Integrating Science and Mysticism, Part 2
In the previous article, we introduced the idea that a basis for an integration of science and mysticism exists in the more intellectual writings of Chassidism. In many occasions, these writings refer to a future fusion between the esoteric wisdom of the Torah and the “wisdom of the nations”—the combined knowledge of humanity.
We’ll begin our acquaintance with this idea by examining the central image used to describe this wondrous fusion. The image is of a spiritual deluge, a mirror-image of the Biblical deluge of Noah’s time, in which hidden fountains of wisdom open up and flood the world with knowledge. This image is described in the book of the Zohar, (the classic work of Jewish Mysticism) but its inspiration comes from a verse in Isaiah: “for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of Havaya [term standing for the four-letter name of God], as the waters cover the sea”.
Now, if you’ll recall, the Biblical flood was the result of both the “fountains of the deep” springing forth from below, and the “windows of the heavens” raining down from above. Likewise, the spiritual flood of knowledge is prophesied to be the result of a two-way motion: the simultaneous opening up of the “fountains of wisdom below” and the “gates of wisdom above”.
Obviously, the “gates of wisdom above” refer to revealed mystical knowledge—a reservoir of secret wisdom hidden within the Torah—while the “fountains of wisdom below” refer to rational human knowledge. The likening of the mystical knowledge to rain illustrates that it is a top-down and mainly deductive wisdom, i.e., a wisdom which begins with a Divine revelation and metaphysical presuppositions, and proceeds ‘down’ to particular conclusions and directives from there. Similarly, the likening of science to a fountain illustrates that it is a bottom-up and mainly inductive wisdom, i.e., a wisdom which begins with human consciousness and empirical data, and proceeds ‘up’ to generalizations from there.
Long Lost Siblings
This metaphor contains more than meets the eye. Coded within it is a revolutionary definition of what science and Torah are, and what their true relationship is.
The image of earthly waters and heavenly waters immediately calls to mind the description of the making of the firmament in the story of creation. It is said that on the second day of creation, God made a firmament and placed it inside the water, thus separating the “waters below the firmament” from the “waters above the firmament”. Originally, there was one boundless reservoir of water, but it was cut in half. Since then, the two waters long for each other. Specifically, the Zohar says of the lower waters that they ‘weep’ because they wish to be reunited with the higher ones.
Now, let’s spell out what this idea means when the two waters represent Torah and science. Put simply, it means that these two wisdoms, rather than being rivals, are in fact more like two siblings who were separated at birth. They form the two halves of a larger whole, and their union is therefore a reunion—a recreation of a lost original wisdom, higher than both Torah and science.
Recovering the Meta-Torah
There’s a wisdom higher than Torah? The Torah needs science in order to be complete? All this sounds, well, sacrilegious, not to mention self-contradictory, coming from the Torah itself.
But it’s really a very basic concept in Judaism. The midrash—the Jewish homiletic tradition—says of the Torah that it is really a ‘leaf’ shed by a superior “high wisdom”. It’s not a whole, it’s a part. How can this not be sacrilegious? Because this high wisdom is also called Torah, using now a wider sense of the term. We can refer to this superior Torah as the Meta-Torah of which the revealed Torah is but the tip of the iceberg. This Meta-Torah is alluded to often in the midrash. The oft-quoted sayings that “Torah preceded the world”, that Torah served as the “blueprint of creation”, and that some day there will be revealed a “new Torah” or “the Torah of the Messiah”, all refer to the meta-Torah.
The idea of Torah and science being the higher and lower waters contributes a crucial element to this. It implies that the missing element needed in order to complete the Torah and reveal the Meta-Torah is
none other than science—the sum truths of humanity’s exploratory endeavor. These truths are in fact lost Torah chapters, missing letters of the Divine word that ‘fell’ off and were scattered in the physical universe. By discovering and elevating them, we ourselves become active participators in the revelation of the Divine word.
Coming up Next: Rectifying the Scientific Imagination