Faith & Folly
Human weakness is a demon that attacks the psyche, science and philosophy our current idols. Where should we turn for real answers to suffering, harmony – or temptations? The Avner Institute presents two letters, with special thanks to the Rebbe’s long-time secretary Rabbi Leibel Groner A”H, of blessed memory, where the Rebbe debunks dangerous thoughts on suffering, science, and taboos.
Dedicated in memory of loving memory of Hadassah Lebovic A”h
“The soul is an everlasting one”
By the Grace of G-d
7 Iyar 5727
Greeting and Blessing:
I duly received your letter in which you write about various things which you do not understand, such as the suffering of your father, etc.
Judging by your letter, it is surely unnecessary to emphasize to you at length the obvious idea, namely that it is certainly not surprising that a human being does not understand the ways of G-d, for a created and finite being surely cannot understand the Infinite. The opposite would rather be surprising, and it is only due to G-d’s infinite kindness that He has revealed to man certain aspects of His Divine Providence.
Child & Scientist
There is a simple illustration: It would surely not be surprising that a five-year-old child could not understand the conduct of a great scientist, even though the scientist was at one time a five-year-old boy, and the present five-year-old boy may grow up and become even a greater scientist. In other words, the five-year-old boy is potentially in possession of all the qualities of the mature scientist, yet it would not be surprising that the five-year-old boy cannot understand the great scientist.
But a created human being has nothing in common with the Creator insofar as intelligence and capacities are concerned. It is only that because of G-d’s kindness that certain aspects of G-d’s Providence have been revealed to man, including also the question of suffering, where we can use a similar analogy.
When a young child is told to sit down and learn the a-b-c, and do homework, etc., this deprives him of going out into the fresh air, sometimes interferes with having his meal on time, and might also curtail his sleeping hours, etc. The child, while complying with these instructions, is not doing so because he realizes their wisdom, but because he has no choice in the matter, since he is compelled by his father or mother or teacher to do this.
This is not a case where his freedom is curbed so that he would not go about breaking windows, and the like. Insofar as the child is concerned, it is for him true suffering to be deprived of fresh air, or rest, etc., which by common consent are considered good things. Nevertheless, of what consideration is the child’s temporary suffering, even though it extends for days or months, by comparison with the good which he will enjoy thereby for the rest of his life?
A further point to remember is this: When a person who has been ill succumbs to his illness, it is clear to every normal person that the illness could affect only the physical body. Obviously if there is something wrong, say with the blood of the patient, it cannot affect the patient’s spiritual life and his everlasting soul. In other words, when a patient succumbs to an illness, this happens only because the union between the soul and the body has come to an end But the soul is an everlasting one, and this is one of the basic foundations of our Jewish faith, as also all other faiths.
In the Torah it is frequently explained and emphasized that life on this earth is only a preparation for the future and everlasting life in the world to come. This is also taught in the well-known Mishnah of Pirkei Avos [Ethics of the Fathers], which we read and study these Shabbosim. The Mishnah (4:21) states, “This world is like a vestibule to the future world; prepare yourself in the vestibule so that you can enter the banquet hall.”
Now, when during the time when one is in the vestibule there has been a period of suffering, whereby there will be an infinite gain in the “banquet hall,” it will surely be worthwhile. It is impossible to describe the joys of the life of the soul in the world to come, for even in this world while the soul is connected with the body, its life is on an infinitely higher plane; how much more so when the soul is no longer distracted by the body.
Compare the joy and excitement of a child when he receives a tasty candy, with the joy of a very wise and learned scientist who succeeds in resolving an important scientific problem. Here again, as mentioned before, there is some connection between the child and the scientist, and everything is relative. But insofar as the life on this earth and the life of the soul in the future world is concerned, the differences are not of degree but of kind, and there is no common denominator between the two. At the same time, it should be remembered that the suffering in the “vestibule,” which is no more than a corridor to the “banquet hall,” is after all a temporary one, and the gain is eternal. .
Of course, you may ask why things are so conditioned that one must give up something in order to gain more. This would be the same as a child asking why he must give up his outdoor pleasures, etc. But surely it is not an unkindness to the child to “deprive” him so.
I trust that the above will suffice to answer your question. However, if you want to discuss it further, you could do so with Rabbi… whom you mention in your letter.
