“For this mitzvah which I command you today is not wondrous... nor is it distant. It is not in heaven... nor is it across the sea.... Rather, the matter is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart to do it.”2

According to the simple meaning of the verse, it is understandable that the concept that “the matter is very close to you” is a new idea. For it is possible (even from a Torah perspective) to think that the Torah and its mitzvos3 are wondrous and distant. [Therefore] the verse comes to teach us a new idea; that “the matter is very close to you.”

The fundamental new [dimension of] the concept relates to the words “in your heart.” As the Alter Rebbe writes in Tanya:4 “On the surface, it... runs contrary to our natural tendency.... For the matter is not close [to a person] to truly transform his heart from the desires of this world to the love of G‑d. As the Talmud states:5 ‘Is fear a small matter?’ How much more so does this apply with regard to love!”

This is the new dimension taught by the verse, that the matter is “very close” even to our hearts. As explained at length in Tanya,6 it is “very close” for every person7 to reach the love of G‑d, for there is a natural love of G‑d hidden in the heart of all Jews which is “an inheri­tance from our ancestors.” Accordingly, it is not necessary for a person to generate and initiate new feelings of love for G‑d in his heart. All that is necessary is that he reveal the love that exists inher­ently.

This, however, is an insufficient explanation. For it is difficult to say that the primary new insight taught by the verse applies only to “your heart,” since the verse also mentions “your mouth” and “to do it.” Implied is that the verse also contributes a new insight with regard to our speech and actions. Indeed, the fact that the verse mentions “your mouth” before “your heart”8 indicates that there is a new dimension (not only with regard to “in your heart”), but also with regard to “in your mouth” and “to do it.”


It is possible to say that [the following] is the core of the explanation: On the title page9 of the Tanya, the Alter Rebbe writes that it is “based on the verse: ‘Rather the matter is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart to do it,’ to thoroughly explain how it is very close through a long, short path, with G‑d’s help.”

It is possible to explain that the Alter Rebbe is not speaking about two paths — a long path and a short path10 — but rather one path that is both long and short.

We find this expression — (“a long, short path”) — in a story related by our Sages:11

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Channanya said:... “Once I was walking on a path and I saw a child sitting at a fork. I asked him: ‘Which way should I take to proceed to the city?’

“He told me: ‘This path is short, but long. This path is long, but short.’12

“I went on the path that was short, but long. When I reached the city, I saw that it was surrounded by gardens and orchards [through which I could not pass]. I retraced my way and told him: ‘My son, you said it was short.’

“He answered: ‘Didn’t I [also] say that it was long?’”

Thus [by using this wording, the Alter Rebbe implies] that Divine service “in your mouth and in your heart to do it,” is a long path. (As Tanya explains at length, [the mode of Divine service] to reach the love of G‑d that will motivate a person to actual deed: “to do it” [is very involved]). It is, however, also a “short path,” since through it a person can reach “the city of our G‑d”13 without obstacles and impedi­ments.

To explain: There is an inherent, natural love [for G‑d] in the heart of all Jews, and it is “very close,” [i.e., easy,] to arouse and reveal this love that exists within one’s heart. Nevertheless, since innately this love is hidden, much work and labor is required for this love to permeate the person’s entire being (until [it affects] “your mouth... to do it”).

Until this love has penetrated the entire existence of a person, he is “distant” from the Torah and its mitzvos,14 for there are obstacles and impediments [in his way]. To refer back to the analogy, in “the short, long path,” the actual distance one travels is minimal. Nevertheless, with regard to reaching the destination — entering the city — it is “long.” For even though he is able to come very near to the city, there are obstacles preventing his entrance.

When [a person’s Divine service] also reaches “his mouth... to do it,” it is a “long, short path.” For there will be no obstacles and im­pediments preventing him from entering “the city of our G‑d.” Therefore, it is only then that he is “close” to the observance of the Torah and its mitzvos.


It is well known that our love of G‑d is dependent on our knowledge of Him. As Rambam states:15 “One loves G‑d solely as an outgrowth of the knowledge with which he knows Him. The love will be proportionate to the knowledge: if meager, meager, if abundant, abundant.”16

Accordingly, we can conclude that parallels to the concepts men­tioned above with regard to [Divine service] “in your heart” exist within the realm of the knowledge of G‑d. [In particular it was stated that:]

a) The essential love [of G‑d] is very close to every person. For every Jew possesses a natural love for G‑d.

b) Nevertheless, labor is required to reveal this love and draw it down within all the particular dimensions of a person’s potentials including actual deed (“in your mouth... to do it”).

c) [Only after such labor] is a person “close” to the Torah and its mitzvos, [having traveled] “the long, short path.” For although it is long, in that it requires effort, it is short, because he enters “the city of our G‑d” without any impediments or obstacles.

