It seems fair to say that an area of Western knowledge that
has always seemed to hold especially great promise for
benefit to Torah is the physical sciences.
There is an old line of reasoning that was very common in the
times of the Rambam that argues that the Creator of the
universe wrote two "books": the Scriptures and the Book of
Nature. Thus, we may study them both in order to uncover the
wisdom that their Author embedded in them, and thereby come
closer to Him and serve Him better. According to this
approach, phenomena that are not mediated by man —
basically what are now known as the "hard" sciences such as
physics, chemistry and biology — have primacy, since in
them the work of the Creator is more directly accessible in a
state unmodified by man than in the social sciences, which
study products and processes mediated by humanity.
It is certainly true that the Creator "wrote" both the
Scriptures and the Book of Nature, but that does not mean
that both are equally easy to read.
First of all, the Book of Nature is no less a book than
Scripture. While it is undoubtedly true that we may read the
Book of Nature, we cannot expect more from that reading
experience than what we have found to be the case from our
reading experience of Scriptures. This has not been
unequivocally positive. There is no reason to expect more
from the study of natural phenomena than we can see in the
results from Scripture itself.
In fact, bitter experience in the past two centuries teaches
that it is possible to read Scripture itself and not to be
inspired by the wisdom of its Author, to put it mildly. Many
have read and studied the works of Torah to varying degrees
without thereby becoming convinced of the existence of their
Divine Author, alongside the many others who certainly have
come closer to the works and their Author through study. So
it is clear that studying a text — whether Scriptures
or the Book of Nature — is no guarantee in itself that
one will thereby become closer to its Author.
The difficulties in this course can be compounded by the way
the text is studied, if we pursue the analogy further.
The normal impact, the message sent by its Author, of a text
can only be expected to be properly received if it is read in
order to receive its content. If, on the other hand, it is
tabulated and analyzed with a primary focus of determining
when it was written or to make clear its stylistic structure,
then the normal, expected impact of the primary content will
be minimal or nonexistent. If the text is not experienced but
analyzed as an object, its content is trivialized.
Those who read Scripture for what it can tell them about
general world history or about literature, will not likely
receive its main message as intended by its Author. In fact,
many of them did not receive this message.
A similar things happens when reading the Book of Nature. For
many very good, valuable and valid reasons (mainly to learn
how to get things done in the physical world and to do them),
people have been reading it for information that is very
different from any moral and existential messages that its
Author sent through it. There is no reason that this other
information put there by the Author should not be picked up,
but this valuable information that enables the important
wonders of technology should not be confused with learning
faith and love of Hashem from the Creation, the way that the
Rambam recommends in the beginning of his Mishneh
The focus on the quantitative aspects of nature, that became
increasingly dominant over the past 200 years, coupled with
the aggressive abandonment of any trace of purpose even in a
formal sense, have severely diminished the usefulness of the
results of modern science for enhancing love of Hashem.
This is not to say that the awe that the deep discoveries of
modern physics can inspire cannot be useful, but it is to
argue that it is much less special and unique than was the
knowledge that the Rambam lays out in his early chapters of
The Rambam presents insights of form and matter, a discussion
of the hierarchical organization of the natural world, and
especially a detailed description of elevated creatures
including heavenly bodies and angels.
The Schroedinger Wave Equation, Goedel's Incompleteness
Result, or Shannon's Capacity Theorem are all poor
substitutes, however stunning and useful they are. Even more,
since they are basically beside the point, too much effort
spent on them and their ilk — since they are quite
interesting — can be profoundly distracting from
thoughts of Hashem, in a way that extended contemplation of
angels can never be.
We can develop the analogy further.
Chazal tell us that studying Torah is a wonderful way to know
and come close to Hashem. Since their recommendation was made
for a wide audience, it should be assumed that their
intention was to the study of Torah to learn its overt
content, the basic information that is contained in it and
which is imparted to one who reads the text with the purpose
of extracting from it what those who wrote it intended to put
It is certainly desirable, and perhaps necessary as well, to
presume in reading and learning it that the ultimate source
of the wisdom contained therein is the living G-d.
There are parts of Torah which, it seems, require a greater
commitment and preparation as well as more presuppositions,
but for the basic goal of knowing Hashem and coming closer to
Him, it seems that these two are enough: to study the overt
content as intended by the Author, and to presume that the
Author is the living G-d.
As to the second requirement, it is voluntary and simple and
under the complete control of the reader. If he will, anyone
can choose to approach the Torah as coming from Hashem. To do
so requires nothing more than a firm decision to do so, and
it is done.
