Chapter 29

14 With all future generations: The Torah transcends the limitations of time and space. Therefore, even today, affirming our covenant with God by resolving to study the Torah and perform its commandments, immediately and spontaneously unites us with every Jew in the world and every generation of the Jewish people—past, present, and future—thereby garnering their support in our resolve.

Thus, although we are the smallest of nations,1 with respect to issues involving the Torah, its commandments, or fulfilling our Divine mission in general—to transform the world into God’s home—we need not fear being outnumbered, for we stand together with the merits of all the generations of the Jewish people.2

18 To add the drunkenness to the thirsty: Allegorically, the human-animal soul is referred to as “drunk.” It indeed longs for pleasure, but the pleasure it longs for is purely physical. Inasmuch as this form of pleasure is readily available to it, it can easily quench its thirst.

In contrast, the Godly soul thirsts for Godliness. This thirst can never be quenched as long as the Godly soul is clothed in the physical body and faced with the concealment of this world. Only in the messianic future, when Godliness will be openly revealed, will the Divine soul be “drunk” with Divinity.3

A Closer Look

[28] Mutual responsibility: When God sealed the covenant between Him and the Jewish people at Mount Sinai by pronouncing the curses and threats given there, He made every Jew responsible for the behavior of all other Jews with whom he or she has contact.4 Here, God expanded this obligation to make every Jew responsible for the behavior for every member of the Jewish community, including those with whom he or she has no contact.

From another perspective, in the covenant God made with the people at Mount Sinai, He did not make the people responsible for one another’s behavior at all, even individually; all levels of mutual responsibility originated in this second covenant, made in the plains of Moab. According to this perspective, the mutual responsibility referred to in the Sinaitic covenant is to that which would take effect later, as part of the second covenant described here.5

Chapter 30

2 You will return to God, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul: In contrast to repentance (teshuvah), which we are here commanded to perform with all our heart and soul, we are commanded to love God not only with all our heart and soul, but with “all your might,”6 implying a love that transcends our normal emotive powers. What is the reason for this difference between these two seemingly similar commandments?

Love is, of course, an emotion. The Torah asks that our love for God be not only a function of our heart and soul, but that it also draw on the unlimited powers of connection to God that are rooted in our essential Divine consciousness. This is referred to as “all your might,” since love founded on our Divine essence is infinitely more powerful than love founded on emotion or intellect.

Repentance, on the other hand, is in its essence an act of going beyond oneself. The normal, operative self is what put us in our present predicament of having sinned and of therefore needing to repent. We therefore need to transcend this self and seek a deeper, more essential layer of identity, in which God means more to us than the indulgences to which we have become accustomed.

Once we find this transcendent consciousness, we must make it our normative consciousness, in order to preclude any backsliding into our previous levels of consciousness and associated behavior.

Thus, whereas the Torah bids us to elevate our love of God from normal to transcendent, it bids us to repent by making our transcendent relationship with Him into our normal one. The processes associated with repentance and love are directly opposite, the first ascending out of innate limitations and the second bringing transcendence into limited consciousness.7

3 Which had accompanied you into exile: This notion may be likened to how, when a student is exiled to a city of refuge, his teacher must go with him.8 God is our teacher and we are His students;9 thus, when we go into exile, God must similarly, so to speak, go into exile along with us.

We are taught that whatever God asks us to do, He Himself does.10 Thus, when God sends us into exile, He also sends Himself, so to speak, into exile with us.11

11-14 For this commandment is not remote from you; it is not far away…it is not beyond the sea…for this thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart so you can fulfill it: The fact that the Torah has to refute the supposition that following its commandments is “remote…far away…and beyond” implies that there is some substance to such a claim. In particular, it seems self-evident that inculcating the Torah’s values into our hearts—training ourselves to love the somewhat abstract notions of goodness and Godliness instead of the familiar material desires of this world—is anything but easy.12

Yet the fact that the Torah insists that it is nonetheless so indicates that all of us indeed have the power to easily train our hearts to become emotionally involved with God and His Torah, in place of the more accustomed objects of our love and fear. We possess this power in the form of an inherent, deep-seated love for God that is innate to our Divine soul. This love, although initially “hidden,” i.e., not conscious, can be easily accessed via a number of rather simple exercises in contemplation. We therefore do not have to create a love of God in our psyches or to force ourselves against our nature to love God. We already love Him; all we have to do is open ourselves up to this love, allowing it to manifest itself. As we have mentioned above,13 recalling our willingness to sacrifice our very lives for God if necessary summons our innate love of Him to the surface of our consciousness.

