Monday, August 18, 2008

A Cynical, Argumentative One

I am thrilled to be part of the enterprise that we are embarking upon next week. A few years ago I taught a course at the NHC that was built on the foundation of A.J. Heschel’s Torah min Hashamayin Ba-Aspaklaria shel Hadorot (Heavenly Torah). In fact, it would be fair to say that the entire course was based on the first sentence of the first chapter: “The Torah stands on a dual foundation: on Halakhah and Aggadah.” The revolutionary importance of that sentence is that it aggressively insists that Aggadah is as important as Halakhah as a source of wisdom.

In Gordon Tucker’s Preface to his masterful translation of Heschel, he quotes from Heschel’s introduction to the second volume of Torah min Hashamayin: “Two have hold of a Tallit—the strict, austere one, and the cynical argumentative one. One says that doubt itself is forbidden by the Torah, and the other vows not to accept any dogma.” Tucker does a beautiful job of unpacking Heschel’s allusion to the opening of Bava Metzia, concluding, “Heschel seems to say that each side will have to yield some of its claimed certainty by swearing only to have not less than half of the truth. The remainder of religious truth will have to come out in the less certain path of Aggadah . . .”

For the next two years we trod this less certain path together. May it be for a blessing.

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