The Desire to Know Reality and the Need for the Self-Expression of Man

Understanding the Interface Between Torah and Science

The goal of higher education has always been to satisfy and wed two of man’s most profound inner-yearnings: his desire to know reality and his need for self-expression. A true synthesis of these two aspirations can only be achieved after each has been adequately addressed independently. The first of these two is the foundation of all scientific endeavor, while the second forms the basis for man’s exploration of art and the humanities. The merging of the two, for the purpose of allowing the self to positively impact objective reality, can be viewed as the incentive behind the pursuit of technology, the professions, and what are known as the human or social sciences.

The integration of these fundamental spheres of human interest—the arts and the sciences—has always been an implicit aspect of the spiritual program embodied in the Torah. The Torah does not consider them as conflicting with its primary purpose—to satisfy yet another, infinitely more sublime yearning, the desire to “know G-d” and commit oneself to His will. On the contrary, the Torah teaches us that one can only approach Divine reality in the context of addressing the derivative realities of the self and the universe. The contemplation of Divinity is most complete when it avails itself of both a spiritual parable from the workings of the soul and a physical parable from the wonders of nature.

The intimate connection between the pursuit of Torah and a joint interest in the arts and sciences can be inferred from the numerical value of the word Torah (תורה = 611), which is the same as that of the words for art (אמנות = 497) and science (מדע = 114) combined.

In order to properly appreciate how the Divine wisdom of the Torah addresses and inspires the pursuit of the arts and the sciences, it is best to present the model (partzuf) that relates the sefirot, the basic forces that define the internal structure of reality, with each distinct sphere of human interest.


Wisdom: Mathematics

The first sefirah to emerge from the super-conscious realm of the soul and enter the soul’s consciousness is wisdom. As an intellectual faculty, wisdom is the mind’s direct insight to reveal the possible sphere of innovations and inventions that are the undercurrent of one’s present knowledge base. Wisdom thus provides the individual with the necessary prelude to further cognitive elaboration.

Wisdom includes the ability to intuitively grasp the principal abstract processes and relationships underlying physical reality; as such, it is best represented by the discipline of mathematics, the most fundamental and innovative field of intellectual inquiry. In contrast to the yet-undefined state that characterizes the super-conscious realm, the conscious realm introduced by wisdom is founded upon well-defined (though abstract) “form” and “structure.” Such is the nature of mathematics .

The field of mathematics, which employs the purest and most abstract processes of thought ,provides the basis for all ensuing constructions of consciousness. This is alluded to in the verse “Come to [the city of] Cheshbon [same word as “mathematics”], it shall be built and established….” Just as the Inner-dimensions of Torah interprets chochmah, the Hebrew word for wisdom to read ,the power of abstract being, so does it interpret the word for “thought” ( think in abstraction”—thus identifying the essence of mathematical thinking with chochmah.


Understanding: The Natural Sciences

Binah (understanding) is the power of analytical reason. Through the power of binah, the intuitive insight of chochmah is conceptually elaborated and then subjected to a rigorous process of logical analysis in context of real, observable phenomena. This function of intellect expresses itself best in the natural sciences of physics, chemistry, and biology. They represent the tangible arenas wherein the abstractions of mathematical theory can ultimately be applied, their relevance to reality thereby confirmed. (Chochmah and binah are referred to in the Zohar as “inseparable companions”10—”father” and “mother”—as first personified by Adam and Eve.).

The study of nature (is associated in the Inner-dimenions of Torah with Eve, the first woman and “mother of all life”(from which derives the idiom “mother nature”). Our sages teach us that an “additional measure of understanding (binah) was given to woman [Eve], more than to man,” supporting the correspondence between Eve and the faculty of binah.

The second law of thermodynamics, the law of entropy, expressing nature’s predisposition to chaos and disorder, reflects Eve’s vulnerability to the destructive
forces inherent in nature (as promoted by the primordial serpent of Eden). This, in the Inner-dimenions of Torah, is referred to as the tendency of binah toward “severe judgments” .

Though nature itself “stands forever,”14 man-made theories to understand its laws change from generation to generation. Theories overthrow theories and theories consume theories. Yet, each theory possesses a mathematical model, which, as an abstraction, is unchanging. So may we perceive the union of “father” and “mother,”
Adam and Eve, mathematics and the natural sciences.

by Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh

Galenai Publications Society

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