Being Thankful






Guardian Angel of GRATITUDE

I am the guardian angel of “Modeh Ani”
The gentlest of prayers
The prayer children are taught first
The prayer adults do not take all that seriously
They should.

I am the prayer of Gratitude

I am the angel of Thanksgiving
Thanks Giving every moment

And Gratitude, of course, suffuses the soul
with cosmic energy
And Gratitude, of course,
wraps us in a meataphysical shield

Gratitude that each and every one of us is at the
epicenter of the cosmos
Gratitude that Life Force flows through each of us
tracking forward to the ends of time

And tracking back to the Genesis point
And perhaps these points converge

Gratitude that we are the recipents of loce,
and gratitude that we can give love

Gratitude for each and every peon who loces us –
even a bit,

And gratitude for each and every person who we love
even a bit

Gratitude that we are Cosmic Guardians of love and
Gratitude that we have arisen for another day
representing a microcosm of a lifetime – of LIFE

Gratitude for the richness and variety of creation’s
Gratitude, with its implicit theme of Wonderment,
is a “magic vitamin”

It infuses our being with cosmic energy

And rightfully so
Gratitude – given with love –
opens a doorway to greater potentail

Q&A: Megan Lent & David Birnbaum

BOLD – are responses of David Birnbaum

Q & A 


Megan  Lent  

David Birnbaum  Summa Metaphysica  

Article on Outside Scientists


First,  let me say that – for precision – I view myself as a Conceptual Theorist. I hope you still allow me in your fine piece-to-come – DB   


How did David come to the conclusion that potential is the root of, and reason for, everything?

Megan – I searched for a concept which was both

(a) eternal

(b) which would lance the key metaphysical  issues   


Is the idea of potential similar to the idea of God, in any way?

My work Summa Metaphysica posits that Potential is divine in that it is all-transcendent – and life giving. 

The question is whether we view this as a – 

“religious’ divine” – akin to the biblical divine


as a “secular divine force” – which is not “personal” 

I believe – and state clearly in Summa – that a strong case can be made either way . 


Is science something anyone can pursue? David is well-educated, but is it a necessity to be a scientist or philosopher?


Science deals in testability. 


Metaphysics deals in concepts, often abstract concepts. As well, metaphysics is by its nature dealing ongoing with the infinite, which is somewhat hard to test.


Megan – I deal with your fine question in more depth later below. 


In a similar vein, other outsider scientists I’ve spoken to believe academia to be more or less an ivory tower, purposefully obscured. But David’s theological works have been taught at campuses, and he has sent his work to different professors. Is academia fundamentally flawed, or does it just need to change?


Science and the academic establishment need to have clearly in focus 24/7 that knowledge and truth are paramount. Any significant divergence from that – attempting to suppress discussion and ideas – is likely to position the scientific establishment  as akin to the medieval Vatican hounding and persecuting the iconic Galileo to death in the 1600s.                 


How do science and philosophy intersect?


According to the Summa Metaphysica hypothesis, science, philosophy, metaphysics and theology all intersect via my little Theory of Potential.


(Via its Quest for Potential hypothesis, Summa de facto unifies these great fields – which makes some academics craze. Note that many academics are avowed and vigorous advocates of atheism.)

Quest for Potential: Interaction with Science:  

Quest for Potential drives the cosmic order. Potential ignited the Big Bang, and is the guiding force behind life, evolution, consciousness and love, among other key dynamics.  

Quest for Potential’s interaction with Philosophy and Metaphysics: 


see  www.SequencedSumma.ccom


Summa’s Interaction with Theology:  

If there is a “classic God,” the potential for God must have been there first. Potential is both the ‘spark of the Divine; and is at the core of the Divine. 



Note that, for-the-record, Summa I: God and Evil has been used as a Course Text at over a dozen institutions of higher learning globally – from about 1989 thru the present.  The recent journalists seem to have forgotten to mention that little piece of the picture. Universities include UCLA, Brandeis and Hebrew University, among others. 


How was his reception at his conference at Bard last year?


separate potential article later, Megan  😉 

OK ? 



I think it’s amazing that David is both a successful jeweler and a great thinker and writer. Very much a Renaissance man. Why is there this stress on choosing just one thing to do and be?


