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The Resonance of the Word: A Philosophical Legacy of Judaism By: Laurence L. Murphy and Dominick IorioGo Back to Table of Contents
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Here there is a space which may be filled by any rational demonstration of why two people must remain divided. If no reason is forthcoming, then the two are joined--not through reason, but through word--through vow--and the word signifies unity between the two as a mode of action, a deed, which is one and the same with its accomplishment. It is like the Word that is creation and accomplishment at once in God’s Word:

“I DO”

--and it is done.

Of course, we also know that once this fact of union is accomplished in word, things in life do not always go so smoothly. What was done in word must now be lived up to over time and in deed. The divided word haunts the vow.

Giving one’s word is thus to heal a division of two entities into one. By giving one’s word, we echo the creative Word of God. Such covenants, as they are written down, eventually become contracts; and contracts eventually become law.

This law is the Torah. It is a law as a principle which establishes a relationship between what is done and what is said. It is established to heal the gap between the creative principle of language and that which it creates. The law has “authority” to insure that one keeps their word because it is derived from the author: the creative principle upon which everything rests. The Word of God.

As a philosophical principle, the ontological legacy of this tradition has been overwhelming and serves as the basis of human social organization in many parts of the world. Law is based on the concept that there is an ethical and metaphysical discourse taking place between the word and what it creates. An imperfect world is held on course by referring constantly to its first, or creative, principle which has “authority” because it is derived from an author; and thus all moves forward by referring back to its primal source as a unity; a oneness between word and deed in time. We are not our own authors, we did not give ourselves life, and thus we must abide by a law that does not violate our own lives--as well as the creative freedom of the lives of others.

This is because we cannot violate the freedom of expression which is as well expressed in our own Being, in our own freedom. It is not part of our “rights” to deny the rights of others, for if we do, we violate the principle which gives us our own rights in the first place. Thus we break the law. The laws that human beings create are, under the Judaic paradigm, reflections, imperfect interpretations, of the supreme law of the phenomenal world which is manifest in the infinite freedom of expression resonant in the universe in God’s Word.

Written law, then, is an emulation of such principles, just as written contracts are emulations of giving another one’s word. We write law down as a point of concrete reference, as a measure of checks and balances between what we say and what we do. This is the model that Moses set in the desert. It is a surviving model of human organization in the epoch and advent of our concept of time as history. Throughout that history, many other forms of order have bent the law to the whims and will of a few. Yet, it is the Word as interpretive law which has sustained our balance, and our continuing attempt to redefine and redeclare its concept of justice which has kept us from self destruction.

Language, of which our laws are made, are only a form, an approximation of language as a creative expressive principle. The ultimate language is metaphysical, and all natural phenomena are forms, or reflections, of this language; this Logos.

Thus there is language which composes our legal and political realities as well as a language of the stars, a language of the sea, a language of all organisms (even if that language is written in the codes of DNA, the molecular structure of organisms,

or the energy of the atom) and when we learn to read and interpret these languages we grasp something of the nature of the phenomena of an endlessly interesting universe in which we live. If we undermine these principles, then we undermine our own existence as well; for their essence is our own.

The Judaic heritage, therefore, is not simply a matter of faith, but of reason, law and organization, for it is the creative principle of existence which is at the foundation of our capacity for reason, understanding and organization. That we learn to read, and decipher the signs of the language of the universe, and to live up to the principles of justice recorded in law, is our witness to the magnificence of the Creative principle, which is what as well gives us our own life.

All language is about this creative principle. It is language which is ultimately about its first principle: that which brought it into existence. All language, to be meaningful, must sustain this intimate connection with the phenomenal universe because it is a language which ultimately describes that which brought all Being into existence.

Hence, we not only create a rational foundation for the cosmos, but a moral and responsible one as well; a foundation which in its law forbids trespassing against the very principles which brought all that is into existence. It is through this language of creation that the relationship of metaphysics to ethics, and epistemology, as well as law, is made apparent.

The Judaic legacy in philosophy lives in this unique concept of language, and this concept is rooted in and sustained by the essential ontological and metaphysical nature of language itself. This unity of language and principles is alive and apparent today, even as we attempt to expand our conception of law to serve the higher needs of global concerns, ecological balance and to restrain trespasses against Universal human rights.

Thus we should never overlook the metaphysics of the Word born at the foundations of Western civilization. Out of the richness of this heritage we may re-discover the ancient concepts of meaning and justice and knowledge, in a language intimate with the mystery of creation itself. Such an understanding of the power of language must inevitably reveal a greater source, a greater mystery, a greater expanding universe of discovery which is endlessly interesting and exciting in its capacity for purpose and life.

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