The Logic of the Impossible- Part 1

This is part 1 of 3.

Following Yom Kippur, I would like to share with the readers some thoughts about one of the most significant passages of Torah.

The utterance of the Almighty, which is the main topic of this article, radically and forever changed our world. This utterance determined the fate of our nation and the purpose of our existence. This utterance was the subject of numerous comments for millennia.

Today, a few days after Yom Kippur, we have to try to understand what unites all of us, living in various parts of the world. Of course, there is common origin; of course, there is Torah. But, unfortunately, not all of us read Torah and not all of us attach great significance to common origin. 

From my point of view (I wrote about it in my book From Infinity to Man) there is something more to it. At the time of Great Revelation at the foothills of Mt. Sinai, all of us were present- those who were alive and the souls of the dead and unborn. Therefore, in the mental space of every Jew there is a burning point of the Great Revelation, and we are all connected through this point. Many of us don’t feel it. It is buried deep under loads of everyday problems. It’s time now to reunite ourselves with the point of the Great Revelation of Sinai!

The Exodus from Egypt was an omnisignificant event not only in the life and history of the Jewish people, but for the world as a whole.

Let us recall how the story of the Exodus begins. 

The Almighty addresses Moses from a burning bush (Shemot 3:2), and entrusts him with a mission to go to Pharaoh, instruct him to ‘let My People go’, and then lead the Jewish people out of Egypt. Moses, who had a brilliant intellect, responds to this divine communication and speaks with the Almighty about the conditions that he believes would ensure the mission’s success:

Moses asks, “Who am I?” (“In what capacity do I go?”) and the Almighty replies that “I will be with you” (Shemot 3:11-12).

Moses asks God to tell him His name, in order to understand the capacity in which God reveals Himself to the Jewish people. God responds by revealing not only His name(s) but also some of the esoteric doctrines alluded to in the divine name (Shemot 3:13-15 and classical commentaries thereon). 

Moses asks what to do if the Jews do not believe him. God responds by granting him the ability to perform miraculous signs (Shemot 4:1-9).

Moses tells the Almighty that he does not have the gift of eloquence. God responds: “Who makes a mouth for man, or who makes [one] dumb or deaf or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? So now, go! I will be with your mouth, and I will instruct you what to speak.” (Shemot 4:10-12).

But this answer does not satisfy Moses and he says, “I beseech You, O Lord, send now with whom You would send.” The Almighty tells Moses that his brother Aaron will speak for him; he will be his ‘mouthpiece’ (Shemot 4:13-16).

After this conversation, Moses believes that all the “conditions for success” have been specified and put in place, and he sets out for Egypt.

Moses and Aaron go to the Jewish People, perform miraculous signs before them, and tell them the joyful news of the forthcoming deliverance. The Jews believe them. Moses and Aaron then return to Pharaoh and deliver the edict from the Almighty that he must release the Jews from Egypt to serve G-d. And then something incredible happens: Pharaoh not only refuses to release the Jews, but even  makes their life and work-load much worse and more difficult. Their burden becomes intolerable. But that is not the end of the story. The Jews accuse Moses and Aaron of being imposters, not messengers of the Almighty. They say, “May the Lord look upon you and judge, for you have given us a foul odor in Pharaoh’s eyes.” (Shemot 5:21). 

For Moses, who infinitely loves the Jewish people, their lack of belief in him means the complete failure of the mission and a personal disaster. Let us try to logically follow the course of his thoughts. 

Moses had already been informed by God that  Pharaoh would not immediately let the Jews out of Egypt, and that he would do so only after great punishments were inflicted on the Egyptians (Shemot 3:19-20). So he expects punishments to follow Pharaoh’s refusal, which would then lead to the Jews’ deliverance. But when instead of releasing the Jews from Egypt Pharaoh made their lives more difficult, there was no immediate punishment. 

The logic of Moses’s reasoning can be imagined as follows: 

  1. The Almighty is all-powerful and always speaks the truth. 
  2. Therefore, Pharaoh should have immediately been punished after refusing to release the Jews and, after that, he should have let them go. 
  3. However, the opposite has happened. 

