Here's a great tip:
Enter your email address and we'll send you our weekly magazine by email with fresh, exciting and thoughtful content that will enrich your inbox and your life, week after week. And it's free.
Oh, and don't forget to like our facebook page too!
Contact Us

A Synopsis of the Dirah Betachtonim System

A Synopsis of the Dirah Betachtonim System

 Email

One of the aspects of Judaism that has most puzzled thinkers through the ages is the importance it attaches to specific modes of behavior. The Torah prescribes six hundred and thirteen obligations, many of them concerned with the minutiae of everyday life, requiring specific physical acts. The observant Jew must bind cowhide to his arms (tefillin), must wear fringes of wool on his clothing (tzitzit), must partake of and refrain from specific foods. Even the Sabbath, the most religious day of the Jew’s week, a day ostensibly set apart for matters of the spirit, appears at best burdened with thousands of laws governing the minutest of actions, and at worst, a day devoted to indulgence in sumptuous meals ushered in by a cup of alcoholic drink.

Many have wondered: Should not religion be preoccupied with matters of the soul? Should not the bulk of Jewish religious literature, the major portion of time devoted to religion, and generally the primary arena for Jewish expression pertain to man establishing a relationship with G‑d in his heart and mind, rather than numerous do’s and don’ts concerning apparently mundane matters?

Now, classical Jewish thinkers have, of course, defined a variety of roles for physical mitzvot. For example, they are needed in order to regulate our physical side, enabling our spirit to engage in true worship; or alternatively, that the objects and acts involved in mitzvot are symbolic of spiritual realities or devotional states. But such approaches do not seem to justify the central place accorded physical obligations by Judaism.

Activities such as prayer, meditation, even fasting, appear to be appropriate modes of worship. These, it seems, are ideally suited for achieving the worshiper’s goal: They enable him to set his body aside, to rise above his natural surroundings and become more spiritual, to move closer to G‑d. But when laying tefillin, wearing tzitzit or eating a Shabbat meal, though the worshiper’s acts are directed towards G‑d, he evidently retains his involvement with his carnal, mundane self, much as he is still concerned with ordinary, tangible objects such as leather, wool or food—hardly appropriate, it appears, for ideal, central worship.

The Dirah Betachtonim system, however, provides new insight into the role of physical mitzvot, surprisingly pointing out that it is in fact specifically these acts that bring man to the greatest spiritual heights, beyond the reach of what are generally considered more spiritual forms of worship. This thought-system maintains that upon closer consideration it can be demonstrated that the premise that underlies much of the conventional preference for “higher” worship, is in fact mistaken—that in fact the precise reverse is true. Specifically physical, mundane actions directed towards G‑d represent the acme of religious endeavor; it is specifically through these “lower” forms of worship that the human realizes true communion with G‑d.

The substantiation of this position will require some metaphysical exploration. Religious endeavor represents, of course, the establishing of relationships between man and G‑d, as well as making reality more G‑dly. It follows, therefore, that a better understanding of G‑d, man and reality will enhance the prospects of correctly assessing the relative values of various types of worship. Hence, during the course of this book we shall learn to discern various dimensions of G‑d, of man and of reality—and this exercise will bring us to the surprising conclusion that mundane physical worship reaches deeper into the soul of man, deeper into the substance of reality and deeper into the G‑dhead, as it were, than does spiritual worship.

In this chapter we shall find in brief, and in later chapters in greater detail, that the significance of physical worship can be appreciated in two contexts: First, it is specifically the “lower” forms of worship that manifest the infinity of man’s spiritual capabilities, as well as G‑d’s true infinity; second, and most important, it is specifically these forms of worship that relate to the Divine Essence, in a manner involving the essence of man and reality.

