Neuroscience and Metaphysics

« Ezekiel’s Vision »

« There are not many Jewish philosophers, » says Leo Straussi.

This statement, however provocative, should be put into perspective.

The first Jewish philosopher, historically speaking, Philo of Alexandria, attempted a synthesis between his Jewish faith and Greek philosophy. He had little influence on the Judaism of his time, but much more on the Fathers of the Church, who were inspired by him, and instrumental in conserving his works.

A millennium later, Moses Maimonides drew inspiration from Aristotelian philosophy in an attempt to reconcile faith and reason. He was the famous author of the Guide of the Perplexed, and of the Mishne Torah, a code of Jewish law, which caused long controversies among Jews in the 12th and 13th centuries.

Another celebrity, Baruch Spinoza was « excommunicated » (the Hebrew term is חרם herem) and definitively « banished » from the Jewish community in 1656, but he was admired by Hegel, Nietzsche, and many Moderns…

In the 18th century, Moses Mendelssohn tried to apply the spirit of the Aufklärung to Judaism and became one of the main instigators of the « Jewish Enlightenment », the Haskalah (from the word השכלה , « wisdom », « erudition »).

We can also mention Hermann Cohen, a neo-Kantian of the 19th century, and « a very great German philosopher », in the words of Gérard Bensussanii.

Closer in time, Martin Buber, Franz Rosenzweig and Emmanuel Lévinas .

That’s about it. These names don’t make a crowd, but we are far from the shortage that Leo Strauss wanted to point out. It seems that Leo Strauss really wished to emphasize, for reasons of his own, « the old Jewish premise that being a Jew and being a philosopher are two incompatible things, » as he himself explicitly put it.iii

It is interesting to recall that Leo Strauss also clarified his point of view by analyzing the emblematic case of Maimonides: « Philosophers are men who try to account for the Whole on the basis of what is always accessible to man as man; Maimonides starts from the acceptance of the Torah. A Jew may use philosophy and Maimonides uses it in the widest possible way; but, as a Jew, he gives his assent where, as a philosopher, he would suspend his assent.”iv

Leo Strauss added, rather categorically, that Maimonides’ book, The Guide of the Perplexed, « is not a philosophical book – a book written by a philosopher for philosophers – but a Jewish book: a book written by a Jew for Jews.”v

The Guide of the Perplexed is in fact entirely devoted to the Torah and to the explanation of the « hidden meaning » of several passages. The most important of the « hidden secrets » that it tries to elucidate are the ‘Narrative of the Beginning’ (the Genesis) and the ‘Narrative of the Chariot’ (Ezekiel ch. 1 to 10). Of these « secrets », Maimonides says that « the Narrative of the Beginning” is the same as the science of nature and the “Narrative of the Chariot” is the same as the divine science (i.e. the science of incorporeal beings, or of God and angels).vi

The chapters of Ezekiel mentioned by Maimonides undoubtedly deserve the attention and study of the most subtle minds, the finest souls. But they are not to be put into all hands. Ezekiel recounts his « divine visions » in great detail. It is easy to imagine that skeptics, materialists, rationalists or sneers (whether Jewish or not) are not part of the intended readership.

Let us take a closer look at a revealing excerpt of Ezekiel’ vision.

« I looked, and behold, there came from the north a rushing wind, a great cloud, and a sheaf of fire, which spread a bright light on all sides, in the center of which shone like polished brass from the midst of the fire. Also in the center were four animals that looked like humans. Each of them had four faces, and each had four wings. Their feet were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the soles of calves’ feet. They sparkled like polished bronze. They had human hands under the wings on their four sides; and all four of them had their faces and wings. Their wings were joined together; they did not turn as they walked, but each walked straight ahead. As for the figures of their faces, all four had the face of a man, all four had the face of a lion on the right, all four had the face of an ox on the left, and all four had the face of an eagle.”vii

The vision of Ezekiel then takes a stunning turn, with a description of an appearance of the « glory of the Lord ».

« I saw again as it were polished brass, fire, within which was this man, and which shone round about, from the form of his loins upward, and from the form of his loins downward, I saw as fire, and as bright light, about which he was surrounded. As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on a rainy day, so was the appearance of that bright light: it was an image of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking.”viii

The « man » in the midst of the fire speaks to Ezekiel as if he were an « image » of God.

But was this « man » really an « image » of God? What « philosopher » would dare to judge this statement ?

Perhaps this « man » surrounded by fire was some sort of « reality »? Or was he just an illusion?

Either way, it is clear that this text and its possible interpretations do not fit into the usual philosophical canons.

