the Earth has He given to the children of men.”
God “gives” the Earth to man as the stage on which we, the human race, play our part in His Creation. He is as at least as much the Owner of everything as the pagan Cana’anite ba’alim, the gods of the Cana’anites, using a word – ba’al – which literally means “owner,” “master,” “possessor” – were said to be. In other words, God has all the real qualities of mastery and ownership as the Cana’anites ascribed to their ba’alim.
This is something to reflect on when we consider the role of man in Creation. What does God want from us? What does any owner want? To improve his or her property!
Since God owns everything, we can assume that His desire towards His stake in it all is to make it all better.
We should keep this in mind when we hear from our fellow men that planet Earth is disposable. Of all the stupid "thinking"... That some pastors and thought-leaders have been spreading such pure pagan idiocy makes the need for it more obvious. The blessed Deity doesn't want us mistreating His stuff!
Let's say, given the total absence of compelling proof to the contrary, that the God-fearing, God-serving person should want to help make all created existence better, not worse, not excluding any part of it from the parts that deserve the concentrated loving care of God’s designated stewards (Genesis 1:28).
‘Vanity’ in Ecclesiastes
The line is famous: “Vanity, vanity, all is futile.” It’s Ecclesiastes (or “Koheleth”). Sometimes it’s translated, “Futility, futility.” It’s right at the start of the Book – Ecclesiastes 1:2 - and it’s central to the theme of the Book, and the word that’s translated “vanity,” havel, is practically identical to the name of Cain’s brother Abel, Hevel (Genesis 4). Which means “breath.” And it’s interesting: the real deal with havel isn’t that something is useless or pointless but that it’s fleeting, like a breath; it’s “here today and gone tomorrow.” Not that it’s meaningless, in other words, any more than Abel himself was meaningless. It’s just that, when you contrast it to something with more solidity and permanence – like “the everlasting hills,” or the eternity of Torah and HaShem – it stands out for its impermanence, its transitory quality.
Considering that Abel – a man whose life-story was like a breath, as fleeting as a breeze – will never be forgotten, it’s helpful to remember that even the things that Ecclesiastes declares to be havel, or vain, have reality in God’s eyes. In fact, going back to the theme of justice, and God’s characteristics, how He runs Creation, Ecclesiastes finishes up (Ecclesiastes 10:14) with this conclusion about even the most fleeting, “futile” of things:
“For God will judge every deed – even everything hidden – whether good or evil.”
More than three centuries before the Common Era the great men of Israel, including Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah, laid down Israel’s principal liturgy, including the Amidah or “Standing Prayer”/“the Shemoneh Esrei” or “the Eighteen,” including the Mussaf (Additional) prayer that’s recited on certain holidays. It’s a fascinating prayer for what it tells us about the Sages’ and Prophets’ perception of God’s consciousness.
“Our God and the God of our forefathers, may there rise, come, reach, be noted, be favored, be heard, be considered, and be remembered, the remembrance and consideration of ourselves, the remembrance of our forefathers, the remembrance of Messiah son of David, Your servant, the remembrance of Jerusalem, Your holy city, and the remembrance of Your entire people the Family of Israel before You….”
God does not forget. God does not mis-remember. God does not underrate nor overrate nor disregard what’s happened and everything that’s happening. But nobody, not even His prophets, knows how this works, exactly. We just know that it does work. And we appeal to His graciousness, His great compassion, and His pity.
Congregation of Peoples
After Jacob and his profoundly holy mother Rebecca had deceived Isaac into transfering the family legacy – the cause of Abraham – to Jacob (“Israel”), Isaac blessed him again. “God Almighty bless you, and make you fruitful, and multiply you, that you may be a congregation of peoples.” (Genesis 28:3). Jacob/Israel should inherit the blessings of Abraham – and success.
Congregation of peoples, likhal amim, is interesting. It’s not referring to nations, “goyim,” exactly, but it doesn’t seem to be describing just a group of tribes, either.
An am – amim is plural – is a people, an entire ethnic group, connected by a strong culture or other unifying force. It’s more and less than a goy, a nation. A congregation – a kehilah – is an aggregation of members, like a club or synagogue or church. Isaac seems to be saying that the people that come out of Jacob/Israel will be like a club or movement of different interconnected peoples.
One thing that we’re wondering about, as prophesies are fulfilled and Israel, with God’s help, appears more and more successful: sooner or later it will be impossible to judge the sincerity of want-to-be converts to Judaism, and the Jews, the People of Israel, will need to stop accepting converts. Or, we should say, some Jewish groups will recognize that, while – practically – others will go to town, eagerly accepting “converts” that other Jews would regard disdainfully. The Jewish People will not act unanimously in any of this, in other words, and we can expect some Jews to be welcoming “converts” that other Jews will regard not just disdainfully but as dangerous to the Jews.
Isaac’s prophecy is still ambiguous at this point. We’ve seen the different far-flung communities of Jews come together miraculously in Israel in the 20th Century, and the process continuing and intensifying thus far in the 21st. We’ve seen different small groups of non-Jews joining Israel all through the centuries, from the ancient Kennites and Khazaria and Russia’s Sabbotniks and England’s Lord George Gordon, and Noahides – like Newton – joining up… We’ve discussed Ivri, modern Noahides who consider themselves conscious servants of HaShem, and Nokri Jews, Jews “called to be” Jews, as they believe, in the context of “Black Hebrews.” Is that the kind of thing we’re talking about?
One more thing. On the subject of “Black Hebrews,” or any other group of people claiming to be real Jews while denying that status to the Jewish people: anyone so ignorant as to make such a claim is too blinkered or obtuse to know anything about anything, and shouldn’t be followed in any matter.
In contrast to that phenomenon, we expect other groups of “wannabe” Jews and other seeking Noahides to succeed, to rise to their goal of affirming fraternity with Israel, increasing holiness, and more conscious service to HaShem – to get to the good life, in other words, of loving awareness and creative, ever-increasing intellect, sensitivity and power in relation to both Creation and Divinity.
By Michael Dallen
May You be blessed, Y,H,V,H our God, beyond the praises
of Your handiwork, and beyond the bright luminaries that
You have made – may they glorify You – Selah!
- Siddur, Hebrew Daily Prayer