I think that today we are all – each one of us – ‘Renaissance men and women.’ We all have ready-access to global knowledge. We are all radically better informed and we are all radically better able to access various and far-flung debates – in-depth. We have the world’s knowledge at our fingertips. We are no longer satisfied to be told – “Do not ask too many questions, because we are the ‘priesthood,’ and we know much better than you ever will.”



I’m not sure the established philosophy hierarchy wants an outsider to ‘show them the light.’ I can try to understand why it might psyche them out – even if they are ostensibly dedicated to the advancement of knowledge. Rather, from their (apparently insecure) perspective,  best to destroy the outsider first, and then come back later – and have ‘one of our own’ present a slight variation of the same theory 10 years later – as coming “from within our esteemed ranks.”  Watch the play unfold at the esteemed University of Cambridge – as they have managed to snatch intellectual defeat from the jaws of intellectual victory 😉




However, in other parts of the world, as is well-known to the journalists covering the story, (but apparently not with one or two very fancy and entrenched    philosophy dons  on-their-backs?) the chessboard looks a bit different…. 
Just limiting the positive testimonials to major players who have called the work  (Summa Metaphysica I or II) a “masterpiece” would yield the following roster – Heritage Journal (American Jewish Historical Society, NY), Nahum Glatzer (Brandeis University), Dr. Sanford Drob (Founder, NY Jewish Review), William Johnson (Canon,  Episcopal Church ), Prof. Benjamin Blech (Yeshiva University), Prof. Masako Nakagawa (Villanova, University). 



Has the fact that he’s not “only” a scientist caused people to be skeptical of his contributions? 


Indeed, being an ‘outsider’ was initially a very major hurdle. It should be noted however, that the great classic philosophers which are taught in university, were more often than not, outsiders to academe. In the Jewish philosophical tradition this is particularly the case. For instance, Maimonides, a physician by day, Spinoza, a lens grinder by day, and M. Luzatto (the RamHal),  a gem dealer by day. The list goes on.   




A lot of outsider scientists seem to be looking for one answer for everything. Is this possible? I’m curious mostly because there are so many people, in mainstream and non-mainstream science, who think they have found the one simple answer for why everything is the way that it is. 


Definitely not just possible, but most probable.

The cosmic order ultimately vectors to one dynamic.

As you know, Summa Metaphysica posits this dynamic to be – Quest for Potential. According to my little work, the universe finds itself nurtured and growing and within what I call – the Cosmic Womb of Potential. 


I read a quote from I think the writer Margaret Wertheim that scientists outside of mainstream academia believe that modern science isn’t materialist enough, that it focuses too much on magic-seeming concepts like, say, string theory. I’m curious as to your thoughts about this.


I think that science is great. But, remember that by definition science requires   testability. And when we get to infinite realms like metaphysics, testability is not an option. Rather, the power-and-elegance of concepts becomes the key factor. 

However, metaphysics cannot contravene bona fide scientific fact. That is a precise nexus with metaphysics which should engage science.  There are two key aspects of this:

1)  Does the metaphysics at-hand help science fill-in the gaps in scientific theory?    
2)  Is there any bona fide scientific ‘fact’ (as opposed to theory) which the metaphysics at-hand seems to contradict? If so, let’s quickly do a reality-check if the theory needs fixing – or if the seeming fact needs more scrutiny. 



What are some challenges that science today is facing?

Interesting enough, the main challenges which science is facing, are so-to-speak potentially conceptually (but not scientifically) ‘answered’ by my little Theory of Potential. Current major scientific impasses include – Origins of the cosmic order;  delineating the force which ignited  the Big Bang; zeroing-in on the precise driving force behind Evolution;  conceptualizing the  catalyst for Consciousness. On all these issues, science, notwithstanding its greatness, is currently stuck. (In the area of Evolution there is very considerable advance, but no truly clearly focused consensus on the mechanics). Summa Metaphysica respectfully offers ‘Quest for Potential’ as a simultaneous conceptual solution to all of these seemingly intractable issues. If I were a scientist, a potential “simultaneous conceptual solution” might sound pretty tempting to me – as a possible basis for a working hypothesis 😉    


What is David’s main goal?


