D’var Torah: Welcoming a ‘Second Naïveté’ can help deepen our faith

Rabbi Carnie Shalom Rose

Rabbi Carnie Rose

This week, the world over, we will be reading and studying the Torah portion of Bechukotai, which is drawn from the Book of Leviticus. Our weekly Parashah opens with the words:

“If you follow My CHUKIM (statutes) and faithfully observe My MITZVOT (commandments), I will grant rain so that the earth shall yield its produce and the trees their fruit. I will grant peace and you shall sleep with no fear. I will cause vicious beasts to withdraw from the land and your enemies will fall before you”. (Leviticus 26: 3-6)

For those familiar with the Torah, the opening words of this particular section are a bit jarring. After all, we have become accustomed to the words “The Lord spoke to Moses saying…” as the introduction or preamble to the majority of our scriptural readings. And whenever we encounter unique scriptural language, syntax that is a little bit out of the ordinary it serves as an opportunity to take note, pause and reflect upon why this particular passage deviates from the standard. 

This year, as I was reviewing the Parashah and its many commentaries, I came upon an insight attributed to the tradition of the school of the Rabbi of Ishbitz. He, along with many others, notes this somewhat unique opening, including the use of the word chukim, comes to underscore the notion that this Torah portion deals with matters which are beyond the comprehension of humans. These are laws and statutes do not fall into the category of “logical”, but rather are transcendent and incomprehensible if we utilize standard categories. We adhere to these statutes as a matter of faith rather than reason. We suspend the use of the rational, logical mind in order to experience something profound and spiritually elevating and uplifting. We apprehend and put into practice these laws not because they appeal to the faculties of the mind, the brain, but rather because they stimulate the heart space, the locus of our EMUNAH, faith. 

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As post-moderns, this kind of “blind faith” does not come easily. In so many ways, it runs contrary to the manner in which we live our lives. We want our religious-spiritual life to not only be meaningful, but also fit neatly into the categories of the rational and logical. The teaching of the Ishbitzer Rebbe seems totally incongruous with the kind of religion with which many resonate. 

So, is the Rebbe’s teaching simply anachronistic? Is it impossible to allow for it to inform our contemporary lives? I think not! 

A number of years ago, I was introduced to the writings of the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur. In his reflections, he posits three stages of faith: the pre-critical stage, the critical stage and finally, the post critical moment. Ricoeur suggests that as we mature in our faith, we begin by accepting religion as we are taught in childhood. At a certain point, we are exposed to the scientific and historical-critical methodology which destroys our overly simplified understandings of religion and faith. And finally, at a final stage, one that is far more sophisticated than either Stage I or Stage II, we return to belief but not from a place of pediatric naïveté, but rather as a matter of choosing to suspend our disbelief in order to allow for the flowering of faith. This we call Second (or Conscious) Naiveté and it can serve a profound role in our lives if we are honest and brave enough to appreciate its utility, profundity and power. 

And in this light, I believe we can all appreciate the comments of the Ishbitzer. There are moments in our lives when it is beneficial to act in ways not consistent with logic or rationality. These are moments of religious inspiration and ecstasy. Moments when we are moved by the Spirit of the Numinous that though we wish we could explain in standard categories, is not possible to do and yet are profoundly meaningful and moving.

It is my hope that as we read this section of our Sacred Writ that each of us can allow, from time to time, Second Naïveté to take over and transport us to ever higher heights and even deeper depths.

With blessings for a Shabbat filled with meaning, consequence and spiritual transcendence!

Rabbi Carnie Shalom Rose, D.Div., is The Rabbi Bernard Lipnick Senior Rabbinic Chair at Congregation B’nai Amoona and a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical and Cantorial Association, which coordinates the d’var Torah for the Light.