Context 1 – Infinity

Man’s Spiritual Scope

It is true that when performing a physical mitzvah, the physical act in and of itself is not concerned with the intellectual or emotional experience of G‑d, as would be the case during meditation and prayer. Here, neither the knowledge of G‑d nor G‑d’s love nor His awe possess the mind and heart of the worshiper as they do during higher forms of worship. But on the other hand we might note, man’s heart and mind are his naturally more sublime faculties. They are intrinsically more G‑dly. Thus, when man utilizes the inner recesses of his heart and mind to establish a relationship with G‑d through prayer or meditation, he is establishing a relationship only with that part of himself initially closer to G‑d. Whereas through physical mitzvot, not only those parts of man naturally suited to worship—naturally more spiritual, naturally closer to G‑d—but also his mundane material body or even external physical objects, inherently distant from all matters spiritual, are involved in his relationship with G‑d.

Thus, here the true scope of man’s spiritual capabilities becomes manifest. By performing physical mitzvot man declares that not only his higher, more abstract faculties, but even that part of his self and his reality that are normally distant from matters abstract and spiritual are in communion with G‑d. Prosaic leather tefillin rather than heartfelt prayer demonstrate that even entities that appear to be devoid of any lofty or spiritual quality, even entities that are apparently alien to G‑d, are in truth compatible with Him.

An analogy: The best spot to evaluate the range of a powerful spotlight with the unaided eye is not directly beneath the lamp, but at the furthest point where its light reaches. True, directly beneath the lamp, the light is at its most brilliant. It is specifically here that the lamp provides ample light even in the middle of a dark night to illuminate a playing field or to allow reading a book. It is also specifically closer to the source that the purity and color of the light can be better perceived. But on the other hand, the range of the spotlight can best be evaluated specifically at the furthest point where its light reaches—as its rays penetrate a distant alley hundreds of yards away.

Similarly, with regard to spiritual matters. Whilst praying or meditating, the brilliance, character, purity and color of worship, as it were, are at their peak. Here man is occupied with noble matters. Leaving his mundane body behind, he illuminates his soul with the transcendence of G‑d. But here his spiritual range is not evident. The potential scope of his spiritual capabilities, that is, of his capacity for compatibility with G‑d, is realized specifically beyond the inspiration of heart and mind, as the furthest reaches of his personality and environment are illuminated by his relationship with G‑d.

Put in other words: Man is capable of entering into a total relationship with G‑d. He is capable of being spiritual throughout. His soul is capable of reaching every part: it is potentially infinite. And this infinity of the soul finds expression specifically through physical mitzvot.

The Scope of G‑d’s Reach

There are, of course, two sides to worship: Man establishes a relationship with G‑d, and concomitantly, G‑d touches man. So far, we have viewed the matter from man’s point of view; let us now look at it from G‑d’s side, as it were.

Physical worship achieves a similar advantage for the manifestation of G‑d as it does for man’s spiritual development. Prayer and meditation focus upon the greatness of G‑d. As it were, during these forms of worship, Divine qualities, such as G‑d’s wisdom or love, touch the worshiper. But in the commonplace performance of physical mitzvot no Divine attribute is apprehended by man; no Divine quality, neither G‑d’s wisdom nor His love become manifest to the worshiper. Physical acts with ordinary objects make no Divine “statement”; they are, in themselves, uninspiring neutral acts. But on the other hand, it is specifically this latter form of worship that demonstrates G‑d’s all-encompassing scope: Hereby G‑d touches not only that which is inherently closer to Him, namely, man’s mind and heart, but also the furthest reaches, i.e. man’s physical body and inanimate uninspiring objects. Physical worship in particular, then, manifests both man’s as well as G‑d’s infinity.

G‑d’s Infinity

It is axiomatic to Judaism that G‑d created all of reality and is perpetually interested in all of existence, no matter how seemingly trivial or insignificant. Though G‑d is transcendent, beyond human comprehension, to relegate Him to the seventh heaven, declaring Him too great to be involved with the trivial minutiae of human existence, runs contrary to the very essence of Judaism, which emphasizes G‑d’s total dominion over all and G‑d’s involved concern with the acts of mortal men. Put somewhat differently: G‑d’s interests and domain are not confined to any specific range of spheres or any particular range of entities or characteristics, no matter how sublime or lofty; He is, rather, far reaching, all-encompassing—infinite.

