Yitro: Mitzvah-25-Concept 1
Six Hundred and Thirteen Concepts
A Person Must Know God.
“I am God, your Lord, Who has taken you out of the land of Egypt from the house of slavery.”
Part 1: Belief and Knowledge
Maimonides begins by saying that a person must know God. He does not say that a person must believe that there is a God. He is very careful to say that the commandment is to know. Some commentaries actually say that Maimonides must have meant that we should believe in God, but Maimonides was very careful with his words. If he wrote that the obligation is to “know” he did not mean believe. He meant that the obligation is to know. In fact, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto was so concerned that people would make the same mistake when studying his “Way of God’ that he wrote both: “A person must believe and know that there is God.”
The idea of a commandment to believe in God is ludicrous! If a person does not already believe he would not accept the idea of a commandment. He does not need a commandment to believe if he already does. This Mitzvah is addressing the believer; “Now that you believe search for knowledge, intellectual awareness.”
There is a major difference between believing and knowing: Belief is a matter of faith alone. People can believe anything. There does not have to be rhyme or reason to an idea in order for someone to believe in it. There are people who believe that cows are god. They cannot prove it. They cannot explain it. They cannot articulate a reason why they believe in cows. They simply believe in cows and live their entire lives worshipping cows without understanding the reasons why. In fact, they are willing to give up their lives for what they believe. Belief is very powerful.
Knowledge is even more powerful. Maimonides does not mean an intellectual understanding. The commandment to know God is integrated knowledge. It is an integrated awareness of fact. A person must be so convinced of God’s existence and Who God is that it becomes part of his being. The conviction must be so powerful that it is expressed in everything the person does, thinks and says.
It is possible to know a fact and not integrate it. A child may believe in God, and believe that God commanded him to honor his parents. That does not necessarily mean that he will treat his parents properly. There is a tremendous difference between knowing something and knowing it so clearly that it becomes part of the person’s self. People experience Cognitive Dissonance, which means that they may know something to be true but their desires cause them to deny the facts. Anyone who smokes cigarettes knows that they are deadly. The facts are clear. When they smoke they are unconsciously denying a fact they know to be true.
The first step toward fulfilling the commandment to Know God is to understand the level of intellectual clarity that is demanded. Only then can the person work toward developing that level of clarity.
Judaism is not a religion of beliefs. It is an approach of intellectual awareness and integration. In fact, Maimonides says that it is impossible for there to be something in Judaism that goes against all logic.
A priest visited Albert Eichmann just before his execution for the murder of millions of Jews. The priest urged Eichmann to confess his sins so that he could be forgiven before death. Logic screams against such easy forgiveness for such massive crimes against so many people. It goes against all reason. The very first commandment by demanding knowledge of God, as opposed to belief, teaches us that Judaism, by definition, cannot have any idea that goes against all rhyme and reason.
Our relationship with God must begin with reason. We must search for proofs of God’s existence and everything that we are expected to know about God. The search for proofs, for understanding the reasons, and for clarity is the fulfillment of this Mitzvah.
The first concept that we can learn from this commandment is that we must understand the reasons for choosing a way of life. We must have logical grounds for our relationship with God. The second concept is the demand to integrate knowledge.
Part 2: The Six Constant Commandments
This commandment, to Know God, is the first of Six Constant Commandments. The other five are: 1) One should not think that there is any power other than God, 2) To know that God is a Unity, 3) To love God, 4) To be in awe of God, and 5) One should not follow his eyes or heart to sin. We will elaborate on these Mitzvot and the concepts we learn from them later.
The Six Constant Commandments are laws of being. For example, one should be someone who’s very being reflects his knowledge of God. A person must be someone who is completely aware of God’s Unity. A person must be someone who reflects his love of God in absolutely everything he does. This idea is taking integrated knowledge to its highest level. The person must integrate his knowledge of God to such a point that it permeates his being.
