A fundamental principle of the Jewish faith is that there are no intermediaries between G‑d and His world; our relationship with Him is not facilitated by any third party. In light of this, there are a number of statements by our sages that require explanation.

When the Torah speaks of Israel’s faith in G‑d in the wake of the miracles of the Exodus, it says, “They believed in G‑d and in Moses His servant” (Exodus 14:31). Noting that the Torah uses the very same verb (vayaaminu, “and they believed”) to refer to Israel’s belief in Moses and in the Almighty, the Mechilta declares: “One who believes in Moses believes in G‑d.”

Accordingly, the Zohar refers to Moses as the raaya meheimna of Israel—a phrase that translates both as “faithful shepherd” and “shepherd of faith.” The latter sense implies that Moses is Israel’s faith provider—a source of, and conduit for, their faith in G‑d.

The Talmud goes even further, applying the same to the sages and Torah scholars of all generations. Citing the verse (Deuteronomy 30:20), “To love the L‑rd your G‑d and to cleave to Him,” it asks, “Is it then possible to cleave to the divine?” and replies: “But whoever attaches himself to a Torah scholar, the Torah considers it as if he had attached himself to G‑d.”1

The Awareness Factor

The explanation, says Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi in his Tanya, lies in understanding the father/child metaphor employed by the Torah to describe our relationship with G‑d. “You are children to the L‑rd your G‑d,” says Moses (Deuteronomy 14:1). While we were still in Egypt, G‑d speaks of us as “My firstborn child, Israel” (Exodus 4:22).

In what way is G‑d our father? There are, of course, the obvious parallels. Like a father, G‑d creates us and provides us with sustenance and direction. He loves us with the boundless, all-forgiving love of a father. Rabbi Schneur Zalman delves further into the metaphor, examining the biological and psychological dynamics of the father-child model and employing them to better understand our relationship to each other and to our Father in Heaven.

A microscopic bit of matter, originating in the father’s body, triggers the generation of a life. In the mother’s womb, a single cell develops into a brain, heart, eyes, ears, arms, legs, toenails. Soon it emerges into the world to function as a thinking, feeling and achieving human being.

Physically, what has originated in the father’s body and psyche is now a separate, distinct and (eventually) independent individual. On a deeper level, however, the child remains inseparable from his begetter. In the words of the Talmud, “A son is a limb of his father.” At the very heart of the child’s consciousness lies an inescapable truth: he is his father’s child, an extension of his being, a projection of his personality. In body, they have become two distinct entities; in essence, they are one.

One may argue: perhaps in the child’s mind, the seat of his self-awareness and identity, the singularity of parent and offspring lives on. Here the child’s relationship with his father is sensed; here resides the recognition of their intrinsic oneness. But the brain is only one of the child’s many organs and limbs. The rest of him may indeed stem from its parental source, but is now a wholly separate entity.

Obviously, this is not the case—any more than it would be correct to say that the eyes alone see or that just the mouth speaks. The component parts of the human being comprise a single, integrated whole; it is the person who sees, the person who speaks, the person who is aware. The toenail of the child, by virtue of its interconnection with the brain, is no less one with the father than is the brain itself, the organ which facilitates this oneness.

But what if the toenail, or any other limb of the body, severs its connection with the brain? This would cut it off from its own center of vitality and consciousness, and as a result also from its parental origins. In other words, the unity of all the child’s limbs and organs with the father’s essence is dependent upon their maintaining their connection with their own mind, a connection which imbues them all with the awareness of this unity.

The Body Israel

Israel, too, is comprised of many “organs” and “limbs.” There are the great sages of each generation who devote their life to the assimilation of the divine essence of Torah, whose entire being is permeated with the awareness of G‑d’s truth. These are the mind of the nation. Israel has a heart, individuals whose lives exemplify compassion and piety; and hands, its great builders and achievers. Each and every individual, from the “Moses of the generation”2 to the ordinary “foot soldier,” forms an integral part of the body of G‑d’s firstborn—each is equally “the limb of the father.”

But as with the physical father-child relationship, it is the mind of the child which facilitates the bond with his father. As long as the many organs and limbs of his body remain a single integrated whole, they are all equally the father’s child. The mind is not serving as an “intermediary,” G‑d forbid—every part of the body, including the toenail, possesses the self-knowledge that makes the two ostensibly distinct bodies of the father and child a single entity. But it is only by virtue of their connection to their mind that this awareness resides within all the child’s parts.

The same applies to the “body” that is Israel. It is our life-bond with our “mind”—the sages and leaders of Israel—that both integrates us as a single whole and imbues us with our connection to our Creator and Source.

True, a Jew cannot ever sever his or her bond with G‑d, any more than even the lowliest toenail of the child’s body can choose to go off on its own and undo its relationship with its father. But while we cannot change what we are, we can determine to what extent our identity as G‑d’s child will be expressed in our daily life. We can choose, G‑d forbid, to disassociate ourselves from the leaders whom G‑d has implanted in our midst, thus banishing our relationship with Him to the subconscious of our soul. Or we can intensify our bond to the “mind” of Israel, thereby making our bond with the Almighty a tangible and vibrant reality in our lives.3