But feeling this love is one thing; making it permeate our lives is another. It is all too easy to become emotionally aroused about God or Judaism, only for this ephemeral sentiment to dissipate as quickly as it appeared. We are then left more or less where we began, and have to arouse our innate love all over again. The goal, then, is to entrench this love in our daily lives so that it become a permanent fixture of our being. The indication of whether our hidden love has permeated our lives is if this love has affected our behavior—our way of thinking, talking, and acting. This is indeed a difficult task, since there are many obstacles in life to overcome before we can transform both our emotions and our behavior in a lasting way.

Yet, as we have noted, the Torah insists that it is “close,” “in your mouth [speech] and in your heart [emotion] so you can fulfill it [action].” What, then, does the Torah mean?

This may be understood by way of the following episode, recorded in the Talmud:14

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananiah said: I was once on a journey when I noticed a little boy sitting at a crossroads. I asked him, “By what road can one go to the town?” He replied, “This one is short and long, and that one is long and short.” I took the “short and long” road. When I approached the town, I discovered that it was hedged in by gardens and orchards. Turning back, I said to him, “My son, did you not tell me that this road was short?” He replied, “And did I not also tell you: ‘and long?’”

In other words, there is a route that is short, i.e., direct, but it leads to a dead end; there is another route that is long, i.e., roundabout, but it leads to the city gate. Similarly, in our spiritual quest, there is a short, easy way, but it proves in the final analysis to be long, since in the end we are left where we began and have to start all over again. But there is also a long, difficult way, but it proves in the final analysis to be the truly short way, since in the end we reach our goal and are spared the need for repeating the process.

The short but long way is, as stated, arousing love of God directly by recalling our willingness to sacrifice our very lives for Him. This method relies on our innate belief in God. The long but short way, in contrast, requires harnessing the intellect—working through the particulars of God’s nature, providence, and how He manifests Himself in the world, in the Torah, and in our lives—to the maximum extent possible.

As we have seen in other contexts, each of these approaches has its advantages and disadvantages. The “object” of pure faith is God Himself, His very essence; in contrast, the “object” of intellect can never be any more than what the intellect itself can conceive of, and for finite human beings, this means only God as He relates to creation (either immanently or transcendently). On the other hand, since pure faith does not involve the intellect, it cannot permeate our consciousness, and therefore transform us, the way intellect can. Faith affects us from “without” or “above” us, whereas using the intellect affects us from “within,” permeating us completely.

There is therefore justification for taking the short but long way, for relying on pure faith is a quick and sure way to arouse love of God. However, we must remain cognizant of the inherent limitations of this approach and not rely on it exclusively. Rather, we should also take the long but short way, exerting our intellect to its utmost in order to comprehend as much as we can about God and His relation to the universe, thereby fashioning an enduring emotional involvement with Him and transforming our behavioral patterns accordingly. As King David said to his son Solomon, “Know the God of your father, and [then you will be able to] serve Him with a complete heart.”15

The self-refinement and transformation accomplished via the intellect defuses the obstacles that life in this world poses to Divine living. Instead of encountering “hedges” blocking our entrance to our desired goal, we find a wide open gate.16

This commandment is not remote from you; it is not far away…it is not beyond the sea…for this thing is very close to you: On a deeper level—inasmuch as the Jewish people had been studying the Torah for nearly 40 years when Moses said these words, and therefore knew firsthand that it was not “remote,” “far away,” or “beyond”—the claim that Moses was refuting was that the dimension of the Torah that is indeed “remote, far away, and beyond” is not “remote, far away, or beyond” from you. Inasmuch as the Jewish people are rooted in God’s essence, which transcends the Torah, even the most recondite aspects of the Torah are not beyond them.17