As far as the Scriptures, as a written work it can be assumed
that the intended content is present and available to a
typical reader who understands the language. With all its
limitations, writing words is the best means we know of
conveying a message.
However determining what the basic content of the Book of
Nature is intended to be with regard to studying the wisdom
of its Author is definitely not straightforward. If we
compare the radically different systems that all purport to
describe the same, natural world — say, Aristotelian
physics and Newtonian physics — we see how far apart
different answers to this issue can be. Moreover, there is no
reason to assume that the material that will be uncovered
when the primary thrust of research is to learn how to
control nature will be the kind of wisdom that is best for us
to learn in order to become acquainted with the Creator.
The message in the Book of Nature is not as immediate and
present as in a written text. The Book of Nature is certainly
a product of the Creator, but it is not presented to us as a
carrier of a message. Thus, greater difficulty can be
expected in discerning what we are supposed to read in the
Book of Nature. We will study what we like but we may not
know if we are receiving what He intended to send us or
In studying Scripture, we may also choose to concentrate on
the literary form as opposed to the primary message of the
But in the case of the Book of Nature, the situation is more
problematic since in the Book of Nature we can never even be
sure when we are studying its "literary form" and when we are
studying the primary message it is meant to convey.
In any case, it is clear that a thousand years ago in the
Rambam's day, the Book of Nature was studied with the
expressed intent of uncovering the messages therein that
parallel those in the Scriptures, that is, the content that
leads to knowledge of the Author. In the modern approach,
this is entirely absent, and modern science is very proud of
This is a very sharp divergence between the study of natural
science and the content of what was studied in the days of
the Rambam and in our days. All study of science then was
undertaken from the approach of using it as a vehicle to
acquire knowledge of its Author. The content of what passed
for natural science in those days included extended
references to elements that were frankly spiritual, such as
the visible heavenly bodies which were described as having
In fact, all of the content of modern science is only of the
kind that the Rambam shows elsewhere as applying to basic
belief in G-d and not to love of Him. By showing complexity
and the skill of the Designer, it can lead to
Yet Rambam does not recommend the study of natural science
for acquiring basic belief but for arousing love of G-d
— ahavas Hashem.
One of the most basic issues in arousing love of G-d, the
ultimate spiritual entity, is getting the person to have some
feelings — any feelings at all — towards the
The material is immediate. It is compelling. It is demanding
and overwhelming. It is easy to appreciate.
The spiritual is abstract. It is distant. It does not satisfy
any immediate needs and can be easily ignored. It is hard to
For people in general, establishing a serious relationship
with the spiritual in general is clearly the most basic issue
in arousing love of G-d.
A person's body is not just a drag on his spiritual progress;
it can block it entirely. A first step towards love of the
highest plane of spirituality (G-d) is to recognize the
existence of the spiritual. In this, modern science is of no
help. On the contrary, it reinforces the primacy of the
material. Its entire program has been to leave out anything
that is not physically sensible and material. This may be
good for technology, but it is not a help to developing love
Contemplating the ideas presented by the Rambam does answer
this need. The ideas characterize all creatures by their
degree of spirituality, beginning with the lowest that are
composed of a kind of spirit (form) and matter, and
progressing to those of a higher kind of spirit composed of
pure spirit (angels).
Learning about the higher forms of spirit is a definite aid
in arousing love for Hashem. Since they are intrinsically
easier to grasp, since they are still closer to us, we can
develop our sensitivity to and feeling for the spiritual.
This is not the place for an extended digression on angels,
but suffice it to say that to know them is truly to love
them. The step towards love of their Creator, who is both
like them but radically different, is then very natural.
In all this, modern science is certainly no help and is
really part (a very large part for some) of the problem.
Since it has proudly excluded the spiritual from its sphere
of competence, and has doggedly worked to banish anything
that even refers to the nonmaterial such as the discussion of
purpose, it cannot be of any help in dealing with this basic
issue in achieving love of Hashem. Truly, it would probably
even be horrified at the thought that it could be so used.
Many modern discoveries can enhance emunoh, though it
does not seem that they are so good at establishing it where
it is not previously present. In any case, the scientific
discoveries about the wonders of the human body, for example,
can generally be learned from the study of secondary, popular
works. Spending one's professional career in the intellectual
and social environment of science is in many cases more of a
threat to one's emunoh than an aid.
Nowadays, one who seeks to arouse and enhance his love of
Hashem is best advised not to study modern science. He may
study the material that the Rambam suggests at the beginning
of Hilchos Yesodei Hatorah, or Chovos
Halevovos. Many find that deep study of the lomdishe
acharonim enhances their ahavas Hashem.
"This article is part of a much longer article. Comments are welcome."