Shake the world.



Eternal Origins

by David Birnbaum


            Where did our universe come from? What ignited our universe? What catalyst was eternal? What dynamic drives our universe? 


Aristotle (Greece, 384 BCE – 322 BCE) came to an impasse here. Maimonides (Spain, Egypt 1135 – 1204 CE) came to an impasse here. Aquinas (Italy, Papal States 1225-1274 CE) came to an impasse here. Ditto for both the Enlightenment period (c. 1650–1799 CE) and contemporary philosophy and astrophysics. Ditto for Eastern philosophy – then and now. 

Interesting that such smart boys all hit a brick wall. Also interesting that they even attempted/purported to write grand overarching philosophy when the centerpiece of a unified philosophy – eternal origins – was consistently missing-in-action. 

God? But is that not theology, as opposed to philosophy. God is a complex construct/entity. And, of course, from whence God? Pure philosophy should deal on a leaner level, should it not? That’s what makes it philosophy – and not theology (or religious philosophy).     

           Now, oftentimes in solving seemingly intractable riddles, the answer lies at the tip-of-our noses, somewhat subtly. Sort of, hiding in plain sight. In these cases, the solution will only clarify if one can somehow focus on the quasi-obvious. However, this is not as easy to do, as it sounds.


If several billion people have missed it, there is a reason. And, for sure, no one ever said that “cracking-the-cosmic code” was easy.    


So, where might the answer to “eternal origins” lie? Last April, Bard College, Upstate NY, ran a four-day international academic conference on Science & Religion with a focus on my little philosophy work Summa Metaphysica (Volume I, 1988; Volume II, 2005). Summa (humbly, of course) proposes that the answer lies within the realm of Potential/Possibility.


Summa proposes that only one theme/dynamic can legitimately be asserted with conviction to have been “eternal” – and Summa proposes this theme to be Potential/Possibility. Now, on careful examination, that proposition would actually seem to be ‘self-evident.’ For, by definition, Potential/Possibility is just that – possibility. Sort-of intangible, and, by definition, sort-of eternal.

So far, so good. But how might Potential/Possibility X number of billions of years-ago morph/blast-off into the Milky Way – and into erstwhile humans down-the-road? Into Beethoven writing symphonies? Into Picasso drawing ballet dancers?     

Now, as a matter of policy, Summa uses as a working-assumption the concept that cosmic realms mimic human realms, and vice-versa. Then, mimicking in this instance the dynamics of childbirth, Summa deploys PUSH & PULL dynamics onto its centerpiece themes of Quest for Potential and Infinite Divine Extraordinariation – as a starting point of a “working hypothesis.” 

So here-we-go……


PUSH: Igniting the cosmic order? Summa proposes that at eternal origins, Potential/Possibility split “0”.  Split “0”? Well, split an atom, and you get an atomic bomb; split “0” and propel-it along an “optimal potential” trajectory, and you never know what might unfold….


PULL: Summa proposes that the Potential/Possibility dynamic of the cosmos parallels a leveraged-buyout (from the finance field). As we know, in a leveraged-buyout in finance, the financier leverages future potential earnings into a current “loan” to buy the business. In Summa’s cosmology, Potential/Possibility leveraged future potentials into igniting the cosmic order. Ultimate leverage. Thus, not classic and linear – A caused B.   


The above is the guts of the Summa proposition. That is, Potential/Possibility was eternal, was the catalyst for Creation, is at the core of the Infinite Divine, and drives both the universe and our lives forward. Then – and now. Quest for Potential not only drives the cosmos, not only is the “purpose” and raison d’être of the cosmos, Quest for Potential actually IS the cosmos. (Deep breath). 


Some of the 2012 Bard Summa Conference participants liked the Summa theory because of its “aesthetic elegance” (a term offered by a Spinoza specialist at the conference). “Aesthetic elegance” gained increased traction over the course of the conference.

Former Oxford don and noted chemist Peter Atkins proactively dislikes Summa – because his not inconsiderable coterie views the common denominator of the cosmos not optimistically like Summa, but rather pessimistically – to be “decay.” But, decaying from what? And, from whence, the “what”? 