Should we therefore follow Leo Strauss, and consequently admit that Maimonides himself is not a « philosopher », but that he really wrote a « Jewish book » for the Jews, in order to respond to the need for clarification of the mysteries contained in the Texts?

Perhaps… But the modern reader of Ezekiel, whether Jewish or not, whether a philosopher or not, cannot fail to be interested in the parables one finds there, and in their symbolic implications.

The « man » in the midst of the fire asks Ezekiel to « swallow » a book, then to go « to the house of Israel », to this people which is not for him « a people with an obscure language, an unintelligible language », to bring back the words he is going to say to them.

The usual resources of philosophy seem little adapted to deal with this kind of request.

But the Guide for the Perplexed tackles it head on, in a both refined and robust style, mobilizing all the resources of reason and criticism, in order to shed some light on people of faith, who are already advanced in reflection, but who are seized with « perplexity » in the face of the mysteries of such « prophetic visions ».

The Guide for the Perplexed implies a great trust in the capacities of human reason.

It suggests that these human capacities are far greater, far more unbounded than anything that the most eminent philosophers or the most enlightened poets have glimpsed through the centuries.

And it is not all. Ages will come, no doubt, when the power of human penetration into divine secrets will be, dare we say it, without comparison with what Moses or Ezekiel themselves were able to bequeath to posterity.

In other words, and contrary to usual wisdom, I am saying that the age of the prophets, far from being over, has only just begun; and as well, the age of philosophers is barely emerging, considering the vast scale of the times yet to come.

Human history still is in its infancy, really.

Our entire epoch is still part of the dawn, and the great suns of the Spirit have not revealed anything but a tiny flash of their potential illuminating power.

From an anatomical and functional point of view, the human brain conceals much deeper mysteries, much more obscure, and powerful, than the rich and colorful metaphors of Ezekiel.

Ezekiel’s own brain was once, a few centuries ago, prey to a « vision ». So there was at that time a form of compatibility, of correspondence between the inherent structure of Ezekiel’s brain and the vision which he was able to give an account of.

The implication is that one day in the future, presumably, other brains of new prophets or visionaries may be able to transport themselves even further than Ezekiel.

It all winds down to this: either the prophetic « vision » is an illusion, or it has a reality of its own.

In the first case, Moses, Ezekiel and the long list of the « visionaries » of mankind are just misguided people who have led their followers down paths of error, with no return.

In the second case, one must admit that a “prophetic vision” implies the existence of another “world” subliminally enveloping the « seer ».

To every « seer » it is given to perceive to a certain extent the presence of the mystery, which surrounds the whole of humanity on all sides.

To take up William James’ intuition, human brains are analogous to « antennae », permanently connected to an immense, invisible worldix.

From age to age, many shamans, a few prophets and some poets have perceived the emanations, the pulsations of this other world.

We have to build the neuroscience and the metaphysics of otherworldly emanations.


iLeo Strauss. Maïmonides. 1988, p.300

iiGérard Bensussan. Qu’est-ce que la philosophie juive ? 2003, p.166.

iiiLeo Strauss. Maïmonides. 1988, p.300

ivIbid., p.300

vIbid., p.300

viIbid., p. 304

viiEzekiel, 1, 4-10

viiiEzekiel, 1, 4-10

ixWilliam James. Human Immortality: Two Supposed Objections to the Doctrine.1898. Ed. Houghton, Mifflin and Company, The Riverside Press, Cambridge.