With this in mind, let us take a step back and ask: Why is it that we normally assume that prayer and meditation are meaningful to G‑d, that the mind and heart—contemplation, love and awe—are avenues whereby to approach G‑d? Why, conversely, is it commonly maintained that the mundane is beneath the scope of G‑d’s interests, that no possible spirituality can be manifest in a piece of leather fastened to a human skull? It is, of course, due to our perception of G‑d’s greatness, out of respect for His transcendence. Wishing to elevate G‑d, we tend to perceive a sharp split, a chasm, that divides this carnal reality from the abstract sublimity which He is. It appears to us that, by definition, G‑d’s otherliness is antithetical to the ordinary nature of this reality, that G‑d’s loftiness cannot accommodate the mundaneness of bodily acts. The finite and physical, it seems, are an arena from which G‑d is excluded precisely due to His greatness.

But as we have noted, this exclusion of G‑d runs contrary to a most basic premise of Jewish faith. This notion of dichotomy or duality—of a realm to which G‑d relates and a realm which is beneath Him—is contrary to the fundamental principle of Judaism that G‑d is Omnipresent, interested in all of reality, no matter how lowly or apparently G‑d-forsaken. G‑d is not limited by His greatness, not confined to His otherliness; G‑d is far reaching and is of an all encompassing compatibility. It is anathema to Judaism to maintain that G‑d relates merely to the good and not to the bad, merely to happiness but not to pain, merely to man’s abstract faculties but not to his body—merely to prayer, but not to ordinary physical objects.

Thus, physical mitzvot assume, in fact, a most important role in worship. If the recognition of the all-encompassing reach, the infinity of G‑d, is indeed integral to a correct perception of G‑d, this notion must be represented by a central part of worship. There must be some most important form of worship whereby it is manifest that G‑d who is hereby worshipped is all encompassing, infinite—not merely a Being who is greater than our mundane reality, to be apprehended solely in His transcendent attributes of Love, Awe or Wisdom. And this infinite dimension of G‑d indeed finds expression in physical mitzvot. The performance of specifically these mitzvot expresses the notion that not only contemplation and love, but even the mundane and finite, even that which appears to be divorced from anything spiritual, such as leather and wool, is in truth compatible with G‑d—part of G‑d’s kingdom, a vehicle for the Divine will. It is hereby that man demonstrates that G‑d is not merely Wise and Benevolent, that the Deity is not merely of some particular quality, great in form or degree, but is accommodating of all qualities, high or low; that He is all encompassing—infinite.

We shall elaborate further in later chapters; but for now, in brief: If worship amounts to man entering into a relationship with G‑d, and G‑d, in turn, touching man and his reality—physical worship is indeed of unique value. Via mitzvot, finite and mundane as they are, man carries the Divine torch to the furthest reaches, roping in and sublimating his own lower dimensions and even the external world at large, thereby manifesting both the infinity of his own spiritual capabilities as well as the infinity of G‑d.

Context 2 – G‑d’s Essence

Upon reflection, it will become clear that though we have found a significant role for physical mitzvot, we have continued to retain the notion that the physical and the Divine are essentially antithetical. It is the spiritual arena, we have continued to maintain, that is inherently close to G‑d, whereas the physical is remote. We have merely pointed out that there is value in involving even that which is inherently far from the Divine. Indeed, the particular value we found in physical mitzvot lies specifically in that they demonstrate that G‑d is able to relate even to the physical, that G‑d can stoop so low, as it were, to encompass also that which is inherently distant from Him. Now, however, we will proceed to demonstrate that in fact the “lower” forms of worship reach inherently deeper into the G‑dhead than the “higher” forms of worship—for the physical, precisely because it is physical, roots in the deepest recesses of G‑d. This virtue of the physical does not lie in its potential sublimation or spiritualization—in transcending, that is, denying, its natural physical self; rather, as said, unique spiritual value lies in the physical specifically because it is physical.

In a nutshell: The “higher” forms of worship relate merely to G‑d’s attributes, to His character and qualities; whereas the “lower” forms of worship which involve the physical relate to the Divine Essence.