Bard Conference co-Chair, theologian and religious historian Bruce Chilton liked Summa because it is humanistic and potentially all-embracing of many religious schemas. He also liked how it finesses both Monotheism and Gnosticism. Conference co-chair and Chairman of the Philosophy Department at Bard – Garry Hagberg – liked Summa, among other reasons, because Summa’s theory has remained essentially unchallenged since unveiled in 1988.


University of Maine Ecologist Andrei Alyokhin likes Summa as a working hypothesis “unifying concept of the cosmos.” Mathematician Hugo van den Berg of Warwick University (Coventry, England) is intrigued by Summa because its core proposition shorthand – Q4P– (Quest for Potential infinitely iterated) proposes a simple and elegant equation for the cosmos.


British Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks might define Summa as a proposed overarching “Framing Belief” hypothesis – his articulated term for an all-embracing and all-framing cosmic concept. MIT Quantum Information guru Professor Seth Lloyd might view Summa as confirmation of his quantum team’s iconoclastic theory of a dynamic information-processing universe. The legendary IBM mathematician Benoit Mandelbroit (1924-2010) would probably view Summa as a vindication of his works on the esoteric mathematical field of fractals (~repeating patterns). Devotees of another legendary figure in science, Princeton physicist and cosmologist John Wheeler (1911-2008) might view Summa theory traction as vindication, on some level, of Wheeler’s theory of It-from-Bit. Indeed Wheeler is on-the-record in 2005 as a fan of Summa. 


Sophisticated Kabbalah specialist Dr. Sanford Drob (editor of proactively backed Summa I from the get-go in 1988 (from his perch then as Editor-in-Chief of The NY Jewish Review) as a “bold and highly original synthesis…an overarching metaphysical solution…”. Drob, however, later felt strongly c. 2005 that a key section in then imminently-to-be-published Summa II – The Cosmic Womb of Potential – pushed beyond the bounds of classic metaphysics. He is right, of course. But that “boundary-expansion” was necessary – to nail-down intellectual elegance in the proposed grander metaphysics.


From my perspective, the core (Quest for Potential) proposition is unifying, elegant, powerful – and simple. It is “self-contained.” But the main event is that “it works.” Plug-in a random fact or a million facts, and they all comport. Not one single, solitary fact will contradict. The theory also happens to be uplifting, humanistic, and purposeful. Last-but-not-least, it “resonates” – on an individual, human level.


The proposition would conceptually seem to work – on the metaphysical level, the cosmic level, the galactic level, the human level, the bacterial level, the molecular level and the quantum level. (Indeed, the quantum level may be the ultimate layer here.) All quest for their potentials – a trillion years ago, a million years ago, now, and forever.


Now, does your local Cambridge (Massachusetts or England) philosophy or physics or cosmology professor have a more elegant or powerful proposition? I believe not. You would have heard of it by now, for sure.


But, no viable alternative to the Summa proposition? How is that possible? It must be out there, no?


Maybe the often-quite-brilliant professors and theoreticians generally “tried too hard.” Maybe they got too fancy, too complex. Maybe they thought too linearly. 

           Maybe the cumulative level-of-consciousness was simply not “ready” until now for both the unfolding and receptivity of a metaphysics with a centerpiece as ethereal as potential/possibility? That is my personal, working assumption on the particular matter, even though I’m frankly still a bit stumped on this particular ancillary issue. 

Now, bear-in-mind that 900 years before Aristotle – and eastward across the Mediterranean, on the northern part of the Sinai Desert peninsula – The Book of Exodus (c. 1250 BCE) makes-an-appearance, and does indeed focus on “potential” (frontally) – once. But that “once” happens-to-be at the core of the “centerpiece” “Burning Bush” episode. Potential turns-out to be the name of God – the only name of God ever explicated: “Eheyeh asher Eheyeh”I Will Be That Which I Will Be. Meaning, of course, I AM THE GOD OF POTENTIAL. Pretty straightforward – once you take-a-second to digest it.  