All of the commandments are a response to a stimulus whether it is time or a situation. When the sun rises a person must recite the Shema, pray and don Tefillin. If he is harvesting his field he must separate the Tithes. When the sun sets on Friday evening he must observe the Shabbat. When he desires to speak ill of someone else he must stop. When we enter Israel we must appoint a king. There is a stimulus for each commandment.
If there are constant commandments there must be a constant stimulus every second for each and all of them. That stimulus is the existence of God and His relationship with us. We will discuss the stimulus of each commandment in its place. However at this point we must understand that everything begins with this first Mitzvah of knowledge of God and the concept of integration of that knowledge as a reality.
The knowledge of God’s existence and characteristics should be so powerful that it serves as a constant stimulus for acting, thinking and speaking with the awareness of God.
Part 3: God’s Absolute Independence:
God’s existence does not depend on anything else at all therefore we cannot affect God in any way. “If you have sinned, how have you affected Him? If your transgressions multiply, what have you done to Him? If you were righteous, what have you given Him, or what has He taken from your hand?” When we speak of our actions angering or pleasing God we are speaking anthropomorphically, we are using words that finite beings can understand to describe something beyond our comprehension.
God has no needs. “For mine are the world and its fullness.”
We know that God is perfect in every possible way and devoid of every conceivable deficiency. God’s perfection is absolute. He is not perfect only relative to other things that have deficiency. God is absolutely perfect.
God does not need us to do anything for Him. The Mitzvot are for us, not for Him. He does not need our service or worship.
Part 4: God is the First Being:
The fourth of the Thirteen Principles of Faith is that God is the First Being. This includes the fact that God always existed, and that God existed before everything else.
This is based on the verse from the farewell address of Moses; “Me’onah is the abode of God immemorial.” Maimonides and many commentaries explain that immemorial means that God always existed and that He existed before any other power.
God Always Existed:
It is impossible for a mortal being to comprehend an Infinite Being. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor your ways, My ways.” We are limited by time and cannot imagine something or someone who always existed. Our obligation is to know that God is the First Being while accepting that we cannot understand it. There is a powerful concept in this idea. We must intellectually know and integrate that there is an Infinite Being Whom we cannot begin to comprehend. Our relationship with God must include the awareness that He is beyond our grasp. We must intellectually understand that our connection is with an Infinite Being. Our bond with God is a bond with the infinite. All the rules and instructions are not limiting. They serve the opposite purpose; they connect us with infinite life and pleasure.
It is possible to enter what seems to be a limiting relationship and become unlimited. A man or a woman have almost unlimited possibilities before marriage. They can marry anyone of thousands of people. When a person marries they are limiting themselves from any other relationships. In a healthy marriage that limitation, the commitment to one person, can help the partners grow in unlimited ways. By learning to relate to another human being, by relating beyond one’s self, a person can overcome all of his limitations and grow in almost countless ways. The “limiting” relationship is actually freedom from numerous limitations.
When we relate to God, an Infinite Being, and use His tools to attach to Him, we are attaching to the infinite. We have tools at our disposal to overcome all of our limitations. This will only happen if we use the Mitzvot to attach to God, with the awareness that we are attaching to the Infinite. We must relate to God as the First Being, Who always existed, in order to have this connection with Infinite life.
Part 5: God is the Source of all Existence:
God’s existence is intrinsically imperative, could not be different and it is absolutely impossible that He should not exist. The truth of His existence is different from ours.
“Of old, You laid the earth’s foundation, and the heavens are Your handiwork. They will perish, but You will endure; all of them will wear out like a garment, You will exchange them like a cloak and they will pass on. But You will remain the same, and Your years will never end.” Even these verses are written in a limited fashion. They cannot begin to explain God’s eternal existence. They are simply written in language that we can understand. These verses describe how the world was created ex nihlo, something from nothing.
God’s existence demands that God exists, therefore, He, the only Infinite Being, always existed. God gives existence to everything that exists. Everything else that exists comes from God; therefore nothing could exist before Him.
