This morning, as I always do, I read the Tanya. Written by the Alter Rebbe- also known as the Baal HaTanya- it forms the basis of Chabad Chassidic teachings, and explores Jewish mysticism through a series of analogies and teachings which I can only hope to ever fully understand. But not understanding the Tanya isn’t my only problem. Rather, it’s the bits which I feel I have a pretty good understanding of which trouble me.
I’ll be honest. My interest in Judaism, even before I became observant, has always been rather scholarly. The learning is actually what first attracted me to Judaism; I loved shiurim and Torah study classes, and reading and writing about the various commentaries on the Parsha was always the highlight of my week. I thrived on the intellectual rigour of Judaism, while a part of me remained aware that my interest was beyond the limits of a “normal” baalas teshuva. Frum girls like myself were supposed to stick down to watered down Chumash study, and reading Tehillim, and my passion for study set me apart slightly from most of the other frum women I knew.
But more recently, I reached a point in my learning where my viewpoint changed from one of exploration to one of challenging. External circumstances had made me begin to doubt my faith, and as davening began to mean less and less to me, I turned to the texts to look for answers. Reading the Tanya this morning, I found none. Instead, I found troublesome passages. Things which made me feel confused and argumentative. Things which, had they not been written by the Alter Rebbe, I would declare to be untrue.
Take the section about science, for example. We should not study the sciences of the “nations”, he writes. The message here seems to be “science is goyish and we should eschew it”- and I think “what about Rambam?”. The Rebbe goes on to write about instances in which studying science is permissible- when it leads to furthering one’s faith in G-d, or when it helps one keep the halachos.
Of course, I can’t stop reading here. I’m not satisfied with this explanation. And so, I spend more time than I care to admit working on the issue. I remember all the discussions I had with a scientist, who thought that Torah law was unscientific, and I realise that I don’t belong to either viewpoint- I think both can, and should, be combined. The minutes tick by as I continue my research on this pressing issue, trying to reconcile the Alter Rebbe’s viewpoint with my own, and that’s when I realise why I love this part of Judaism so much.
If there’s one thing which is bound to stop me from leaving Judaism, it’s this. These dilemmas. These discussions. These dialogues. Perhaps this is what the Alter Rebbe meant when he spoke about using science to elevate one’s understanding of the Torah; I’m using my doubts, my lack of faith, and my need to question, not to eschew Judaism, as many have done before me, but to further my love for it. It gives me a platform to explore and learn. Perhaps this was Hashem’s intention all along…