Blog - Torah Insights

The Stage and the Drama

“It doesn't seem to me that this fantastically marvelous universe … can merely be a stage so that God can watch human beings struggle for good and evil — which is the view that religion has. The stage is too big for the drama."

This quote, from Richard Feynmen, is so powerful it caused Herman Wouk to write a book to address it. I am neither a writer nor a scientist so I won’t write a book, but as a student of Judaism I write the following short point.  

Yes, if the purpose of creation is merely for “G-d to watch the human being struggle for good and evil” then perhaps Feinman has a point; but, like so many others, this great scientist failed to discover the depth of the religious position.  

The Kabbalh gives two reasons for creation: the second reason is in order for the Human being to “create a dwelling place for Hashem in the lowest realm”, this, in other words, is what Feinman calls the struggle with good and evil. The Kabbalah, however, also offers another reason for G-d creating the world: “so that they will know him”, meaning that before creation there is nobody to appreciate G-d’s greatness. He wants to be known. So he creates a universe to so there will be a being outside himself to know him.

In order to help a finite being to “know” and fathom an infinite G-d, for the creation to understand that the creator is beyond anything in can comprehend, G-d creates a universe too vast for the human mind to grasp, to serve as a parable for G-d's infinity.

So, yes, the drama absolutely requires a great stage. For without the vast stage the actors may forget about the author and drop the drama mid play.    

The Morality of the Lost Article

It was the very first piece of Talmud I ever studied.

I was in the forth grade, thus old enough to begin Talmud study, and the topic was the laws of returning lost articles. In a nutshell, the underlying logic of the law is that if the owner despairs from ever finding the lost object, the finder can keep it. The sweet words of the Chapter, “Elu Metsiot Shelo” - “these are the findings that he may keep”, ring in my ears to this day. 

Years later, when I had the opportunity to teach this very piece of Talmud, I ran into a problem. I seemed that most people in the class had a greater sense of morality then the Talmud. Everyone around the table was surprised to learn that the Talmud would allow the finder to keep the article just because the owner despaired; in fact, many of the people shared stories about how they themselves went to great lengths to return a lost article - even in cases where the Talmud would assume that the owner would despair.

The best I could do was to point out that the Talmud itself agrees that the finder can go 'beyond the letter of the law' and return the item although it legally belongs to the finder.

But somehow that did not feel satisfactory. Because isn't the purpose of the Torah law, unlike secular law which is utilitarian, to lead people to the moral choice? By saying that one can go 'beyond the letter of the law' and make the moral choice, are we not acknowledging that Torah law itself is not the ultimate morality?

The answer, I think, is this:  

By ruling that the article belongs to the finder (because the owner's despair is a form of 'abandonment', and ownership us premised on consciousness - but that is for it's own post), the Torah teaches an important principle about itself. The purpose of the Torah is not to guilt us into doing what is morally just by issuing a commandment, and declaring that anybody who does not live up to the highest level of morality is in violation of the Torah's precepts. Rather, the Torah chooses to enforce the basic standard of morality - namely justice. It then defines a higher degree of morality, but  states unequivocally that one can be a moral person by fulfilling the basic level of morality, thus allowing the person to arrive at the higher state of morality, if he so chooses to, by his own choice.

The Torah understands that the ultimate impact it can have, is to allow a person to make a moral choice on her own, and that to do so you must give her the space to choose. In other words, for any law to be the ultimate level of morality, it cannot be legislated. It can be taught, but the people must choose it on their own.

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