Must it be Rational?

Moshe Ben-Chaim

We engage reason in our daily lives. We read contracts prior to signing them, we calculate our expenditures based on income, we explore maps before traveling to new areas and we take only those medicatons that have been proven. We understand that all matters of our universe follow reason. Should we then abandon reason in our philosophies or religious lives? Is there any consideration that determines we simply follow belief in these two areas?

Ahhh...but there's that process acting up again...even in our exploration of where and when reason should apply. We cannot escape the process of "questioning and answering"...a "rational" approach. Maimonides teaches one should not accept as true that which is not witnessed, that which is unsubstantiated by reason, or what violates what the Rabbis teach. And our Rabbis never taught that there exists any power, force or "energy outside of what we witness. 

In his Laws of Torah Fundamentals (2:2) Maimonides teaches that the means by which we arrive at a love of God is by studying creation alone. Amazingly, here[1] he does not mention Torah study.  We wonder how studying creation and nature generates a love of God.

Let us first define "nature". What is it? Well, it is difficult to say the word nature, without the word "law". We usually describe the universe as functioning in accord with "natural law". By definition, "nature" refers to a set of laws. But what is a law? Law refers to that which guides non-deviating behaviors. We say it is a law that the Earth rotates, since we witness this behavior in a unchanging state. It is also a law that mass and gravity are related. Water flows, fire burns, and so on. What is constant, is guided by "laws". Maimonides means to say that through our discovery of natural law, we will witness repeating phenomena in many areas. And in all areas, the laws compliment each other creating a universal harmony. It must be planned. This natural order forces us to recognize some Cause or Designer behind the scenes, as it is impossible that any object or law created itself. 

Maimonides' lesson is that a love of God – an appreciation for His wisdom – will naturally arise in each of us when we witness the amazing systems that govern the universe, the human body, plant-life, the animal kingdom microscopic particles, outer space, mathematics and all sciences. "In accordance with the knowledge [we obtain] will be our [level of] love". 

God granted us the ability to perceive, comprehend, extrapolate and use reason...all based on what we witness. And that's the key word: witness. For if we do not witness something and merely believe it to be, while nothing offers any evidence, we live in a fantasy and we are not approaching God. The Torah teaches that all our efforts are in fact to be directed towards a Love of God: "And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your might". (The Shema Yisrael prayer) If one chooses to accept that, which is not proven, and merely says "well it COULD be true", then one deviates from reality, and abandons the mitzvah of Loving God. But these people live a contradiction...

If someone tells the "COULD be true" personality "There's a force or energy out there that will provide your rent and food, so you no longer need to work" that person would not quit his/her job and rely on this. You would not risk foreclosure or eviction. That is a reality you wish to avoid over all else. (Emphasis on the word "reality") Similarly, you would not ingest a poison, had someone else told you that "There's a power out there that protects against the poison". Your understanding of reality is how you guide your life in all areas vital to your existence.  So why deviate in religion? 

Haftoras Vayikra (Isaiah 43) ridicules man for this very dichotomy in his philosophy. The Haftora describes man taking a single tree trunk and with one half, warming himself and cooking his food. With the other half, he bows to it and says "Save me for you are my god". The ridicule is that although in the area of survival (food, warmth) man functions in line with his accurate perception of reality;  in his religious life, he abandons reason. The very same object that he can destroy through burning, he also worships! This displays a grave inconsistency and distortion in man's philosophy. It unveils the ability for the religious part of man to completely ignore reality. He can accept contradiction. But God's prophet admonished us for this very behavior. Therefore, to follow reason in our lives, while accepting unproven religious views, falls under the ridicule of the prophet, and God.

Why do people follow views that have no validity? If the view is not seen working in the universe, man can only adhere to such a view if he either imagines it, or hears it from another person. Now, had that person not told them such a view, they would not witness such an idea in the universe, and they would never arrive at such a behavior. One must not follow an opinion – even from a reputable source, teacher, Rabbi or book – if that opinion is not validated as true and observable.  For this very reason, the Torah prohibits contact with the dead and ghosts, belief in demons, belief in unproven powers or forces, belief in gods, idols, witchcraft, omens, horoscopes, voodoo, talismans and amulets. Ibn Ezra teaches that we are prohibited from what is false. (Lev. 19:31): "the Torah does not command against truth, only what's false, and the proof is the idols."

I recently asked a person claiming to have contact with the dead, to prove her claim. She said "I don't try to prove it".  

If we cannot prove something to others – we cannot prove it to ourselves. It is then merely a belief. 

No sane individual works a full year based on the "belief" of payment on day 365.

No one leaps from an airplane with no parachute, relying on the "belief" that an airbag on the ground will cushion their landing.

If we abandon belief and seek proof for decisions governing our physical temporal lives, we must certainly demand proof for ideas that affect our eternal lives, our religious life.

[1] In his Sefer HaMitzvos, Maimonides does in fact say that love of God is arrived at through His mitzvos and His action.