One of the main tasks of logic is to determine how to reach a conclusion from the prerequisites and obtain true knowledge about the subject of deliberation. A frequently practiced type of proof in classical logic is proof by contradiction (reductio ad absurdum). According to this principle, if the conclusion obtained from the prerequisite contradicts reality, then the prerequisite is not true.  

From the point of view of classical logic, point 3 refutes point 1. But for Moses, the omnipotence and truth of the Almighty are indisputable. As a result, Moses’ system of logical reasoning crumbles, he experiences a state of moral collapse, and he cannot continue the mission in such a state. He decides to confront the Almighty. “O Lord! Why have You harmed this people? Why have You sent me? Since I have come to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has harmed this people, and You have not saved Your people.” (Shemot 5:22-23).

God responds, “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh, for with a mighty hand he will send them out…” (Shemot 6:1).

Apparently, this answer does not satisfy Moses, as it says what will happen in the future but does not explain the events that have already occurred. Reading further,we encounter the following statement:

“God (Elohim) spoke to Moses, and He said to him, “I am Havayah [the divine name YHWH]. I appeared to Abraham, to Yitzhak, and to Jacob with [the name] Almighty God (El Shaddai), but [with] My name YHWH, I did not become known to them.”(Shemot 6:2-3).

This passage from the Torah has been the subject of numerous comments. Let us briefly consider the main ones. 

Rashi,based on the Midrash, believes that the words of the Almighty in this passage are intended as a reproach to Moses, contrasting him to the three patriarchs: “You have doubted My ways, unlike Abraham to whom I said, ‘…For in Yitzhak shall you have posterity,’” (Bereshit 17:19) and then said, “Bring him up there for a burnt offering (Bereshit 22:2), and he did not doubt Me” (although the second statement clearly contradicted the first). Rashi sees the words ”I am Havayah [YHWH]” as carrying the message “I am faithful to My promises and I can be relied upon” to fulfill My word.   

Abraham Ibn Ezra  (1089-c.1167 CE), commenting on Moses’ question to the Almighty, writes: “Moses believed, from the very first time he came to Pharaoh, that it would become easier for the Jews, but it became harder for them.” Ibn Ezra comments on the words “I am Havayah [YHWH]” as follows: “This means that My name ‘God Almighty’ (El Shaddai) became known through the forefathers, and through you My glorious name Havayah [YHWH] will be known all over the world.”  

According to Nachmanides (1194-1270 CE), the Almighty tells Moses that the Patriarchs did not see Him through the ‘transparent glass’ (aspaklarya ha-me’irah) as Moses sees Him. 

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, commenting on this Torah passage, explains that Moses served the Almighty mainly through intellect, whereas the Patriarchs did so mainly through emotions. Therefore, Moses’ question was not wrong. The inability to understand the actions of the Almighty weakened Moses’ intellectual connection with Him. Therefore, Moses’ question was not a challenge, but rather an attempt to approach the Almighty and relate to him through his intellectual faculty. The Rebbe explains the Almighty’s response as follows: “Do not serve Me with intellect alone. Balance your intellect with emotion and faith, so that you can serve Me without any restrictions.”

Fully agreeing with the ideas suggested by the above-cited commentaries, I propose the following additions.

Carefully reading the Torah, we can see how the character and mental qualities of the main figures constantly change in the context of the events and their communications with the Almighty. The Almighty not only punishes and rewards, but also, with His every action and word, He teaches the main characters life-changing lessons, raising them to higher and higher spiritual levels.  

In the Torah we read: “God (Elohim) spoke to Moses, and He said to him, ‘I am Havayah [YHWH]’” This is the end of an entire verse in the Pentateuch. (In the printed edition of the Bible there is a full stop after these words). This implies that this sentence contains a complete thought. From my perspective, the words “I am Havayah [YHWH]” constitute the main message of the Almighty to Moses. It is not necessary to see this as a rebuke  to Moses, and I offer the following understanding of these words of the Torah. In my opinion, the Almighty was saying to Moses:

 “Your question is correct according to the logic of the world around you, which is the external manifestation of My name Elohim. The Patriarchs lived according to this logic; that was their mission. Pharaoh also lives according to this logic.