If we integrate the knowledge that all of our existence comes from God we will appreciate everything we have in an entirely different way:
When I was a teenager my father drove a 25 year old car without heating or seatbelts. It would have been a compliment to refer to the car as a jalopy. My sister and I would constantly complain to my father about the car. We never felt safe. We were always waiting for it to break down in the most inconvenient place and time. We begged my father to get a new car. But he loved this car. He was not only personally insulted that we didn’t like his car; he was convinced that we were hurting the car’s feelings and damaging it. We were terrified of going on a five mile trip in this car but he would drive it back and forth from Baltimore to New York, a round trip of 400 miles. One day the car finally broke down on the way back from New York and my father blamed my sister and me!
Now, my father was an incredibly reasonable man. He lived a life of reason. He was definitely not the sort of man to be superstitious. My sister and I could not understand how such a reasonable man could believe that the car broke down because we hurt its “feelings!” So, we demanded a reasonable explanation for our being blamed. By the time he finished his explanation we felt like heretics: “If this is the car I have, then this is the car God wants me to have. It was precious to me because it was a gift from God. God gave it existence in the same way that He gives existence to everything. By complaining about the car you were denying that it came from God its source of existence! Your denial of its source of existence caused it to break down!”
My father had fully integrated the concept of God being the Source of all Existence. He recognized God in a 20 year old, army surplus, broken down Chrysler with over 300,000 miles.
Integration of this awareness means that a person acknowledges God as the Source of all the gifts in his life; his eyes, his ears, his arms, his mind, his house, his car etc. etc. This awareness changes a person’s appreciation of everything he has. This is the power of all blessings; it is the connection of the gift back to its Source of existence. It is using my eyes and ears and everything else to attach to God. The Mitzvot are tools to connect all I have to their Source of existence.
Part 6: God’s Existence is the Pillar of All Wisdom:
Maimonides says that the awareness of the above is the Pillar of all Wisdom. Unless we understand that God is the Source of all existence we do not understand anything for what it is; an expression of God’s Presence and creativity. We can take giant strides in the study of science but we will not truly understand the existence of anything unless we see it as an expression of God’s creativity and Presence. We must make this awareness the foundation of all our studies and discoveries.
Wisdom must begin with truth. If something is not true it cannot be wisdom. The only truth is God; therefore all wisdom must begin with the awareness of God’s existence. When we acknowledge God’s existence and creativity we can transform our pursuit of wisdom into a constant process of discovery of God. We will no longer have an abstract knowledge gained; absolutely everything we learn about the universe will become part of our relationship with God.
The fact that God’s existence is the pillar of all wisdom demands humility from us. God is an infinite being. True wisdom is a reflection of His Being and is therefore infinite. No matter how much we know and discover it is only a small reflection of truth. Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai, one of the greatest of the Rabbis of the Mishna, said, “Whatever I have studied it is only one drop of the ocean.” We spend years trying to understand the Halachic rulings and philosophical statements of this man who is beyond our comprehension. When we study Talmud carefully it is clear that we cannot even begin to understand the wisdom of Rabbi Yochanan. It was he who saved Torah at the time of the destruction of the Second Temple. He had vision that has kept us alive for generations. Yet, even he understood that all his knowledge, thought and vision was only a drop in the ocean.
No matter how much we learn, study and discover we are limited. The universe and Torah and the knowledge hidden in them are unlimited. This is why King David said that, “The beginning of wisdom is the fear of God.” King Solomon, the wisest of all men, said in the beginning of his book on wisdom, “The fear of God is the beginning of knowledge.”
Our entire approach in this book is not to say that we know the reasons for the commandments. That is impossible. No matter how much we will study we will always discover more about each Mitzvah. We are simply attempting to discern some of the lessons and concepts of each commandment. We are limited and the wisdom that designed the commandments is infinite.