Inner Dimensions

[11] This commandment is not remote…not far away: Allegorically, “this commandment” refers to the commandment to repent. “Remote” (נפלאת) refers to Atik Yomin, the inner dimension of keter. This level of the supra-conscious is indeed remote from our normative consciousness, which is why it is termed Atik (עתיק), which means “removed.” “Far away,” in contrast, refers to Arich Anpin, the external dimension of keter, which serves as the source of the ten sefirot and is thus much closer to our normative consciousness. However, inasmuch as we also possess a Divine soul, which in turn possesses innate Divine consciousness, these levels are not remote and not far away from us. Through repentance (teshuvah), we can reach, elicit, and influence God’s goodwill toward us (Arich Anpin) and delight in us (Atik Yomin), inducing Him to overlook our faulty past and renew His connection with us.18

15-19 Behold, I have set before you today life and good and death and evil. You should choose life: The fact that it is not always clear that good behavior leads to blessings and life and that bad behavior leads to curses and death is actually what allows us to choose to be good. If it were always clear that good behavior leads to blessing and life, whereas bad behavior leads to the opposite, what choice could we have but to be good? The very fact that being good does not always lead to goodness both forces us and enables us to base our relationship with God on a more profound basis.

For this reason, on a deeper level, God (through Moses) is here asking us to be good for its own sake, rather than for any expectation of material reward, even when we do see clearly that being good leads to good results.19

On a still deeper level, this verse is not referring to two sets of causes (good and evil) and effects (life and death) but to four distinct levels of reality: “Life” refers to the immanent Divine life-force animating all creation; “good” refers to the transcendent Divine energy beyond creation; “death” refers to the physical universe, which possesses no intrinsic life-force; and “evil” refers to material lusts, both for permitted and for prohibited indulgences. In this context, evil is worse than death, for “death” is the simple lack of life-force, whereas evil is in direct opposition to good—God’s plan for the world.20

Inner Dimensions

[20] To cleave to Him: The sages ask, “How, then, can one cling to God?” They answer, “Whoever marries his daughter to a Torah scholar, or does business in order to benefit Torah scholars, or uses his wealth to benefit Torah scholars, [and in this way clings to a Torah scholar,] is considered by Scripture as if he has clung to the Divine Presence.”21 In a sense, this answer begs the question, since we are still left wondering how a Torah scholar can cling to God.

The solution to this enigma is that even though every Jewish soul is “a part of God,” rooted in God’s essence, the vast majority of souls undergo a multi-stage diminution of Divine consciousness (what we might call “induced spiritual amnesia”) in the course of preparing to enter the physical world. There is a wide variation in the extent to which different souls experience this degradation of spiritual acuity, accounting for the wide differences we observe in people’s innate predisposition to spiritual and/or religious pursuits. Those whose souls have undergone the least “processing” will be the most predisposed toward spirituality; given the proper conditions, these individuals will naturally develop their innate spiritual genius, becoming the devout Torah scholars of their generation.

Furthermore, we are taught that each generation of souls descends into this world roughly as a unit, as a collective “individual,” in which the specific souls that make up the whole are identified with the various spiritual “limbs” of this collective “body.” Thus, the souls retaining the most of their pre-descent Divine consciousness form the “head”—the most conscious part—of this “body,” with the souls that retain less of their pre-descent Divine consciousness forming the other limbs, each according to its level. Just as in the human body, the limbs are all connected to the soul via the brain, the chief locus of consciousness, so are the individual souls that make up the generation’s collective multi-soul “body” linked to their unique soul-roots in God’s essence via the head-souls of that generation.

