Kingdom of Priests

Kingdom of Priests


William James on Faith, Echoing Exodus

posted by David Klinghoffer

The great psychologist writes wonderfully in “The Will to Believe” (1897):

We feel, too, as if the appeal of religion to us were made to our own active good-will, as if evidence might be forever withheld from us unless we met the hypothesis half-way….I, therefore, for one, cannot see my way to accepting the agnostic rules for truth-seeking, or willfully agree to keep my willing nature out of the game. I cannot do so for this plain reason, that a rule of thinking which would absolutely prevent me from acknowledging certain kinds of truth if those kinds of truth were really there, would be an irrational rule.

This is nothing other than, put in philosophical terms, the affirmation of the Jews at Mt. Sinai upon receiving the Torah: “All that God hath said we will do and [then] hear” (Exodus 24:7). In Hebrew, the verb for hearing, sh’mah, also means to understand. The assembled Israelites vowed that they would do God’s will on the faithful assumption that later, and as a consequence, they would understand its wisdom.


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posted April 24, 2009 at 1:35 pm


1.Biblically: for the in situ historical peshat understanding of Ex 24:7, see Richard Elliott Friedman’s fine Torah commentary on this verse.
2.Rabbinically: Contra Klinghoffer’s Christianized rendering, co-opting a quotation from William James, Judaism is NOT a fideist tradition. It is about practice and action. Within that traditionalist framework, it is best to view “do and hear” as a hendiadys. Just as in English we say
“try and do it” which means “try TO do it,’ “we will do and we will hear/obey” should be understood as
“we shall do our best to fulfill our obligations” before G-d.



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