These should be included in the fourth blessing of the Amidah; when we pray for wisdom, we should include a request for the clarity and ability to see God in all our studies.
The Tenth of the Thirteen Principles of Faith is that God sees and knows all the actions of men and does not close His eyes to their deeds. We know this from the verse; “Great in counsel and mighty in deed, Your eyes are cognizant to all the ways of mankind to grant each man according to his ways and the consequences of his deeds.” God knows what has been d what will be in the future; “There is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning.” God observes each individual action of people. He does not only know and see each action; He knows our thoughts and even how we will react as well; “God saw that the wickedness of Man was great upon the earth and that every product of the thoughts of his heart was but evil always.” This means that God understood their thoughts and knew that they would not be willing to listen to words of rebuke.
We have already discussed the infinity of Godand its conceptual impact on our thinking. There is a new dimension here that affects our actions: Everything we do, think and say matters to God. He wouldn’t pay attention if it didn’t matter to Him. This is what we mean when we say in the Shema; “Hashem Elokeinu,” “God is our Lord.” We accept that God judges us, which means that all we do matters to Him.
We believe that all our actions matter to the Creator of the Universe. God created googols of beings, planets and stars, but He is interested in us! Our actions are important to Him. This is why Judaism teaches that when God judges us He is actually performing an act of kindness; He is giving importance to all we do. My father believed that this is the definition of “Accepting the yoke of Heaven;” accepting that what we do matters to God.
The Mitzvot are tools for us to experience our importance to God.
Although there are numerous verses in the bible that describe God as sitting, standing and other physical terms, we must know that God does not have a body nor any physical attributes. “There is no sitting, standing, straight or bent in the heavens.” “You did not see any image when God spoke to you at Chorev.” The people who stood at Sinai “saw” God through an aspaklaria hame’eira, a clear lens. They had as much clarity as a human being is capable of having. They did not see anything physical. This is the third of the Thirteen Principles of Faith.
A physical body means that there are limitations. The body is limited to itself. A body cannot be where something else is, or where it is not. God has no physical limitations. God is unlimited, incorporeal. God is everywhere.
When we use the tools that God has created we cannot speak of their impact in physical terms. We must consider everything we do in incorporeal terms. At this point it is important to understand that the spiritual worlds are also creations. Anything that is created is limited. If it needed something to create it, it could not create itself. It is limited to what it was given by its creator. The only unlimited existence is God. Spiritual concepts are outside our realm of experience, and therefore cannot be adequately described. When we speak of spiritual phenomena, we must therefore rely completely on the traditions handed down to us. Although the Spiritual Realms are beyond our comprehension, they are limited. Our spiritual worlds are still addressing our lives within the boundaries of creation, even now removed from God Himself. When we apply the concepts of God being incorporeal we must consider the impact of our actions beyond all of creation, even that of the Spiritual Realms. The tools that were designed by God, the Incorporeal Being, can have influence beyond all limited creation.
Creation began with a special light. It was the light of God’s Presence being obvious in all of creation. Adam could look at any creation and know its purpose of existence and how it expressed the presence of God. “Adam could see from one end of the world to the other.” That original light was hidden to protect it from being misused by the wicked. A person could look at anything and be able to understand and use all of its spiritual power. The wicked would corrupt the power and beauty of creation for selfish means. Once Adam sinned, God determined to hide this light until the World to Come. It is now called the “Or Haganuz,” the Hidden Light.
Reb Tzadok HaCohen of Lublin points out that there was no reason for God to place the Or Haganuz in creation only to hide it. The placing and the hiding of this Hidden Light must be an indication of a process that is part of creation. That process is an expression of the concept that we have learned and are applying from God being incorporeal: When a person performs a Mitzvah he can create realities that transcend all of creation, both physical and spiritual. The Mitzvah performed with full awareness brings God’s light into the world. But that light will be corrupted. Therefore God takes that light and hides it, just as He did with the original light of creation. God plants that light and nurtures it for the person to have in the World to Come. This is the meaning of the verse, “Light is planted for the righteous.” He explains that this is why we do not experience the full impact of our actions. The light of our Mitzvot has been hidden for its own protection.
