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Chapter Two: With Mind And Soul

Chapter Two: With Mind And Soul


Sources: Derech Mitzvosecha,
Mitzvas HaEmanas Elokus
, sec. 2;
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXVI, p. 114ff.,
and other sources

Inspired by what he had heard about Chassidus, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev set off for Mezeritch to study under the Maggid. After several months he returned home. Now, the chassidic movement had not yet been fully accepted within the Jewish community, and Rabbi Levi Yitzchak’s father-in-law looked somewhat askance at his son-in-law’s extended stay away from home. “What did you learn in Mezeritch?” he asked.

“I learned that G‑d existed,” Rabbi Levi Yitzchak answered.

Even the servant girl knows that!” the father-in-law protested.

“She proclaims her belief. I know,” the son-in-law replied.

The First Commandment

The interplay between faith and intellect is reflected in the very definition of the mitzvah that defines the core of our relationship with G‑d. The first of the Ten Commandments, the statement:1 “I am G‑d, your L-rd,” is interpreted as a command obligating us to reaffirm our relationship with G‑d. However, the definition of that obligation is a matter of discussion among our Rabbis. There are those2 who say that the mitzvah is belief, to believe in G‑d. The Rambam, by contrast, states3 that the mitzvah is to know G‑d.

R. Yitzchak Abarbanel explains4 the Rambam’s perspective. Unless a person believes in G‑d, there can be no concept of adhering to His commandments. Before there are commandments, there must be a Commander.5 Hence, there cannot be a command to believe in the Commander.

Moreover, you cannot command belief. Belief is a feeling that either does or does not exist. But if it does not exist within a person’s conscious mind, commanding him to believe will not make it any easier for him to have such feelings. If he feels belief, he will, and if he does not feel it, then there is no way he can push a button and suddenly start to believe.6

Chassidus7 explains that Jews do not need a command to believe in G‑d. On the contrary, belief is a natural consequence of G‑d’s presence within their souls and within the world at large. A Jew can’t help but believe, because G‑dliness is the truth of his own existence, and the truth of all existence.8 This belief will surface from time to time with or without a Jew’s effort. The command G‑d gave us is to enhance our relationship with Him, to know Him and recognize Him, appreciating that He is the most complete and most perfect form of existence.

Levels of Knowledge

The concept that this command requires developing our knowledge and understanding of G‑d is also reflected in the treatment of the subject by the Rambam himself. He begins the Mishneh Torah by saying: “The foundation of all foundations and the pillar of knowledge is to know that there is a Primary Existence who brings into9 being all existence.” He then continues to explain several other elements regarding G‑dliness. Afterwards, in Halachah 6, he states: “Knowing [the above, fulfills] the positive commandment: ‘I am G‑d, your L-rd.’” Implied is that the knowledge of G‑d required by the Torah is not merely a general awareness that He exists, but instead, a defined and developed awareness of His existence, to the extent that is possible within the limits of our mortal potential.

Similar concepts are explained in the Zohar10 which states that the first commandment is to know G‑d: “He whom we had known previously in general, [we are] now to know in a particular manner.” We have to clarify and define our knowledge of G‑d in particular terms, so that it can be internalized and become part of the way we appreciate our existence.

Certainly, as a mortal, man will not be able to grasp G‑d as He exists in His own terms,11 but by exerting himself to his capacity, he will make G‑dliness a reality for himself. Through his intellectual effort, G‑d will become a relevant factor in his life and this awareness will inspire him to fulfill the commandments.

This is the intent of the command: “I am G‑d, your L-rd”: It is a charge to internalize the essential awareness of G‑d that every person possesses and enable it to permeate our conscious thought processes. In doing so, a person creates a fertile field for faith to flourish. Moreover, he expands the horizons of his intellect, enabling it to reach vistas that are by nature beyond its grasp.

For knowledge is by definition limited; it can comprehend only subjects that have set bounds. But when knowledge begins with and is based on faith, this faith reshapes and extends our conceptual processes, opening them up to an appreciation of the transcendent.

Knowing and Not Knowing

This is reflected in our Rabbis’ expression:12 “The ultimate of knowledge is not to know You.” Not knowing does not refer to ignorance, but to a higher form of knowledge. As a person advances in his knowledge of G‑d, he comes to the awareness that though knowledge is finite, and G‑d is infinite, he can approach what is unknowable and appreciate those dimensions of G‑d that transcend conscious thought. When a person comprehends the dimensions of G‑dliness that are knowable G‑d’s manifestations within the natural order he comes to an appreciation that there are dimensions of G‑dliness that exceed his grasp.

As he deepens his contemplation of this subject, he focuses on what are the limits of his intellectual grasp, and why those limits exist. In this way he becomes sensitive to the nature of those transcendent G‑dly dimensions mentioned above. Not only does he understand that they exist, he can explain something about them. True, it’s not like a 2+2=4 mathematical equation that he can easily comprehend. On the contrary, he knows he can never appreciate those dimensions of G‑dliness with the same type of knowledge with which he comprehends ordinary subjects. Nevertheless, his “not knowing” is not incognizance, but rather a developed state of knowledge that allows an intellectual understanding of the uniqueness of G‑d’s transcendence (yedias hashelilah) and a spiritual connection to Him on these levels.13

A Multifaceted Connection

Thus our relationship with G‑d involves several different levels. It begins with faith that is above intellect, a non-intellectual knowledge of Him. By virtue of the G‑dliness within our souls and the G‑dliness within the world at large, each of us feels a connection to G‑dliness that transcends our understanding.