This concept can be clarified by first explaining the idea that the knowledge of G‑d comes either through simple faith or as an intellectual imperative, [spurred by] man’s understanding, through rational deduction. Each of these paths has an advantage over the other.

The “truth of His (G‑d’s) being”17 is beyond the capacity of a created being to comprehend. As Rambam writes:18 “It is not within the capacity of the knowledge of a living man who is a composite of body and soul to appreciate the truth of this matter completely.” Instead, one believes in “the truth of His being.”

This represents the advantage of faith over intellectual research. Through faith, we can relate to “the truth of His being.” Through mortal intellect, by contrast, [we] can grasp only a limited dimension of the knowledge of the Creator, [knowing Him only] “according to the potential possessed by man to comprehend and understand.”19 This is not “the truth of His being” as it is.

Nevertheless, since the knowledge [of G‑d] comes as an intellectual imperative and [as a result of one’s own logical] research, it has a more internalized effect. For it stems from the person’s own thought and self, as it were. Faith, by contrast, (stems from the oneness of G‑d that shines within one’s soul). [Hence,] it can have [merely] an encompassing effect on the person20 [without penetrating his thought processes]. In that vein, our Sages comment:21 “Before breaking in, a thief calls out to G‑d.” For although the thief believes in G‑d and therefore prays to Him for success in his theft, at that very moment, he is acting against G‑d’s commandment.


It is possible to explain that [the above reflects] the crux of a difference of opinion between Rambam and Raavad. Rambam maintains that the fundamental dimension of the knowledge of G‑d is the knowledge that stems from intellectual research, while according to Raavad, the concept of faith [receives primacy].

On Rambam’s statement:22Avraham was forty years old when he recognized his Creator,” Raavad comments: “There is an Aggadic teaching23 that [he recognized G‑d] at age three. [This is alluded to by] the verse:24 “Because (עקב) Avraham heeded My voice,” [i.e., he heeded My voice for the number of years (172)] numerically equivalent to עקב.25

It is possible to explain that Rambam cites the teaching “Avraham was forty years old when he recognized his Creator,” because according to his approach, one’s fundamental recognition of the Creator comes when it is inspired by his intellect. Similarly, Avraham’s recognition of his Creator refers to his perception that stemmed from “his proper understanding.”26

{As Rambam elaborates there:

He began contemplating with his mind while he was young.27 He would think during the day and at night and would wonder: “How is it possible for the [heavenly] sphere to continue to revolve without having anyone control it? Who is causing it to revolve?...” He did not have a teacher or an instructor.... His heart would contemplate and comprehend until (at age forty) he grasped the path of truth and understood the path of righteousness through his proper understanding, gaining the knowledge that there is one G‑d and He controls the sphere.}

Therefore (in [his] Mishneh Torah) Rambam cites the view that “Avraham was forty years old when he recognized his Creator.” For “at forty, one attains understanding.”28 According to Raavad, by contrast, the fundamental knowledge of the Creator possessed by Avraham came through faith that stemmed from revelation from G‑d. Therefore he cites [the teaching that Avraham] was three. Plainly, at age three, one is incapable of recognizing one’s Creator with understanding and complete awareness.

We find similar concepts with regard to Moshe our teacher. Rambam writes:29

What was the objective Moshe our teacher desired to achieve when he asked:30 “Please show me Your glory”?

He desired to know the truth of the being of the Holy One, blessed be He, until he would know it within his heart like the knowledge of a person whom he has seen and whose image is engraved within his heart. Thus in his knowledge, that person is distinct from others.

Similarly, Moshe our teacher sought that the existence of the Holy One, blessed be He, should be distinct in his heart from other existences until he would know the truth of His existence as it exists [for itself].31 The Holy One, blessed be He, replied that it is not within the intellectual capacity of a living man who is a composite of body and soul to appreciate the truth of this matter completely.

The Kessef Mishneh quotes Raavad’s dispute of that statement:

This is not satisfactory in my opinion. For at Sinai, for the forty days [he spent on the mountain, after which he received] the tablets, he saw what no other prophet ever saw to the extent that the angels were envious of him and sought to push him away until he [was able to] grasp [G‑d’s] throne. What more was necessary?

On the surface, the difference between the views [of Rambam and Raavad] revolves around the question: What is the consummate level of knowledge of G‑d that a person should [endeavor to] reach? Is it knowledge that comes through intellectual comprehension or knowl­edge that comes through faith (which cannot be attained through comprehension, but which is granted from Above)? According to Raavad, the consummate perfection of Moshe’s comprehension was at the Giving of the Torah — what he saw at Sinai, i.e., a revelation from Above. According to Rambam, fundamentally, the consummate perfec­tion of knowledge is what one understands and grasps intellectually. Therefore Moshe was not content with what he saw at Sinai, but in­stead sought [further] knowledge and comprehension.32


It is possible to explain that Rambam’s approach (in the Mishneh Torah)33 does not follow (only) the perspective that favors intellectual research, but instead, represents an intermediate view.

