Do you know whether the chair you are sitting on actually exists?
At first glance, it seems like a silly question, but — as my correspondent pointed out — the truth is considerably more complex. There could be some sort of force field combined with signals sent to our brains, showing us (and letting us “sit” upon) chairs that aren’t really here. To take it even a step further, our “brains” could be soaking in a nutrient bath in an entirely different universe, with a giant computer feeding us “information” from a multi-sensory virtual reality simulation.
Most of us will begrudgingly acknowledge that this all could possibly be true, but don’t really care. My correspondent, however, wants to recognize G-d to a greater extent than our level of knowledge that the chair exists — suddenly making this a matter of genuine concern.
To the best of my understanding, that level of understanding G-d falls in the realm of what even Moshe was unable to “see.” In the Talmud Chagiga 13a (quoted in Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto’s Da’as Tevunos, Section 34), it says “what is wondrous beyond you, do not seek.” There are areas in understanding of G-d and G-d’s Attributes that we are supposed to delve into, and understand to the best of our ability — and others that are simply beyond human comprehension. The Malbim says that we are incapable of understanding G-d through His essence, but only through His actions. Our minds are incapable of seeing beyond how G-d interacts with the world, because we are limited by the physical world. So we must take as axiomatic that what our senses deliver to us does, by and large, reflect physical reality, and work from there.
At the same time, those who subscribe to the Torah’s vision of the world must recognize how strong my correspondent’s point really is. The Torah tells us that this is Olam HaSheker — a “false world.” We are in a virtual reality simulation. The “computer” is feeding us a series of tests to see how well we respond, and the Torah gives us the tools to answer correctly to each one.
The virtual reality simulator is an excellent modern paradigm for the concept of Olam HaSheker. What is around us is ephemeral. It seems extremely real, because we see only that delivered by the VR helmet and gloves we wear.
It’s possible to play a video game many different ways, aiming for different goals. We can focus on how many levels we pass, or on how many opponents we vanquish, or on how pretty the color patterns are in the corner of the screen. But when it’s time to take off the gear and step out of the game, the tournament authorities score by points — not by any of those other things we might have considered important while under the helmet.
With Yom Kippur rapidly approaching, it’s time to get our minds back in the game.