Religious Emotion
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim
Reader: In a number of articles on your website, you make reference to the fact that religious life should be entirely an exercise in rational thought and proofs. Your proof for this position is that since the difference between man and animal is abstract, conceptual thought, then clearly it is exactly that difference that man is to use in service of God. My only problem with this is that you make it sound like that is the *only* difference between man and animal, when that is clearly not the case. For example, man is also capable of ecstatic religious experiences, as opposed to animals. Based on your reasoning, why should man be an abstract, academic philosopher and not a carlbach chassid when both personalities are using faculties that animals don't seem to possess, at least to the same degree. Remember, animals do have some intelligence too, and in some cases are in fact capable of rudimentary abstract thought.
Mesora: Your claims have no support in reality. No animal will ever "ponder God". Its so called intelligence is merely an ability to mimic. In some species, this is their unique method of survival. Chameleons change hue to obscure visibility from the predators, parrots recreate predators' sounds thereby camouflaging themselves, or attracting mates, and others simply hide. Animals have no soul, they have no intelligence.
'Religious experiences' not governed by halacha, tend to move towards the Carlbachian free for all. The emotionally feverous and imagined 'closeness to God'. The same is seen by those gathering to sing Hebrew music composed of Biblical verses. Such a practice is prohibited by the Talmud, by Rav Moshe Feinstein, but yet, such prohibition does not deter those emotionally riveted individuals from violation. These approaches are fallacy, and dangerous. They open the floodgates of emotion under the fabricated auspices of "religiosity", thereby condoning all that a person wishes to express and feel. He thinks himself religious, but is sorely misguided. He desires our Supreme, intelligent God, but in actuality, lives in a world of sense stimulation, full of psychedelic, unfounded visions. He indulges in what he thinks to be Kabbalah, assuming he understands metaphors as literal, and spirals down into a life only Judaic by name.

The Torah outlined our every action - even the prohibition on the unlearned dancing at the Simchas Baais haShoavah during the Succah holiday. Why is this? I believe for this very reason. The Torah does not allow celebratory acts by any other than those who truly understand the concepts being celebrated. Simple dancing bereft of true Torah insights is prohibited. Therefore only the wise men were allowed to dance. Otherwise, it is religious emotion without religion. To the shock of the unlearned, Judaism bans such empty activity. Only activity guided by intelligence is tolerated in Judaism. So, let the ignorant stop dancing, and open a gemara.
Thought is the only vehicle for approaching the Prime Intelligence - God. God is not involved in religious emotion, that such an emotion would be an approach to Him.
Study the Talmud and the great philosophers as a starting point for understanding the Torah's criteria for approaching God.
Reader: Man is unique only in the sophistication of his thought. Similarly, man is unique in the sophistication of his emotional faculties - you never see a cat having a religious experience like, say, a carlbach chassid would have. Based on all of this, I would say that since you cannot approach God completely through any one avenue of expression (intellect included), we have to utilize all the faculties available to us, all of which are more sophisticated than those of animals. Based on the above, I fail to see the premium you place on rational proof at the expense of the religious experience, when neither a) can take you all the way to God and b) is completely unique to homo sapiens.
Mesora: You try to "prove" that rationale is not the only method of approaching God. Resorting to a similitude of reasoning contradicts your very statements, where you preach emotional experience. The Torah has formulas, and you are introducing that which is alien to Torah.
Maimonides teaches the purpose of sending away the mother bird is to avoid her anguish. Seeing her offspring taken away is as difficult for animals, as it is for man. Your statement that man's emotions also differentiate him from the animal kingdom are also false.
Emotions have a place, God gave them to us. See my article: The Purpose of the Emotions

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