Our use of the tools, the Mitzvot, designed by the Incorporeal God has an incorporeal effect. We cannot begin to comprehend the weight of our Mitzvot.
In 1972 Conrad Lorenz delivered a talk entitled “Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil set off a Tornado in Texas?” The title eventually became a common saying. We live in world of seeming chaos in which it is impossible to determine the effect of one simple action. We experience this on many levels: If someone puts a coin in a charity box he will be helping someone he does not know. It is possible that his small donation may change the recipient’s life. He may then, in turn, be able to do something for someone else, and so on and so forth. We cannot measure the impact of even seemingly insignificant actions.
I remember that one reporter in New York City decided to experiment with a smile and a greeting. She smiled at and greeted a taxi driver who then smiled at and greeted his next customer. He in turn smiled at and greeted his employees who then smiled at and greeted each other. It became impossible for the reporter to keep track of the impact of her original smile and greeting within ten minutes of her experiment.
We cannot fathom the effect of a small donation or even just a smile. How can we even imagine the consequences of our Mitzvot which were designed for us by an Incorporeal Being?
Part 9: Free Choice and the Implications of Our Actions:
We have already studied how our actions matter to God Who is Omniscient. We must now learn to live with the awareness that our Mitzvot have implications far beyond our comprehension. This is the essence of free choice: Bechira Chofshit, Free Choice, means that we are aware of the implications of our actions and we choose one thing over another because we want those implications. A choice between vanilla or chocolate ice cream is not Bechira. There are no meaningful implications from the choice. We must be aware of the implications of our actions in order to properly use our Bechira. It is fundamental to know that when we use our Free Choice that we are emulating God at the highest level. “Let us make man in Our image, after Our likeness,” means that we were to be created with Free Choice.When we use our Bechira we are acting in the “likeness” of God.
This too has tremendous implications for those who observe the commandments: If a person serves God only because he has been raised to live this way, he is not choosing. He is preprogrammed to be observant. The Ramchal defines choice as something perfectly balanced between the two choices. The word “free” in free choice means that there is nothing pushing the person more in one direction than the other. A person who has always been religious does not have free choice whether to eat non-kosher. It goes against his entire upbringing; it goes against his very nature. The choice of whether to eat something non-kosher is also not self-defining. The choice must also have implications for him. There are no implications for his identity. The choice must matter in order for it to be called free choice.
If a young man understands the important role that his wife will play in his development as a person, and he has clarity about a woman’s qualities and midos, and understands what he will gain and what he will not have, he has a self-defining choice whether to marry this woman or not. If a person understands that by choosing one Rabbi over another that he is literally choosing one way of life, one way of serving God over another, and he so chooses his rabbi, he is making a self-defining choice. When parents choose one school over another and understand what their child will gain and what he will lose by being sent to a specific school, the parents are making a self-defining choice. They are literally emulating their Creator.
Although we have said that our actions have an impact beyond both physical and spiritual creations it is important to understand their more immediate effect as well. Each and every action creates a spiritual reality in the worlds above us. The Ramchal explains how our actions affect the Transcendental Forces that influence this world. When we attach to God we influence those Forces and they in turn send good back to us. When we sin, we increase negative influences from those forces and the world around us will suffer. This concept is a very powerful gift and tool that we can use with each mitzvah we perform, each time we pray and every time we study Torah. We create positive spiritual forces that influence all of creation whenever we do something the draws us closer to God.
