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Jewish World Review
Dec. 9, 2005
/ 8 Kislev, 5766
The death of wonder?
Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo
Blessings as a protest against the dulling of the human mind and heart
In our contemporary world it is difficult to continue being surprised. Our educational system (with exceptions) has been teaching us for several decades that everything must make sense and nothing can be left to intellectual random. Scientific knowledge with its emphasis on order and consistency, together with the study of human behavior and its insistence on universal psychological patterns, have confiscated our minds and convinced us that basically there is no place for astonishment.
While many of us still live with the notion of surprise, this, we have convinced ourselves, is nothing but the result of our limited understanding and knowledge of our world. If we would have complete knowledge and insight, every phenomenon would turn into a predictable and completely cohesive fact.
No doubt our willingness to accept this view relates to our fear of confronting the many metaphysical and moral-philosophical implications, once we recognize that such a view is unacceptable.
This attitude has assassinated our minds and hearts. Instead of realizing that with the evolution of scientific knowledge and its great explorers' and teachers' constant emphasis that how more we know, the greater the need to recognize the inescapable mysterium behind all existence, the average human being has convinced him/herself that all is "under control".
To a very great extent this has led to the secularization of our world view. The desire to escape the recognition of mysterium tremendum has played a trick on the minds of even the most intelligent people. Convincing themselves that the laws of nature explain "the above and beyond" in totally rational terms, they have lost the insight which shows that such laws are purely descriptive and lack all ultimate explanation in the existential sense of the word. Frequency, the basis for the establishment of the laws of nature, is never a final elucidation.
It is precisely such a powerful tool, because it is able to tell us what to expect. Much of our lives can be lived in a consistent way because of these laws, but they do not give us any insight into the ultimate "why".
As philosophers of science have constantly emphasized, science does not involve itself in ontology, epistemology or that which is beyond the experiential.
Religion in general and the Jewish Tradition in particular, have warned us that we must avoid the stagnancy of our minds. It teaches us that we must be able to grasp an insight before it is frozen into similarity and reduced to something else. No greater danger exists to man's spiritual condition than stereotyping views and insights. The art is to discover the unprecedented in that which is common. To stop in the middle of a thought before it
becomes ordinary and cold.
With this in mind our sages, we believe, introduced the notion of a bracha (blessing) before we eat, drink and involve ourselves in religious or even "common" deeds. All such human activities are dangerous once they no longer provoke astonishment.
With every morsel or sip we need to remind ourselves of the inscrutability of such deeds. We must capture them in their freshness before they become imprisoned.
A bracha is the Hebrew translation of the English phrase: "Wow!" Saying: "Baruch Ata Hashem ..." "Blessed are You G-d for providing us with Ö" we make it clear to G-d and ourselves that we have not fallen victim to the ordinary, and that our hearts are able to climb beyond the average.
As such it is a protest against the dullness of the human mind and heart.
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© 2005, Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo