Hello! As you all have noticed, I have not posted for almost an entire season. This is because
a. I’m lazy and it’s summer break
and b. my bar mitzvah happened a few days ago.
Schools about to start and I know longer have any hebrew studying to do, so I thought I have no excuse to slack off. Starting today, I am going to begin writing every sunday again in the continuation of my Gallic Wars series. Anyways, I thought it would be fitting to post by Bar Mitzvah speech itself on here since my Bar Mitzvah just happened. Enjoy!
Throughout the last three months I have been studying the Torah with Rabbi Brackman. For most of the summer we were looking through Deuteronomy, the 5th book of the Torah where Moses reviews many of the 613 mitzvot. Mitzvot is the plural of the Hebrew word “mitzvah” which means commandment. Thus, Bar-Mitzvah means son of the commandments. Almost all of the commandments in the Torah I understood, and, though some could be fairly metaphorical, they were generally straightforward. The first 10 commandments many of us know, such as “Thou shall not steal” or “Do not take the Lord’s name in vain.” But some of the others began to confuse me. For instance, in Leviticus 19:19 it says you may not mix certain types of fabrics. This completely confused me. What was the meaning of this? Could it hurt someone to mix fabrics? I did not understand it. This Mitzvah seemed like it had no purpose.
So I asked Rabbi Brackman, he explained that while most of the commandments have a rationale, the point of some commandments like not wearing garments that are a mixture of wool and linen, is not to have a specific meaning, but rather so you obey the word of the Torah. He said often you won’t understand something but you still have to do it. The point of these commandments, in effect, is to teach you obedience. They connect you to G-d and get you out of your own mind. The main purpose of the commandments is to help you form a connection with G-d so you can have faith in him. But I was not convinced, you see, as I have always lived on a principle of understanding why or why not I should do something.
But all of this was cut short on a trip to upstate New York, in which I visited first my grandparents and then my aunt & uncle along with my cousins Ezra and Esther. Andrea and Dave, my aunt and uncle, have two extremely cute kids: Eleanor and Isaac. Eleanor just turned 3 and Issac is 3 months old. Though she is extremely cute, at least the last time I visited her, Eleanor’s favorite thing to do is to say “why.” “Just like me,” I thought. “She likes questioning commands.” Well, it turns out she is much more advanced than me in the practice of questioning commands. Not only did she like working things out for herself, but when she was commanded by another person to do something she made sure she understood every step of their reasoning. You see, she was an experienced “why”er. “Eleanor, you have to put your sunscreen on.” “Why.” Because if you don’t you’ll get a sunburn and that’s bad.” “Why.” “Because it really hurts.” “Why.” because of the light and heat coming from the sun.” “Why” “Because of how stars work.” “Why.” And soon enough we’re into advanced astrophysics. Man, it was almost feeling like saying “why” wasn’t always the right thing to do! And then it hit me: Saying why wasn’t always the right thing to do.
Eleanor, in her own way, had taught me through experience that sometimes you just have to trust someone. You have to understand that you don’t really understand, if you see what I mean. You just have to believe someone is trying to help you instead of questioning their intentions. If you understand that you don’t understand, you will realise that since there’s no way of finding the thing out by yourself the only way to learn about it is to have faith in someone else and ask them. And after that, maybe you will actually learn the meaning of something. Maybe, once we’re on the walk I can explain atomic fusion to Eleanor. If you have faith initially, then you might understand later. And not only did this principle apply to the bible and G-d, but also to other people, especially those commanding you like your parents, or your boss at work. But, it seemed this principle didn’t always apply. After all, most of the time you want to think for yourself and understand what’s going on. So the next step in my forming idea was drawing the line. Finding out when you should ask why, and when you should not.
The clash of logic and faith has been a long standing one. For most of history, human thought was governed by faith completely. People believed questioning god or those above you was wrong. Then, in the age of enlightenment people began using science instead of religion to explain things. Famous philosophers like Emanuel Kant discredited faith in religion and in higher-ups in light of personal reasoning. In essence, they began asking “why.” I think the two (logic and faith) can be melded into a theory which includes both. To understand how I could make this, I would have to look at the good and bad traits of both.