Now, the logical distinction between essence and attributes once dominated philosophical speculation. Maimonides writes, “whoever cannot distinguish between that which is . . . essential and that which is accidental . . . cannot speak philosophically at all1.” But this distinction has fallen from prominence in the modern philosophical climate, requiring us to first devote some space to elucidate what the notion of G‑d’s Essence means—and subsequently return to find that specifically the physical relates to this deepest aspect of G‑d.

A Quantum Gap

Numerous adjectives have been employed to describe G‑d. He is referred to as Omnipotent, Omnipresent, Omniscient, Wise, Benevolent, and by many synonyms and variations of these terms. (In the previous section we learned to appreciate yet another, very significant term—Infinite.) From a more profound perspective, however, all of these descriptions, though intending to glorify and elevate G‑d, do not describe His true greatness. In truth, they paradoxically serve to disguise and help man ignore His true nature.

When referring to G‑d with these adjectives, G‑d is regarded within the human frame of reference. We are saying in effect that G‑d is all-powerful, all-present, all-knowing etc., unlike humans who are merely powerful, present and knowing. Human notions such as power, presence and kindness are applied to G‑d, merely with accompanying qualifications concerning the quantity or quality of these characteristics. Thus, a true definition of G‑d, on His own terms, remains elusive.

To clarify: According to Jewish teachings, G‑d’s true nature is totally inaccessible to man. By his very human nature, man can never cross into the reality that is G‑d’s. The notion of G‑d’s transcendence implies not only that G‑d is at the very subtle end of a continuum which leads from mundane man to Him, that G‑d is, as it were, on the highest rung of a ladder upon which both He and man stand; but rather, that an uncrossable chasm divides man and G‑d.

A simplified analogy for this would be the position of a blind person trying to appreciate a visual masterpiece. Turning in the right direction or rubbing or washing his eyes will bring him no closer to appreciating the painting. He is unfortunately lacking, in essence, the very faculties necessary for apprehending light, color and visual form altogether. There are no methods of which he can avail himself to cross the gulf. Even if he might be able to glean some sense of the work by way of analogy—for example, he might be told that this particular painting arouses sensations similar to those aroused by a specific musical masterpiece—he cannot be privy to the experience of vision itself. The chasm is unnegotiable.

Similarly, G‑d operates, as it were, on a different “operating system” to man, G‑d exists in a different frame of reference; and hence, an uncrossable gulf divides man from G‑d. Consequently, all descriptions humans might choose to use regarding G‑d are ultimately inefficient: they are merely descriptions of what man encounters of G‑d in his own, very different frame of reference.

Moreover, and now unlike with the blind person, the realities of man and G‑d are not two parallel realities, not two experiences which share some common ground as do the visual arts and music, permitting reasonably accurate analogies to be drawn from one to the other. A “quantum gap” separates man from G‑d. Consequently, no analogy within one system can meaningfully apply to the other. No adjective or metaphor appropriate to man’s world can be used with any hope of approximation with regard to G‑d. Thus, all descriptions of G‑d depict at best how G‑d is manifest; all adjectives employed with the aim of circumscribing His greatness describe merely how G‑d relates to humans and their world—what He represents when He filters through an otherwise impregnable veil into the human frame of reference. What G‑d does, as it were, but not what G‑d is.

A further analogy: A bright spotlight shines outside a prison wall, hidden from the inmates by heavily veiled curtains. The equivalent of only forty watts of light filters through to the prison cells. When introduced to their cells after walking through a long dark corridor, prisoners are told: “Here we provide light adequate to take care of your needs.” Now, within the prison, the available light can appropriately be described as adequate for prisoners’ needs. But portraying the light source itself as providing this type of light would be patently inappropriate. Relative to its own frame of reference, describing a powerful spotlight as providing forty watts falls offensively short.

Something similar is true of adjectives employed by humans to describe G‑d. It is not He, in and of Himself, that is addressed—indeed, that can be addressed—by these terms; they refer, rather, to His meaning relative to man—He, once colored, tainted, by the human frame of reference into which His “light” filters through. And here, unlike with the prison analogy, the “light” comes to man’s frame of reference after a “quantum gap.”