[To explain:] In Hilchos Teshuvah,34 Rambam explains the foundation of free choice: “License is granted to every person. If he desires to direct himself towarda good path and be righteous, he has the potential. If he desires to direct himself towardan evil path and be wicked, he has the potential.” He elaborates on the explanation of the concept and the necessity [to accept] this principle. At the conclusion of the chapter,35 he states:

Lest one ask: Behold, the Holy One, blessed be He, knows everything that will occur. Does He know — before it transpires — that this person will be righteous or does He not know? If He knows that he will be righteous, [seemingly,] it is impossible that he will not be righteous. If, [conversely,] you say that even though He knows that he will be righteous, it is possible that he would be wicked, His knowledge would be incomplete.

Know that the resolution of this matter [can be described with the verse]:36 “Its measure is longer than the earth and broader than the sea.” Many great and fundamental principles and lofty concepts are dependent on it. However, the statements that I make must be known and understood:

We already explained... that the Holy One, blessed be He, does not know with knowledge that is external [to Him] as do men whose selves and knowledge are two [separate entities]. Instead, He, may His name be praised, and His knowledge are one. The knowledge of a mortal cannot comprehend this concept in its entirety.

Just as it is impossible for a mortal to comprehend and grasp the truth of the Creator’s [being], as it is written:37 “No man will see Me and live,” so, too, it is beyond man’s potential to comprehend and grasp the Creator’s knowledge. This is [the intent] of the prophet’s statements:38 “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor your ways, My ways.”

Accordingly, we do not possess the potential to conceive how the Holy One, blessed be He, knows all the creations and their deeds. Nevertheless, we do know without doubt that a mortal’s deeds are in his [own] hands. The Holy One, blessed be He, does not lead him [in a particular direction] or decree that he perform any given act.

This matter is known, not only because of the tradition of faith, but through clear proofs from the words of wisdom.

Raavad objects to Rambam’s statements, stating:

This author did not conduct himself according to the manner of the wise. For a person should not initiate [the discussion of] a matter without knowing how to complete it. [Here,] he began by asking questions and yet left the matter unresolved, [forcing one] to return to faith. It would have been preferable to leave the matter as accepted by the simple faith of the believers.

Although there is no ultimate resolution of this matter, it is desirable to support him with a partial resolution, saying: Were man’s righteousness or wickedness dependent on the Creator’s decree, i.e., His knowledge being His decree, we would have a very severe difficulty. Now, however, the Creator has removed this dominion from His hand and given it to man himself. [Accordingly,] His knowledge is not a decree, but resembles the knowledge of the astrologers who deduce from [their appreciation of] a given power what the course of [a person’s conduct will be].

It is possible to explain Rambam’s position as follows: Intellectual research should not be confined only to those matters that can be thoroughly comprehended. Instead, even with regard to matters that “we do not possess the potential to conceive,” there is an obligation to labor to comprehend this very idea: that the concept surpasses our understanding.

This reflects the difference of opinion between Rambam and Raavad. Raavad also writes that “it is desirable to support him with a partial resolution.” Nevertheless, according to Raavad, the “simple faith of the believers” and intellectual comprehension are two matters that should not be combined. Faith is a matter that is above a person’s intellect, that [stems instead] from the nature of a Jew. Intellect, by contrast, is connected with a person’s mortal existence and thinking powers. Accordingly, the “partial resolution” that Raavad offers is a matter which can be assimilated by mortal logic.39 With regard to matters that require faith, however, it is improper to mix in any intellectual conception.

According to Rambam, the obligation to labor to recognize, know, and comprehend [spiritual concepts] does not apply only to those concepts that a person is able to grasp intellectually, but also to those matters that surpass his intellectual comprehension and ordinary logic and understanding. Even such matters must be established and affirmed within his mind. Therefore even with regard to the knowledge of the Holy One, blessed be He, of which he writes: “It is beyond man’s potential to comprehend and grasp the Creator’s knowledge...” and “We do not possess the potential to conceive how the Holy One, blessed be He, knows,” Rambam states that the matter “must be known and understood.” In this manner, a person will understand that G‑d’s knowledge does not represent a contradiction to man’s choice.

