Wednesday, 2 May 2007

Total Eclipse, Partial Eclipse - A Parable

Originally published 5/2/07, 9:57 PM, Eastern Daylight Time

Once there was a Wise Wizard who had the following of three young Apprentices. All realized how much knowledge the Wizard had to impart and so all three listened intently, albeit they reacted differently.
One day, near the end of the life of the Wizard, there was a total eclipse of the Sun. Wishing to protect his three young charges, he admonished them to shade their eyes, lest the Sun demons cause them to go blind. He issued each one a shade, and warned them that despite the darkness of the Sun during the eclipse, unseen demons were at work, and they must be cautious and wear the shades.
The First Apprentice was very pious, very literal, and very rigid. This pious Apprentice kept the shades on and notices how much better his eyes felt. He soon realized that if keeping the shades on during the darkening of the Sun worked to ward off demons, how much more so it would work when the Sun shown brightly. Soon the Pious Apprentice was wearing his shades all the time, for if wearing it somewhat helped, wearing it all the time helped even more!
The Second Apprentice was very bright, but also very cynical. He had it all figured out. He noticed that there were no demons at all - that this was the stuff of old wives' tales. His five senses told him clearly, there was no danger looking at an eclipsed Sun, and soon he desensitized himself to look even at a Noon Sun. He let all the light in and became quite enlightened. He never hesitated to gaze at the Sun as often as he wished, so he never bothered with ideas of demons nor of shades.
The Third Apprentice was a reasonable man of faith. He knew the Wizard had hidden wisdom, but he did not believe in superstition either. He was suspicious about the ideas of demons, but he also trusted the Wizard's intelligence and humbly realized that his limited mind could not possibly know it all. He observed when and how the Wizard shaded his eyes. By imitating him - even without understanding all of the underlying implications - he realized that he could make sense out of when the shades were needed and when they were unnecessary. He began to see the patterns and make sense out of them, even though he could see nothing at all about demons.
The Wizard passed on. The Three Apprentices became Masters in their own right. The Pious Master wore shades all the time. His eyes remained young and healthy. He was safe and sound. He saw little light, and knew little light. His eyes were always fresh, but they were also practically unused. The Cynical Master unknowingly burned the retina in his eyes. He was truly enlightened, but blinded by the light. Soon ALL he could see was bright light. He could not see anything other than pure white His ability to see it all soon enabled him to have a blindness of white. Instead of a dark blindness, it was as if he was snow-blind. With white light everywhere he could make no distinctions, nor discernment. Everything was the same.
The Reasonable Master sometimes wore his shades and sometimes did not. His eyes were used but not abused, and he aged gracefully. He saw a lot of light but did not get burned. Occasionally he kept the shades on when he did not need to, and occasionally he left them off when he should have used them.
Later in his life he learned the secret of the demons. They were nothing superstitious at all, just a metaphor for Ultra-Violet Radiation. He grew old, satisfied that by combining faith with reason that he followed the mystical ways - trusting in a meaning behind the invisible. He knew that underneath it all the Wizard's ways were reasonable, even when they appeared to be irrational.
Which way do you choose to look at wisdom? Do you follow blindly? Do you ignore the wisdom of the elders. Do you respect that which you do not quite fathom?

-- Kol Tuv- Best Regards,
Rabbi Richard Wolpoe

© 2001 by Richard Wolpoe


Nishma said...

This reminds me of the famous words of Rambam in describing the three different types of responses (in people) to the words of Chazal. There are those who take the words literally, find them greatly problematic and then dismiss them. There are those who take the words literally, accept them as true even in this literal sense (as they are the words of Chazal) and dismiss the problems. Then there are those who recognize that Chazal's words must have wisdom, recognize the problems with the literal and thus search to find the true meaning in Chazal's words. But how to decide when to take the words literally and when not to? When is the problem a limitation within me curtailing my ability to hear the teaching of Chazal and when is it a true guide to understanding what Chazal really meant? And how do we find and ensure what Chazal really meant? The challenge is not an easy one.


DrMike said...

> But how to decide when to take the words literally and when not to?

That's the point of the oral tradition.

> When is the problem a limitation within me curtailing my ability to hear the teaching of Chazal and when is it a true guide to understanding what Chazal really meant?

What's the difference between the two? The former leads to the latter.

> And how do we find and ensure what Chazal really meant?

Tarot cards and a Ouji board from the occult section at the local Wal-mart.

And furthermore, if the old wizard was so concerned with his disciples, why didn't he go to that same Wal-mart and buy them each a pair of welder's goggles? I mean, these guys are in wizardry, a profession almost as intellectually demanding as medicine. They also have to take physics and biology in undergrad to get into wizard school so they'd know about eclipses and retinal damage. They'd figure it out.

Rabbi Richard Wolpoe said...

If you see the new single volume edition of the En Jacob you will see Avraham the son of the Rambam's introduction. This parable is quite consistent with that essay.

It's not ONLY Oral tradition that helps us to separate the literal from the metaphorical, but is also a form of expertise {T'viat Ayyin} taht can help one to ferret out the truth.

A good rule is to keep in mind, what is the best read that make the most sense and promotes the best outcome. A slavishly literal read or a cynical read will almost never. Yet, even in the area of metaphor there are good reads and superior