            In the realms of the Infinite Divine, “potential” reigns supreme. And if indeed there is a classic God, Potential is at its core. And if there is no classic God, then, respectfully, Infinite Divine Potential drives the cosmic order solo. Personally, I can live with Infinite Divine Potential.  

            Cool number that Moses. Just sort-of dropped-it-in – once. At the centerpiece episode. For the record, you know. Potential. Just so that down-the-road, in 2013 CE, for instance, there would be no ambiguity as to who truly owned the original copyright. As to who first “got it right.”





updated: August 30, 2013




David Birnbaum, the author of Summa Metaphysica (, is a conceptual theorist, and lives and works in Manhattan, He is the Editor-in-Chief of the Manhattan Matrix platform (   The 2-volume Summa Metaphysica series is comprised of: Summa Metaphysica I: God & Evil  [Ktav Publishing 1988], and Summa Metaphysica II: God & Good [Manhattan Matrix 2005]. 




based upon a Scientific Essay by Steven Gross


January, 2010



It is assumed that the reader has a nodding acquaintance with the Strong Anthropic Cosmological principle (SACP) (see the book by Barrow and Tipler or Wikipedia) and with Birnbaum’s Quest for Potential (Q4P). Further, I assume that the reader is willing to accept both the SACP and Q4P at least as working hypotheses.

The SACP is an expression of Q4P restricted to a physical plane. {Meaning, SACP may be construed as a potential offshoot of Q4P, but we must understand that SACP is restricted to physicality, as opposed to spirituality, morality and other aspects of the potential gamut of life.)

One (not the only) way Q4P may potentially express itself is to create a universe in which the SACP is an operating principle/force/power.

The SACP explains many puzzling features of our universe and is a physical idea with predictive power. The alternative physical theories posit 10^500 universes (multiverse) (see book by Susskind or Wikipedia) to explain the same features, or simply ignore those features saying that question is ‘not a scientific one.’

The SACP becomes a powerful way to express/implement/develop Q4P, but only on a limited, physical battlefield. The SACP is thus only a physical expression of the Q4P, albeit a powerful one.

SACP does not at all extend to the moral/spiritual levels. It does not explain joy, tragedy, love, irony, pathos etc. In other words, it does not explain the gamut of the human psyche, including the emotional and the aesthetic, among other aspects.

Potential conceptual and logical weaknesses in SACP are well known. See encyclopedia articles.

But, the key issue, as juxtaposed against Q4P in particular, may be that SACP does not answer the quintessential big question, “WHY”:

Why there is anything at all?

SACP tries to explain why there is life, and our particular form of life, once you posit a universe. But, why is there a universe?

This same seeming insurmountable hurdle will be faced by proponents of multiple universe theory, when their “m–theory” is juxtaposed against Birnbaum’s more nimble and more all-embracing “potential” paradigm.

What is the origin of that which you posit to be bedrock/eternal/infinite?

This is not a side question; it is a core question.

Q4P addresses the ‘eternal origins’ question in its own core Unified Formulation (Summa Metaphysica, Volume I, Part II). Q4P frontally and comprehensively integrates carefully conceived responses to all of the issues noted above.

Q4P handles the gamut of emotional, spiritual, moral and aesthetic issues, as well. It develops an expository sampling of 120 Potentials, proffered as 120 Angels.

Q4P as a potential wrap-around SACP, indeed solves – and fills-in – a lot of problems/gaps for SACP. The converse is not true. SACP certainly does not add–to the intellectual rigor or spectrum of Q4P.

Note that like other pre-1988 attempts at unified paradigms, the conceptualizers of SACP (in 1986) did not have an option of reviewing Birnbaum’s Q4P (1988; 2008) before presenting their respective hypotheses. Indeed, as Q4P’s author operates well outside the scientific community, there is limited dissemination to-date of his paradigm, which is currently more disseminated within the metaphysics/philosophy community. Part of the issue is that Birnbaum positions his paradigm as an overarching solution to key issues across a panoply of fields, ranging from theology to the hard sciences.

Birnbaum has articulated consistently that the solution to key roadblocks in Cosmology and Physics will only be found in creative metaphysics, as per his own paradigm. And Birnbaum is confident that all roads ultimately lead to Summa.

