The people who keep insisting that it’s necessary to prove things about G-d, including His existence, seem to take it for granted that devising these proofs is identical with knowing G-d.
Now if I know a human being personally the last thing I’d do, except as a purely intellectual exercise, is prove his or her existence.
Focusing on the Philosopher’s G-d makes it difficult to see the Personal G-d. On the other hand, without theology, our picture of G-d is blurry, and often wrong.
So the question is, what is the appropriate balance between the two?
I found a variety of opinions:
1- The Rambam seems to belittle emunah peshutah. Yedi’ah is the key to olam haba. The hoi palloi may have to settle for the vague approximation of emunah peshutah, but the philosopher’s machshavah amuqah is superior.
2- The Baal haTanya invokes a mystical resolution. The conflict is a function of pursuing machshavah amuqah from a source other than the Yechidah Kelalis. (The one sage each generation who is like “Moshe in his generation”.) Through the unity of the national soul’s yechidah, a single view of G-d emerges even at both planes of existance.
3- At the other extreme, Rav Nachman miBreslov discouraged the study of theology, placing all value on having a relationship with HaQadosh barukh Hu. The philosopher’s G-d, while logically sound, is cold, transcendent and incomprehensible — very unconducive to this natural parent-child style relationship which is at the center of his definition of “deveiqus” and man’s tafqid.
4- The Brisker approach is to avoid the whole subject. As Rav Moshe Feinstein put it, it’s a hashkafah of not studying hashkafah. It differs from Rav Nachman’s position not so much in that they feel it’s wrong, but that it’s pointless. The ikkar is learning halakhah and man’s duty in this world.
R’ YB Soloveitchik puts forth this position in his essary Qol Dodi Dofeiq: The Jewish question [of tragedy] is not “Why?” but “How am I supposed to respond?” Rabbi Soloveitchik simply wasn’t curious about theological questions. His philosophy has an existentialist agenda. It doesn’t deal with questions of how G-d is or how He runs the world, but rather he presents a detailed analysis of the human condition and the world as we see it. Because our dilemma is part of the human condition, he discusses it as a dialectic. Rabbi Soloveitchik has no problem with the idea that we simultaneously embrace conflicting truths. However, he leaves little record of his own personal confrontation with the tension of this particular dialectic. I believe it’s his Brisker heritage.
The problem with positions 3 and 4 is that they do not have the support of either the scholastic rishonim (eg: Rav Saadia Ga’on, the Rambam, R’ Albo), the antischolastic rishonim (eg: R’ Yehudah haLevi), the kabbalistically inclined (eg: the Ramban), nor the Ramchal, the Besh”t, the Gra, R’ Chaim Vilozhiner… Their nature is that only an explicit discussion of our particular problem would turn up antecedents. One can’t argue from silence that some rishon agreed with them because perhaps he simply chose to commit his time to publishing in other areas.
5- When thinking about this further I realized that I assumed a different stance when writing AishDas’s charter. I think it warrants mention because I believe it’s the position of the Mussar Movement. It reflects the approach I see utilized by Rav Dessler in Michtav MeiEliyahu.
R’ Lopian defines mussar as dealing with the space of an amah — getting ideas from the mind to the heart. We often think things that don’t reflect how we feel and many of the forces that influence our decision-making. Akin to RYBS’s dialectic, we embrace different ideas and motives in different modes of our consciousness.
As for our contradiction, the question is one of finding unity between mind and its ability to understand and explain, to philosophize about G-d and His governance of the universe, and the heart and how we feel and react toward Him.
Emunah, bitachon, ahavas Hashem, yir’as Hashem, etc… are middos. They are not acquired directly through study, but through the tools of tiqun hamidos. (With the observation that constant return to a subject operates on both levels.) There is a reason why the kiruv movement is built on the experience of a Shabbos, and not some ultimate proof of G-d. (Aish haTorah’s “Discovery” program, the only counter-example that came to mind, is intended to be a hook, to pique people’s interest to get them to that Shabbos, not kiruv itself.)
Rather than seeing this as a dilemma, I saw it as a need. We can embrace both because each involves a very different component of self. And since avodah must be bekhol nafshekha, we actually MUST study both machshavah and mussar. Meaningful avodas Hashem must require involvement of both mind and heart.