I once saw a documentary entitled, “The Devil’s Playground.” It was a study of how the Amish will not accept a young person into their church until they have had an opportunity to rebel at age 16 without the condemnation of their parents. The Amish do not want anyone to choose the church because they have been born into it. They want their children to experience the world before making their choice. The most shocking fact for me was that they have a higher than 90% retention rate. Would they have the same rate of retention if they didn’t provide that opportunity for rebellion? Would they maintain that proportion if parents condemned their children when they are rebelling?
I am not advocating such an approach for the Jewish world. It is not necessary to send our children out into the world in order to teach them choice. However, are we teaching them Judaism in a way that will allow them to choose Judaism because of its beauty and power? We have to teach our children to love Judaism, not because the world outside is so terrible and ugly, but because Judaism is so wonderful. Too many of our children go out into the world for university or work and don’t experience it as being so terrible. In fact they find the world quite attractive. If they didn’t choose Judaism because of what it is they will soon drop it altogether.
How do we respond to those children who rebel? We condemn them. More than sixty years ago, Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, the Rebbe of the Warsaw Ghetto, directed remarks to teachers and parents and addressed the failure of traditional educational methods to stem the rising tide of defections from the observant community. The answer, says Rabbi Shapira, is not more authoritarian discipline and rote learning, but imbuing the child with a vision of his own potential greatness and enlisting him as an active participant n his own development The teacher must learn to speak the language of the student, and graphically convey the delights of a life of closeness to God. He must be presented with a sense of the inner beauty of a life of Torah. Authoritarian discipline and rote learning do not nurture Free Choice. The delights of closeness to God and the beauty of a life of Torah will prepare our children for Bechira.
There are many Ba’alei Teshuva, people who were not born observant but chose to be religious, who cannot understand when their children rebel. They have to understand that their children can make the same choice that their parents did. They simply must be given the opportunity to choose.
There is a fantastic story in the bible about Elijah the prophet and the Jews. The people were worshipping God, but they were also worshipping an idol named Baal. Elijah gathered the Jews to Mount Carmel where he designed a contest between God and Baal. (God won!) Elijah spoke before the contest began; “How long will you dance between two opinions? If God is the Lord, go after Him! And if the Baal, go after it!” Elijah doesn’t simply urge them to serve God: He pushes them to make a choice.
We must remember that we make a difference to the entire world when we fulfill God’s Will. Unfortunately, we tend to forget the power of our Mitzvot, our prayers and Torah study, our Free Choice. We often lose a sense of our importance to all of creation and of the power we have when choosing to serve God. When we forget that power and lose that sense of importance we have lost true Free Choice.
God wants us to live with that level of awareness so that all of our choices are made with full comprehension of the implications of those choices. We lived with that level of awareness when the Temple stood in Jerusalem. We lost much of that clarity with the destruction of the Temple and the ensuing exile.
Part 10: Human Dignity:
The most important lesson of this part of the commandment to know God is that we must live in His “likeness” and make choices with awareness of the implications of those choices. This should give us an immense sense of dignity and self respect.
This idea of our being in the likeness of God is taken so seriously that the Talmud says that “Whoever slaps the face of another it is as if he has slapped the face of the Divine Presence.”
There are laws based on this concept of our being in the likeness of God: When someone was executed his corpse was hung up for the rest of the day. However, we were not allowed to keep the corpse hanging overnight because a human being is created in the image of God, and it is disrespectful to keep the image of God hanging in the open overnight.
We must be aware of the honor that God has given us by creating us in His likeness and giving us Free Choice. We must act as royalty. We must speak, dress, eat, think and act as members of God’s royal family. This is true in Jewish law.” Abaye said that Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel, Rabbi Shimon, Rabbi Yishmael and Rabbi Akiva agree that all Jews are to be considered royalty when it comes to Jewish law.”
We are in the likeness of God, the image of God and we are halachically considered royalty all because of the gift of Free Choice. We must understand the implications of our choices and act with the awareness of their power.
