Rambam cites the verse in Tehillim (33:15) as proof of this principle: “He who fashions all their hearts together, Who comprehends all their deeds.” According to Radak (Tehillim ibid.), this verse is explaining why Hashem has the power to see into men’s hearts; because He alone fashioned them, He alone has the ability to truly understand them.
-from “A Closer Look at the Siddur,” p.15
Monday’s Commentary for Parashas Shemos
A Daily Dose of Torah
I’ve always wondered just how much of human behavior God understands. After all, people can be afraid, but God is never afraid. People can be selfish, but God is never selfish. People can be weak, but God is never weak. How can God understand all of our faults and foibles when He has none of His own?
Of course, I always thought this was the answer:
For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
–Hebrews 4:15-16 (NASB)
That covers Yeshua (Jesus) understanding what it’s like to be tempted. The Master may not have sinned, but he did know what it was to be weak, put upon, exhausted, in need of help and comfort:
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry.
Then Jesus said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’” Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him.
–Matthew 4:1-2, 10-11
The Master even said this:
And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and began to pray, saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him.
These are very human words uttered by our Master in prayer to the Father. I wonder if he was afraid? I wouldn’t blame him if he were. Here too he needed help, and again, an angel come to comfort or “strengthen” him.
We always assume it was physically impossible for Jesus to sin but strictly speaking is that true? I mean, it’s not really a temptation unless there’s the possibility of giving in. It’s not a true victory unless you have overcome failure. I think the Master endured these things in part to show us that we can be tempted and overcome as well, even though we are broken down, faulty, lame, miserable human flesh.
No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.
–1 Corinthians 10:13
This was one of the first verses I was encouraged to learn when I professed my faith many years ago, and I thought Paul was being rather smug and arrogant. Sure, it’s easy for him to say that God will provide a way of escape so we can endure temptation and not sin, but it certainly didn’t (and often still doesn’t) seem obvious to me which way led out of temptation.
But going back to the first quote above, it never occurred to me before that God understands us completely because God made us, even though He is perfect and we are imperfect, even though He is immortal and we are passing away like grass in a blast furnace. I wonder if that’s why there are so many human-like metaphors for describing God in the Bible, not because He has a face, or arms, or hands, or breath, but so that we can, on some shallow level, relate to Him, even as He completely and totally understands us.
A person is constantly beset by warring impulses. Sometimes, he will succeed and triumph over his evil impulses; other times he may fail and succumb to his baser urges. To the human observer, this behavior may seem random and inconsistent. But Hashem “fashions all their hearts together;” He alone knows of the many components that make up a person’s mind and heart. Thus, it is possible for Him to “comprehend all of their deeds.”
I don’t think this means that God approves of all of our deeds, but He does understand, and hopefully, feels compassion for all of His children, including you and me.
Moreover, we must not overlook one of the profound principles of Judaism. There is something which is far greater than my desire to pray, namely, God’s desire that I pray. There is something which is far greater than my will to believe, namely, God’s will that I believe. How insignificant is the outpouring of my soul in the midst of this great universe! Unless it is the will of God that I pray, unless God desires prayer (See Exodus Rabba, 21, 5; Midrash Tehillim, 5, 7.), how ludicrous is all my praying.
-Abraham Joshua Heschel
“The Separation of Church and God,” p.58
Man’s Quest for God: Studies in Prayer and Symbolism
On the following page, Heschel wrote, “To live without prayer is to live without God, to live without a soul.”
At the heart of doing teshuvah, of repenting and returning to God, is prayer. While the seven points of doing teshuvah I posted at the top of this blog post make it seem as if teshuvah is largely a matter of exercising intellect and will, in fact even our ability to make the first step, to regret and be ashamed of our sins, is because God created us with an awareness of Him; we are made in His likeness.
Prayer is a requirement of repentance, for without God how can man repent at all, how can he turn away from evil and turn toward God and make a life-altering, permanent decision to abandon the way he previously walked?
But in the agony of teshuvah, being torn away from one life and struggling to achieve another, it’s easy to drown in prayers of petition to the point of begging.
But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” And Jesus said to him, “‘If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, “I do believe; help my unbelief.”
From God we need all of the building blocks necessary to make teshuvah, then we need help putting them together, and then we need help doing everything else we are responsible for doing to return to Hashem.
In the middle of all that, where do we find the will and the strength to praise Him?
For to Thee Lord our God, God of our fathers, are due songs and praise, hymn and psalm, power and dominion, victory, grandeur, might, homage, beauty, holiness, kingship, blessings, thanksgiving
-from the daily liturgy
quoted in Heschel, p.64
We can’t “flatter” God into responding to our requests and He certainly doesn’t need us to praise Him because He lacks anything, but as Heschel said before, we pray not because our prayers are powerful or worthy, but because God desires that we pray, and I might add, for our own sakes. For we need God more than He needs us, if He needs anything at all. God is waiting only for us to whisper our tiny prayers to Him so He can call out and draw us to Him.
As much as the human soul yearns to rise up and merge within the light of its Creator, so much more so does the Infinite Creator yearn to be found within the human soul.
If so, what force could stand between them? What could hold back the Creator’s infinite light?
Only His desire that this union occur with our consent, that we be the ones to crack open the door.
“Open for me just as wide as a pinhole,” G‑d pleads with us, “and I will open for you a vast, unbounded portal to My very core of being.”
-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Open for Me”
I know I’ve quoted this before but it’s a good quote. A number of people commented on these words (click the link above to read the comments) including someone named Harley A:
And 12-Step groups call this “Willingness.”
Wow – I keep seeing how the 12-step recovery coincides with Judaism, it is beautiful.
Someone named Ezra commented:
When G-d created the world he did it with the attributes of Mercy and Justice (female and male qualities). And if you look in Genesis 1:27 you see again that G-d created us in His image (male and female).
G-d made everything with its opposite, up down , left right front back, day night. We can not have one without the other, that’s just how G-d made everything.
We need the Shechina simple because without her, our lives would not only be incomplete but also out of balance. We would only know G-d as a god of vengeance and never have that opportunity to repent. That would be frightening. When G-d remembered our frailty He even gave us cities of refuge. HE IS SO GOOD!!
Enjoy His Sabbath and rest a while with Her.
Life is difficult. We are all fighting a hard battle every single day. God does not desire that we fight this battle alone. If we cry out to Him, if we repent, if we pray for the strength to repent and the endurance to see it through, He will respond in an instant, whether we’re always aware of it or not, and rescue us, and even if we aren’t aware of that either, we will merit a place in the resurrection in the Kingdom of Heaven where our sure reward is waiting:
“…and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”
Yes, Lord come. Maranatha.