On this basis, it is possible to say that the above can serve as an explanation of the two expressions that (according to some interpretations) Rambam uses with regard to the first mitzvah, [i.e., the mitzvah to recognize G‑d]. In Sefer HaMitzvos,40 Rambam describes [the first mitzvah] as a mitzvah to believe, while in the Mishneh Torah,41 he speaks of [the same mitzvah in terms of] “know[ing].” [Both approaches are necessary.] The foundation of the matter must be faith. For the “truth of His (G‑d’s) being” cannot be grasped intellectually in its entirety; but instead, must be perceived through faith. Conversely, however, in this realm itself, knowledge is necessary. Man must meditate to the [full] extent of his intellectual capacity to understand and know even those dimensions [of G‑dliness] that are above [the scope] which must be presumed as an intellectual imperative.42

This is also Rambam’s appreciation of Moshe’s request cited above [sec. IV]:43 “He desired to know the truth of the being of the Holy One, blessed be He,... He, blessed be He, made known to Moshe matters that were not known by any man previously... until he was able to conceive [a dimension of] the truth of His being.” [This perception] was perceived conceptually, i.e., it was not merely seen or believed, but entered Moshe’s comprehension. This came after Moshe’s request to know G‑d’s truth.44


On this basis, it appears that the two approaches to the love [of G‑d] described above [sec. II,] also have parallels with regard to the knowledge of G‑d that leads to this love.

At the outset, there must be simple faith, to believe in the truth of G‑d’s existence. This matter is “very close” to every person. For the quality of faith inherently exists within every Jew’s nature, for they are “believers, the descendants of believers.”45

Faith alone, however, is a “short, long path.” For it does not nullify entirely the possibility of obstacles and impediments. For [although] faith — in and of itself — is a wondrous quality, [it is] distant from a person’s actual conduct (as explained above with regard to [the prayers of] a thief before breaking in [to a home]).

Therefore a person must also labor intellectually even with regard to matters that are beyond the scope of our intellectual potential. Although comprehension (particularly regarding such matters) re­quires much work and is “a long path,” it is “short.” For it enables us to enter “the city of our G‑d” without obstacles and impediments. For the person’s knowledge and comprehension affects his heart, as it is written:46 “Know the G‑d of your father and serve Him with a full heart.”


[The two-phased pattern that exists] with regard to the mitzvah of knowing G‑d as a whole and the Divine service within our hearts (“serv[ing] Him with a full heart”) also applies regarding the revelation of the teachings of Chassidus.

“He made everything excellently in its season.”47 When the time came, “G‑d uncovered His holy arm”48 and “one — our teacher, the Baal Shem Tov — descended from the most sublime heavens.”49 Through his [efforts], the teachings of Chassidus were revealed. The secrets of the Torah, which, according to the Torah’s structure should have remained secret and hidden, were drawn down and revealed by the Baal Shem Tov and his students and their students, the righteous men of our world.50 In this way, the revelation of G‑d’s hidden dimensions that transcend the scope of mortal intellect was drawn down.

The sequence of this revelation was that faith [as inspired by] pnimiyus haTorah was revealed first. In general, this reflects the approach implied by the interpretation of the verse:51 צדיק באמנתו יִחיה, “a righteous man will live by his faith,” as צדיק באמתנו יחַיה, “a righteous man will impart life through his faith,” by revealing the soul that exists within every Jew.52

The consummation of the revelation of Chassidus as “a long, short path” (enabling one to enter “the city of our G‑d” without any impediments) comes when faith permeates a person’s intellect, and his mind understands and knows G‑d in a way that reflects his faith. Similarly, [this approach must affect] his emotions. Not only will he generate love and fear of G‑d in a manner commensurate with his understanding and meditation (and not just [inspire] his heart with vitality of a general nature), but also his love and fear will be connected to [the dimensions of] G‑d that transcend reason and logic.

This is “a long, short path” of Divine service. [The intent is that] the faith which stems from the essence of the soul should permeate all the powers of the soul in an internalized manner. This is “a long path.” It is, however, the shortest and most secure way to enter “the city of our G‑d.” For none of the factors that hinder and impede a person and cause him to stumble as he enters “the city of our G‑d” remain. For all of the powers of his soul, his [intellectual powers] Chochmah, Binah, and Daas, and his [emotional powers] Chessed, Gevurah, Tiferes, Netzach, Hod, and Yesod are all permeated with inner vitality in Divine service. As such, the person can enter “the city of our G‑d” as a whole and in all of his particulars.

The consummation of this enterprise will be “in that era... [when] the Jews will be great sages and know the hidden matters, and comprehend the knowledge of their Creator according to the [full] extent of mortal potential, as it is written:53 ‘For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d as the waters cover the ocean bed.’”54

(Adapted from Sichos Shabbos Parshas Tazria-Metzora and Shabbos Parshas Emor, 5742)