Back when I used to build boats, launch day was fraught with tension. I know what you’re thinking. The crane is lowering the new boat into the water, the customer stands there watching anxiously with his family. Will it sink right there in front of everyone?
Wrong! The chances of a new boat that was properly built to an experienced designer’s directions sinking are zero. No, I was never worried that this beautiful vessel that I had brought into existence would sink. What caused my sleeplessness the night before launch was worrying whether the boat would float at its exact water line which we had already painted in bright red all the way around the hull.
It’s harder than you might think. On a boat hull, there aren’t many straight lines. It’s easy to predict just how a block of wood will float. An irregular shape like a boat is harder. When you realize that you must know the weight of everything in or on that boat, it becomes a lot harder. Nonetheless, I am happy to report that I never had a boat float more than a millimeter or two off its water line.
This is not a particularly remarkable achievement. Not any more than the Boeing airplane company delivering airplanes, 100% of which fly. Boeing doesn’t sell a 737 to Lufthansa with a guarantee that there is a 98% chance of their new plane getting airborne. It’s 100%. Always 100%. Similarly, when we build bridges or buildings, with rare notorious exceptions they do exactly what they were designed to do. If I oscillate a magnet inside a coil of wire, I can calculate exactly how much electricity will be induced in the wire and I’ll be exactly right. All that is necessary to accomplish this is to know my electrical formulae, I know how to build bridges or boats or Boeing airliners. Know your field and the results will be close to perfectly predictable.
My wife and I know our children. We know them well. How reliably can we predict their reactions to specific circumstances? Not well at all. They constantly surprise us. They often amaze us.
We can build complex machinery, mind-boggling dams, or highways and they all nearly come out just as they were planned. What happens when we try to build a business? Or a marriage? Seldom do these ventures come out just as planned. What is the difference?
The difference is people. The paramount thing to understand about people is that we are not only physical, but we’re spiritual as well. What does that mean? It means that our weight, our skin color, our chromosomal makeup, our height, and countless other physical attributes of our beings can be accurately measured using common instruments or tools.
However, other equally important – or perhaps more important – attributes can be neither measured nor predicted. If an instrument existed which could reliably measure a job candidate’s integrity, persistence, resourcefulness, and optimism, every human resources office in the land would instantly purchase such an instrument. Alas, there is no way to measure or predict these and other vital spiritual attributes.
Measuring and predicting physical or material attributes improves with study, research, and the emergence of new knowledge and new technologies. We build better computers, boats, and airplanes, today than we did fifty or a hundred years ago. With the material, modernity matters.
By contrast, human understanding of spiritual characteristics does not improve with time and research. We do not necessarily understand male/female relationships better today than we did fifty years ago. People do not necessarily enjoy better relationships with their families, their money or their faith today than they might have fifty years ago. We see that modernity often blurs, confuses, and camouflages essential spiritual truths.
The new field of artificial intelligence can be most helpful in physical matters. It can pluck defective products off assembly lines and eliminate much of the work in designing and building skyscrapers, hydroelectric dams, and railroads. It is a lot less helpful in helping couples improve their marriages, predict the likely success of a group of entrepreneurs and their business plans, resolving parent-child conflict or estimating what the net worth of a particular worker will be by age sixty.
So important is understanding this fundamental duality in the world between the physical and the spiritual that it is laid out informationally in the very first sentence in the book most responsible for Western civilization. “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)
Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that it might just as easily and more briefly said, “In the beginning, God created the universe.” Instead, the words “heaven” and “earth” are to be understood as collectives for all things spiritual and physical respectively.
Unfortunately, in most of current culture, the dogma of scientism holds reign. It insists that only the quantifiable is real and that the physical laws of science explain all of reality. I say “unfortunately” because the more that people accept this reductionist dogma into their hearts, the less likely they are to make wise decisions about vitally important parts of their lives. Additionally, the more likely they are to become entirely susceptible to incidents of mass psychosis such as full acceptance of now discredited decrees and regulations of the covid epidemic in 2020.
As I regularly intone on my podcast, the more that things change, the more we need to depend upon those things that never change. And ancient Jewish wisdom is one excellent resource for remaining fully in touch with never-changing spiritual reality. That is what ancient Jewish wisdom is good for.
This Thought Tool is in memory of Nadav Goldstein, 48, and his daughter, Staff Sgt. Yam Goldstein-Almog (off-duty) who were murdered together on October 7, 2023.
With prayers for the release of Orion Hernandez Radoux, visiting from Mexico when taken hostage, along with all the remaining hostages. His girlfriend, Shani, was murdered and her partially clad body paraded around Gaza.
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