Sunday, July 3, 2011

That the Gra Inspires Kant

I was reading in the new Artscroll biography of Rav Gifter zl (110) that, in his talks, he would expound on the power of the Torah to influence the course of affairs in the world. On at least one occasion, he made mention of a point that he attributed to Rav Daniel Movshovitz zl of Kelm. It was a point to the effect that the Gra’s greatness in learning had the power to influence events and bring it about that the genius of philosophy Immanual Kant, who lived contemporaneously with the Gra, was able to produce his magnificent treatise on the metaphysics of morals (which history has treated as a masterpiece of Enlightenment thinking). He was saying, in effect, that the aura of intellectual clarity and revelation of truth that the Gra’s presence and learning had evoked created a worldly atmosphere in which profound thinking could flourish (even among the goyim).

To me, the remark is very telling. As great a philosopher as Kant may have been, he was merely a modern philosopher. His work possessed nothing of the grandeur and gravitas of that of his classical, Greek forbears: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle – especially Plato. Personally, when I read Plato, I can’t help but to think that he must have been influenced profoundly by the ruach haTorah prevailing in his era, whether or not he had firsthand acquaintance with Torah teachings.

When historians of philosophy, like Bertrand Russell for example, raise the question of the source from which the impetus to think philosophically arose in the time of the Greeks, they are entirely oblivious to the fact that it is the ko-ach haTorah, which is the ko-ach ha-emes, that made it possible. (Of course, they would be right to plead ignorance.) The intensity of the Torah’s presence in the world – the way it is studied and practiced – doesn’t contain itself, and perforce spills over to affect general man’s capacity for conducting inquiry.

Russell is right. It is truly amazing that, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, a group of Greeks should have developed an interest in, and a penchant for, philosophy (and science). Where did it come from? Russell’s attempts at an answer are hardly convincing. The answer is ours. Intellectual history needs to be viewed through the prism of Jewish history. When Plato was writing the Republic and his other masterful dialogues, the Jews had been driven into galus bavel (the Babylonian exile). Their kedushas haTorah was being torn away from its abode in the holy land and made to spread outward in various directions. Is it any wonder that it influenced Greek thought? It was inevitable.

(Note: It says chochma bagoyim ta-amin torah bagoyim al ta-amin. Ostensibly, why are the two connected? Why would it even occur to someone that, because gentiles can be acknowledged to possess wisdom (or knowledge), they can also be acknowledged to possess Torah? They may study hard and conduct all sorts of inquiries and investigations; but they don’t relate to Torah at all! The answer: Torah-wisdom inspires general wisdom: the former is the source from which the latter derives its impetus. Still, the gentile’s wisdom stops at general knowledge. It does not penetrate all the way to Torah.)

No comments:

Post a Comment