It is in this sense that the sages teach us that “whoever clings to a Torah scholar is considered by Scripture as if he has clung to the Divine Presence.” In being connected to the Torah scholar, the individual is connected with the root of his or her own soul.22


Chapter 31

2 Today I am exactly 120 years old: The fact that Moses died on his birthday indicates that the years of his life were all full; even his last year of life was not left unfinished. The sages teach us that this means that Moses lived his life to its fullest, not wasting any time or leaving undone any part of the task with which he was charged. This, they say, is the hallmark of a truly righteous person. According to tradition, the three patriarchs also died on the day or in the month of their respective births.23

It is true, of course, that none of us can compare with Moses or the patriarchs; nonetheless, our people have been blessed with many righteous individuals throughout the course of our history, and only a select few have passed away on their birthdays. Indeed, since righteous people devote their lives entirely to spirituality, to fulfilling their Divine mission, what is so significant about the fact that they complete their years perfectly?

The answer is that while it is true that our lives are meant to be oriented toward Divinity, which transcends the externalities of time and space, we are nonetheless intended to bring this transcendent consciousness into the physical world. From this perspective, it is only natural that a righteous person’s spiritual perfection be mirrored in at least some sort of physical perfection. The fact that at his death, it is revealed that all his years were complete reflects the truth that his life work in general was complete—that his service of God affected every last iota of his life, in both time and space. We have seen the high regard that the Torah accords this fullness in living with regard to Abraham.24

Moreover, the fact that a righteous person’s physical life so perfectly mirrors his spiritual life indicates that he has successfully overcome the dichotomy between the spiritual and the material: there is no artificial bifurcation of life into physical and spiritual realms; it is all one.

The reason this unity of the spiritual and the physical is expressed chiefly with regard to the years of a person’s life is because the year is the unit of time that encompasses the full cycle of change, as primarily evidenced by the annual repetition of the seasons. Indeed, the very word for “year” in Hebrew (שנה) is related to the words for “change” (שינוי) and “repetition” (שנון).

In this context, those righteous individuals whose years were complete, although exceptional[myw1] , serve to express a truth that applies to all righteous people. The fact that most people—even the very righteous—do not die on their birthdays can simply mean that they either finished their tasks early or that they were given extra time after having finished their tasks in order to accomplish some additional purpose. Nonetheless, when righteous individuals do reflect this perfection openly by dying on their birthdays, it indicates that they did embody the ideals mentioned above in a particularly manifest way throughout their lives.

In any case, the lives of these righteous individuals should inspire us to live our own lives to the fullest, the consciousness of our Divine mission permeating every minute and every item in our lives, thereby dissolving the artificial dichotomy of the spiritual and the physical and revealing the innate Divinity underlying all reality.25

11 You must read from this Torah before all Israel: The sabbatical year teaches us three primary lessons:

· God is master over us; this is expressed by His command that we refrain from certain types of work during the sabbatical year.

· God is master over nature; this is expressed by His command that the earth rest during the sabbatical year.

· God is master over our possessions; this is expressed by His command that the produce of the sabbatical year, even if it grows on our property, be ownerless and available to all equally.

The passages that the king reads during the septennial assembly ceremony reflect these specific lessons, which this ceremony is meant to carry from the sabbatical year into our mundane lives:

· The beginning of the Book of Deuteronomy serves as an introduction to the following passages, exhorting the listeners to internalize them properly.

· The first paragraph of the Shema expresses God’s mastery over us, which frees us from the world’s materiality, enabling us to devote ourselves to Him, His Torah, and His commandments.

· The second paragraph of the Shema expresses God’s mastery over nature, which He manipulates in accordance with our behavior (rewarding us with rain in the proper time if we fulfill His commandments, etc.), teaching us that our livelihood depends primarily on His blessing and only secondarily on our own efforts.

· The passages about tithes express God’s mastery over our wealth; as its owner, He commands us to give part of it to the poor.

· The passages containing the blessings and curses express our covenantal bond with God, elevating the previous three notions from the components of a relationship between two entities (us and God) to expressions of our inseparable oneness with God.

