We concluded last week’s issue with a quote from Rav Dr. Haym Soloveitchik’s essay entitled “Rupture and Reconstruction: The Transformation of Contemporary Orthodoxy,” which explained that our generation faces many new difficulties regarding Emunah. We will continue our discussion by outlining how in the modern age Hashem has introduced new and varied opportunities for Emunah to counterbalance the phenomena Rav Dr. Soloveitchik has outlined.
Modern Advents which Should Promote our Emunah
In pre-modern times, medicine was primitive, which made one very vulnerable and dependent on God. Today, with the advent of modern medicine, man does not feel so dependent on Hashem. Thus, it is not surprising that Jews in the East European Shtetl would wail on Yom Kippur and most pious Jews do not do so nowadays.
Moreover, the temptation to sin is far greater today than it was only fifteen years ago. Severe violations of the Torah, with which spiritually corrosive impacts come, are accessible with one click of a computer mouse. Although such activities are self-destructive and against one’s long term interests, the short term attraction is great.
Nonetheless, Shlomo HaMelech’s principle of “Zeh LeUmat Zeh Asah Elokim” discussed in last week’s essay very much holds in our time. Despite the enormous spiritual challenges of modernity which we face, we have been given an equally great degree of spiritual opportunities. Most prominently, the survival and thriving of the State of Israel presents boundless spiritual opportunities. As we mentioned earlier, the very survival of Israel constitutes an ongoing sixty-eight year long Chanukah miracle of the few against the many. Moreover, whereas only a century ago a visit to the Kotel HaMa’aravi was experienced only by a privileged few amongst our people, today it is almost routine for observant Jews to connect with this very holy space many times during their lives. Moreover, Biblical predictions of the Jews’ mass return to their homeland after years of exile of being scattered across the four corners of the world have been fulfilled.
Archaeological findings abound that confirm very significant sections of the Tanach, as Rav Amnon Bazak summarizes in chapter six of his masterful work Ad HaYom HaZeh (available in English at the website of Yeshivat Har Etzion http://etzion.org.il/en/topics/fundamental-issues-study-tanakh?combine=&page=1). Evidence of King David was found at Tel Dan in the early 1990’s, which disproved the assertions of secular scholars who had insisted for decades that King David was a matter of legend. The archaeological discoveries are ongoing, as just in August 2015, a huge gate was found in the ruins of the ancient Pelishti city Gat (as reported at http://www.nbcnews.com/science/science-news/goliath-gate-archaeologists-uncover-entrance-biblical-city-gath-n404016; Golyat came from the city of Gat), which entirely supports the Biblical text. Only three weeks ago the seal of King Chizkiyahu was discovered in Ir David excavations.
Rav Bazak also includes in this work (chapters one through five) a culmination of over a century of Orthodox responses to Biblical criticism. In the past, some thought that Biblical criticism has demolished educated belief in the literal truth of the Bible. However, there have been more than a century of sustained, effective, and convincing traditional responses to Bible criticism, beginning with Rav David Zvi Hoffman and Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, continuing with Professor Umberto Cassuto and Dr. Benno Jacob, followed later by the Da’at Mikra commentary to all of Tanach and Rav Mordechai Breuer. Rav Bazak’s work is the culmination of this effort, and it represents an intellectual death sentence to Biblical criticism.
The discovery in the 1960’s of evidence supporting the Big Bang theory confirmed the Biblical insistence that the world had a beginning. These discoveries challenged scientists who had, since the time of Aristotle, insisted that the world is eternal. Dr. Robert Jastrow famously remarked about this phenomenon (God and the Astronomers, 1978, p. 116; p. 107 in 1992 edition):
“For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”
The most important development, though, might be the magnificent spiritual opportunity offered by study of modern science. Rambam writes in Hilchot Yesodei Torah 2:2 (translation from www.chabad.org):
“What is the path [to attain] love and fear of Him? When a person contemplates His wondrous and great deeds and creations and appreciates His infinite wisdom that surpasses all comparison, he will immediately love, praise, and glorify [Him], yearning with tremendous desire to know [God's] great name, as David stated: ‘My soul thirsts for the Lord, for the living God’ [Psalms 42:3].
When he [continues] to reflect on these same matters, he will immediately recoil in awe and fear, appreciating how he is a tiny, lowly, and dark creature, standing with his flimsy, limited, wisdom before He who is of perfect knowledge, as David stated: ‘When I see Your heavens, the work of Your fingers... [I wonder] what is man that You should recall Him’ [Psalms 8:4-5]. Based on these concepts, I will explain important principles regarding the deeds of the Master of the worlds to provide a foothold for a person of understanding to [develop] love for God, as our Sages said regarding love: ‘In this manner, you will recognize He who spoke and [thus,] brought the world into being.’”
The study of science affords the opportunity for a rich religious growth in love and awe of the Creator. I found the study of college level biology to be one of the most poignant religious experiences of my life. From the complexity of a simple organism such as the E. coli to the grandeur of the structure of the human eye, a sensitive soul soars in spiritual ecstasy at the marvels of the Creator, which are revealed by modern science.
Only a few decades ago, Reform and Conservative Judaism dominated the American Jewish scene. Today the movements are disintegrating (see, for example, http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4488219,00.html), which demonstrates once again that Orthodoxy is the only expression of Judaism that withstands the test of time.
The bottom line is that despite the many challenges posed by modernity, its spiritual opportunities are great.
This Kol Torah article series, as well as the preceding and following series, is intended to enrich the belief in Hashem and Torah of its readers. However, the most effective means to promote belief in Hashem is the public proper behavior of observant Jews. When Orthodox Jews behave in a peaceful, moral, and productive manner to the broader society, its behavior serves as the most compelling evidence of the divine origin of the Torah. When Orthodox Judaism is identified with not only ritual observance such as Kashrut and Shabbat but also with honest business, well-mannered driving, and contributions to the broader society, belief in Hashem and His Torah are confirmed and enhanced.
Yeshayahu (43:10) teaches that we are Hashem’s witnesses and that Hashem should be glorified by us (60:21). These are the mission statements of our people which challenge us to lead proper, fulfilling, and enjoyable lives which live up to the Torah’s ideals. Following these mission statements serves as the most compelling evidence that the Torah is the divine plan which best outlines human conduct.