The Argument | 7(B)

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… For this reason I was surprised that you did not see the course of thought through to the end and bring out its conclusion. Why—as you know—was the answer to the complaint of Moses our teacher—according to the account of our Sages, of blessed memory upon his being shown how Rabbi Akiva’s flesh was ripped off with iron combs etc., so that Moses our teacher burst out: ‘This is Torah, and this is its reward?!’—why was the answer to this: ‘Silence! Thus it arises in the supernal Mind!’’?

We must remember that the complaint of Moses our teacher was not merely expressed verbally; its essential force was present in thought. Whence the answer ‘Silence!’ was not a bid to refrain from any discussion of the matter, but, beyond that, a bidding to not permit any thought about it.

And the only explanation was: ‘Thus it arises in the supernal Mind’—which is actually no explanation at all. Nevertheless this did not weaken the trust in God of Moses our teacher or of other authentic questioners and men. On the contrary, this only served to strengthen their trust, something to be found explicitly in the case of Job; likewise in the case of Abraham our father who not only stood fast by his trust but was also able to withstand every test; and likewise the other ‘rebels’ who remained deeply convinced individuals until the last day of their lives.

I think you will agree with me that it is no mere coincidence that all authentic questioners remained by their trust in God. For it could in no way be otherwise. Why so? If only the problem is meant with truth, and it is the expression and product of a true feeling of justice and uprightness, then it is logical [farshtendlekh] that such a deep feeling can only come from being convinced that true justice is the justice that stems from a super-human source, that is, from something higher than both human intellect and human feeling. Whence the problem touches not only emotion and intellect but also a person’s inwardness and the essence of his being.

But after the initial tempestuous assault, he has to see that the entire process of posing the problem and of wishing to understand with the intellect that which is higher than the intellect, is something that cannot take place. Moreover, he must—after a rattling outrage and a thorough grieving—ultimately come to the conclusion: Nevertheless I remain confident [ani maamin]. On the contrary—even more strongly.1

What is upsetting about this argument, of course, or should be upsetting about it, is how it insists, without shutting its eyes or losing its footing as a rational argument, on being quite unreasonable at a critical point, notably the point where it says ‘on the contrary.’ Had the argument contented itself with the ‘nevertheless’ that is borrowed from the popular catechistic version of Maimonides’ thirteen-article credo, the worst fallout that might have needed further attention would have been that ‘stiff neck’ that is a hallmark of the Jewish people with its various unpleasant side-effects. Wiesel would have asked the Rebbe: ‘How can you believe in God after Auschwitz?’ And the Rebbe would have pulled out the citation that every good rabbi keeps handy in a little nutshell inside one of his pockets—‘Nevertheless I believe!’—and that would be that. The Rebbe, however, pulls out this citation by way of propaedeutic. The real answer, which immediately follows, is less reasonable. —Merely less reasonable? Not downright unreasonable? —Unreasonable? Not downright—foolish? This is the first of two formulas signaling such a disturbance in conventional epistemic and logical categories, that a commentary on it, as on the second formula, must occupy our analytic and ruminative attentions for the remainder of the present study: On the contrary—even more strongly! (Aderaba—nokh shtarker!) The problem with which we began our investigation concerned how the strength of Wiesel’s case against God was to be brought out. This is the Rebbe’s problem. What we see here is how, according to the Rebbe, the strength of the case must ultimately be drawn from the strength of Wiesel’s confidence in God. How is this to be brought about? Somehow, the same Auschwitz that constituted the strength of Wiesel’s case against God must now function as the source of strength for his confidence in God. Auschwitz, oddly enough, the power of Auschwitz, remains the source of strength. But by a contrary motion. ‘On the contrary!’ means that the hallmark ‘despite’ that would otherwise stubbornly push forward like an old iron locomotive against every attempt on the part of the architects of Auschwitz to ‘solve’ Ashkenaz as a problem must instead—on the contrary—let itself be pulled into a vertiginous ‘Because!’ pulling the heart and mind of the Jew—like a cattle car into Auschwitz? by some bizarre and perverse compromise with, or even conspiracy with, the gas chambers at the end of the line?—pulling the heart and mind of the Jew into a conclusion and into a state of trust in God (‘belief in God’!) with the mighty magnetic force of an ineluctable logic. It is a foolish conclusion by any standard.

But what this also means, of course, is that what needs to be carefully considered is the Rebbe’s standard. This careful consideration we propose to unfold in three steps, which we mark in parenthetical headings. First, we must recall (a.) the epistemic framework that is in place behind the Rebbe’s ‘Because!’ and is legible in this segment of the epistle, namely the abad doctrine2 of knowledge, particularly in its application to a kind of praiseworthy folly. Then we can consider (b.) the logic itself, the mad, foolish logic of the ‘Because!’ which will of course prove to be a kind of transcendental logic and no mere Quia absurdum est. Third in order of presentation but first in existential order, we may provide some indications, based on the Rebbe’s teachings, of what we propose to a call (c.) a scopics, which would be a way of seeings things, and of transporting one’s eyes in one’s head, as it were, so as to sustain, on a proto-epistemic or pre-epistemic level, an epistemic situation that would otherwise be unsustainable. With the presentation of such a scopics, which will involve an exercize in contrast with what we will call an ‘esperantic’ epistemic and will comprise the longest step in our considerations, our study of the Rebbe’s advocacy of Wiesel’s case against God will have have arrived at its final purpose and its conclusion.