As the generations go by, humanity is advancing towards wisdom and goodness.
- A. Human world and transcendental aspiration
As the generations go by, humanity is advancing towards wisdom and goodness. This advancement takes place for the most part – specifically within the last generations – within the humanist-naturalist realm, that is to say: in a closed world.
However, there exists within man a demand to meet the transcendental [that which is beyond the world, the infinite] so as to give meaning to his world. There are outstanding individuals in each nation who are capable of occasionally breaking through the barrier of the world and who thus hear the Word of G-d. Yet the definitive majority of humanity requires the People of Israel for this, for it is the prophecy of Israel that is transcendent by nature. Moreover, in order for man to turn towards the plane of the transcendental in a complete manner, the transcendental must first turn to man. We find this kind of positioning only in the nation of Israel. Therefore, the most complete devotion to G-d depends on the reception of the Word of G-d by way of the nation of Israel.
- B. Prophecy allows advancement and hope
Let us explain this further: One could look at the whole of man’s life as a series of answers and questions. One understands something specific. Subsequently, he asks a question, thereby making room in his consciousness for a new type of understanding. When he arrives at the new understanding, he feels that he is in a more complete world. And the process continues: Each new understanding creates the conditions for the next question, and the question brings man forward.
Does the process end with a question or an answer? We see from the question asked by Moses (Exodus 33: 18) “I beseech you, show me Your glory” that came up “…after there did not remain a single partition that had not been removed…” (Maimonides, Eight Chapters) that at the end of the process one is left with a question. This might cause despair, but really the opposite should be the case: There is something wondrous about the fact that there is no fully comprehensible purpose to be understood by humanity, since man remains, in the end, open to that which is beyond him. This is the difference between the philosophical world of Baruch Spinoza and the world of prophecy. Spinoza’s world is one in which there is a definitive and final explanation for all the various phenomena. Such a world is a closed world, for it cuts off the possibility of truly advancing. In contrast, the world of prophecy is open since even after man receives his answer, there is still more to ask. In such a world advancement takes on serious proportions. Here, there is hope.
The process of advancement by way of one’s questioning brings one beyond the limits of one’s life. This is what Maimonides writes about Moses in his introduction to the Mishna: “…and this was his death for us, for we lacked his presence, but he rose up to what was, for him, life. And this is what the Sages meant when they said, ‘Our Master Moses did not die, but rather went up to serve in heaven'”. The process of rising up continues even when one passes from one world to the next.
C. Cooperation between Man and G-d
The great mythologies retain a collective human memory of an era wherein “the gods walked the earth”. That is to say, the divine presence was near and direct. The Jewish tradition calls this sensation, hashra’at shechina, the revelation of the Divine Presence. Yet the historic reality is that knowledge of G-d was forgotten from the hearts of men, and the only nation to retain a living and meaningful center for achieving a close approach with the Divine was the Jewish people. So writes, for example, Blaise Pascal (French mathematician and philosopher, 1623 – 1662): “If ever the Divine revealed Itself to Man, then we must turn to the Jews to receive that tradition.”
We might say, then, that the mitzvot or commandments that find their source in revelation bring man to a level of completion that does not stem from his own self but rather from cooperation with the Divine. Man is called to participate in completing the act of creation, that is, to bring the world to a purpose that is beyond its own existence.