In Relation or In Himself

Furthermore, it is not only the world of mundane humans, tied up as it is with carnal needs, that cannot provide adequate terms with which to describe transcendent G‑d. Scripture talks of higher realities such as angels, and the Jewish mystical literature is replete with discussions of great emanations from G‑d, of extraordinary spiritual worlds. Yet, even those higher realities, though more spiritual, more close to G‑d, cannot provide adequate terms with which to apprehend G‑d as He is in Himself. For even at those lofty stations, what is apprehended is G‑d as He filters through a thinner veil, as it were, but yet a veil. G‑d is still apprehended within a frame of reference which He transcends, in terms of its deficient parameters and yardsticks. It is G‑d in relation, not G‑d in Himself.

Being or Being Something?

Put somewhat differently: all descriptions of G‑d relate to forms of G‑d’s existence, to how He exists—not to G‑d’s very existence per se. Let us explain this in some detail.

Among many believers in G‑d, the notion of G‑d’s existence hardly earns a mention. Surely, the faithful emphasize that G‑d exists or even concern themselves with proving that He exists, but only as a prelude to what appear to them to be the real issues—G‑d’s benevolence, omnipotence or other notable characteristics. Their notion of the Deity is of a great Being, a sublime Being, a kind Being etc.—but not of an existent Being; of a Being, ipso facto. They worship the Being that gives or withholds, Who blesses or curses, Who performs miracles and knows the thoughts of men—not a Being Who exists.

Now, perhaps they are right: after all, what is so special about merely existing? In truth, however, this question will be asked only so long as ultimate questions of reality are ignored.

Picture the following scene: Your friend returns from a promising function most disappointed. He wanted some excitement, he was eager for an experience, but nothing of the sort happened. “It was an absolute non-event,” he says, “we sat there like dead wood.”

It would obviously be of little comfort to your frustrated friend to philosophically comment that “sitting there like dead wood” ought not be described as an “absolute non-event.” But in the privacy of your own mind, consider the question: Why is it only excitement, only an “experience,” that counts as an event? Why is it, in fact, that we regard just sitting there, merely existing—as nothing, zero?

The obvious answer, of course, is that we take existence for granted, because we exist all the time. Existence is a constant throughout our lives. For all practical purposes, therefore, we comfortably ignore it. Only that which goes beyond this constant starting point of existence do we note as greater than zero, as significant; indeed, as there altogether.

Consider, however, the bizarre prospect of our not existing altogether, incorporate into the evaluation of what we encounter that it could not have been at all—it will then become evident that the very fact of existence is noteworthy indeed.

So long as we wish to take our existence for granted, our yardsticks will register only events, only experiences. The stronger the experience—the nobler, the more exciting, the more meaningful—the higher it will rate on our yardsticks. An exciting experience will rate as ten; sitting there “like dead wood” as zero. But once we broaden our field of inquiry, expanding our frame of reference by entertaining the possibility that we could have not existed at all, it becomes evident that the very phenomenon of existence itself is indeed worthy of mention—something greater than the absolute zero of non-existence. Indeed, in this broader context it becomes apparent that crossing the gap from the true zero of non-existence to the “one” of existence involves a greater leap than any subsequent transition from “one” to “ten,” to a “hundred” or a “thousand.” As it were, the very creation of the yardstick itself is of greater significance than any subsequent rating on the yardstick.

Furthermore, much as we have now come to distinguish between existence itself and experiences or events, a similar distinction is in order between existence itself and the qualities and significance of existence.

We search for significance, at least for meaning in everything with which we come into contact. Some things speak to our minds, others to our emotions; some to our sense of aesthetics, others to our senses of wonder or awe. But some things escape our attention entirely—we feel they have no message to convey, lacking as they are of appealing qualities and meaning. But upon further reflection, considering the possibility of total non-existence, it becomes apparent that they, too, are of considerable significance. They exist.

In short, we have found that being, not only being something is fundamentally noteworthy. Or, in other words, we have uncovered the oft-neglected substratum of being, upon which all experiences, qualities and meaning are superimposed. It is to this fundamental dimension of reality, namely existence itself, distinct from any particular occurrence, experience or quality—any coloring of existence that may arise once existence is there2 — that we shall henceforth refer to as essence.

