With all the recent talk about faith and reason,
it seems wise to retrace the steps to the roots of this
conflict. After all, problems are best solved at their origin.
No one ever gets lost in a moment; we begin by slowly wandering
off course, slightly veering off center, until, with time,
we can no longer find our way.
A spate of recent books include titles like "The End
of Faith," "The Twilight of Atheism” and
“Doubt: A History.” Since the November elections
editorial pages and TV pundits have been consumed with the
issue of religion and its role in politics and in our lives
Self-proclaimed people of both faith and faithlessness
have surfaced, all pontificating about the virtues of each
In truth, this conflict is nothing new. The role of faith
and how to balance it with human logic has plagued people
from the beginning of time. In our time this conflict has
manifested most in the last two century-old battle between
religion and science.
Some prefer the rather simplistic approach that faith and
reason are mutually exclusive, two different domains that
can never be reconciled.
According to this thinking faith is the domain of the ignorant.
A relic of the past, that is slowly being phased out in
the ever-growing shadow (or they may say the light) of science,
reason and open-mindedness. How they can possibly dismiss
millions of people of faith is beyond me. I understand that
one can dismiss the masses who continuously show that they
can buy into any rubbish, if indoctrinated long enough.
But amongst the millions of faithful there must be at least
one or two intelligent people, who have embraced faith after
extensive inquiry and introspection.
On the other end of the spectrum, many people who claim
to speak in the name of faith are dogmatic, intolerant and
equally dismissive of their counterparts.
I for one feel that we all have two voices inside of us
– the voice of faith and the voice of skepticism.
Therefore both viewpoints can teach us much about our own
inner struggles and the very nature of the human condition.
True faith is not a passive state that lacks the discretion
and balance of reason, and reason is not a force that denies
faith. They actually complement each other.
A radio interviewer once asked me if I ever had a crisis
of faith. Apparently he thought that I appeared like someone
who was living in (ignorant?) bliss so often associated
with the devout life. I laughed and told him, “yes
I did and I do have a crisis of faith. Every moment of my
“How can one not have a crisis,” I explained, “when we
continuously witness so much senseless pain and suffering
of the innocent. Faith does not mean blindness to life’s
harsh realities. Every time we see a vulnerable, harmless
child hurt, how one not have crisis of faith how a good
G-d could allow such loss…”
“The people of deepest faith were always the ones that
posed the greatest challenge to G-d. ‘How can the Judge
of the universe not do justice?’ Abraham implored. ‘Why
do You do evil to these people?’ Moses demanded.”
I then asked him in return if he ever had a crisis of faith.
He replied that he had no faith. So I followed up and wondered
whether he had a crisis of unfaithfulness (a tongue-twister
which means a question whether he ever doubted his lack
of faith). “You probably think,” I suggested,
“that to have faith is easier than having no faith.”
“Absolutely,” he said. “Faith is a crutch,
an escape that can comfort someone in times of crisis. When
all else fails, and logic no longer works, a person of faith
can fall back on his beliefs. While a person that lacks
faith has no such crutch and must face the challenge head-on.”
“You are mistaken,” I told him. “For true faith means that
you have to struggle every moment with the dilemma how a
good G-d could allow suffering. The question doesn’t let
you sleep. While a person of not faith should not be disturbed
at life’s injustice – after all, who says that life has
to be just? Survival of the fittest is the heartless law
of the land, and it’s just a cold fact of life that the
stronger ones will prevail over the weaker ones.”
“No, I can’t accept that,” the interviewer exclaimed. “I
am bothered by innocent loss. Perhaps then I guess I do
have a measure of faith in some form of justice,” he concluded.
* * *
Where do we find the first conflict between faith and reason?
We find it in this week’s Torah portion. The faith/reason
battle lies at the heart of the conflict between Joseph
and his brothers, and frankly, this can help us understand
the inside story of their dispute.
The big question is of course how could the tribes, devout
and holy men, stoop to petty jealousy and plan to kill their
brother Joseph and then sell him into slavery?! And all
this due to two dreams that Joseph shared with them!
The mystery only deepens as Joseph and his brothers meet
again (unbeknownst to them) 22 years later, when they come
to Egypt to purchase grain. Joseph goes through an elaborate
scheme, first imprisoning his brother Shimeon, then demanding
that they return with their youngest brother Benjamin, only
to then conspire to arrest Benjamin. Exasperated, Judah
confronts Joseph. He defiantly approaches him in this week’s
portion, as Benjamin’s guarantor, and demands that
Benjamin be released, and Judah be taken in his place.
Finally, Joseph breaks down. He no longer could control
himself and he reveals his identity to his brothers. Without
a bit of anger – he actually pacifies his brothers
that “it is not you who sent me here, but G-d,”
in order “to save lives” – he welcomes
them and implores of them to bring their father and together
live in Egypt in the “best part of the land.”
Clearly there is something more going on than just brotherly
politics. Especially when you turn the clock forward some
650 years, and the conflict between the Judah and Joseph
takes on tragic proportions. After King Solomon’s
death, the ten tribes, under the leadership of Jeroboam
(of the tribe of Joseph/Efraim), break away from Rechoboam,
son of Solomon, grandson of David, of the house of Judah.
From then on the (northern) Kingdom of Israel is split from
the (southern) Kingdom of Judah, until they both would be
destroyed, first the Kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians
200 years later, and then, 136 years later, the Kingdom
of Judah and the destruction of the Temple by the Babylonians.