“But I am YHWH, and from now on, the Jewish people and the world will live according to other laws. From this point on, all events will occur according to My logic as YHWH, the logic hidden deeply within My name God (Elohim), the logic of the impossible, the logic of the highest sefirah (divine attribute), Chochmah (“wisdom”).

“According to the ‘external’ logic of Elohim, the Jews will never be able to leave Egypt, and according to the hidden logic of Havayah [YHWH], they will indeed exit that land. And many years later, when a small Jewish people will be dispersed among large and powerful nations, according to the external logic of Elohim, the Jews ought to be inundated and ultimately fade into oblivion; according to the logic of Havayah [YHWH], they will never disappear. They will endure eternally.

“You, Moses, are chosen to rise to the level of my hidden logic of Havayah [YHWH], to the level of the highest Chochmah, and from this level to bring the Torah to the Jewish people. And for as long as the Jewish people will be with the Torah, the external logic of Elohim, the logic that rules the natural world, will not have power over them.”

Abraham Ibn Ezra, who wrote books on astrology, wrote in his commentary on the third chapter of Shemot on the phrase “I am the Havayah [YHWH]”: “The human soul is above the middle world and, therefore, if a person is wise and knows the acts of the Almighty, performed with and without intermediaries, has retired from the passions of this world to cleave to the Glorious name, even if a person’s horoscope predicts trouble on a certain day, the Almighty, to Whom the person has cleaved, arranges events so that he will escape from trouble.”

It is also necessary to answer the question of how to understand the presence of the hidden logic of YHWH within the name Elohim. This issue has been discussed in great detail in a Hasidic discourse by the Rebbe Rashab (the Fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe: 1860-1920) titled VeYadaata, which comments on the phrase from the Torah (Deuteronomy 4:39), “You must know that Havayah [YHWH] is Elohim).” 

Here is a brief explanation. The main thesis of the Kabbalah is that in discussing the Almighty in the category of Ein Sof (the infinite), which is inaccessible to our understanding, the existence of creations with their own “self” is impossible. Therefore, at the beginning of creation, the Almighty produced a tzimtzum process, which is allegorically described as the creation of some empty space with the subsequent emission of a beam of light (kav) from which the whole creation, the entire cosmos, originated. This process should be understood not as the creation of some physically empty space, but as the concealment by the Almighty of His infinite light (information) and the radiation of the finite light from which the whole creation originated.

This finite ray of light carried the information of all of creation. In passing through the chains of the worlds, the light (information) was concealed in such a way that in our world we barely see the Divinity. However, it should be understood that information does not disappear anywhere — when something is concealed it does not cease to exist. And under certain circumstances, concealed information can be obtained.

Let us give a simple example: If we look at a stone lying on the ground, we immediately obtain information about its color and shape. In fact, however, the information we receive is an insignificant part of all the information contained in the stone. Employing certain methods, we can obtain information about the chemical composition of the stone, its atoms and molecules, electrons, neutrons and protons, etc. 

Similarly, reading the Torah simply as a story, we obtain an insignificant amount of information. However, pondering the words of the Torah, analyzing them, finding hidden connections, fulfilling the commandments contained therein, we can, step by step, approach a comprehension of the information hidden in the Torah, and thus approach the level of YHWH.

End of Part 1. To be continued.

About the Author
Eduard Shyfrin received a Ph.D. in metallurgy from the Moscow Institute of Steel and Alloys, and went on to found several businesses. He is a member of Chabad and his Torah commentaries have appeared on Chabad.org. He is the author of From Infinity to Man: The Fundamental Ideas of Kabbalah Within the Framework of Information Theory and Quantum Physics.
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