Is it a coincidence that “why” in the plural sounds like “wise”? Yes. Actually it is a coincidence. So I will force the connection myself. Wisdom is closely related to the capacity to reason from the logic of multiple moral purposes, the awareness that more purpose-logics exist that we can imagine, and the virtue to recognize when we are encountering an (as yet) unimaginable other-why.
The moral imperative that I feel most intensely is to acknowledge, respond to and relate to realities who are not myself, and to value most of all those real others who want to return my acknowledgment, to respond back and to form a relationship with me — or at least to some degree.
My difficulty is in the ethics of “to some degree”: how does one relate to an other who prefers to reduce some or all of one’s own reality to that of their own self? That is, they prefer their belief of you to the reality of you? That is, they do not share your transcendence ethic? Or are hostile to your transcendence ethic? Clearly, we cannot treat those who approach us as mere idea the same way as those who approach us as transcendent realities of our own, but that does not mean we should respond to them as they respond to us.
This is a digression, though. The main point I wanted to document is this: I believe the moral requirement to acknowledge, respond to and relate oneself to the reality of transcendence, however it approaches us (which is generally more burdensome than magical), is absolute. I hang my belief in God on this simple but all-pervasive faith: I cannot not believe we are commanded to transcend.
This faith is compatible with many forms of atheism, actually, though I prefer to interpret God into my understanding. It is incompatible with all denominations of Fundamentalism, which I do not accept as religion, and in fact reject as anti-religion, being as it is the attempt to reduce transcendence to mere idea, factual “faith” and “belief”, leaving the “believer” hostile to what stands outside their faith, that is, whatever reality transcends what they can grip with their mind’s little fingers.
A forgotten snark from 2013: “If only it were as easy to agree on the truth as it is to know it.”
I’m going to have to work this into my Ten Thousand Everythings pamphlet.
While I traveled the last two weeks I finished memorizing the V’ahavta.
V’ahavta et Adonai Elohecha,
You shall love Adonai your God
with all your heart,
with all your soul,
and with all your might.
For the purposes of this meditation, morality will be defined as immediate valuing: discerning (or mis-discerning) what is good or bad, or both at once, or neither. It is not the same as ethical codification, or deliberation over what is right, or even resolve to submit to what is good. It is value as we have it, as “experienced”.
With our being — with our moral heart, with our knowing soul and with our active might — we live within our world, a finite portion of God.
With all our being — all our heart, all our soul and all our might — we love beyond our world toward God, a finite speck of whom is each of us.
The beyondness, toward which our finite being exists in relation with God’s infinitude, extends from immediate presence of self, time and cosmos into inconceivable nothingness of Spirit, Eternity and Apeiron, which are dimensions of One: Echad.
(These dimensions might not be the only or even best way to conceive extensions toward infinity from immediate presence, but they are the ones most natural to me, personally, in this place, time and state of existence.)
With all our being entails more than simple feeling or simple knowing or simple doing, or even each of the three in turn. With all our being means simultaneously valuing knowingly and actively, knowing actively and valuingly, and acting feelingly and knowingly.
And loving with all our being means preferring a beloved beyondness more than preserving the particular being with which we presently love, our own self. It means allowing love to change who our self is, in response to loving a beloved.
This change of love, in every case, draws us toward the nothingness of infinitude despite our anxiety, into it despite our dread, across it despite our despair, and to the other side where love is consummated and prepared for the next traversal.
Anyone who cannot face being changed for love by love, who understands God to be found where bliss points and away from dread, will confuse God with the being of one’s own existence, not the One toward which love draws more than dread repels.
The misinterpretation of experience toward God is the corruption of religion in this time, and maybe all times.
What is religion? Religion is the conscious effort to situate ourselves within a reality that involves but infinitely exceeds us conceptually (soul), practically (might) and morally (heart).
It is not a merely physical reality that is, nor a merely spiritual reality who lives, nor a mere story unfolding, but all of these, and others we might one day come to experience and others no finite being can experience. God comes to us as constancy, as fate, as shock, as longing — as the destiny of going-toward-God-despite — as insistence wrestling with existence.
I’m shocked I can say a public prayer and mean it, albeit in my own way, but in a public made up of individuals who are all expected to say things in one’s own way. In Judaism (at least Reform Judaism), saying words in unison does not mean saying them unanimously. It is a perfect resolution of my need to be who I am in my way, but to do so without being isolated.
Sh’ma Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad.
Baruch shem k’vod malchuto l’olam va-ed.
V’ahavta et Adonai Elohecha,
This is my understanding from the last decade, finally translated into my native Hebrew.
Today is my mikvah.
Sometime around 10:45-11:15am EST other Jews will know me as a fellow Jew.
I cannot explain why this matters so much to me, but it does. And I understand why many people cannot understand how much this matters to me or why it matters, but I hope those who love me can respect where their understanding fails.
In a little over a day from now I hope I’ll just feel like a fellow Jewish philosopher attempting, yet again, to say the same impossible-to-say truth both these Jewish philosophers are attempting to say.
One thing I love about Rosenzweig is that he seems to understand and respond to the same thing that matters so much to me in Nietzsche’s thought.
He says this about Nietzsche: “Poets had always dealt with life and their own souls. But not philosophers. And saints had always lived life and for their own soul. But again — not the philosophers. Here, however, was one man who knew his own life and his own soul like a poet, and obeyed their voice like a holy man, and who was for all that a philosopher. What he philosophized has by now become almost a matter of indifference. … But none of those who now feel the urge to philosophize can any longer by-pass the man himself, who transformed himself in the transformation of his mental images…”
There have been countless philosophers wrote their philosophies in verse or poetic language, or who have philosophized while trying to live saintly lives. Many philosophers have philosophized about poets and poetry, or saints and saintliness. There have even been some philosophers have philosophized poetically about poetry or lived a saintly life philosophizing about saintliness. But strangely, none of these things conveys what a philosopher-poet or philosopher-saint does. With this in mind, I’ve been developing a another philosopher-hybrid ideal: philosopher-designer. This is not a well-designed presentation of philosophy, a philosophy about design, or a well-designed presentation of philosophy about design… but something else that feels enormously important (if not for the world, at least for me) and profoundly Jewish (if not for all Jews, at least for me).