Part 11: The Purpose of Creation and of Our Existence:
God’s purpose in creation was to bestow of His good to another. It is important to note that we are not discussing the reason but the purpose. There is a significant difference between the two. Purpose is the objective. Reason is why you want to achieve that objective. If a father helps his children with their homework his objective is for them to do well in school. His reason is that he wants them to succeed in life. His reason for that may be that he defines his children’s success as his success as a father. The purpose of helping them with their homework is for them to succeed. The reason is that he wants to succeed as a father. Reason motivates the purpose.
When we discuss the purpose of creation we are not even attempting to posit the reason for the purpose. That idea falls into the realm of Kabbalah. We are limiting our discussion to purpose alone.
For some reason God decided to create the world in order to bestow of His good to another. We have already explained that God is perfect in absolute terms; therefore if He will bestow good is must be perfect good. We have also explained that the only perfect good is God. Therefore, the ultimate bestowal of good is attachment to God. “The purpose of all that was created was to bring into existence a creature that could derive pleasure from God’s own good, in a way that would be possible for it.”
The highest form of attachment to God can only come by being similar to God. We have already described that we were created in the likeness of God, meaning we have Free Choice. God is the Master of His own good. God is absolutely independent and did not and does not need anyone or anything to give good to him. Our closest attachment to God will come when we use our Free Choice to perfect ourselves and to be masters of our own good, just like God.
The more we master and perfect ourselves using our Free Choice, the more we are attaching to God. It is a process. Each effort to perfect ourselves is an act of attachment to God. This is a logical extension of all that we have said about our choices and actions; 1) they connect us with the infinite, 2) they attach us to the incorporeal, 3) they affect the Transcendental Forces, 4) they matter to the Omniscient Creator, 5) they are our means to act in the likeness of God, 6) they connect all we have to our source of existence and 7) they are the way we emulate God by mastering ourselves. The more we choose perfection, the closer we are to God.
The time of our work in this world is limited. The time of the reward, when we derive pure pleasure from God’s own good, is eternal. As a general rule, that which pertains to good is always greater. The period of earning is therefore limited. The period of reward, on the other hand, has no limit, and man continues to derive pleasure from his earned perfection for all eternity.
Part 12: Reward and Punishment:
The eleventh of the Thirteen Principles of Faith is that there is reward and punishment for all of our actions.
We have already demonstrated how our actions matter to God, to the both the physical and spiritual worlds, and to our own spiritual reality. We create spiritual realities when we attach to God and when we are destructive to His world. Reward and punishment are the ways that God deals with the good and bad that we have created in ourselves.
Reward is the ability to fully enjoy the level of perfection that we have achieved in this world of action. Punishment is the means to destroy the barriers to that enjoyment, which we have created through destructive actions.
We are the only creation which consists of two opposites, namely a spiritual soul and a physical body. It is only through God’s decree that the two are bound together. Originally, before the sin of Adam, the soul and body were perfectly balanced. Once Adam sinned, the body, the physical, became more powerful than the soul. Therefore, the soul can purify the physical body but the body definitely limits the spiritual soul.
The more that the soul attaches to God, thereby purifying the body, it is emulating its creator by bestowing benefit on another; the body. It therefore will have a higher level of pleasure and attachment in the World to Come.
People will not all be equal in the time of reward. They will attain different levels, depending on their work to attain perfection in this world of effort and striving. This will determine how much the soul can radiate and thus purify and enlighten the body, so that both of them can gain excellence and elevation. This in turn will delimit how worthy they are of bringing themselves close to God, basking in His light and enjoying His true good.
However, if the physical world, the body, overpowers the soul, there has been damage to the soul which must be fixed. Punishment is the fixing of the damage to the soul. The damage to the soul is a consequence of the person’s actions. That will limit the soul in the future. The damage to the world is also a consequence of poor choices and that damage must also be fixed. Punishment is the reparation of the damage to the soul and to the world.
