Monday, September 24

Koans for Jews

At the Yom Kippur service Friday night, Rabbi Birnholz spoke about the difficulty of reconciling spirituality and reason.

The problem, he said, is that it's impossible for a thinking, logical, sensible person to wholly believe what the Torah tells us about G-d, and also to accept what our own experiences as human beings tell us about life and the universe. The myths don't align with the realities.

(Of course, I'm summarizing here. I'm know I'm missing a lot of the finer points. I think I've got the gist right though. I've heard Rabbi Birnholz talk about this issue before, and I think he's a brilliant guy. He's a large part of the reason why Britt and I joined Schaarai Zedek.)

Rabbi Birnholz says the solution isn't to force the spirituality and the reason together. (I guess this would be the theological equivalent of a toddler attempting to jam the square block through the circular hole, and it would produce a Rube Goldberg-esque belief system that would fall apart easily.) Instead, Rabbi Birnholz says the solution is to understand that we're not supposed to be able to reconcile spirituality and reason.

I like this idea. It's challenging. It's philosophical. It's difficult to comprehend yet, in some way, comforting.

It reminds me of a Talmud passage that I learned a while ago from Rabbi Birnholz. This has become my mantra, my koan. To try to understand it, you have to assume that there is something in this universe that is outside the laws of nature, something for which these words might be true:

All is foreseen, and free will is given.

Wrap your head around that one for a while.

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