Searching by Ineffable Light

Light at nightGod is not a scientific problem, and scientific methods are not capable of solving it. The reason why scientific methods are often thought to be capable of solving it is the success of their application in positive sciences. The fallacy involved in this analogy is that of treating God as if He were a phenomenon within the order of nature. The truth, however, is that the problem of God is not only related to phenomena within nature but to nature itself; not only to concepts within thinking but to thinking itself. It is a problem that refers to what surpasses nature, so what lies beyond all things and all concepts. (page 102)

The object of science is to explain the processes of nature. (page 104)

-Abraham Joshua Heschel
God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism

He made His world of contradictions, opposites that combine as one.

Being and not being,
infinity and finitude,
light and darkness,
form and matter,
quantity and quality,
giving and withholding.

At their nexus, a world is formed: Neither can exist without the other, all function together as a single whole.

They are mere modalities—He Himself is none of them. He mixes them and matches them at whim.

Paradox is our window to the Unknowable.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Being and Not Being”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

The “mystery” of God is both that He is unknowable and that the attempt to “know” Him is irresistibly compelling. This is probably why I write on the topic so much (my most recent entry being Mystery Story). Yet the mere act of prayer is an attempt to interface the ordinary with the fantastic; the finite with the infinite; the temporal and the immortal. As Rabbi Freeman says, God “made His world of contradictions, opposites that combine as one.” But while God can exist without us, we can’t exist without Him.

In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
Like clothing you will change them
and they will be discarded.
But you remain the same,
and your years will never end. –Psalm 102:25-27

The life of mortals is like grass,
they flourish like a flower of the field;
the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more. –Psalm 103:15-16

In touching the hem of God’s garment, we cannot truly know Him; in approaching the throne, we cannot truly comprehend Him. We are like ancient men trying to understand how an airplane flies or how a submarine descends to tremendous depths. In truth, we are much more ignorant than they. But we still have the need to draw nearer to God, and even the secular person searches for Him without realizing it. To again quote from Heschel’s book:

No one is without a sense of awe, a need to adore, an urge to worship. The question is only what to adore, or more specifically, what object is worthy of supreme worship. (page 88)

We are all in search of the One God but people, in our confusion and incomprehension, turn to other objects, stars, trees, and even people, and devote all our adoration to them, rather than to our Creator and in doing so, declare ourselves “free” of the confines of “religion” and accountability to a standard of holiness we do not understand nor desire to emulate.

More’s the pity.

Indeed, secular man considers Biblical man to be the one who is ignorant and even superstitious, and who can blame him?

The prophet is a fool. The man of spirit is mad. –Hosea 9:7

There is a certain madness to this idea of talking to G-d, of saying “You” to the Ground of Reality–as though this is a person. Like the madness of love or of unbounded joy. Not the madness of a derelict mind, but the madness that rides upon the shoulders of reason, with all its qualities, but beyond.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Divine Madness”
Chabad.org

OceanYet what we seek and the faith we grasp so tightly is not without logic but beyond logic. It is not irrational, but super-rational.

I recently attempted to delve into a comparison between Jesus, the Oral Law, and the Talmud, which is a subject far too complex for a single blog post. While there is a tradition in Judaism that says Moses was given both a written and an oral Torah, Kabbalistic adherents believe there is a third, “hidden” Torah as revealed in the Zohar or other mystic writings.

This is certainly controversial and is not accepted among all Jewish authorities. And although Christianity enjoys its own rich, mystic tradition, the vast majority of believers in the church disdain not only the Zohar and any of the Chassidic writings, but even the more rational and grounded Talmud.

And yet, the mystic, in both Judaism and Christianity, exists because of the ineffable nature of the unknowable God, as Rabbi Heschel writes:

By ineffable we do not mean the unknown as such; things unknown today may be known a thousand years from now. By the ineffable we mean that aspect of reality which by its very nature lies beyond our comprehension, and is acknowledged by the mind to be beyond the scope of the mind. Nor does the ineffable refer to the realm detached from the perceptible and the known. It refers to the correlation of the known and the unknown, of the knowable and the unknowable, upon which the mind comes in all its acts of thinking and feeling.

The sense of the ineffable is a sense for transcendence, a sense for the allusiveness of reality to the super-rational meaning. The ineffable, then, is a synonym for hidden meaning rather than for absence of meaning. It stands for a dimension which in the Bible is called glory, a dimension so real and sublime that it stuns our ability to adore it, and fills us with awe rather than curiosity.

No wonder David wrote this:

..what is a human being that you are mindful of him, a son of man that you care for him? –Psalm 8:4

What are we indeed, but the handiwork of the Creator and the clay vessels which contain transformative infinite light. And what Shakespeare said with irony, we can say with conviction:

What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how
infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and
admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like
a god!

-Hamlet Act 2, scene 2, 303–312

Light under the doorWhile not “angel” nor “god”, we do tread on the edge or madness and the abyss at each encounter with the Creator, attempting to touch what is beyond our reach and to know what knowledge cannot imagine. Yet it was for this purpose that God created each of us, and that we even have such a word as “ineffable” in our vocabulary speaks to the need to cross the boundary between the tangible and the mystic and to walk the corridors of a Temple not made by the hand of man.

Reason stands on the threshold, trembling to open the door to her own womb, although a blinding light bursts from between the cracks. For in that place, she knows, there is no reason. She has shown the way, but now she must step aside for madness to break in.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Divine Madness

2 thoughts on “Searching by Ineffable Light”

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