Monday, October 19, 2015

Intro To Machshava: Rav Sa'adiah Gaon II - The Root of Heresy (Part 1 of 2)

Rav Aryeh Leibowitz
Adapted by Micah Hyman

Rav Sa’adiah Gaon writes in Emunos Ve-Deos (Section 12) that one of the reasons people become heretics is due to taivah - unbridled passions and unchecked desires.  Readers of Rav Sa’adiah might ask: How does taivah lead to heresy?  What is the connection between the two?  Is heresy not a function of the intellect, while taivah a function of the body? 

Perhaps, we can understand Rav Sa’adiah by first studying an essay penned by Rav Elchonon Wasserman in his Kovetz Maamarim.  R. Elchonon opens with three questions. Firstly, the Gemara learns from the verse quoted in shema, “Do not stray after you heart,” that there is a prohibition to pursue heretical teachings.  If the topic of concern is hersey, why does the verse not say “do not stray after your mind?”  (This is essentially our question above on Rav Sa’adiah Gaon). Secondly, how can there be a commandment to believe in Hashem? If you already believe, then there is no need to be commanded to believe.  If you do not believe, what will a commandment accomplish?  Having a formal commandment does not foster belief!  Lastly, how can Hashem command a thirteen-year-old Bar Mitzvah boy to believe in God, when Aristotle and many brilliant philosophers struggled with belief their entire lives?

To answer these questions, Rav Elchonon quotes from the 11th century work Chovos Ha-Lavavos.  There we find the so-called “argument from design.”  The roots of this proof are found in chazal.  A heretic once asked Rebbe Akiva to prove that the world has a creator. Rebbe Akiva responded by asking for a proof that the heretic’s sweater was made by a tailor. He then turned to his Talmidim and remarked: “Just as the sweater is the greatest proof of the tailor, the door the greatest proof of the carpenter, and the house the greatest proof of the architect – so too the world is the greatest proof of God.”

The 12th century Rabbi Yehuda ha-Levi tells the story of an atheist philosopher who was writing poetry. The last line of the poem eluded him, so after struggling for a period, he arose for a quiet stroll outside. Upon his return, he saw an old Rabbi was sitting at his desk and a beautiful last line now graced his poem. The philosopher inquired as to the line’s origin, and the rabbi responded apologetically, “I came by, knocked over your inkwell, and it spilled all over your poem – I’m terribly sorry. Those words on the paper are just how the ink coagulated.”
“Impossible!” snorted the philosopher, “The meter, the rhyming scheme, the metaphor – everything in that line is an absolute perfect fit!”  The Rabbi retorted, “But every crevice of the universe is perfectly designed and yet you attribute its origin to chance.  How is this any different?”

The only reason we don’t find the natural world astounding is because we grow accustomed to nature as a child - when we don’t have the capabilities to appreciate the complex systems governing Earth. Then, by the time we have matured intellectually, we are accustomed to all the features of our world. Imagine a child coming out the womb with full intellectual cognition.  Would not everything he sees, from beautiful sunsets to the ocean waves to the force of gravity, be an amazing testament to the Creator!

To be continued next week…

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