Logic is a good idea in general, but it has its faults. Logic is a fundamentally good idea because it is built around you thinking for yourself. When you think for yourself you don’t have an outside bias and can think purely about what is the right thing to do. But there are problems with it. After all, if you try to rely completely on your own mind and have no faith in others you could end up in the wrong place. Though you don’t have an outside bias, you might try solely to benefit yourself instead of doing the actual right thing. And if you build your worldview completely on personal ideas that have no connection to other people you could become self serving or narcissistic. In effect, you will have an inside bias. Besides, if you try to reason everything out by yourself, instead of trusting other people’s words, you will spend your entire life trying to work out the most basic ideas which other people could have told you long ago. That’s just how humans work. Instead of each person trying to solve all of the problems in the world in one lifetime, we take it step by step and use the knowledge of others in our time and before us to derive a mutual understanding of the world.
Faith, on the other hand, generally operates on the principle of trusting others and God. It, too, has its merits. It often helps you to listen to others rather than to try to work everything out by yourself. But it has its own problems. If you become too reliant on others for what to do and what not to do, you could lose the mind of your own and the ideas that you have. God gave you the ability to think for yourself. He made you conscious. And, after all, as a conscious individual you do have your own personality, and though it is good to share ideas with others it would be a terrible thing if we all lost our individuality and became a sort of “hivemind.” So you need to balance the two.
In the end, I think the two can be balanced. The point of the mitzvot is to connect to god and have faith in him, and we should take that as a core principle. We can use our faith in our everyday lives too, with our friends, family, and just others around us. But God gave us our sense of reason and logic, so we can use that too. The word israel literally means “the one who wrestles with god.” When confronted by an order from the torah (like a mitzvah) or from your family you should follow it. When speaking to someone you don’t know or don’t trust though, you should use your own sense of logic to find out if they are speaking the truth. This is my basic solution. Of course, you should still use a sense of reason with those close to you, but you can generally trust them.
I hope you all have understood what I have said, and maybe taken some meaning from it, because I think this is something that we can all apply to ourselves in our everyday lives. Like sunscreen. Thank you.
I hope you liked it, and, as I stated in the speech, can derive meaning from it, (because 90% of my audience couldn’t because I read aloud so fast.) This Sunday I will publish the next post in my Gallic Wars series.
4 thoughts on “My Bar-Mitzvah Speech”
That was really enjoyable. I like how you framed the faith vs reason debate as essentially a test for when to follow the “shortcut” to an answer by relying on faith/trust, vs trying to do the work yourself via reason. A lot of the modern world seems built on secular institutions that have sought to build public trust through peer-review and consensus… but most importantly, by providing consistent value to the public that trusts them. Religious faith seems to provide no tangible service, yet that public faith rarely waivers. Conversely, what causes public trust in secular institutions to decline, despite providing consistently valuable services (e.g., medical research)?
Loved the anecdote about your cousins, btw. I feel like I constantly have those conversations with my kids that end up at the nuclear physics end of the spectrum, way beyond my expertise, and i end up saying something about the scientific process — which i suppose is essentially describing a form of secular faith. But, one that could at least conceivably produce the same natural law explanations for phenomena now or 10 millennia from now. Faith in the process vs faith in the individual narrative, i suppose.
My suggestion for your Gallic Wars series. Instead of asking ‘why?’ please say ‘really?’ For the longest time the figures given for Gallic casualties have seemed crazy high. Even bigger than those suffered by the Romans in the wars against Carthage and comparable to the industrialised slaughter of the Wedtern front in WWI. So I’d like some attempt to work out what is really plausible. And also why people seem so happy to accept the (to my mind) crazy numbers.
I’d read this with great interest!
Best of luck!
I have actually recently been looking into this recently as I have been studying for my next post. At first I was confused too, but I realized that there were 2 reasons that the Gauls took so high casualties. #1: They didn’t. Roman propaganda attempting to belittle Gallic soldiers and make their legions seem superior. #2: Though the numbers were extremely exaggerated, the Gauls did suffer massive casualties to the Romans. Even these numbers are deceptive, though, because 90% of there casualties were from disease. They didn’t have antibiotics when a dude was cut they just prayed to the gods. (though, many modern historians speculate that the herbal remedies they used contained natural antibiotics.) But, we can never truly know.
I wonder about the antibiotic thing. It’s true wounds can go bad but people received wound after wound and survived so I don’t think it can have been so very bad. And people would have received cuts all the time and been fine.
Also on the numbers the Gauls could generally run away after it got difficult ((not in a siege of course) and the Romans couldn’t follow too much. Hand Delbruck is an interesting writer. He is German, super logical and completely mad but his approach is to try to work out the numbers in ancient battles using logic and comes up with some surprising results.
Look forward to the next post!