G‑d’s Essence

Returning now to our discussion of descriptions and perceptions of G‑d, it becomes evident that we are usually guilty of a significant oversight with regard to G‑d: inadequate prominence is typically given to the notion of G‑d’s very existence.

Which is in fact more notable: G‑d’s Omnipotence, Benevolence, Omniscience, Infinity—or the fact that He merely exists? In light of our previous discussion it is in fact the latter. In the broader context of the ultimate questions of reality, when pondering both existence and non-existence, it becomes clear that there is an aspect of the Divine that goes beyond any particular quality or attribute with which we may choose to describe Him: beyond any particular form of existence, lies His Existence per se; the Divine substratum, the Essence.

True, once G‑d exists we note with awe the special qualities of His existence: Wisdom, Omnipotence, Omniscience, Benevolence. But above all else, G‑d is to be considered not as being something—no matter what that “something” is, but rather as Being in and of itself. G‑d can not only do great things, or even display wonderful characteristics—He can be, He is.

It should be noted, that unlike our earlier discussion concerning reality’s existence and characteristics, where the distinction between being and attributes is philosophically correct but need not be central to everyday perception, with regard to G‑d this distinction is of critical importance. For the very notion of G‑d is, of course, that of a self-sufficient being, who exists from all time to all time, in and of Himself; Who, in turn, provides existence for all else that exists. (In fact, many scholars prove G‑d’s existence from the fact that reality exists, considering His necessary existence the only possible cause of reality’s contingent existence.) Focusing on “colorings” of G‑d’s existence helps us ignore this most central notion of G‑d, the ontological notion of G‑d: the Being, the Essence.

In summary: A significant philosophical distinction pertains in relation to our reality between essence and attributes (once at the very forefront of philosophical speculation), and a similar crucial theological distinction exists between the Essence of G‑d and His manifestations. The Essence, on the one hand, is the very Divine source and substratum, the Existence; whereas manifestations of G‑d range from no more than human perceptions of the Divine as it filters into human reality, through G‑d in relation to higher realities, to colorings of the Divine Essence: what G‑d does, even what G‑d is, but not G‑d per se.

Physical Mitzvot

In light of all of the above, we return to Dirah Betachtonim’s unique perspective on worship. Our exploration of reality and G‑d have placed us in a better position to correctly evaluate various types of worship, that is, various forms of communication between reality and G‑d. Particularly, we can now return to appreciate Dirah Betachtonim’s view which ascribes greater spiritual value to the performance of physical mitzvot than to prayer or meditation.

At the outset, it appeared reasonable to assume in terms of our reality that experiences are of greater value than mere being, that that which is aesthetically or emotionally pleasing is superior to that which merely exists, that the wondrous surpasses that which solely is. Similarly with regard to G‑d, we held that G‑d’s characteristics, such as His benevolence, sublime nature or infinity, are of greater significance than the fact that He exists. It is in fact a very similar attitude that lies at the root of the primacy normally ascribed to forms of worship such as prayer and meditation to physical mitzvot.

It is commonly held that the former elevate the human above his finite, corporeal existence and associate him with the Divine. But at this point in our discussion, we stop and ask: Divine in what sense? Clearly, in senses such as loftiness, sublimity, benevolence, spirituality, infinity or transcendence. But do these forms of worship relate to G‑d’s mere and very being? They do not. Here man’s heart is inspired by G‑d’s love and awe, here his mind is captivated by Divine wisdom, here his poetic and religious soul merge with Divine transcendence. Or in other words, both on the part of the worshiper as well as with regard to that which is worshipped, the focus is on the experience of emotion, wisdom and transcendence—however pure and Divine—not on essence.

But on the other hand, take the performance of physical mitzvot. What religious experience is manifest here? Which Divine quality inspires the worshiper when wrapping leather straps on human arms or when sitting with the dead wood of a succah? None at all. Neither man’s mind nor his heart are involved, neither Divine wisdom, benevolence, omnipotence, or any other sublime quality finds expression here. But it is precisely herein that the greatness of physical mitzvot lies. For the only relationship with G‑d to be found in physical entities, devoid as they are of all religious meaning, proceeds along that often overlooked dimension we have now discovered—essence.