With regard to your second question concerning social dancing, etc. the answer is actually already to be found in your own letter, in which you write that the conduct of some of the people indulging in dancing and similar activity leaves much to be desired. These then shows the dangers inherent in such conduct which is not in accordance with the Shulchan Aruch [Code of Jewish Law]. For, obviously, those whose conduct has so deteriorated did not start right away on that level, for, as you write, they also only wanted to have some innocent fun, etc.
But one must bear in mind where this leads to. Clearly, the yetzer hora [evil inclination] is not idle. The yetzer hora knows that if he should approach a Jewish girl or boy who is religious, and wants to remain so, and tempt them right away to transgress an explicit law of the Shulchan Aruch, they will not listen to the yetzer hora. On the other hand, if he should come and tell them to indulge in something seemingly innocent, which only an overly strict rabbi considers reprehensible, this is the first step for the trap, to ensnare the unwary boy or girl into eventually breaking also the explicit laws of the Shulchan Aruch.
This is also why our Sages said to keep away from a bad neighbor and a bad friend (as we also learn in Pirkei Avos). Here too one may ask: What is wrong if I live in a house where there is a bad neighbor, etc.? But the reason is the same as above.
As for the question how best to overcome the temptations of the yetzer hora — the best way is not to let him get to first base. In other words, when an undesirable thought occurs, it is necessary to dismiss it at once from the mind. However, inasmuch as the mind must be occupied, it is possible to disengage it from one thought only by engaging it in another. Therefore, when any undesirable thought does occur, one must at once begin to think about good things, how to benefit oneself and others, and the like.
All Good Things
With regard to the question how to develop a greater love for the Torah and for G-d, etc. – in general all good things come from the study of the Torah and the observance of the mitzvoth, as it is written: “If you will walk in my statutes,” to which Rashi comments, “If you will exert yourself in the Torah,” then G-d promises, “I will give your rains in their due season,” and all the material and spiritual blessings mentioned there.
I suggest that you should have your tefillin checked, if they have not been checked within the past twelve months, and that before you put them on every weekday morning, you should put aside a small coin for tzedakah [charity]; the latter bli-neder [avoiding a vow].
In answer to another question of yours: it is self-understood that all the mail that is addressed to me is opened by me alone and is, of course, confidential.
The Jew’s true guide in life”
By the Grace of G-d
5 Shevat, 5737
Oak Park, MI 48237
Greeting and Blessing:
In reply to your letter you will find enclosed a brochure on the subject matter. It is based on the Kuzari which, though written centuries ago, is valid also today, and precisely from the viewpoint of empirical science.
With reference to the question of proof of the existence of G-d — the medium of a letter and the pressure of time make it difficult to go into the complex matter here.
However, I would make at least one observation regarding your basic premise upon which your proof rests, namely, in your words, “….if this process of making intelligent things continues, after some time there will be things which compared to us are gods,” etc. On closer scrutiny you will see that this does not necessarily follow, as, for example, in regard to such Divine attributes as the power of creation ex nihilo, or that G-d cannot be affected, and many others.
Do I Exist?
I would like to add a point which is essential in my opinion. I refer to the philosophical discussion on the question of how a person can prove scientifically that he exists. Needless to say, for all practical purposes, as well as for personal satisfaction, no individual requires proof of his existence, and one need not write a treatise to confirm one’s profound conviction, both consciously and unconsciously, that one exists.
The same is true about the existence of G-d. A normal person, who is not prejudiced by personal motivations or rationalizations, requires no proof of G-d’s existence. The question can only arise for the sake of discussion or answering skeptics. Otherwise, debating the question is really pointless.
The reason I consider the above point essential is that an approach based on proof of G-d’s existence has an inherent weakness in that all “scientific,” or so-called philosophical proofs are subject to the limitations of science and philosophy. Whereas emunah – the conviction of real faith – is by its very nature unshakable and pervasive, permeating one’s whole being.
In final analysis, since all so-called “scientific” proofs of G-d’s existence are “debatable” we must take recourse in emunah, rooted in the historic truth of the Revelation at Sinai, preceded by the Exodus from Egypt (when all Jews declared “This is my G-d and I will glorify Him”) as has been transmitted to us in an unbroken chain from generation to generation.
A further important point, perhaps the most important, is this: although emunah is rooted in the mind and heart (intellect and emotion), our Torah, called Toras Chayim – because it is the Jew’s true guide in life – declares that “the essential thing is the deed,” that is to say the daily life and conduct in accordance with G-d’s Will, as set forth in the Torah. This principle too, could be explained and “validated” in various ways, hence also limited, but as above, surely no proof is needed.
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