· Concluding with the passage about the king (and having these passages read by the king) emphasizes how we must subjugate ourselves and all aspects of our lives to God, for the purpose of the king is to inspire and imbue us, his subjects, with true devotion to God.26

You must read from this Torah before all Israel: We saw above27 that we are all required to appoint a metaphorical “king” over ourselves, i.e., a spiritual counselor responsible for ensuring that we stay firmly on the path of spiritual growth. This king’s primary responsibility is to “read to us”—i.e., inculcate us with—the passages from the Torah that the real king reads to the people at the septennial assembly. The primary lesson is contained in the first paragraph of the Shema, which focuses on accepting “the yoke of the kingdom of heaven,” i.e., submitting to God’s authority. This is followed by the second paragraph of the Shema, which teaches us that material success is dependent upon heeding God’s commands.28

12 Assemble the people: As long as the Temple is not standing, it is not possible to fulfill this commandment as described in the Torah. Of course, we can fulfill it in any number of allegorical ways, some of which are outlined here. In general, fulfilling any of the Torah’s commandments involves our faculties of thought, speech, and deed; when it is not possible to fulfill a commandment in deed, we should still try to fulfill it in thought (e.g. by learning the laws regarding how to observe the commandment, internalizing the lessons inherent in it, etc.) and in speech (by reciting the passages of the Torah describing the commandment, taking care to learn its laws out loud, etc.).

With regard to most of the Torah’s commandments, the physical execution of the commandment has its own value, independent of any intentions associated with it. Although immeasurably enhanced when performed with the associated intentions in mind, it nonetheless stands on its own.

The commandment of the septennial assembly, however, differs from most of the Torah’s other commandments in that the intention behind it is not a mere result or by-product of its performance, but an integral component of its performance. This difference is evident in how the Torah describes at length the intention behind the assembly: “in order that they hear…in order that they learn…in order that they revere…and safeguard, etc.”

Thus, when we fulfill the intention behind this commandment, even nowadays, we are not only fulfilling its thought- and/or speech-dimensions, but at least part of its deed-dimension, as well. In this way, the septennial assembly is similar to prayer: Prayer is also performed in all three dimensions—thought, speech, and action—but its thought-dimension is an integral component of it. Mouthing the words of prayer and going through the motions without paying attention to what we are saying is not true prayer.

Since the objective of the septennial assembly is to strengthen the foundations of Jewish education and observance, and since, as stated, we can indeed fulfill it nowadays (albeit not yet in exactly the same form as described ideally in the Torah), it is vital that we all try to do so to the greatest extent possible. To begin with, we should all endeavor to “assemble” all the divergent facets of our personalities and imbue them with the knowledge and reverence of God.29 Next, we should assemble our families periodically and, in a spirit of family love and camaraderie, strengthen each other in these areas. Finally, we should try to assemble whatever groups of people we can, whether at work, at school, in our synagogues, our extended families, our wider circle of friends, etc., in short, in whatever social context we can, and thus influence as many people as possible to enhance their commitment to the Torah’s values and lifestyle, as based on the love and awe of God.

Fulfilling this commandment to the greatest extent possible will then elicit God’s reciprocal response, and He will enable us to finally fulfill it in its optimal fashion, in the rebuilt Holy Temple, as we listen to the Torah read to us by the reinstated Jewish king, the Messiah.30

Their obligation to learn the Torah for learning’s sake: As we have seen,31 women’s obligation to the study the Torah is largely equal to that of men. First of all, women are required to be conversant in all the laws that apply to them. This requirement encompasses a large part of Jewish law: the laws of daily conduct, life cycle, prayer, conducting business, interpersonal relationships, observing the Sabbath and holidays, kashrut, marital relations, oaths and vows, and so on. (And inasmuch as we expect the Messiah to come imminently, women should also be conversant in the laws that will apply to them when the Temple is rebuilt, such as the laws of ritual purity and sacrifices.) All this is besides the laws surrounding the six constant commandments: to believe in God, not to believe in other deities, to love and fear Him, to understand His oneness, and to avoid temptations. In order to fulfill these latter commandments properly, it is incumbent upon women to be educated in the inner dimension of the Torah, which expounds upon the inner relationship between God and us, both collectively and as individuals.