Nevertheless, these feelings of faith are not sufficient. For relying only on faith would create a dichotomy between our ordinary thinking processes and our essential relationship with G‑dliness. Our ordinary self-image and the forces within us and within the world at large that help create that self-image would conflict with the essential spiritual awareness that lies within us. Our conscious minds say: “I exist,” and our spiritual potential attunes us to a much higher reality.

To synchronize the two, we must work to know G‑d using the intellectual potential that we possess. And yet we should not rely on intellect alone, for intellect has its limitations. Instead, our relationship with G‑d developed through intellect must be based on and influenced by faith. In this way, our minds are expanded beyond their natural limits.

Just as these approaches reflect different potentials within our personalities, intellect and above intellect; so, too, they relate to two different levels of G‑dliness, a level that transcends intellect (sovev kol almin), and a level that is confined within the limits of intellect (memale kol almin).14 In this vein, Chassidus15 interprets the verse:16 א-ל דעות י-ה-ו-ה , to imply that “G‑d allows Himself to be known in many ways.” For there are dimensions of G‑dliness that can be perceived through intellect, and then there are more sublime and transcendent dimensions that intellect cannot relate to and that can only be grasped through faith.

In this manner, faith connects us to a deeper dimension of G‑dliness than intellect can relate to. For intellect even intellect as it is expanded by faith is mortal and limited by definition, and there is no way it can relate to G‑d as He exists in His own terms, for He is beyond all definition and limitation. This level of G‑dliness can be tapped only through faith. And indeed, He projects Himself outward and makes Himself accessible to us through faith.17 On this level, our efforts center, not on establishing the connection, but instead, on making sure that we do not prevent it from blossoming.

Shmos 20:2.
See Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah 25, and Ibn Tibbon’s translation of the Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvos, pos. commandment 1.
Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Yesodai HaTorah 1:1, Rav Kapach’s translation of Sefer HaMitzvos.
Rosh Amanah , chs. 4, 7, 17.
We see this reflected in our everyday conduct in prayer. The passage Shema is recited before the passage VeHayah im Shomoa, for first we must accept G‑d’s Kingship, and then we can accept His mitzvos.
This reflects a concept of a larger scope. We can command deed, telling a person to put on tefillin , to eat kosher food, and to do or refrain from doing many other activities. Feeling cannot be commanded. In that vein, Chassidus (see Derech Mitzvosecha, p. 199a) interprets the command to love G‑d as applying to the meditation that will prompt these feelings of love.
Op. cit., Mitzvas HaEmanas Elokus, sec. 2.
As the Rambam writes (Mishneh Torah, loc. cit.): “All existence\'85 came into being from the truth of His Being.”
Significantly, the Rambam uses the present tense, not the past, alluding to the concept that creation is a constant, ongoing process. See Tanya, Shaar HaYichud VehaEmunah, ch. 1.
Vol. II, p. 25a. It is of consequence to note that the wording the Rambam uses in the Mishneh Torah is very similar to the wording used in the Zohar. See the treatise “The Rambam and the Zohar ” published by Rav Margolies (Sinai, Vols. 32-34) which focuses on the many rulings in the Mishneh Torah which appear to have their source in the Zohar.
See Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Yesodai HaTorah 2:10.
Bechinas Olam, sec. 7, ch. 2; Sefer HaIkkarim , Discourse 2, ch. 30.
Likkutei Torah, Pekudei, p. 3d.
Needless to say, we are speaking of G‑dly wisdom that transcends intellect.
See Torah Or, Yisro, p. 689; Likkutei Torah, Re’eh, p. 23d.
I Shmuel 2:3.
For as Torah Or, p. 14b states, all Jews, even those whose intellectual potentials are underdeveloped have faith in G‑d because “the [G‑dly] Source of light is in revelation.”
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Anonymous St. petersburg, Florida May 11, 2007

Knowing G-d The comment posted by "Annonymous, Saint F" expressed the beauty of the comment in the article, relative to intellectually being unable to grasp the presence of G-d,,and at times, it is necessary to "be still and know that he is present" or as the quoted comment indicated, "Be stilll and know that I am G-d."
I also have this posted on my refrigerator and several times during the distractions of a busy day (ringing phones, helping children and grand-children, comforting neighbors,I also look at the refrigerator amd am reminded to "Be Still", at times, feeling the presence of G-d , and a quiet "healing" of a busy mind and soul.
The message and the comment were both beautiful. Reply

Anonymous Saint, F March 27, 2007

Knowing God This is a beautiful message. Although it is complex (to me), the differentiation between the thoughts and feelings involved in our "knowledge" of G-d, seem to remind me of a quote from the bible that I have taped on my refrigerator door. It is: "BE STILL and KNOW that I AM G-D.

For some of us, it is difficult to "be still" but the quote appears to indicate that it is a primary requirement in order "to know" HIM.

Sometimes, when the phone never stops ringing, appointments must be kept, mail answered, bills paid, birthday cards remembered, house cleaned, baby-sitting for grand-children, comforting friends and neighbors, meeting deadlines, etc. I look at the refrigerator door and read that message.

Immediately, I look outside my patio window, admire the sky, sunshine, birds singing, even a jet plane up high, all of creation ....and that "required stillness" falls gently upon me. A silence out of nowhere suddenly is in my home...presence of G-d somehow , saying, "I AM'. Reply

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