I listen to a lot of series from the Teaching Company. Right now in my car’s CD player I am listening to a course on Brain Science and Spirituality. They don’t often go together in a sentence.
In one of the lectures, the professor describes an experiment done with believers and non-believers. Each participant was shown distorted pictures with a variety of objects. The believers saw all that could be seen and things that were not there. The non-believers didn’t see anything that wasn’t there but missed some things that were.
About three millennia ago, God, realizing the limitations of language to describe a visual object, shows Moses what the Menorah is supposed to look like. According to Rashi, the figure of the candelabra is in fire. According to Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg, the Maharam, the word for shown מראה has the same numeric value as the name Gabriel גבריאל 246 suggesting that angel Gabriel showed Moses a picture of the ancient eternal light.
Some great scientists are avowed and proud atheists and assume that they need to be in order to be good at their profession. I disagree. The best scientists, to create a hypothesis, have to use their imaginations to posit what might be there so they can test for it. Even a scientist needs to have the sense of possibility inherent in the brains of those who believe, seeing that which is not there or provable yet. On a less serious but equally compelling note, I read in a review of Left Brain Right Stuff by Phil Rosenzweig that golfers who are shown an image of a hole that is larger than the actual one sink more putts than those who are shown an accurate image. A scientist, too, needs to imagine some things that will end up not being true so they can discover that which is.
Rabbi Chayim of Brisk makes a Biblical observation that coincides with this principle. Using a hermeneutic interpretive technique known as Gzeirah Shava, he notes that in Exodus 26:30, God tells Moses You will raise the sanctuary you’ve been shown. Because it uses the exact same word as the verse from Deuteronomy 4:35 which we read on Simchat Torah as we take out the Torahs from the ark -- You’ve been shown to know that God is the Lord; there are none alike -- הראית, the grandfather of The Rav, Joseph Soloveitchik, said that whoever has this Daat, this knowledge it’s as if he built the Mishkan, the Temple.
From this insight I’d like to suggest a Proficiency Prayer based on the Serenity Prayer with the idea that, as Albert Einstein said, Imagination is even more important than knowledge.
The Proficiency Prayer
God grant me the proficiency
to see the things as they truly are;
to imagine them as they could be;
and wisdom to know the difference.