A Secret to Knowing God
Only divine love bestows the keys of knowledge. -Arthur Rimbaud
The Jewish people were given 613 commandments. Many of these commandments appear obvious to us today: don’t kill, don’t steal, respect your parents. However, there are many that don’t appear to make sense, including sacrifices and many other ritual laws. The Hebrew term for such commandments is “chok” – by definition a law that we don’t necessarily understand.
Sfat Emet in 5632 (1872) explains that God commands us to follow in His laws, by first of all, studying His Torah. However, counter-intuitively he states that the goal of Torah study should not be to reach knowledge and understanding. Rather the goal of Torah study is to thereby annul ourselves in front of God. By such annulment (“bitul” is the Kabalistic term) we will then reach that divine understanding. Then, the more one “knows”, the more one annuls themselves, the more divine understanding is provided.
This virtuous cycle can also be achieved, not only by annulling oneself to God, but also to the needs of the people of Israel. For the people of Israel are considered God’s agents in the world. When one wholeheartedly puts the interests of the Jewish people before one’s own personal interests, it is a potential gateway to knowledge and understanding of God.
May we gain greater wisdom and understanding of God and our roles in the world.
On the 100th birthday of Bernard Lewis, a modern-day sage with prophetic instincts.
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