So, to a great extent, women’s obligation to study the Torah is exactly the same as men’s. The essential difference is that women are not obliged to learn those parts of the Torah that do not directly apply to them, whereas men are required to learn the entire Torah, “for learning’s sake.” Thus, beyond women’s obligation, men are obligated to learn not just the laws that apply only to men (such as the laws of wearing ritual tassels [tzitzit]), but also the laws that do not even apply to them specifically (such as, for laymen, the laws that apply to priests), as well as the Talmudic derivation of all the laws.

(Also, men have an obligation to study the Torah constantly (that is, every moment when they are not required or allowed to do something else), whereas women are not required to do this. Thus, theoretically, if a woman would learn all that she is required to and retain it perfectly, she would not have to spend all her spare time studying the Torah, whereas a man under the same circumstances would.)

However, especially nowadays, since technological advances have afforded both women and men much more free time than was formerly at their disposal, and since it is also common for women to pursue higher education, it is essential that women learn not only the dry laws that apply to them (which, as we said, is already quite a formidable task), but also the philosophical reasons behind the laws and even their Talmudic derivation, in order that they develop their intellectual abilities and talents in a way consonant with the spirit and holiness of the Torah.

Moreover, the woman—both as a housewife, setting the spiritual and moral tone of her home, and as a mother, intimately and continuously involved in raising her children—is the one chiefly responsible for the education of her children. This is particularly true when they are young and at home most or all of the day, but also after they leave the house. In fact, it is more important for the mother to be actively involved in the education of her children that it is for the father, since the mother’s unmatchable empathy, love, and endearment toward her children is essential in inculcating them with enthusiasm for the lifestyle and values of Judaism. Within the context of raising her children as good Jews in general, the Jewish mother is also responsible for raising them to be enthusiastic about studying the Torah. One way she does this is by taking an interest in her children’s studies and reviewing them with them.

It is therefore crucial that she herself be well-educated both in the letter and the spirit of the Torah—even in those parts of the Torah that do not specifically apply to her—in order to educate her children both correctly and effectively. For example, even though women are not required to wear ritual tassels (tzitzit), they should nevertheless know the laws pertaining to wearing them in order to be able to teach their sons how to do so properly and in order to be able to review these laws with her children when they study them.

And finally, the woman also can uniquely enhance the Torah study of the male members of her household. By virtue of her innate, superior, womanly warmth and emotion, she infuses this warmth and emotion to her husband and children when she studies together with them or reviews their studies with them.

It is true that in past generations, women did not typically pursue the study of the Torah as a whole, and particularly not the philosophical or Talmudic underpinnings of the Torah’s laws (although there have been notable exceptions). But now that, as stated, this pursuit on the part of women has become both possible and vital, it may be seen as yet another harbinger of the imminent advent of the messianic era, in which32 “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of God as the sea covers the seabed.”33

17 Is it not because our God is no longer among us that these evils have befallen us?: This verse may be read: “It is because my God is not within me that this evil has found me.” Rabbi DovBer of Lubavitch explained this verse as referring to the Ba’al Shem Tov’s teaching34 that in order to show us our own faults—which we are naturally disposed not to notice, or to rationalize—God shows them to us in other people. Thus,

Because my God is not within me: Because I am not sufficiently spiritually attuned to be sensitive to my own shortcomings—

That this evil has found me: I have been forced to see my own evil reflected in my fellow Jew.

Rather than noticing others’ faults, we should endeavor to notice their virtues; moreover, we should emphasize them, in our own minds, in their minds, and in the minds of all those around us. Just as the sages encourage us to inspire those around us to love God, so should we endeavor to inspire those around us to love every Jew, for, as Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi points out,35 loving our fellow Jew is a means by which we can achieve love of God.36

18 I will hide My face on that day: In Hebrew, the verb “I will hide” is intensified by an emphatic repetition (הסתר אסתיר, literally, “hiding, I will hide,” or idiomatically, “I will hide, yes, hide”). The contextual implication of this form is that God’s hiddenness will be particularly acute.

