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12 – Go Out To Yourself

12 – Go Out To Yourself

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A SCIENTIST’S JOURNEY THROUGH TORAH 

Stuart Fickler, Ph.D. 

Chapter 12 – Go Out To Yourself

And the Lord said to Abram, "Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father's house, to the land that I will show you. (Genesis 12:1)

B”H

At the beginning of our journey, God designated humankind to rule over God’s earthly domain. It was then necessary for humans to become holy, even as God is holy. Then they would govern with God-like Justice. The first step toward this achievement required that they learn the difference between good and evil and be able to choose between them.

 We might consider the Garden of Eden to be an allegory that represents the state of closest relationship with God. Then the following series of learning experiences appear to have driven humanity further and further from God. Adam and Eve were exiled from Eden because they refused to take responsibility for their choices. Cain’s deadly, jealous rage and total lack of self-control, sent him fleeing east of Eden. The lawless self-indulgence of the generation of the Flood brought the remnants of humanity to Ararat. The idolatrous arrogance of the people of Babel scattered humankind to the furthest reaches of the Earth. Allegorically, humanity was as far from God as they could go.

The Torah is a message, a communication, from God. No matter how you choose to interpret that, the Torah, fundamentally, is a communication between humanity and that which exists beyond us and defines our existence. Every message must contain a purpose and a process; context and content. The first eleven chapters of Genesis establish the context of the Torah. Its purpose is to provide us with the means to end the self-imposed separation and alienation between humanity and God. The rest of the Torah deals with the process which will achieve that purpose and the goal of fulfilling the Prime Directive.

What was the purpose of this epic ordeal? At the beginning of Creation, God dedicated humankind to the purpose of connecting God’s earthly creation with the transcendent “image” of God. If that is the case, why didn’t God give Adam and Eve the Torah, let them study it and get to work?

The answer was given by Confucius: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” You can’t fully appreciate light until you experience darkness. You can’t fully appreciate connection until you experience separation.

There still remains a long way to go. The journey back begins with the Patriarch first introduced as Abram. The first command that God gives to the Patriarch is quoted above. The Hebrew for “go forth” or “go out from” is lech lecha. The Rabbis have noted that lech lecha is intransitive. It can also be translated as go out to yourself. What a strange command! Or is it?

That “strange command” takes us to the foundation of both Judaism and Science. Its insight into the nature of human thought and our perception of the world around us is astounding. Maimonides taught that to fulfill our purpose, we must acquire knowledge of God. Lech lecha challenges all of us to embark on that spiritual quest. It also presents us with the Mystery of Mysteries: In order to know God, you must know yourself. In order to know yourself, you must know God. Remember, paradox is the gateway to wisdom.

It is now necessary to make a brief detour into what we now know about the nature of the human mind. It is our mind that provides our perception of the world. In the early stages of development, our mind forms a model of what the world should be. The input data for this model is provided by family, friends, community and teachers. After a certain point, the mind seeks to fit all future data into that model. This is necessary for our survival. It is the basis for stability in our lives.

There is a simple example that might help to clarify these ideas. It is something that most of us have experienced. You are driving along a country road. In the distance, you see a man standing on the edge of the road. When you get closer, you discover that you were looking at a rural mailbox. When you saw the man, you were still too far away for visual data to provide a complete picture. 

The mind immediately went to its model and filled in the missing data. It perceptually saw a man. If you had turned off the road before the external data identified it as a mailbox, you would have testified that you saw a man.

Maimonides recognized this in his discussion of barriers to the acquisition of truth. “The same is the case with those opinions of man to which he has been accustomed from his youth; he likes them, defends them, and shuns the opposite views. This is likewise one of the causes which prevent men from finding truth, and which make them cling to their habitual opinions.” (Guide, Chapter XXXI.)

Now the words of Genesis 12:1 become clear. Leave your familiar surroundings. Perceive the world as it really is. Find yourself in that world. Confront the reality of God that exists beyond your simple perception. End idolatry. Then, you and the generations to come will achieve the purpose that God established for you at the time of Creation.

We have seen how narcissism has resulted in the separation of the human being from others and from God. This separation leads to a disconnected world; a world in which we are isolated and alone. [As I write this, I am reminded of my growing up in New York City. One of the loneliest places that I have ever known was in a packed rush hour subway car.] Extreme narcissism demands that you go into yourself. Everyone and everything exists solely to support your perception of the world. The only response left to the narcissist is idolatry.

Judaism seeks a connected world. Although the Creation required separation for its existence, it did not require disconnection. To the contrary, Judaism’s vision is that of a totally and harmoniously connected creation that is ultimately bound to God. Within the realm of our earthly creation, it is the role of humanity to ensure and sustain that connection. This is the essential meaning of tikkun olam.

The sages teach that our own lives are reflected in the lives of the Patriarchs. The command, lech lecha, was given to one person, Abraham. Why just one? In order to teach us that to achieve the goal of repairing the world, it is necessary for each of us to go out to ourselves.

With God’s help, to be continued. Next time: “The ‘Science’ of Judaism”

Emet v’chaim.

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