Foreword by Sanford Drob


“God’s 120 Guardian Angels”

Eighteen years in the making, David Birnbaum’s “120 Guardian Angels”, the poetic portion of his new book God and Good, is a beautiful and fitting complement to his 1988 masterpiece, God and Evil. Nearly everything about this new work, with the exception of its genuine excellence, contrasts markedly with Birnbaum’s earlier book.

Whereas God and Evil was discursive, closely argued and philosophical, “120 Guardian Angels” is poetic, highly personal, and mythological. Whereas God and Evil was profoundly serious, “120 Guardian Angels” is often light and humorous.

Whereas God and Evil spoke with the highest imaginable degree of generality (declaring, for example, that “Holy Potential is at the epicenter of the Divine”) “120 Guardian Angels” can be extraordinarily particular (Guardian Angel #62 is “Snowstorms on School Days, and #88 is “Playing Chess with Your Son”). However, while Birnbaum’s new work is “particular” in the Aristotelian sense that knowledge of the particular brings clarity to the universal, it is hardly particular in the sense of “particularistic” or “parochial”. Indeed, Birnbaum’s angels, while they do seem to have a fondness for Jewish ideas and activities (Guardian Angel #25 is “Lighting Shabbos Candles” and #75 is “Gemorrah Chavrusahs”), are ecumenical enough to include in amongst them #71 “Ju Jitsu” and #89 “Catholic School Marching Bands.”

Birnbaum, in God and Evil, argued that “Holy Potential” is the “primal thrust of the cosmos” and that man, created in the divine image, has as his purpose the actualization and fulfillment of that potential. In this new book, Birnbaum’s angels speak to us directly and inform us precisely how this potential can be attained. Many of the angels, of course, reflect universally acknowledged ideas and values (Guardian Angel #4

is “Freedom” and #5 is “Mercy”), but it is in the more idiosyncratic amongst them (e.g. #44 “Five-Year Old Girls Giggling”, #50 “Putting-the-Kids-to-Bed”, and #58 “Iron Mill Workers”) that we get the sense that the factory of Holy (and human) Potential is really working.

Reading Birnbaum’s book, I cannot help but also view it as a complement to Lin Yutang’s 1937 Confucian classic The Importance of Living, in which the author speaks so eloquently and so spiritually of life’s simple pleasures, like “lying in bed” and “sitting in chairs”. Lin tells us “If you can spend a perfectly useless afternoon

in a perfectly useless manner, you have learned how to live.” Birnbaum, in God and Evil, espoused a much more active, and hence Jewish/Western, view of life’s meaning, but here in “120 Guardian Angels” he makes room for such dalliances as “Bubbles” (angel #13), “Kite Flying” (#54) and “Catching the Moment” (#40). There appears to be an appreciation that in matters of actualizing Holy Potential there is, indeed, as Lin Yutang articulated, both “the noble art of getting things done [and] the noble art of [sometimes] leaving things undone.

The Kabbalists, in whom much of Birnbaum’s thinking is rooted (angel #109 is “Lurianic Kabbalah”), held that there is a coincidence of opposites governing both God and humanity; Birnbaum’s latest effort, especially when placed in the context of his earlier one, (with the complementary book titles explicitly forewarning us) most certainly seems to embody this dialectical spirit.

Chayyim Vital, whose great work Sefer Etz Chayyim, is the classic exposition of Lurianic Kabbalah, once acknowledged that the world is for the most part evil, with only the slightest bit of good mixed in. Adin Steinsaltz, the contemporary rabbinic sage and Kabbalist, has said that the full meaning of Vital’s seemingly pessimistic dictum is that “ours is the worst of all possible worlds in which there is yet hope, and that this is paradoxically the ‘best of all possible worlds.’” The reason for this, Rabbi Steinsaltz tells us, is that only in such a world of extreme adversity, a world “on the brink” of total disaster, can humankind be motivated to realize the emotional, spiritual, aesthetic and intellectual possibilities that have been bequeathed to it by our creator.

David Birnbaum’s mythic 120 Guardian Angels are a celestial chorus imploring us to do just that, to realize our full cosmic potential as human beings and thereby act as partners with the divine in actualizing the potential of our world.

