The First Domino
If we know anything
it is to know
that we know
Knowing is the clearest indication that we exist. As Descartes put it "Cogito ergo sum." But from where does that "something" originate? Where is the beginning of knowledge? Where does cognition start?
We understand almost all things by relating them to what
we already know. Every new piece of knowledge is like a domino we attach to
a pre-existing chain of cognitive "dominoes." We can only understand
something if we can find it a home, if we can connect it to what we already
For example, the fact that the circumference of a circle is 2*pi*r is no more than an inscrutable puzzle to someone who has no idea what a "circumference" or a "circle" is. Similarly, knowing that Brazil won the World Cup in 1970 is not a piece of information that can be grasped by someone who has no idea what a "Brazil" might be, or a "world," or a "cup," let alone the hieroglyphic "1970."
Cognition works by association. We know things because we can attach them to other things that we know. But how does the process start? Where does that first knowledge come from? If knowledge can only work by attaching itself to that which is already there, necessarily there must be some point, however minuscule, of prior cognition to which that knowledge attaches. But where does that first point come from?
It's axiomatic then, that we cannot grasp that first point by ourselves because that first point of cognition would have nothing to attach itself to. Its like starting a car. Once the car is running, the engine itself can generate enough power to sustain the cycle as long as the fuel lasts. To start the car, however, you need an outside force an electric starter, or if all else fails, a crank handle.
Where is the crank handle, the starter engine, of cognition? Who gave us the first domino?
The Beginning is Always Beyond
All beginning starts from beyond. Our understanding commences only from
after that beginning point and onwards. But that first point, the beginning
of knowledge itself, is beyond beyond our understanding, beyond our grasp.
That first point is the basis of all understanding, without it we have nothing
on which to build knowledge, but it itself cannot be understood. It is hidden.
It is something beyond. It is something that G-d gives.
The Torah starts with the letter bet "Bereishet..." Bet is the second letter of the aleph bet. Why doesnt the Torah start with the aleph?
In this world, the aleph is always beyond. (Similarly the convention
is to print the Tractates of the Talmud starting from page bet -2.)
"In the beginning of G-ds creating the heavens and the earth..."
The Targum Yerushalmi, an Aramaic translation of the Torah, translates the expression
"In the beginning" as "with wisdom." Beginning is synonymous
with wisdom. That original point of wisdom, that beginning of knowledge which
only G-d can give us is always beyond. It is the basis of all understanding,
but it itself cannot be understood.
Every year, at the festival of Shavuot, we celebrate G-d communicating
with mankind at Mount Sinai. The Torah describes the moment thus:
"G-d spoke all these words, saying: I am Hashem, your G-d,
Who has taken you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery...
Rashi explains that the phrase "G-d spoke all these words, saying..."
means that G-d spoke all Ten Commandments in one utterance an impossibility
for Man since such an utterance neither can the mouth speak, nor the ear hear.
G-d then repeated and explained each of the Ten Commandments separately: "I
am Hashem, your G-d, Who has taken you out of the land of Egypt, from the house
of slavery. You should not recognize the gods of others...etc."
What was the point of this unified utterance that was impossible to grasp?
What was given over to us in that utterance that fused everything together,
an utterance that could neither be spoken nor understood?
When G-d created the world, He created it with Ten Pronouncements. The
first of these Pronouncements was "In the beginning..." The second
was "And G-d said Let there be light. " The third: "And
G-d said Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters. "
Each one of the Ten Statements at Sinai are a direct parallel, one for one,
to the Ten Pronouncements with which the world was created. "In the beginning"
parallels "I am Hashem, your G-d who has taken you out of the slavery of
Egypt." "Let there be light" parallels "You should not recognize
the gods of others..." Just as G-d created the world "In the beginning,"
so He "re-created" the world at Sinai.
A new world, however, requires a new beginning.
Now we can understand the significance of that utterance that no human
mouth can speak nor ear can hear. With that utterance G-d created a new beginning
to cognition. A point of departure for all that was to follow, but it itself
was beyond understanding. You cant speak it. You cant hear it. But
without it, nothing else is understood correctly.
It is the first domino of a new world.
FEELING THE KNOWING
All the war-torn clichés,
A New Moon over Jerusalem.
Feeling the knowing