All is in the Bible
Rabbi Israel Chait
BEN BAG BAG SAID, “TURN IT OVER, AND [AGAIN] TURN IT OVER, FOR ALL IS THEREIN. AND LOOK INTO IT; AND BECOME GRAY AND AGED THEREIN; AND DO NOT MOVE AWAY FROM IT, FOR YOU HAVE NO BETTER PORTION THAN IT.”
The next mishnah is authored by Ben Hay Hay. He was a convert. He called himself the son of Abraham and Sarah. Abraham received an additional letter ה [God changed his name from Abram to Abraham: אברם-אברהם], as did Sarah [God changed her name from Sarai to Sarah: שרי-שרה]. Therefore, he calls himself a direct descendent of these 2 people: their intellectual descendent. Ben Bag Bag means the same thing, as Bag is composed of the letters ב ג which equal 5, the numerical amount of .ה Ben Hay Hay said to constantly turn over Torah, digging beneath the surface, investigating and pondering it. This is because he said everything is in Torah. Is that true? If I wish to know astronomy, should I study Torah? You might say like Maimonides, that we had our own astronomy: “The children of Issachar, knowing understanding of times” (I Chron. 12:33). They knew astronomy before the Greeks. But even so, is there nothing more to study than “their” astronomy? Was every astronomical discovery that was ever to be made, known through their astronomy? I don’t agree. What about biology and other areas? Besides the major headings and the particulars, the [scientific] subjects are almost infinite. So, what is meant by “Everything is in Torah?” Maimonides acquired his knowledge in all fields by studying the field and not studying Torah. You cannot learn biology by studying Chumash. That makes no sense.
If someone would study Torah and nothing else, he would achieve total perfection. Maimonides says love of God is tied to knowledge of the universe. But in his Sefer Hamitzvos he cites Torah wisdom [too] as a means towards loving God. Thus, if one studies Torah alone and learns proper ethics and philosophical ideas, Torah is a complete system. That is not a bad explanation of “All is in Torah.” [But there is another explanation.]
Every area of knowledge is based on certain philosophical premises. “Turn it over” means that all the underlying philosophical premises of every science are in Torah. There’s no such thing as a science with philosophical conclusions that oppose the philosophical conclusions of Torah. If a science’s philosophical conclusions oppose Torah’s philosophical conclusions, that science’s ideas are wrong. The question in modern physics of materialism versus mentalism is definitely one that Judaism can resolve. That is, the underlying entities of the universe are mental: ideas [expressed in laws]. The physical is only an aberration, an illusion. Scientists stated this through the centuries and it is clear from Judaism. Torah’s analytic approach and methodology are all metaphysical and corroborates that conclusion. These exist not only metaphysically, but they reach down deep into the world of human thought.
There is a current argument among the scientists: “How should knowledge of man proceed: Should we follow the beauty of arguments? Or should we concentrate more on practical experiments and forget about the appreciation of ideas, [for] is that really part of the mind?” The greatest scientists in the world debate this. Judaism casts its vote for the appreciation of ideas. If there is no beauty to an idea, you might as well abandon it; it’s worthless. Judaism definitely tells us which approach is correct. It is true, today most scientists go in the other direction. And 50 to 60 years ago they leaned the other way, our way. And before that, again and they leaned away from ideas and favored experimentation. Judaism might not discuss the atom, but it provides the idea for the correct approach in human thought. “T urn it over, turn it over for all is therein” does not refer to details but to general principles. Judaism’s principles are correct and if one wants to know where to go, if he is lacking intuition, Judaism can point the direction.
The same is true regarding psychology, there are many views. But the question is whether the behavioristic approach is the correct one, or is the conceptual approach correct? Again, most favor the behavioristic approach; there’s always a draw away from the ideas [and towards what’s tangible]. Judaism says this too is incorrect. Man, from youth, believes that what is sensual is real. Man finds it difficult to break away from this belief; he is very partial to it. But Judaism maintains this is wrong: investigations into animal behavior bear no insight into human behavior. This is nonsensical and it is heretical. “ And H e blew into his nostrils a soul of life” (Gen. 2:7) says that man has a different element than animal; human intelligence is different. It is a waste of time to investigate animals intending to correlate them to man. The attempt to recognize the uniqueness of the human mind, to find out what it is, would be time better spent.
