"For in much wisdom is much vexation; and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow."
---Koheles (Ecclesiastes) 1:18
I went to a shiur last night. The topic was Koheles (Ecclesiastes), specifically about the balance between desiring and pursuing knowledge and knowing the limitations of the knowledge that you can expect to obtain. The speaker was very good; my friend who encouraged me to come was worried about me enjoying it until she saw me take out a pen and piece of paper and start taking notes. Then she knew that I was at least interested.
The speaker was saying that it is important to use our intellect in order to try to understand the ways of the world and our place within it. But...it's also important to know the limits of our ability to comprehend everything. For example, she said that there is no way for us to understand G-d. He is beyond comprehension, and we shouldn't not even attempt to understand the whys of what He does.
She also spoke about balancing our wisdom with the opposite - of being accepting of those things that we don't know, and being able to admit them, of having humility. She used the quote from Pirkei Avos that the wise man is he who learns from every person. This is because there are so many things that each of us do not know that someone else does. If we just take some time, we will discover these things and learn from our fellows.
This balance between striving for knowledge and wisdom and acknowledging those things that are beyond comprehension brought me to the topic that bothered me a bit - and that is blind faith. The speaker said that because we can acknowledge the fact that G-d's ways and reasons can not be comprehended, we also have to accept Him and His rules with blind faith. Without even trying to understand, because He is so far beyond what we are capable of.
I don't know if I agree with this approach. But I'm not sure if I totally disagree with it either. To me, there is definitely some leap of faith that one must take in order to accept G-d, and especially to accept all His commandments and requirements in life. But should we step back and say that we should not even attempt to understand? Doesn't that take the meaning out of it? Doesn't that make us into zombies, and as many would say, a cult?
It's a very difficult balance. G-d gave us amazing brains, capable of understanding so much. So why would He want us to give up on that and say that some things are just too tough? I think the effort, the attempt at understanding, is important. And that is makes the jump you take smaller, and hopefully easier. Though maybe not.
In many ways, I agree with the quote from Koheles above. With knowledge, does come pain. Thinking and wondering doesn't come easily, and certainly it's not without its cost. But does that mean we should shirk from it and give up? Accept ignorance without a fight? Should we avoid all pain in life? Or can it lead to the greatest reward?