I came across a post by Rabbi Herzl Hefter on Mekom Torah that I found so profound, I felt compelled to repost it here.
The Theological Uncertainty Principle
The Theological Uncertainty Principle emerges from the teachings of Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Leiner (1800-1854) (henceforth RMY) and his son Rabbi Yaakov Leiner both of Ishbica.
Let us consider the following commentary offered by RMY in his work the Mei HaShiloah (henceforth MH) on Parshat Yitro:
“I (in Heb., Anochi) am the Lord your G‑d”. The verse does not state ‘Ani,’ for if it stated ‘Ani’ that would imply that the Holy One Blessed Be He revealed then the totality of His light to Israel, precluding the possibility of further delving into his words, for everything is already revealed. The letter “Kaf” (of Anochi), however, denotes that the revelation is not complete, rather an estimation and comparison to the light, which G‑d will reveal in the future.”
The “Kaf” of “Anochi” is the “kaf hadimayon”, the Kaf of comparison. The correct translation of the verse would be “I am as the Lord…” [!] Even the revelation at Sinai, the paradigm of all subsequent revelations, must be comprehended as a partial and incomplete picture of the divine, as “as if.”
This came to me as a true shock, given my previously held belief that the revelation at Sinai was perfect and that subsequent Jewish history is an effort to recapture the clarity of that pristine and intimate moment with G‑d. The Mei HaShiloah not only claims that G‑d’s revelation is imperfect, but that it must be so.
“The reason that Commandment of Thou shall not make for yourself a graven image [follows the commandment of Anochi]…is because a graven image is cut according to specific dimensions, perfect, lacking nothing. …this is to teach us that nothing is revealed to man completely.”
If one were to claim perfect clarity and understanding they would essentially be transgressing the second commandment of constructing a graven image. Certainty and perfect understanding exist only in the idolatrous world view where the gods are of distinct and finite dimensions. Rabbi Mordechai Yosef equates certainty with idolatry. Total comprehension of the Divine leaves no room for human development and is a distortion of the revelation. This is because G‑d and His Will are infinite and we mortals are finite with limited capacity to understand. Insisting upon perfect knowledge of G‑d and His Will is necessarily idolatrous in that the “perfect perception,” at the end of the day, turns out to be but a projection of ourselves. The words of the Tanya are particularly relevant here:
“…for man visualizes in his mind all the concepts which he wishes to conceive and understand — all as they are within himself. For instance, if he wishes to envisage the essence of Will or the essence of Wisdom or of Understanding… and the like, he visualizes them all as they are within himself. But in truth the Holy One blessed be He, is “High and exalted” and “Holy is His Name,” that is to say, He is holy and separated many myriads and degrees of separations ad infinitum above the quality, type or kind of praises which creatures could grasp and conceive in their intellect.” (Sha’ar HaYichud VeHaEmunah, chapter 8)
We will be guilty of creating G‑d in our own image.
In his commentary above on parashat Yitro, RMY draws a sharp distinction between “G‑d as He is” and “G‑d as He is perceived.” The space between those two is occupied by uncertainty. I refer to this as the “Theological Uncertainty Principle.” Rabbi Ya’akov Leiner states this very clearly:
“Creation is merely a veil generating an appearance of a world distinct from G‑d. The Blessed One established a shield and a barrier concealing His light in this world…in order that people should experience themselves as separate and autonomous creations. To this end G‑d created the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil, that is the tree of uncertainty which envelops the entire world in which the Divine light is concealed to the extent that it is possible to doubt the very existence of the Creator.” (Beit Ya’akov, parashat Bereishit 6)
The ramifications of the Ishbica approach are monumental on both the individual-religious and national-narrative planes. On the individual-religious plane, prior to this approach we generally equated certainty and steadfast faith as being more “religious.” In fact, according to the “Theological Uncertainty Principle” of the MHS and R. Ya’akov Leiner the exact opposite is true. Uncertainty is an essential part of the G‑d — created spiritual topography which we inhabit. It is precisely in the landscape of uncertainty where we develop as religious beings.
On the national-narrative level, Ishbica teaches us that a system with pretensions to explain all in the most certain terms must be naïve and ignorant of the complex and constantly changing world in which we live. The Theological Uncertainty Principle renders a Jewish tradition not obsessed with reconstructing eras of perceived perfection, rather engaged in the constantly changing present with its’ infinite possibilities and surprises. But even more importantly, the uncertainty principle provides an opening for authentic humility and a more profound faith in G‑d.
I’ve often thought the same thing (instinctively, not based on “book” learning!)….
This is so profound that I will share it with skeptical Jews.
It may even be that Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) admonition against using the Torah as a club points to this thought and that the frequent times that human beings kill in the name of their G-d or religious practice is because of gross violation of this uncertainty principle.
What if Torquemada or Osama Bin Laden stopped and asked “do I really know G-d’s mind?”
I would call understanding The Theological Uncertainty Principle an essential part of Righteousness (regardless of the Faith through which it is applied).