Judaism’s principles affect every area, even epistemology. It is nothing short of amazing that when one studies Torah and sees that these ideas existed in Chazal’s time, one recognizes how advanced was their method of thinking. The Rav says that when you study the most advanced methods of science today, they are not nearly as advanced as our methods of gemara analysis. The great [scientific] minds don’t even approach Chazal’s and the Rishonim’s perfection of thought; the former are almost shallow. Our methodology and approach surpass even today’s scientific approach, let alone the dark ages.
Aristotle’s big mistake was thinking that the world was simpler than it is; it’s called “naïve realism.” One example is that one assumes a table is in reality what a person senses. This was rejected as false. The world is more complex and deeper and even surface phenomena that we experience are not real, in this sense that our minds tell us that it is real. [A solid table actually has more space than matter; there is greater space between atoms and molecules than there are atoms and molecules.] Aristotle assumed that God’s wisdom is simpler than it is. Humility demands human experimentation. We must be humble and not assume but learn through experimentation. Once we uncover truths through our findings, then we can theorize. But the question is, where does the quest end? Am I at the end [of intellectual query] when I see a beautiful idea, or when I can simply summarize a phenomenon, regardless of its beauty?
Every science is based on principles, and those principles are found in Torah. There is a tremendous value in checking for the principles, for by checking and learning the principles, you gain insight into how to further yourself in other areas. Thus, Torah study is significantly related to every area of investigation.
How great are Your works? You made all of them with wisdom; the world is full of Your acquisitions... Almighty, blessed, great is Your wisdom, You prepared and made the sun’s light ...
This forms part of our morning prayers. God’s endless wisdom in forming light was recognized by the Anshei Kinesess Hagadola (The Men of the Great Assembly) and this is what scientists have focused on. In light lies tremendous wisdom. The Anshei Kinesess Hagadola predated the scientists and recognized God’s wisdom in light. God created all man’s necessities. Even drugs are derived from natural sources. We don’t know the way most of them work. And the ones that we do understand, we arrived at that understanding only after years of unraveling [their properties]. But anyone who tells you what science will be able to do [in the future] is daydreaming. A matter that [at first] seems most simple can [ultimately] be the most difficult task. One does not know what he will encounter. It is like studying a sugya; one can’t say he will understand it tomorrow. Scientists who say, “We are about to do X,” are arrogant people. You must differentiate between science and a scientist. A scientist has the same emotions as everyone else. Therefore, when he’s talking with his emotions [making grandiose predictions of discoveries] there is no reality to his words. When I was a teenager, they said it doesn’t pay to quit smoking because by the time you get cancer, a cure will have already been discovered. Everyone was convinced that cancer would be obliterated in 5 years. They said this because they had just cured a series of diseases; they were very successful. All infectious diseases were falling one after the other. Man gets very arrogant and feels that he will cure every disease. To say, “We are about to make a breakthrough” is nonsense. You don’t know about a breakthrough until you discover it.
Knowing how the mind works itself is a tricky endeavor. This is because what you are using to discover the mind’s mechanics, is the mind itself. So already you are in trouble. The main thing is to know what the mind is. For if you don’t know what the mind is [assuming it is the right tool to explore, when maybe it is not] you might be using the wrong faculty to begin with [to explore the mind]. In such a case, you can’t possibly get any further than where you started from. [It is essential to learning that one knows how to explore, question, reason and deduce. Otherwise, one is stuck and cannot advance his knowledge.]
Torah has very significant information regarding what the mind is. If people had greater knowledge of Torah’s basic principles, they would advance quicker. This is because they would know which areas to approach, instead of waiting for centuries for one person who happens to find an opening due to his good intuition. Science has no rules. If you can show predictability and make discoveries, people will listen to you [you will be accepted by the scientific world]. There is no specific formula of how to think in science. If you can explain your idea and people understand you, then you are in the realm of science. But what kind of thought should be applied concerns none, other than Judaism.
When explaining a Tosfos, I can communicate the explanation and yet I did not fulfill my obligation. This is because I did not say it any certain way. No one thinks this way. But in explaining Tosfos, I must use precision. [In Judaism] we have in our mind a certain formula for an idea. An idea must properly align with the formula. Once it fits, it clicks in the mind. Then we understand, and not before, even though one communicated and described one’s thoughts [to us]. In Judaism there is an insistence on a type of precise thinking. That is why a talmid chocham can listen to any area and define the concept better than the originator. This is because the talmid chocham knows how to define any matter in concise terms, where it fits in properly and exactly into the categories of the human mind and thought. Here is where Judaism reigns supreme and is far advanced over other methods. Judaism demands more than simple communication: it requires a certain type of thinking.
Torah holds that the mind is an area unto itself. A Torah student recognizes aspects of his internal life. A typical person will vote for a particular politician because of his appeal, although the person does not know why he finds him appealing. The person cannot analyze why; people can’t think beyond a certain point. But when a person studies Torah, he learns that there is an area of mind, which he distinguishes from the rest of his internal life. One must recognize what is mind and what is not. When an idea has appeal, that appeal can be emotional, explaining why the idea is accepted. But with intellect, one applies a sense of reality to phenomena, [a reality] beyond the physical. No animal can do this. An animal cannot conceptualize a principle causing fruit to fall from trees. [Animals are engaged purely in physical interaction; they are unrelated to any metaphysical reality, such as thought and concepts which exist beyond the physical world.] An animal’s instincts drive it towards something. It can even accustom itself to follow a series of actions to obtain its instinctual desires. But it can never think, “There is a reality here.”
The specifics [like this animal example] are not found in Torah. But you also won’t find anything in Torah that opposes the truths and realities of the universe. There is no doubt that the many years of research that ended in dead-ends could have been avoided, if these researchers knew Torah.
Throughout time, the way of Torah thinking—in both Torah She’Bicsav and Torah She’Baal Peh —demanded that if an idea was not in line with Torah thinking, the idea must be wrong. One is obligated to then question such an idea, and not simply bury the question. One must question every aspect of Torah, and if he does not, he is forfeiting his entire right of free will regarding knowledge.
Another example is the psychoanalytic approach in psychology. This approach divides the mind into components: superego, ego and id. I have seen other positions which oppose the psychoanalytic approach because they claim, “When you examine the brain you don’t find labels for these 3 parts.” Any Torah student knows that such opposition is nonsensical; the person has no concept of what thinking is all about. Thinking means [for example] that if I claim people have emotions, and I can demonstrate that certain emotions share a common root, it is a logical deduction [that a commonality exists between emotions]. My next deduction is that these emotions emanate from a common source. I do not need to open up the brain and find them. One who wished to find them in the brain operates without rules and principles. [People feel they can make any claim] “It doesn’t say, ‘superego’ on the brain” [and feel justified in their claim]. It’s a free-for-all in the world of science, and when you get away from the pure sciences the free-for-all is even greater. In areas like sociology and psychology, people’s claims get worse.
Judaism teaches one how to think and how to recognize how certain approaches are unrelated to the mind. The nonsense quoted above demonstrates that such people seek something physical and tangible, and that they are not thinking.
In his Guide (book II, chap. xii) Maimonides discusses magnetic fields:
T he magnet attracts iron from a distance through a certain force communicated to the air round the iron. T he magnet therefore does not act at all distances...
When 2 magnets attract each other, it is not that one magnet attracts the other magnet through space. For how can one object attract or affect another object through space? There must be some connection. That is why they say there exists a field. Field means the space between these 2 magnets is somehow changed. That is why the 2 magnets relate; they relate through the medium of the space. Maimonides said this exactly long before this rather recent theory by physicists. A talmid chocham would conclude that action at a distance is impossible. His mind would tell him so. But much effort has been spent trying to defend action at a distance.
Another question is whether an idea is based on a physical phenomenon in the brain. If you hit a person [hard enough] on his head, you will incapacitate his thinking. It is therefore obvious that the brain’s mechanisms are tied to thought. But we maintain that the appreciation of thought and thought itself are not functions of the brain, but they are functions of the soul. As one of the ancients put it:
With degeneration of the eye in old age, sight decreases. But if you replaced old eyes with young and heal thy eyes, vision would be perfect. This is because the brain upon which vision registers is fine. N ow , just as the eye is to the brain, the brain is to the soul; it stands in the same relationship. If one’s brain is damaged and he can’t think, it is a brain issue and not that the soul is impaired or gone.
The ideas are there but he can’t access them in this existence unless the mechanics of the brain operate properly. The brain is a tool like the eye, but the appreciation of wisdom and the ideas themselves exist in the world of the soul.
This last idea is important and is based on the universe. In the universe as well, physical objects are only instances of ideas which are present in some unknown way. Ideas are somehow present and guide all physical phenomena. Every phenomenon is one instance, but the idea [natural law] is an eternal concept. A particular rock which was just destroyed after it fell can no longer fall since it was destroyed. But other rocks can fall because the principle exists. That principle is not a physical phenomenon. It exists, but not as the rock exists. Now, the mind can tune itself into that world beyond the physical. That is the uniqueness of human thought and the human mind. That is why the world of ideas is a world beyond physical. The world of mind is also beyond the physical. But to function in this existence, the brain must be functional.