One cannot communicate with G‑d via leather on the “wavelength” of the sublime, nor via wood on the wavelength of the emotional—nor of the “spiritual,” rational, or the poetic; since these mundane, physical, finite entities are devoid of all these qualities. To communicate with G‑d with the physical, no channels of communication are open, save one: essence—the being of the physical entity with the Being of G‑d.

Thus, when man utilizes physical, finite objects towards G‑d—whereby he can cultivate no religious dimension of his soul, wherein he can enjoy no religious experience at all, where no religious meaning or significance is involved, and likewise no particular attribute of G‑d can be related to—he relates solely to the Divine Essence, stripped bare of all attributes and colorings. Precisely due to the total absence of “religious” dimensions in the physical, man is hereby brought before the Divine Essence.

Thus, maintains Dirah Betachtonim, it is specifically in the performance of physical mitzvot that man finds the acme of religious experience, the ultimate communion with G‑d. Not by releasing some hidden meaning and significance latent in the physical, not by achieving the religious feat of sublimating the physical, but rather in relating to G‑d as found in the physical itself—precisely in the absence of spiritual meaning and significance, specifically because it is physical and not sublime. For here the worshiper transcends the world of character, of meaning, of significance and of feats: here the essence of reality merges with the Essence of G‑d.

This Reality One With G‑d

Before summarizing this chapter we shall note one further important concept very briefly (this matter in particular will require elaboration later in the book). Despite our strong intuition to the contrary, Chasidic teachings regard all of existence as nothing but G‑d. Put in other words: the essence of all existence, its being, is in fact considered as aught but the Essence of G‑d.

In this light we will find that the fact that physical reality is devoid of all Divine colorings and qualities denotes not merely that this reality can be seen to reflect and relate to the Essence of G‑d, but more than this: this reality in particular is transparent to its core, which is aught but the Essence of G‑d.

Summary

We have taken a brief look at some of the central themes of Dirah Betachtonim theology. This thought-system turns our attention to the value of including our physical selves and our physical environment in Divine worship on two levels. First, sublimating the physical manifests the far reach of G‑d, His all-encompassing compatibility, or infinity. Second, more importantly, the physical itself, because it is physical, enjoys a unique relationship with the Essence of G‑d.

The reader may be forgiven for thinking that there are generalizations, assumptions and leaps in logical thinking in this brief presentation of the Dirah Betachtonim world-outlook. Certainly, these thoughts represent a radical departure from standard theological thinking. It is hoped, however, that matters will become further clarified as we take up some of the issues of this theology in the following chapters, probing a variety of metaphysical and religious questions, inquiring further into the nature of G‑d, man and reality, and defining more clearly the role of mitzvot in this unique religious thought-system—in which the worshiper is taught to aspire for the immanent, where the metaphysical, religious and mystical arrows point sharply downward.

Footnotes
1.
Milot Hahigayon Chapter 11.
2.
See Appendix.
Rabbi Faitel Levin, author of Halacha, Medical Science and Technology and founding editor of The Australian Journal of Torah Thought, is Australia's most sought after lecturer on Halachic issues. Presently, Rabbi Levin is rabbi of the Brighton Hebrew Congregation in Melbourne.
 Email
Join the Discussion
Sort By:
2 Comments
1000 characters remaining
Carol Gottlieb Greensburg, PA August 18, 2013

The synopsis of Dirah Betachtonim can be expressed simply in the Shema and the V'Ahavta. Encompassing the body, mind, and soul, and merging it with the essence of G-d through physical mitzvot, indicates how truly one we are with G-d. The language of the passages that I have read so far allows me to appreciate the reality of this world, a world created by G-d as a way to become a part of it, truly makes this world heaven on earth. Reply

Uri Kozmo Budapest, Hungary June 10, 2007

I think it could be helpful to mentionj that the four-letter Name of G-d in Hebrew is close in its meaning to to Existence (or Make-Be-er) /an illustration: haya means "was"/ and "essence" also comes from te Latin "to be" (est meaning "is"). Reply