Epistemology in the Torah

I once came up with the aphorism:

The mind is a wonderful organ
for justifying decisions
the heart already reached.

By which I meant that life’s more significant decisions tends to be based on what accords with personal experience. All that proving things from first principles ends up being just a way to justify it to myself after the core of me already decided. (Already discussed in the first of my series on the alleged Kuzari proof, a post on the relationship between tokenized reasoning and qualia-based reasoning, and one on scientism and belief.)

Rav Avram Elya Kaplan (in Be’iqvos haYir’ah, pg 14) draws our attention to this progression of verbs, but I’m taking it in a different direction.

We say every day in VaYosha Hashem (Shemos 14:30-31) introducing Az Yashir:

וַיּ֨וֹשַׁע ה֜׳ בַּיּ֥וֹם הַה֛וּא אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל מִיַּ֣ד מִצְרָ֑יִם וַיַּ֤רְא יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ אֶת־מִצְרַ֔יִם מֵ֖ת עַל־שְׂפַ֥ת הַיָּֽם׃ וַיַּ֨רְא יִשְׂרָאֵ֜ל אֶת־הַיָּ֣ד הַגְּדֹלָ֗ה אֲשֶׁ֨ר עָשָׂ֤ה ה֙׳ בְּמִצְרַ֔יִם וַיִּֽירְא֥וּ הָעָ֖ם אֶת־ה֑׳ וַיַּֽאֲמִ֙ינוּ֙ בַּֽה֔׳ וּבְמֹשֶׁ֖ה עַבְדּֽוֹ׃

Hashem saved Israel that day from the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the shore of the sea. When Israel saw the Great “Hand” which Hashem had wielded against the Egyptians, the people had yir’ah for Hashem, and they believed in Hashem and His servant Moshe.

There are three verbs in pasuq 31 describing the steps in which being saved at the Red Sea impacted the Jews:

  • vayyar – they saw
  • vayyir’u – they felt yir’ah (fear / awe)
  • vaya’aminu – they believed

The progression is sensory experience, personal and emotional response, and only then do beliefs change.

A pretty “modern” approach to epistemology to find taken for granted in Chumash.

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