Monday, June 27, 2005

Don't Think!

This past Shabbos we read Parashat Shelach and within it we quote the last paragraph of Shema, the commandments dealing with tzitzit. One passage, Num. 15:39 goes "It shall constitute tzitzis for you, that you may see it and remember all the commandments of Hashem and perform them; and not explore after your heart and after your eyes after which you stray."

That last segment is focused on by the Artscroll Big Blue Edition that every shul has. And I quote, "We are enjoined to avoid any thought that could entice us to uproot a fundamental of the Torah. Human intelligence is limited and not everyone can ascertain the truth, so that a person can destroy his world if he follows his random thoughts. For example, if a person ruminates on whether or not there is a God, whether the prophecies are true, or whether the Torah is of heavenly origin - and he does not have the degree of knowledge and judgement to find the clear truth - he will be opening himself to heretical beliefs. Therefore, the Torah commands that one not explore after heart and eye lest he come to stray from belief in God (Rambam, Sefer HaMitzvos)."

In other words, don't think because you might think wrong. Good advice for an orthodoxy afraid of disagreement but bad for an effort of intellectual growth and understanding. To grow intellectually, the individual needs to understand that there's nothing horrible with being wrong but that through being wrong and discovery of why it is wrong, a stronger and better understanding is reached. Only things with something to hide need to rely on policing thought.

The Rabbi of my shul spoke about this as well. He said that people should follow things only through their faith and intellect and not because of emotional or physical reasons. And that I agree with - minus the faith. Faith is largely discordant with intellect. Indeed, faith could be called the quieting of the intellect. Don't think, just believe.

So I thought about the Frum Skeptics. Those who disbelieve for reasons on intellect and not due to emotional or physical reasons. They are following their intellect. They are not following their heart and they are not following their eyes. They're following their brain. They do not think "random thoughts" either. Their thoughts make sense and are in accordance with the evidence and are usually far more structured than the average believer.

I agree though, one should not become a skeptic simply because they want to boink the hot girl down the block or because they "feel" that Islam has something to offer, but one should only become skeptical through study and rational reasoning. Not only do the heart and eye people look selfish and foolish but their arguments are always weak. I only respect the rational skeptic. Not the angry skeptic. Not the hippie skeptic. Not the greedy or horny or lazy skeptic. Just the person who comes to his conclusions with a mind for truth and with rational reasoning at his side.


Sarah said...


It's interesting, because people always quote the Rambam as the rational one, the heretic, etc. And then you see statements like this, and you're forced to wonder what his deal really was. Eventually, I'll get around to really reading up on him, but until then I can only surmise.

Rambam also states pretty clearly in his hakdama to Sefer Hamitzvot that his book is meant for the masses, the replace the gemara which (I think ...) they no longer had the ability to learn, or just weren't putting in the effort or whatever. He also basically says a few times that he dumbs things down for people who don't understand more. So it seems that perhaps he said this for the people who wouldn't be thinking rationally - for the lazy skeptic, etc. And maybe he assumed that those who were thinking straight would realize and disregard his statement?

The more I think about it, the more I come to the conclusion that this must be somewhat accurate. After all, _he_ thought about these things. If he can, so can other intelligent people. It's just a question as to whether you're one of those intelligent few or one of the lazy masses, I guess.

Vilda Chaya said...

And what motivates the rational skeptic? I mean sure, we have the desire for truth and consistancy, and that is a strong motivator. But isn't it sometimes the desire to boink the hot girl down the street that gets us questioning in the first place? Why do we value critical thinking? Isn't valuing critical thinking and reason an emotional preference? We could be people who value spirituality and devotion to a higher power and that could be what drives us, but it isn't. We are driven by the desire to understand. Why does it matter what fuels that desire - as long as we wind up meeting the world on its own terms?

Ben Avuyah said...


That was very well spoken.

Anonymous said...

I believe the usage of "heart" in the Torah usually refers to intellectual considerations rather than irrational or romantic ones. "Eyes" would still be right though.


Orthoprax said...


That's likely. That quote, if accurate (I know I'm taking Artscroll to task here) would probably be from the fact that the Rambam had little faith in the powers of the stupid.


"But isn't it sometimes the desire to boink the hot girl down the street that gets us questioning in the first place?"

Maybe that may be. But until one reaches the rational point, the individual just hasn't reached that point.

"Why do we value critical thinking? Isn't valuing critical thinking and reason an emotional preference?"

An emotional preference? Not exactly. One can use critical thinking for reasons why we should use critical thinking. (It sounds circular but it isn't.) You can tell by its fruits. It wasn't faith that Newton was using.

Ben Avuyah,

Much thanks. ;-)


That may be, but I don't think the Torah distinguishes at all between the two. In either case, the distinction was made by my rabbi and that is to what I commented on.

Abu Gingy said...

"Faith is largely discordant with intellect. Indeed, faith could be called the quieting of the intellect. Don't think, just believe."

I like this. Spinoza puts the dichotomy in even sharper terms: obedience vs. reason.

Orthoprax said...

Abu gingy,

Glad you like it. Maybe the more I write the more lines I'll put down that others may find worthy of quoting, eh?