Thursday, January 19, 2017

Deal or Scam?

“עין לא ראתה אלהים זולתך יעשה למחכה לו,” (The Eye has not seen, G-d, except you, what is done for one who waits for him) Isaiah 64:3.
The Rabbis learn this verse (Brachos 34) as Isaiah’s praise for the “world to come” (otherwise known as heaven). No one, not even prophets, have seen it… Lets try to understand this. If I came up to you and said, I’ll make you a deal. You dedicate every waking moment of your life to me, and in return, I’ll give you a very special gift. What’s the gift? You can’t see it, and if I showed you I would have to kill you. Sounds appealing right!?!
This “deal” scenario, where you achieve divine salvation in a quick move of thriftiness, has nothing to do with אמונה, (poorly translated as faith). The philosopher Blaise Pascal suggested such a thought experiment (Pascal’s wager) as an entrance into faith. In decision theory, you make decisions by multiplying chance by possible reward. Along these lines, Pascal calculated that even on the minimal chance that there is infinite reward after death for faith, multiply that minimal chance by infinity and you get infinity! So Pascal would take my offer of a “secret gift” in a blink, at least theoretically. Obviously, common sense says otherwise.
אמונה is a person’s connection to a deeper perspective of the world. Are you just reacting to your surroundings, like a robot who responds functionally to a command, or do you live with a reality that is beyond what the eye can see. We can understand things with vision through the power of metaphor. The thing which is visible from the outside represents something, communicates something. We say in the song of the day on shabbos, אמונתך בלילות, “Your Faith at nights”. At night its dark, the external world is taken away from you, and you are left with yourself, alone. That is the place for אמונה. Like they say, ‘no atheists in a fox hole.’ Some situations can be deeply sobering. When your sober, your not swayed by external things that aren’t sound, that aren’t real. In a foxhole, you think about what life is really about, what you did in your life that will last. 
The Rabbis in the Gemara 'Sotah,' 48, speak about a how a person's actions merit great reward. Surprisingly, they say that if he is weak in his belief that he will be rewarded for his actions, his reward is reduced. Why should his belief take away from the good deeds he did? The Maharal explains: A person that can anticipate reward in a world that doesn't appreciate it as much as it should shows he has a special quality: He connects to a hidden future because he has a hidden quality about himself. Since the world to come is a reality that is in essence hidden, he fits there and belongs there.

If there is any truth in Pascal's wager, it is that a person who understands the concept of a hidden world of infinite reward will surely behave differently. But understanding the concept is not a question of making a simple calculation - it involves the inner truth of a person and how he relates to his reality.
עין לא ראתה (The eye has not seen it) is the praise of the world to come not because even a minimal chance of infinite reward justifies a radical commitment. Rather, because it is so intrinsically real that it's deeper than anything you can see in a world of externallity. And a person who lives such an idea is surely worthy of reward that the external world cannot offer. 

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