Thursday, February 16, 2006

Epiphany! Oh, never mind...

It’s late at night and you’re driving home, listening to some old Eagles song, letting your mind wander over some troubling, unsolvable problem which you’ve been thinking about for a long time. Seemingly from out of nowhere, an answer so elegant, so powerful, so obvious, so perfect comes suddenly into full focus. You’re so excited that you almost miss your exit. You can’t wait to think it through, write it down, tell your friends, take out an ad in the times, change your life… You think it over and over, rounding it out, looking for flaws, but they aren’t there, it’s really the answer.

You’ve just had an epiphany.

As soon as you get it all straight in your mind, you call your best friend to let them share in this great discovery. Ignoring the sounds of him fumbling to see what time it is on the other end of the phone, you erupt into your speech, which by now has been honed into a powerfully worded thesis, complete with footnotes, ironic anecdotes and dramatic florishs. Finally you finish and pause for air.

Your friend says, “Yeah, I guess I hear what you’re saying. Yawn. Hey, it’s late, what else is going on?”

On Sunday, Godol Hador, the Time Warner of the tiny sliver of humanity who blogs on Orthodox Jewish theology, wrote a post which received an unprecedented (in my limited experience) number of comments, over 600. In the post, GH puts forward a non-theological argument for why the Jewish religion is spiritually valid. While the piece was interesting, well written and peppered with GH’s characteristic side riffs on the orthodox landscape, one has to wonder why this particular post generated so much activity.

This post was unique in that it was presented not just as a theory, an argument, a proof, but as a master epiphany:

“Listen carefully Rabbosai, because this revelation is the answer. This revelation ties everything together. This revelation answers all our questions. This is it!”

GH had been hit by Newton’s apple. This answer harmonized all of GH’s problems with orthodox dogma and practice. The passion, the conviction - the deafening sigh of relief – they were what made this post so compelling.

GH’s skeptical readers reacted skeptically (and perhaps with a little disappointment), his believing readers reacted with great enthusiasm, overlooking, for now, some of GH’s more adogmatic assertions. Some felt that his conclusions were wrong, some felt that they were trivial, some that they were home runs. But few shared the blinding light which shone, at least momentarily, on the writer.

So what is an epiphany, I wondered. Why does it feel so good and so right? Why does it have special meaning to the person who experienced it, but not to those who share the idea? Why is it so exciting to have one?

And then, suddenly, it struck me. An epiphany is not just a thought which intellectually makes sense. It is an idea which resonates with our emotions. It lights up a new solution which works for us.

GH writes:

“Nothing was going right. Nothing was adding up. I was getting deeper and deeper into doubt. By Friday night I was sliding towards the bottom of the slippery slope.”

Godol Hador was saved. He did not have to stop believing, to give up all of the ideals and comforts of his orthodoxy, to abandon his growing blogging empire.

That is why the experience is so personal. It may have intellectual meaning to others, but it only delivers the powerful emotional message to ourselves. To the one who experiences it, the epiphany is instant relief from some strong emotional upset. It resolves a conflict, rationalizes a troubled choice, lights the way for a new path.

That must be it. It's perfect.


Blogger Jewish Atheist said...

Good point.

February 16, 2006 6:29 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

Did you see my post on it?

BTW, on GH's blog they seem to have a hard time distinguishing between skeptics and critics.

February 16, 2006 8:05 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...


One of the original meanings of 'Epiphany' is the appearance or manifestation of a divine being.

February 16, 2006 8:09 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

Was your decision to stop being frum an epiphany?

February 16, 2006 11:00 PM  
Blogger dbs said...


My decision to stop being frum was a endlessly long, drawn out, agony. There were some epiphany's along the way.

Don't worry, I know that you're a 'critic' not a 'skeptic' :)

February 16, 2006 11:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just saw this. Nice post!

February 22, 2006 11:46 AM  

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