On a deeper level, however, the Ba’al Shem Tov interpreted this expression to mean that God’s very hiddenness will itself be hidden from us,37 that is, we will be so submersed in our exile that we will have forgotten what it was like not to be in exile; thus, we will not appreciate how utterly deplorable life has become. Having become accustomed to spiritual darkness, we will view it as natural, and consider light and goodness to be abnormal, even unwholesome. In the words of the prophet Isaiah,38 “Woe to those who speak of evil as if it were good, and of good as if it were evil; who consider darkness light and light darkness; the bitter sweet and the sweet bitter.”39 This curse is apparently the worst possible—for when we are at least aware that we are suffering, we can attempt to negate the cause of the suffering and thereby bring our suffering to an end, but when we are not even aware that we are suffering, this hope does not exist.

Nonetheless, since we have pointed out40 that all the curses in the Torah are really blessings too intense to be revealed as such prima facie, it follows that this dire prediction is also a blessing in disguise. In fact, since this is apparently the worst form of curse possible, it follows that it embodies the highest form of blessing possible.

To understand this, let us recall that Divinity, in its relationship to creation, may be divided roughly into three categories: (a) immanent Divinity, which is the life-force felt by all creatures, even if they do not recognize it as coming from God; (b) transcendent Divinity, which is not felt by creation but is nonetheless responsible for the existence of all created reality; and (c) God’s essence, which transcends creation altogether, and whose nature can therefore not be grasped by any created being. As we have seen,41 the nature of God’s essence is so beyond the ken of creation that not only can we not conceive of it, we cannot even conceive what it is that we cannot conceive. It is, in this sense, doubly hidden from us, similar to how, at the other extreme, Divinity can be so hidden in exile that we are not even aware that it is hidden. The fact that God’s double hiddenness stems from His double transcendence is alluded to by the fact that the word for “I” in this verse (anochi), the subject of the double verb of hiding, refers specifically, as we have seen,42 to God’s essence.

As we will soon see,43 we have been assured that the Torah will never be forgotten by the Jewish people. It therefore follows that no matter how severe the exile, even if we have sunk to the point that we mistake darkness for light and light for darkness, we will nevertheless always know that we are doing this, incredulous as it may seem to us at the time. If, based on this knowledge, we realize that what we are experiencing is in fact double darkness, and then further realize that every negative phenomenon in life is just a fallen version of that same phenomenon in its positive form, we will finally realize that the inverse correlate of double darkness is double light, i.e., the notion that God transcends transcendence.

Once this awareness of God’s supra-transcendent essence dawns on us, we will realize that God is beyond everything, even the dichotomy of unlimitedness and limitation, and that He can therefore extricate us from the double bind of having to choose between opposing what appears to be familiar and surrendering to what we know to be darkness. This awareness inspires us to dedicate ourselves fully to God, returning to Him with infinite devotion.44

26 Take this Torah scroll and place it alongside the Tablets of Testimony: Thus, the Ark contained the Torah both engraved in stone and written on parchment. As has been explained,45 the difference between engraved and written letters is that the former are part and parcel of the medium (the stone), whereas the latter are independent of the medium (the parchment) and grafted onto it. Thus, engraved letters allude to our essential connection to the Torah, how “Israel and the Torah are one,” whereas written letters allude to how we preserve our connection to the Torah even during our mundane lives, when the heightened Divine consciousness we experience in Torah study and prayer recedes and we are more conscious of ourselves as independent agents.46

As we have also seen,47 the Ark of the Covenant transcended the limitations of physical space, reflecting God’s infinity. The presence of both the engraved Torah and the inscribed Torah within the Ark alludes to the idea that we must both experience our intrinsic connection with the Torah and be prepared to carry that experience with us into our mundane lives. The consciousness inside the Holy of Holies—that time and space, being creations of God and subject to His will, are really not bound by the limitations of time and space—is meant to disseminate beyond the boundaries of the Holy of Holies, eventually filling the whole world and all its inhabitants with its transcendent Divine consciousness.48