The plot thickens. Though the split of kingdoms was a tragedy,
it was meant to be, Divinely ordained: “When Jeroboam
went out of Jerusalem, the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite
found him in the way. He was clad in a new garment…
Ahijah grabbed the new garment that was on him, and rent
it in twelve pieces. And he said to Jeroboam, ‘Take
the ten pieces, for thus says G-d: Behold, I will rend the
kingdom out of the hand of Solomon, and will give ten tribes
to you. But he shall have one tribe for my servant David's
sake, and for Jerusalem's sake, the city which I have chosen
out of all the tribes of Israel’” (Kings I 11:29-32).
The end of the story is even more tragic. Instead of using
this Divine opportunity to create a just and sublime Kingdom,
Jeroboam ends up creating an idolatrous nation, which would
lead to its destruction juts two centuries later.
The story is still not over. Ezekiel tells us, in this
week’s Haftorah, that Judah and Joseph would one day
reunite and be one: "Thus says G-d: Behold, I am to
take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim,
and the tribes of Israel associated with him, and I will
join with it the stick of Judah, and make them one stick,
that they may be one in my hand. When the sticks on which
you write are in your hand before their eyes, then say to
them, Thus says G-d: ‘Behold, I will take the people
of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and
will gather them from all sides, and bring them to their
own land. I will make them one nation in the land, upon
the mountains of Israel. One king shall be king over them
all. My servant David shall be king over them, and one shepherd
shall be for them all, and they shall walk in My ordinances
and observe My statutes and perform them. They shall
be no longer two nations, and no longer divided into two
kingdoms. They shall not defile themselves any more with
their idols and their detestable things, or with any of
their transgressions. I will save them from all the habitations
in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them. And they
shall be My people, and I will be their G-d. Thus the nations
shall know that it is I, G-d, Who sanctifies Israel, when
my sanctuary shall be set up among them forever” (Ezekiel
There must be some profound significance in this conflict
between Joseph and Judah (and the other brothers) that it
spans all of history, and does not come to resolution until
the end of days, which is yet to happen.
The psycho-spiritual mystics explain it this way:
Each of the 12 tribes is a unique archetype in the spectrum
of human experience. They all are necessary components in
our lives and they complement each other. (For a detailed
breakdown, see The
Twelve Tribes). Joseph and Judah represent the
two pillars of scholarship and action (Talmud
Leadership was given to Judah, because Judah (from the
word ‘hodaah,’ “acknowledgment”) embodies faith
and humility: the single most important ingredient in a
true leader. He does not see himself as great, only as transparent
channel of a Higher Will completely dedicated to serving
his people. His ego and personality do not stand in the
way between the people and G-d. Without absolute faith,
humility and selflessness, leadership and the power that
it wields is just plain dangerous.
When Joseph’s brothers heard his dreams and sensed they
would be fulfilled in Joseph becoming the leader over them
all, they immediately recognized a formidable threat to
the Divine plan. Judah was designated to be the leader.
His descendants – the House of David – were given kingship.
Joseph’s leadership was mutiny against the Divinely ordained
leadership of Judah. They foresaw the split that the children
of Joseph would create in their secession from the house
of David, the Kingdom of Israel that would break away from
the Kingdom of Judah. To preempt this tragedy they felt
that Joseph’s mutiny deserved death.
In psychological terms, the tribes recognized the inherent
danger in leadership driven by reason alone lacking the
deep humility necessary in true leadership. For all of Joseph’s
strength, scholarship without humility, knowledge without
action, reason without faith, leads to arrogance and ultimately
can become destructive. An absolute commitment to truth
is built upon the unwavering foundation of faith. This faith
and selflessness manifests in implementation and not just
The brothers however were mistaken in one critical regard:
Timing. True, a perfect world would have Judah as its leader
(Moshiach son of David), but while we still live in an imperfect
world, where there is a dichotomy between matter and spirit,
ignorant faith can be even more dangerous. Leadership needs
to be informed and directed by knowledge. The passion of
absolute faith without knowledge, humility without the direction
of wisdom, action without first studying, can become misguided
and misdirected, to the point of harming others in the name
of ignorant faith. Thus, the need to first experience Joseph’s
leadership, to temper and balance the passion of Judah -
wisdom to direct and guide one’s actions, knowledge
to channel the power of faith. Joseph’s leadership
(Moshiach son of Joseph) prepares and refines the world
for the ultimate leadership of Judah (as related in the
Though the split of the two Kingdoms was a tragedy, it
reflected the reality of the dichotomy between faith and
reason of an imperfect world. Separately both “kingdoms”
would be destroyed. Reason and faith – scholarship
and action – need to serve as two complementary forces.
Indeed, Ezekiel tells us that both “sticks”
of reason and faith will ultimately be integrated as “one
stick,” under one leader, David who will be their
Now let’s turn the clock forward. Over 3500 years have
passed since Joseph reunited with his brothers, and 3000
years since the “garment” was rent into pieces. During these
years we have seen the tragic consequences of misplaced
and distorted faith: Millions of people were killed in the
name of Holy Crusades and Inquisitions. We have also seen
the emergence of what has been coined the “age of reason.”
Yet, tensions between the two still simmer. We can’t
seem to find a balance between the passions of faith and
the reflections of reason.
However, by retracing the steps to the initial roots of
the conflict we can come to understand the tragic consequences
that result when these two forces are at each other’s
throats. And we can also learn what the benefits of both
forces, how the “two sticks” can complement
and inform each other, and together create one stronger
We also firmly believe that history is one continuum, continuously
evolving to higher levels of consciousness and perfection.
After all these years of conflict, and the accumulative
wisdom about reason and faith that we have gained over these
years, we can today stand as “midgets on the shoulders
of giants,” and uncover a deeper maturity about these
two critical forces in our lives.
Is it possible that we today can finally restore the garment
that was rent so long ago?