Une réflexion sur “Neuroscience and Metaphysics

  1. What separates and distinguishes the 7 Universal Laws from the revelation of the opening first 2 Commandments of Sinai?  A Torah oath brit, cut upon the life/soul of Man.  The soul of Man, by definition then includes the life of all the generations of that Man’s children.  The revelation of the Torah at Sinai therefore stands upon 2 legs: the revelation of the Name and the command not to worship other Gods.  The 7 Universal Laws of both Adam and Noach, by contrast sits upon 4 legs: a sworn oath brit not to do acts of theft, oppression, sexual perversion or incest, and to establish Courts obligated to Judge cases of damages that Man either accidentally or purposely injures the property or person(s) of others.  The concept of the « seat » of Justice, this morality most essentially defines the concept known as: Fear of Heaven.
    The mitzva of kre’at shma contrasts with the mitzva of tefilla.  The latter stands whereas the former sits.  Torah defines the purpose of the life of Man: the struggle to build a Good Name.  Just as the birth of a child « threatens » the lifestyle the mother currently lives, so too and how much more so the abortion of any child, for superficial reasons of vanity or selfishness, permanently damages the Good Name of both parents who agree that the quality of their current lives takes priority over the life of their O’lam Ha’Bah unborn baby.  Torah validates the choice responsibility placed upon the mother to give birth.  The rabbis of the Talmud therefore emphasized the value of the tohor midda of: Fear of Heaven.  The Talmud teaches a strong mussar: All comes from Heaven, except – Fear of Heaven.  The choice of Fear of Heaven, most essentially defines Torah faith.
    The opening Gemara of Gittin differentiates between « bnai Noach « Jews ». (Mixed up the Gemara of Sanhedrin together with Gittin.  According to rabbi Meir located in נט. Sanhedrin 7th chapter corresponding to the Mishna which teaches a Case/Law on disrespect of the Name HaShem).   « Bnai Noach « Goyim » where do they fit in?.  Bnai Noach Jews, according to the opening Gemara of Gittin, do not know how to do mitzvot לשמה. That opening line of Gemara of that in Gittin, the Reshonim interpreted it by concluding that the Sofer writers of the Get, that they made a mistake in transcribing the correct name of the woman so divorced.  But this Reshon reading of Gittin, very problematic!  Why?  Because throughout the Gemara of Ketuboth, no such problem likewise ever occurred when the Sofer wrote the Ketubah of the Kallah.  
    The sh’itta of the Baali Tosafot, learns off the dof – as a rule – in all its commentaries on the Talmud. This going off the dof, makes the Tosafot commentary difficult to learn for most young students. Why did the grandchildren of Rashi choose this sh’itta of learning, rather than follow the sh’itta established by Rashi’s great commentary on the Talmud?
    The style employed throughout the 6 Orders of the Mishna, Case/Law.  Case/Law represents the expression of « Common Law ».  All Common Law legal systems stand on the foundation of ‘prior precedents’.  Therefore, just as does every Gemara on each and all Mishnaot, bring precedents to learn a specific Mishna connected to other Mishnaot across the 6 Orders of the Sha’s Mishna and Gemara, so too does the commentary made by the Baali Tosafot on the Talmud.
    That said: let us define a key term exile/g’lut.  Rhetoric confuses people, b\c they permit ‘fuzzy logic’ and assume a definition for a key term, without making the necessary prior research to prove or validate their definition of this key term/word, upon which they hang their entire argument.  The Gemara of Baba Kama refers to this common error as ‘hanging a mountain by a hair’. 
    The Gemara of Sanhedrin, Rabbi Meir says a Jew ‘bnai Noach’ who studies the Torah, compares to the Cohen HaGadol.  Rashi’s commentary on that page elaborates that Jews never removed themselves from the brit of Noach/Adam.  What differentiates the brit of Noach/Adam with the revelation of the Torah at Sinai?  Simply put:  the brit of Noach/Adam sits upon the four legs of the Divine Chair: which obligates Adam and Noach not to do acts of theft, oppression, incest, and pervert Court justice.  The brit of Sinai by contrast stands upon the 2 legs of the first two opening commandments of Sinai.
    Learning most essentially requires defining terms.  That people who participate in active learning – they, so to speak,  strive to sit on the same page by which they mutually define basic terms.  On Sanhedrin נט. Rabbi Yochanon rules the death penalty to any bnai Noach « Goy » who learns Torah.  The Capital Crime committed by the bnai Noach « Goy », theft.  But what common denominator do the Rabbis, Yochanon and Meir, share in common?
    This term, ‘bnai Noach’ what do the rabbis, Yochanon and Meir refer to: a gere toshav living within the borders of Judea.  A Capital Crimes Court, only a Sanhedrin of 23 or 71 Judges has the authority to adjudicate crimes involving the death penalty.  Rabbi Meir and later Rashi teach that Jews never abandoned the brit of Noach and Adam. The dispute between these two great Mishnaic scholars, the employment of a compound definition for the term ‘bnai Noach’.  Rabbi Yochanon learns bnai noach to ger toshav Goyim living within the borders of Judea.  Rabbi Meir learns bnai noach to Jews living in both Israel and g’lut/exile.
