Wisdom’s Mystery

The author of the Likutei Yehudah, zt”l, recounted an inspiring Torah he heard from his grandfather, the illustrious Chidushei Harim, zt”l, “Every person has something special which finds favor in God’s eyes. In the merit of this singular aspect we are afforded life and vitality from the Source of all life. But what we naturally believe gives God pleasure is often not the correct attribute. With our limited understanding, how can we possibly know what is truly important on high?

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“The Importance of Appreciation”
Bechoros 21

The mind that demands all things enter its realm will contain nothing. The mind that allows for knowledge beyond mind will contain everything.

Every theory has a premise, every explanation an assumption. Every wise person prefaces his pursuit of wisdom by acknowledging, “This I will not be able to explain. This will remain in wonder.”

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Conquest Through Surrender”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

We strive to know God for in knowing God, we also know ourselves. To look into the mirror and to see our reflection as God sees us is beautiful and startling. A word of caution though: it is also dismaying, because as accomplished and learned as we may believe we are, in fact, we are “but dust and ashes.” (Genesis 18:27). We know nothing. Realizing this puts us one step closer to the truth about ourselves and about us in God but there is another truth that we find in both the Daf for Bechoros 21 and in Rabbi Freeman’s teaching. We find that we do not even know what truth is important and what knowledge to pursue. What we consider vital in our lives may, from a Heavenly perspective, be trivial, ridiculous, or even completely forbidden for us.

The Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, found his son, Reb Leib, zt”l, learning Moreh Nevuchim a number of times, and on each occasion he reprimanded him. When the Chofetz Chaim eventually took the sefer away, Reb Leib protested. “But I don’t understand what the problem is! Don’t chazal tell us that Avraham Avinu came to belief in God through philosophical speculation?”

The Chofetz Chaim replied, “You cannot use Avraham Avinu as proof since he lived in a generation of idolaters and had to find his own way to true emunah. Rambam wrote his book for those already influenced by the non-Jewish philosophers. This is the reason for the name of the work, the Moreh Nevuchim—it is a guide for those who are already confused!”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“One Type Finds its Match”
Bechoros 22

Here we discover that some sources of learned wisdom do not apply to everyone who wishes to gain knowledge of God. The experiences of Abraham for example, aren’t always appropriate for all other people because the circumstances are different. As Derek Leman points out on his blog:

The Torah contains a mixed set of laws dealing with different spheres of life. Some Torah laws were not perfect, they were accommodations to the broken world in which God called Israel…

Torah is interpreted in Judaism differently for the needs of each generation and even within a single generation, it is interpreted differently depending on the Jewish individual, their class, their responsibilities, and even where in the world they live. When applied outside of the Jewish context, Torah wisdom is substantially more difficult to comprehend and sometimes impossible to apply.

There is knowledge and then there is wisdom. Studying will provide knowledge and knowledge, in and of itself, isn’t always “good” or “bad”, but sometimes it is “relevant” and “irrelevant”. Wisdom tells us how or if that knowledge can be applied to us. The “path of wonder the Torah takes to come into our world” is not a path that Christians can readily follow and even if somehow we can, it’s not a path we are always called to walk. As Rabbi Freeman points out, “Every wise person prefaces his pursuit of wisdom by acknowledging, ‘This I will not be able to explain. This will remain in wonder.'” Since I seem to exist in a dual world, my “wisdom” is challenged daily in my attempt to know what is knowledge I can achieve and apply to my life, and what will always remain shrouded in mystery behind the veil of wonder. Whatever God does grant that I understand, arrives through that part of me that is open to Him.

Bet is the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It’s literal meaning in Hebrew is “house.” It is the feminine aspect, as compared to aleph, which is male. Bet is the first letter of the first word in the Torah – Bereshit. (In the beginning…) Notice the shape, which is like a house. Meditate on its meaning. Imagine the world is a house.

Hebrew FireNotice that one side is open to G-d, and the remaining three are closed. In the same way, knowledge of the beginning is closed to us – it is unknowable. Bet is the second letter, corresponding to the second day of creation, when G-d divided the waters into two realms. Think about the two realms of consciousness – higher and lower.

-Rabbi Laibl Wolf
“Meditation on the Letter Bet” (pg 97)
Practical Kabbalah: A Guide to Jewish Wisdom for Everyday Life

As human beings, we are encompassed by our mortal lives with only limited access to the infinite. Depending on who we are within the human realm and who we perceive ourselves to be, we limit ourselves even more. God provided a window in our otherwise closed and locked house through which we can see Him. Whatever He wants us to see is waiting for us when we are ready to look outside. The rest is in the mystery of the Ein Sof.

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