Why You Don't Exist (Pre-Purim sermon, 2020) Mar 10, 2020 14:05:05 GMT
Post by Rabbi Neil on Mar 10, 2020 14:05:05 GMT
Purim, the festival we celebrate this week, is a festival with a narrative replete with hidden and revealed messages, particularly involving inversion of expectations of what we consider to be real. Therefore, during this evening’s pre-Purim sermon, I intend to reveal an important message hidden in our tradition that can only be discovered by inverting our texts in a manner beyond any sensible meaning, far beyond any intellectually acceptable means of interpretation and only through repeatedly contradicting myself. I therefore encourage you, in the words of Pirke Avot, to “drink in the words” of this sermon “with thirst” as we might joyously drink on Purim, and to “warm yourself by the fire” of my words.
We start our journey with the claim by Moshe Chayim Luzzato that “every Jew must know and believe that there exists a first Being, without beginning or end, who brought all things into existence and continues to sustain them. This Being is God. It is furthermore necessary to know that God’s true nature cannot be understood at all by any being other than Himself.” We also know according to chapter one of Genesis that God created us in the Divine image. If we are created in the Divine image, then, and if God is without beginning or end, then we must be without beginning or end. Is that possible? We seem to be extremely finite beings. Well, if we are created in the image of God and if God’s true nature cannot be understood by anyone but God, that must mean that our own nature cannot be understood by anyone but God. So we who seem to be finite are in fact not finite, despite the evidence of our own eyes. We can go further. Maimonides teaches us that “the matter of which God is composed is not flesh and blood.” Therefore, if we are created in the image of God, as Genesis clearly says we are, it must mean that we also are not actually flesh and blood. And if that is the case, what are we?
In the Book of Psalms, we learned that previous generations knew that “God was their rock.” In the Second Book of Samuel we learn that God is the Rock of Israel, a phrase we repeat in our morning liturgy. The Book of Deuteronomy also says that God “is the rock, God’s ways are perfect and all God’s ways are just.” Therefore, God is not flesh and blood, but God is a rock. And if we are created in God’s image, despite thinking that we are flesh and blood, we are each, in fact, a rock. This makes sense because just as water wears down a rock over time, and water is compared with Torah which nourishes and brings life , so too the members of this community are continually worn down by my Torah-based sermons. Thus it is clear that everyone here is not flesh and blood but is, in fact, a rock.
But, don’t the book of Psalms and the second book of Samuel also ask “Who is a rock, besides our God?” Doesn’t the first book of Samuel specifically state of God that “there is no-one beside You, nor is there any rock like our God”? That must mean that we are in fact not rocks.
Va’ir pere adam yivaled states the Book of Job – “A wild donkey’s colt can be born a man.” Is it possible, then, that a man can be an ass? That certainly would accord with the infallible words of my wife. But wait! That would mean that we are like flesh and blood, so that cannot be the case and I cannot be an ass.
Psalm 48 says that God created us “a little lower than the angels” Jeremiah has God ask rhetorically “Am I only a God nearby… and not a God far away?” We know the angels live in heaven, because the ladder that Jacob sees with angels ascending and descending has its top reaching to heaven. Therefore, if we are a little lower than angels and not flesh and blood, if we are like God who is both near and far away, what must we be? The only thing that is lower than the angels and both near and far away are the clouds. Therefore, we must be clouds. But that also cannot be the case since Job tells us to “behold the clouds which are higher than you.” Therefore, if we are not clouds, if we are lower than the heavens and both near and far, then we must be wind. This makes sense since Job himself says “My life is wind.” Indeed, the Book of Psalms describes people as “a passing breeze that does not return.” And the Book of Proverbs talks of people being “like clouds and wind without rain.” And all so often, people describe that which comes out of my mouth is hot air.
So, can it be that we are wind? But if we know that we are made in God’s image, wouldn’t that also make God wind? Doesn’t Maimonides say in the Guide to the Perplexed that God is unchanging? Indeed, basing our entire premise on us being literally made in God’s image must be nonsensical since we recite from the Book of Exodus in our morning liturgy – “Mi Chamocha B’Eilim Adonai? Who is like you among the Divine Beings, O Adonai?” The prophet Isaiah has God ask “Who is like Me?” These are rhetorical questions, implying that no-one is like God, which is exactly what the song Ein K’Eloheinu, literally says - there is none like God. But if God exists, as we saw at the very beginning, and if nothing is like God, then we must not exist. That is why Hillel could say “ein ani li - I am not for myself” which must mean that even though I perceive myself to exist, I am not actually existent.
How can I possibly say that we do not exist, since every sense tells us that we do? Maimonides says, “Know that the human intellect has objects of apprehension that it is within its power and according to its nature to apprehend. On the other hand, in that which exists there also are existents and matters that, according to its nature, it is not capable of apprehending in any way or through any cause; the gates of apprehension are shut before it. There are also in that which exists things of which the intellect may apprehend one state while not being cognizant of other states.” Or, as he puts it more succinctly, “Man’s intellect indubitably has a limit at which it stops. There are therefore things regarding which it has become clear to man that it is impossible to apprehend them.” You might think that he is talking of deep philosophical matters here, but no! That would be far too sensible.
So, to conclude and to spare you of any more ridiculousness, the Book of Psalms tells us that “the fool says in his heart – there is no God.” We know that God exists and despite thinking that we are created in God’s image, in fact there is nothing at all like God. Since God exists and there is nothing like God, we do not exist. Spinoza said that “Besides God no substance can be granted or conceived.” Therefore, there is nothing but God and since God exists and since we are nothing like God, we must not exist. That may seem ridiculous to you, but Spinoza himself explains that “whenever… anything … seems to us ridiculous… it is because we have but a partial knowledge of things and are in the main ignorant of the order and coherence of nature as a whole, and because we want everything to be arranged according to the dictates of our own reason.” In other words, it only seems ridiculous to us because we have been deceived by our own experience, by our own ears and our own noses. Thus, one of the Psalms which we recite in Hallel says “They have ears but do not hear, they have noses but do not smell.” We might think we hear and can smell, but in fact it must all be an illusion. You might correctly say that that verse is talking about idols but not human beings, but then how to explain the prophet Jeremiah who also says “Hear this…. people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear” ? You may think, therefore, that you have heard this sermon, and you may indeed wish that you had never heard this sermon, but you never did actually hear this sermon because despite all evidence to the contrary, you do not exist, and it is only due to lack of knowledge that anyone could possibly ever suggest that we exist. And before anyone tries quote this sermon and say that they do not exist and therefore do not need to pay their Temple dues, remember that I do not exist and therefore this sermon never existed and therefore it cannot be used as proof of non-existence. And if this sermon never existed then we can agree with Ibn Gabirol who said that “the highest form of worship is that of silence and hope,” and therefore because this sermon never existed it is in fact totally silent and therefore the highest form of worship to God. Indeed, as it ends and therefore creates silence, we can all agree that its ending is the best possible thing in the presence of God, and let us say, Amen!