The ideal and the real world

(Second in a series summarizing the book Halachic Man)

The philosopher reveals the rules of existence while the religious man sees the mystery beyond the rules. These dichotomous stances are actually interwoven into existence. The more that is revealed of reality the more it turns out is hidden. The ultimate goal of knowing is to know that we don’t know.

The religious person sees a multi-layered reality. This world is only a reflection of another higher world. He wants to experience this other intangible reality. Sometimes this leads the religious person to separate himself from material existence completely in order to transcend this world. The philosopher on the other hand is only interested in tangible existence. His purpose is to discover the laws of the universe. He wants to know: What makes things tick?

The world view of halachic man is different from both of them. All that has ever been said concerning the philosophy of religion cannot do justice to explaining how halachic man relates to the world. The religious man relates to the world in a variety of ways: fear, longing, dependence, curiosity, etc.

The philosopher relates to the world in one of two ways: a) he delves into reality and formulates orderly rules to live by or b) he builds his own ideal orderly world in an attempt to triumph over the mystery. This is the nature of the exact sciences. The tangible, actual triangle is only an approximation of the ideal triangle. He relates to the world as a correlative of the ideal.

Halachic man approaches reality from an a priori perspective with a full set of rules in his pocket, the perspective of Torah. Halacha is essentially an ideal world that tells halachic man how to relate to the real world. He looks at a well and it’s not just a well. He has a whole slew of a priori laws that establish the nature of this body of water and tell him how to relate to it. Nothing transcendent creates holiness. Nature creates holiness.

When he sees a sunrise or a sunset, he sees his obligations and responsibilities in relation to it. At the start of a new day it is time to recite the shema. The New Year is time to blow the shofar, the Succot festival to take the lulav and etrog. From fruit growing on the tree to the biological functions of a human being, every single thing in life is measured. Halacha relates to absolutely all of reality. He looks at this reality from the perspective of halachic categories with an eye towards creating an ideal world.

If a certain halacha will only be applied in the future, this doesn’t concern him. He looks to the future when the ideal will become real. The imperfect present reality is only a passing phase. Even if a certain halacha will never be applied in a practical sense, it remains a subject of inquiry as an ideal expression of the will of God being expressed through it.

In this section of Halachic Man I am reminded of the book Alei Shur where the author comments that the Torah has no need for scientific proof because defining the real world is not its area of concern. Science defines existence as it is, in contrast to Torah which defines existence as it ideally could be.

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