Dr. Sanford Drob

May 19, 2006

Founding co-Editor, The NY Jewish Review

Foreword by KHALIL (God and Good)

Jewish philosophy is often resigned to the assumption that fundamental descriptions of God and the universe are beyond the grasp of the human intellect. Questions of Jewish philosophy are generally posed in the context of a mysterious framework that is rarely examined per se. Such a mindset is often more concerned with man’s place, role, and duties in the world, than it is with the contours of the universe and the latter’s relationship to the Eternal:

“[The reason of Jewish philosophy] is the reason that we find in chess…Chess offers the greatest possible scope for calculation…But all this takes place in accordance with a set of rules that determine which moves are permitted and which are not and how the pieces are set up. The rules themselves are the limits of reason in chess. They are not questioned nor need they be justified because the rationality of chess begins after the rules have been set down…This is Jewish intelligence…[it] has a sense of limit, of the vanity involved in hurling questions at the limits…”

– Michael Wyschogrod, The Body of Faith I, 3. [italics mine]

Of course, there have been noteworthy attempts to defy this generalization. Maimonides is perhaps the most prominent example of a Jewish philosopher who would analyze – if not challenge – Judaism’s fundamental suppositions. In his Guide of the Perplexed, Maimonides describes a Judaism that dovetails seamlessly with an understanding of the universe as established primarily by Aristotle. As Maimonides holds Judaism to the light of Aristotle’s logic, he finds concordance on all topics, with merely one exception: the question of eternalism.

Aristotle is the ‘eternalist,’ believing that the universe is eternal and that God comes into existence at some point in time. Maimonides asserts the converse: that God is eternal and that the universe is actively brought into being. It is striking that Maimonides, who accepts Aristotle’s position on an array of topics, including the essence of both God and man, cannot find agreement with Aristotle on the relationship between God and the cosmos. It is even more astounding that neither Maimonides nor Aristotle claim to prove their respective positions vis-à-vis God’s relation to the cosmos. It is

as if both men probe to the depths of metaphysics together in complete accord, only to resign, quite openly, to their respective presuppositions at the end of the journey.

Both sides appear to be missing tools that are essential to complete this journey. And both sides admit their respective unpreparedness by abandoning the very thought-process that brought them to this point:

“As for the matters concerning which we have no argument or that are too great in our opinion, it is difficult for us to say: why is this so? For instance, when we say: Is the world eternal or not?”

– Aristotle, Topica I, 11

“The eternity of the world or its creation in time becomes an open question, it should in my opinion be accepted without proof… it is not in the power of speculation to accede.”

– Moses Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed, II, 16

It is at this juncture that David Birnbaum enters the forum. He does so by delineating the relationship between God and eternity in the context of a unified metaphysics that concurrently addresses the relationship of God to the cosmos and the cosmos to eternity.

Such is the philosophy expounded in his first work, God and Evil. It is this simultaneous solution that lays the foundation for the work’s understanding of the existence of gross evil in the world. Birnbaum’s is a solution that has been left almost entirely unchallenged in the eighteen years since its publication in 1988. In the current work, God and Good, Birnbaum has looked further into the implications of this metaphysics and found the individual to be central. Here the individual is revealed as the engine of cosmic evolution . The relationship of man to God, man to the cosmos, and man to eternity thus become the focus of this work.

DavidBirnbaum feels no compulsion to obey the rules that his intellectual predecessors followed. Building on the foundation of ancient Jewish principles, particularly Kabbalistic ones, he is not afraid to draw on Eastern principles of temporal circularity, concepts from biology and physics that have yet to be applied to metaphysical issues, or insights from other scientific and humanistic disciplines that have been left untapped in philosophy.

Asserting that previous attempts to characterize the essence of the cosmos have fallen short for their lack of an adequate conceptual arsenal, as exemplified by Maimonides’ and Aristotle’s impasse, he consolidates these eclectic influences into a defined set of metaphysical ‘tools.’ Birnbaum presents these tools at the outset of God and Good. He then uses them to build a model that is applicable to all the arenas from which its influences were initially derived.