    The brit of Noach/Adam, let’s affix this brit to the mitzva of kre’a shma.  The brit of Sinai, let’s affix this brit to the mitzva of tefilla.  Why?  The Talmud of ברכות teaches: make your prayers from a fixed location/מקום.  This Gemara language, despite the dispute on how the later Poskim determined the halacha; Rav Rothenburg of Germany, one of the principle teachers of the Ramban, held that the term מקום of ברכות refers to a beit knesset.  Yosef Karo, a first generation Acharon scholar, disputes how Rav Rothenburg, an early/middle Reshon, learns the Gemara of ברכות.  Rabbi Karo, openly rejected the halachic opinion of Rav Rothenburg.  In a similar vein, the Rambam harshly criticizes the B’had, a late generation Gaonim scholar from Bavl!  Rabbi Karo based his pasok halacha upon the opinion expressed by another Reshon.  He held that המקום קבועה, applies to the place a person da’avens within his private house.  This halachic ruling follows the opinion of Rabbeinu Yonah.
    Rabbeinu Yonah of Gerona, one of the chief judges of Spain who placed the Rambam into harem!  Rabbeinu Yonah wrote the famous work Shaarei Teshuvah following the disastrous public burning of 24 cartloads of Talmud in Paris France in 1242.  The Rambam « Civil War » took Western Jewry straight to a 300 year sentence of living in ghettos in absolute poverty conditions.  The Rambam, like many if not most of the rabbis of Spain, a very assimilated person specifically concerning the recent rediscovery of the ancient Greek philosophies.  The Rambam organized his work: Mishna Torah, based upon Aristotelian logic.  This decision by the Rambam destroyed the kabbala of learning handed down by Rabbi Akiva and all the scholars found within the pages of the Sha’s Talmud, the kabbala known as פרדס scholarship, or Chariot mysticism. 
    This ancient kabbala of learning, it pairs דרוש with פשט, and רמז with סוד.  The 1st pair affixed to learn the Aggaditah of the Sha’s Talmud, whereas the latter pair, affixed the k’vanna of the ritualized halacha within the Sha’s Talmud.  As weaving a garment requires a warp with its opposing woof threads, so too the editors of the Sha’s Talmud, they « wove » common law halachic rulings together with prophetic mussar.  They affixed Aggadic prophetic mussar, and opposed it by Halachic halachic « threads » within the Sha’s Talmud.  פרדס « weaves » Aggadita into Halacha.  Aristotelian logic which the Rambam code employs uproots and destroys the halacha connection with the Aggadita within and throughout the Sha’s Talmud. Aggaditah through דרוש middot logic, strives to understand the eternal mussar which the prophets, within the T’NaCH, command the generations of Israel.  Rambam’s code divorced the halacha from the Talmud.  He likewise divorced Halacha from Aggadita, and did not even give Aggadita her Get!!!!
    The Rambam ‘Civil War’ resulted in a consequent huge population transfer of Jews fleeing Ghetto imprisonment.  Eastern European Jewry would have never existed without the Rambam Civil War.  Alas most rabbinic education ignores this horrific tragedy of the Jewish people that explains why Jews fled from Western to Eastern Europe as refugees.   All later scholarship made upon the Rambam’s Mishna Torah acknowledges the authors’ fundamental error of not bringing Talmudic sources to his posok halachic rulings.  All earlier and later Reshon scholars like the B’hag, the Rif, and the Rosh, understood that halacha requires aggadita in order to understand the purpose of keeping halachic rituals.   The words and subjects within the Great Codes of Jewish Law might employ identical or similar language in the comparative study of these classic codes of halacha.  But all other Reshon halachic Codes validated the פרדס kabbala of Rabbi Akiva, whereas the halacha of the Rambam totally abandoned the authority of the פרדס kabbala of Rabbi Akiva!!
    The Rambam did not know how to do mitzvot (an undefined term) לשמה – the opening Gemara of Gittin!  The distinction between Torah commandments, to Prophetic mitzvot, to Rabbinic Halachot, comparable to the grinding and purifying grains through a mesh of filters in order to make a fine bread.  What defines this key term « prophet »?  A prophet commands mussar.  For example: this shabbot Torah reading Yitro – the revelation of the Torah at Sinai.  Difficulty: the Talmud teaches that after the opening first 2 commandments, that Israel demanded from Moshe, that he go up and receive the rest of the Torah, lest the nation die.  Consequently how to explain the organization and editing of the Torah which writes the 10 Commandments?!  Israel could not hear any more commandments, they feared for their lives after the opening first two commandments.