Maimonides says that there is knowledge that does not require memory. When the mind learns how to think and improves itself and has intuition, that intuition needs no memory. It is like an intrinsic improvement in the apparatus of the soul itself, not the brain. It is the same brain this person had 20 years ago; the soul is what has been refined. The existence of the soul and the existence of ideas are interrelated. Just like ideas exist beyond physical phenomena, the soul that can tap into those ideas is also beyond the physical. That is the part of man that is beyond the physical world, the Tzelem Elohim: the uniqueness of human thought, the special gift that God gave man and why we say, “W ho gave from H is wisdom to flesh and blood” (Berachos 58a), the blessing recited upon seeing the wise men of Israel.
AND LOOK INTO IT
Maimonides says this refers to seeing the truth. But what does this add to the previous statement of turning over the Torah from all sides? The next statement in the mishnah is, “Grow old and aged in the Torah and never remove yourself from Torah for there is no portion better than it .” When asked what Judaism is, one philosopher correctly said, “The sum total of human knowledge.” This mishnah says the same.
The secrets of knowledge are all in Torah. Many times, they are staring at you and you cannot see them because they are not on the level, but they are right there. As one grows in knowledge, certain things start “lighting up.” But at first, one cannot see them because one is in the hold of his emotions. As one progresses, he sees the secrets of Torah, as it says in Avos 6:2. The secrets are certain matters that one who is on the [required and advanced] level starts recognizing. He was going in the wrong direction before [explaining why he didn’t see them]—sometimes because of his desires, and sometimes because of his yetzer hatov. Chofetz Chaim said, “Satan gets us from the front and the back.” The front I understand [our instincts attack us face-on]. But what is the back? This means the instincts get behind you and push you in your current direction, from the “back.” For example, a person learns many hours and wants to sleep. But Satan says, “Keep learning all night.” That is Satan pushing in from the back, and this will run him down. Sometimes one’s mistakes are not due to desires, but because one does not see reality due to an incorrect self-image that blocks the truth. The answers are all found in Judaism, but you have to be able to see them.
The story of Jonah contains a primary fundamental. But the person operating on an infantile level will be blind to it. In Judaism as one develops, he sees deeper and deeper ideas, different ideas. But he wasn’t ready to see such truths beforehand. “ And look into it” means if you look with your mind’s eye, you will see it.
What is the truth? It is that which is contrary to the emotional conclusion. Truth is based upon wisdom, not emotions. Previous conclusions were emotionally made and false. As you progress, you see true ideas and you are astounded at them. You see your mistakes. “ Age in Torah” is the same idea. One gains knowledge in 2 ways: through advancement and through age. Age provides a special kind of progress. Socrates said, “When the eye of the body is weak, the eye of the mind is strong.” As one ages, he uncovers new matters in Torah and new ideas that he could not see as a younger person. To become gray and aged in Torah, new ideas become part of his life and his makeup; part of his existence and his nature.
AND DO NOT MOVE AWAY FROM IT, FOR YOU HAVE NO BETTER PORTION THAN IT.
In other areas, one advances and there is a hierarchy: once in calculus, one no longer studies algebra. But in Torah it is not that way: one does not advance to another subject. Torah is an unusual subject: one is raised in it, he advances in it, and he never advances out of it. And if you do leave it, you’re leaving a trait that is integral to your nature. Rabbi Akiva entered pardase [the study of metaphysics] and exited successfully. Did he stop learning? No. The prophets studied the abstract halachic area of Taharus and could not fully comprehend it. One cannot get away from Torah; everything is in it: metaphysics, Maaseh Mercavah, all the principles are in Torah as we said. And I did not even discuss the principles in metaphysics because they are so far removed from our personal lives. Maaseh Mercavah is the highest metaphysics.
“And do not move away from it” refers to halacha. One should never abandon Torah She’Baal Peh because it fits a person’s mind, the method of thinking, the approach. It is akin in a physical sense to one saying that he will abandon exercise. It is impossible because if man stops moving, he dies. So too, the abstract method of halachic thought is a natural environment for one’s mind. It is constructed that way, satisfying every component of the intellect: the mathematical component the conceptual component, [all components].