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Covenant Connection

Volume 11 Issue 10
August 2017...Av 5777

Thinking Like God

Talking with a rabbi here – the head of the “Partners in Torah” program Tuesdays in Detroit –he argued, “You can’t know the mind of God.”


We demurred. Surely we can in some matters, we said. Since our thinking faculties come from Him, Who made us “in His image,” to some extent at least our ways of thinking must reflect His own. Don’t we share reason and logic with Him as our common operating program?


Abraham became God’s conscious servant – God’s “lover” – not through revelation but reason. And, really, don’t we study His Torah and Commandments mostly in order to learn how He thinks, what He loves, and what He hates? But the gentleman – a truly nice guy - had enough. “No!” he said. “It’s impossible. No one can know the mind of God! It’s in the Zohar,” and he walked away.


Dr Robert Buxbaum – our study partner and also, as we’ve previously introduced you to him, a First Covenant director – suggested this:


“Make him demonstrate that he understands the Zohar. Just tell him, ‘please, the Zohar is so hard to interpret; it’s absolutely incomprehensible. Please prove to me that you understand it. Make a golem.’”


[1) Making a golem – Frankenstein’s monster was a golem – is regarded as a fairly mid-level display of kabbalistic expertise, in the range of raising the dead and predicting distant events. [2] Orthodox Jews DON’T necessarily revere the Zohar. Sefer ha'Zohar,"the Book of Splendor," is a fundamentally anti-rational work that allegedly “channels” the thinking of a second century Mishnaic rabbi, Shimon bar Yochai, clearly contains some holy sparks, but the work as a whole – which forms much of the basis of Chassidism and of popular Kabbalah – is extremely ambiguous and very far away from being universally accepted.]


We had a friend, a Noahide, who argued that man can no more understand God’s thinking than an ant can understand the thinking of a man. But that can’t be true. He Who is infinite and eternal created finite mortal man, as the Torah teaches, again and again, “in His image” (Genesis 1:26, 1:27 [twice], 5:3, and 9:6), as a reasoning, rational, logic-using being. MUCH more than any other created being, man reflects his Maker.


Obviously, “My thoughts are not your thoughts,” says HaShem (Isaiah 55:8), “neither are your ways My ways… For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts”(55:9). God is not that much like us but He’s certainly enough like us that, when mortal Abraham and mortal Moses address Him reasonably He responds accordingly (Genesis 18, for example; Exodus 32, for example).


Reason – rationality – unite us.



What’s the great mediator between God and man? Reason. HaShem constituted Creation so that we, plain human beings, can approach Him sans magic-wielding intermediaries, based on rational inference, expectations and logic – just as Abraham committed to serve Him, impelled and empowered by rationality and logic, merely by thinking about things; by acting sensibly and intelligently and reasonably, based on rational sensible thinking.


This truth isn’t widely shared but it’s a basic fact of Torah: the Revelation of the Torah to Moses at Sinai really mostly just confirmed what the Patriarchs and Matriarchs of the Jewish People – starting with Abraham and before that, we presume, with Shem and Ever, from right after the Flood (Genesis 10:21) - had already logically deduced.


Even beyond that, the Torah enshrines reason:

“A ruling derived from common sense is also designated by the Rabbis as ‘Words of Torah."
Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Chajes, Mebo ha'Talmud, 4:31

Even more relevant in this context: the Noahide Law must be founded in logic, and experience. But it’s also revealed in the black letters of Torah: “the main body of the Torah is contained in the Seven Commandments with their details.” (Me’iri, R’ Menachem ben Shlomo Me’iri on Talmud, Sanhedrin 59a). So God invites us all to apply our intellectual powers – reason -  to the Torah. And as the Sages teach, “We do not presume to exclude a Noahide (a non-Jew) from any of the logical precepts of the Torah” (R’ Moshe Isserles. See Rainbow Covenant p 62, fn 26). So we find that the Torah itself is accessible to reason.


Against the man-made obscurantism that always seems to clamp down on inherited doctrine, the big point that we’re trying to make here is that God is yashar, as the Torah puts it (Deuteronomy 32:4, Psalm 25:8, 92:16). That He is, in fact, just, straight, fair, square and accessible to those who make up mankind. (Yashar, by the way, is the root of Jashurin, the idealized (Deuteronomy 33) name of Israel). As the prophet says, “His ways” – His yasharim – “are right” (Hosea 14:10). He designed them for us – not just Jew-kind but every kind and type of woman, man and child -  to “walk in them” (Id), if we choose.


The reasonable, rational, justice-loving God of history, the God of freedom is, in truth, a God for everyone. Not only for those who pursue irrational disciplines, mysticism and chassidus.


The end purpose of all this? Life – for those who practice Torah. Life both in this world AND in the “world to come.” (Mishnah, Pirke Avot 6:6). Why? “That Your Way may be known upon earth, Your salvation among all nations” (Psalm 67:3).


Heaven reveals humanity’s fundamental laws to us – God’s thinking, that is - by means of ordinary human rationality combined with knowledge of the general thrust of Torah. (See Maimonides, Yad, Hilchot Melachim 9:1; Rainbow Covenant, p. 60)

“Seek ye HaShem while He may be found. Call upon Him while He is near.”
Isaiah 55:6


Michael Dallen

“… For they bow to vanity and emptiness and pray to a god that cannot deliver. But WE bend our knees, bow, and acknowledge our thanks, before the King Who reigns over kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.” (Alyenu - recited at the end of Israel’s three daily prayer services - second paragraph)

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