    A prophet commands Mussar.  Moshe organized and edited the Torah for it to include a 10 Commandment format.   Mussar, as taught by Moshe through his 10 commandments editorial editing,  links the revelation of the Torah at Sinai with the 10 plagues by which HaShem brought Israel out of Egypt; as expressed in the opening Commandment at Sinai.  Par’o oppressed and enslaved, the revelation of the Torah at Sinai stands on the opposing « magnetic » pole: pursue justice.
    Logic organizes thought based upon making « measured/middot comparisons ».  This explains how the Gemara and the Baali Tosafot learn the Mishna.  Oral Torah logic, Moshe derived his 611 commandment « commentary » to the revelation of the opening first two Commandments of the Sinai Torah revelation.  Stuck in the middle of the Sinai/Horev revelations of both the Written and Oral Torah, the sin of the Golden Calf.  There the people approached Aaron and declared – Moshe’s dead, who will teach us the rest of the Torah??  (When Moshe ascended the Mount, Israel had heard only the first two opening commandments of Sinai).  
    The revelation of the Oral Torah at Horev comes as a direct result of the sin of the Golden Calf. The hysteria that Moshe had died!   Aaron!!   Who will ‘interpret’ the rest of the Torah for us? Oral Torah logic has the purpose of interpreting the k’vanna of the Written Torah.  Can later generations of assimilated Jewry replace the Oral Torah logic system with an alien ancient Greek philosophy on logic?  The Rambam held it permitted to learn and interpret the Talmud based upon Greek logic!!   A lot of equally authoritative rabbis disagreed with Rambam’s cultural assimilation with Aristotle, and his decision to annul the lights of Chanukah.  The dedication of the lights of Chanukah: the dedication to interpret the Written Torah strictly and only through means of relying upon Oral Torah middot of logic.
    The Rambam prevailed following the disaster of the Paris 1242 burning of the Talmud.  About 60 years after the king of France expelled all the Jews living in his country.  This totally destroyed the school of Rashi/Tosafot!!  The author of the Tur halachic code abandoned the sh’itta of  his father the Rosh, (the Rosh highly opposed the Rambam).  Yosef Karo wrote his famous Beit Yosef upon the Tur halachic code, modeled after the sh’itta of how the Rambam divorced halacha from its aggadita!!  Halachic Judaism radically changed its course of direction.
    A similar tragedy occurred in the days of king Sh’lomo.  Why does the Book of Kings open with the story of the brother of Avshalom declaring himself king?  Torah logic works by making ‘measured comparisons’.  The opening Book of Kings introduces the influence of Natan the prophet.  What mussar did Natan the prophet communicate to David when he wanted to build a Temple?  That HaShem never requested such a thing from any leader — ever.  According to all the prophets, HaShem commands a simple commandment – pursue justice.  What does the pursuit of justice have to do with building a grand structure made of wood and stone?  Nothing.
    Prior to his passing, on the last day of his life, Moshe our Teacher strove to establish 3 of the cities of Refuge — which by definition includes their necessary small Sanhedrin Courts!!  The only cities other than Jerusalem permitted to have permanent private altars – the 6 cities of refuge. The dedication of a korban by the Nasi of the small sanhedrin court prior to issuance of a Capital Crimes ruling of death, the Cohen head of the small sanhedrin court publicly dedicated a korban upon that city’s private altar.  A korban makes a lot of smoke. The ancients used smoke signals to make public statements, like for example – the time of the new Moon. The korban testifies that the Judges of the small sanhedrin court made their ruling while breathing tohor spirits.  That the judges of the court had not taken nor received any bribes.
    King Sh’lomo, (in the story over the sole living baby, in the dispute between the two whores) failed to set up and establish a Federal Sanhedrin court legal system.  Natan commanded a strong mussar to David, he advised the king to build, as an expression of the Temple, the Federal Sanhedrin Court legal system.  Just as Sh’lomo did not heed the advice of Natan the prophet who advised king David, so too Sh’lomo’s son, when he traveled to Sh’Cem to be anointed king over all Israel, he too rejected the advice given by the elder advisors of king Sh’lomo!!  This decision resulted in permanent Civil War till g’lut\exile destroyed both kingdoms of 10 Tribes Israel and Yechuda.  
    Civil War goes by many metaphoric names in the Talmud.  The most famous topic reference of Civil Wars – hatred without cause among Jews.  The Rambam ‘Civil War’ continues to this very day.  Reform Judaism calls halacha archaic.  Why?  Because the Rambam code of halacha lacks all connection to the depths of prophetic mussar, as learned from the Aggadita!!  Israel came to a crossroads: (1) in the sin of the Golden Calf/how to interpret the Torah; (2) at the building of the Temple/abandonment of the Sanhedrin Court system; (3) the Rambam definition of halacha, independent and free from all prophetic mussar commandments.  All three crossroads decisions lead to the same destination — g’lut for the Jewish People.


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