The implications of David Birnbaum’s original – markedly straightforward – doctrine therefore, range from the most general to the most specific. The doctrine is unified by the central thesis that unbounded potentiality pulls both the individual and the cosmos towards a Divine ideal. Potential is universal. Potential is the nexus:

“One of the great afflictions of man’s spiritual world is that every discipline of knowledge, every feeling, impedes the emergence of the other…This defect cannot continue permanently. Man’s nobler future is destined to come, when he will develop to a sound spiritual state so that instead of each discipline negating the other, all knowledge, all feeling will be envisioned from any branch of it…No spiritual phenomenon can stand independently. Each is interpenetrated by all.”

– Abraham Isaac Kook, Lights of Holiness, I, p. 22

Interestingly, in spite of its novelty, the paradigm elaborated by David Birnbaum is no less firmly anchored in Biblical and Talmudic concepts than the previous Jewish perspectives that were restrained by these same influences. For instance, God’s self-identification as “I will be that which I will be” (Exodus 3:14) is perhaps the single best articulation of God and Good’s description of potentiality’s association with God.

In his first work, Birnbaum meticulously dissects Adam’s Garden of Eden dilemma (Genesis 2:17), understanding it as humankind’s choice between potential/infinite growth and bliss/limited growth. Birnbaum then goes on, throughout God and Evil and now God and Good, to reveal the theme of potential in traditional Jewish narratives and even Judaism’s specific commandments.

At the outset of God and Evil Birnbaum boldly asserts that he aims to provide an integrated and novel solution to the problem of (1) the origins of the cosmos, (2) the nature, as it were, of God, and (3) the presence of gross evil in a world governed by an omnipotent God. At this point, the expectation, at least for this reader, is for a complex, convoluted theory too abstract to be considered objectively. The result, however, a “potentiality model,” is just the opposite: profoundly discrete, yet overarching enough to satisfy the three initial aims.

With the presentation of the second book, this model now has four distinct dimensions. First, in God and Evil, it is thoroughly rooted in Biblical and academic theology. Second, in part one of God and Good, the metaphysical implications of the model are described.

Third, in part two of God and Good, the model is presented in the form of 120 mythical Angels, adding texture to the metaphysics and drawing it into the realm of daily human reality. And finally, in the third section of God and Good, the ‘potentiality model’ is translated into a practical template for self-actualization.

It is difficult to recall a metaphysics as unified, yet as widely applicable, as the one presented here. The model’s foundation is concrete, while its implications are personal and thus varied. Each reader, therefore, will glean that which augments his or her own spiritual sensibility. As an Orthodox Jew, I find much in Birnbaum’s two works that bolsters my understanding of traditional Judaism.

No less sui generis than the scope of David Birnbaum’s work, is its relentless appeal to profound innate human understandings that cannot be adequately explicated in standard prose. Birnbaum employs a linguistic ensemble that at times resembles the water-tight, nitty-gritty reasoning of God and Evil, while at other times feels like terse jolts to the psyche. The author has turned away from the prevalent style of philosophy that so fervently analyzes metaphysical mysteries only to expose its own limitations. In breaking from convention, Birnbaum has taken a risk. He has gambled acceptance by refusing to succumb to a more traditional framework that would inevitably fail to fully represent the depth of ideas presented here.

The test lies in the heart of the reader. For all of its details and implications, the core of this work is unabashedly simple: potential drives existence. Does this concept seem foreign? or does it feel natural? If Birnbaum is successful, the reader will detect that the idea has an inherent organic power. This power can be explained in certain general contexts using standard language, but in others – particularly in the context of the individual – traditional explanations do not suffice.

David Birnbaum posits that the force driving the cosmos pulsates within the soul of each individual, and so only a visceral response from the reader can fully reflect its impact. Is this achieved? Do the grand, general, cosmic principles yield to an understanding of the self? Does this awareness, in and of itself, have meaningful and practical implications for daily life? If it does, then Birnbaum has achieved something utterly unique.

He has raised a preciously simple metaphysical centerpiece and enshrined it through its intrinsic affinity for the mind and the heart of the reader.

“I will cause a new utterance to be heard in the land:

Peace peace to the far and near, said the Lord.”

Isaiah 57:19







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