As long as the soul is in the body it can never disassociate itself from the physical world. The soul which is associated with the body is therefore darkened and dimmed. Through the good deeds that one has done, the soul might have earned itself perfection and excellence, but this cannot be expressed in reality. The soul cannot shine with radiance appropriate to the excellence that it actually attains, but it remains concealed in the soul’s essence until the time comes for it to be revealed.
The soul cannot shine as long as it is in the body. The more power the person has given his body over his soul, the less the soul can shine with its true radiance. This is one of the consequences we described earlier.
The only way that the soul can achieve its true radiance is to be separated from the body which limits it. This is what happens in death; the soul separates from the body and goes to the Soul World and the body decomposes. When the body decomposes it loses the “power” it has gained in its victorious battles with the soul. The soul in the Soul World experiences for the first time its full radiance; all that it has gained from its good deeds, growth and attachment to God. It experiences what it could never have while constrained by the body.
The body may need to have layers of imperfection removed before it can enter the Soul World and enjoy its radiance. This is the type of spiritual purification that we refer to as Gehinnom, Purgatory. The purpose of these punishments is to penalize the individual for his sins in such a way that he is subsequently free of any liability for the evil that he may have done. As a result, he can then receive the true reward for his good deeds.
At the time of the Resurrection of the Dead, the rejuvenated soul will rejoin the post decomposition, neutral body, in all its power and purify according to its efforts to achieve perfection and elevate itself in this world.
God decreed that man’s recompense be divided into two periods and places, with regard to reward as well as punishment. All of a person’s deeds are divided into two groups, that of the majority and that of the minority. After the majority and minority are determined, the majority are judged by themselves in the proper time and place. The same is true of the minority of one’s deeds.
Man’s true reward is in the World to Come, and for the worthy individual, this consists of the eternal continuous experiencing of God. The ultimate punishment is that the individual should be deprived of this true good and destroyed.
The judgment was set up, however, to be in accordance with the majority of one’s deeds. The minority are dealt with in this world through its gratifications and sufferings. The suffering of this world is often the punishment of the righteous in this world for the minority of his deeds.
We must understand that when we make a choice to attach to God we are choosing a life of the most perfect eternal pleasure. When we choose the opposite, we are choosing to sacrifice that pleasure. On a more immediate level, we are choosing whether we are committed to nurturing our soul or not. We will feel the direct results of our actions on our spiritual lives. When we don Tefillin one day we are literally nurturing our souls so that when we wrap in Tefillin on the next day it will be more powerful. We will have cultivated our souls. The opposite is also true; if we do not lay Tefillin one day, they will have less power the next time that we wear them.
This principle contains another important concept, involving how one’s deeds are judged to correctly ascertain their effects in determining a person’s level in the World to Come. Every deed is judged as to whether or not it should benefit the individual’s status in the Perfected Community in the World to Come, as well as the extent to which it should do so.
There will be certain deeds, which according to the fair and precise Highest Judgement, should not provide the individual any benefit whatsoever in the ultimate future, but should rather be rewarded in this world. An individual whose deeds are judged in this manner will receive the reward for his deeds in this world, and then remain in a permanently inferior state, among the lowest of the Perfected Community.
We absolutely must understand that the level of awareness and commitment we have when fulfilling a commandment will determine whether the reward will be an eternal one in the World to Come or limited to this world. A person has fulfilled a Mitzvah even if he rushes through a blessing before eating but the reward will be in direct proportion to his blessing. He will be rewarded in this life. He lost an opportunity to create eternal life for himself and a higher place in the Perfected Community in the World to Come all because he did not take the time to reflect on what he was doing when he recited his blessing.
Each commandment affords us an opportunity to raise our place in the Perfected Community of the World to Come for all eternity. That is why it is so important to study the concepts of all the commandments. The more awareness we have when fulfilling God’s Will, the higher our place in the World to Come.
Part 13: Divine Providence:
It is evident that everything that exists was created by God because He deemed it necessary and useful in furthering the general purpose of creation. Since each thing was created for a reason, it is appropriate that it be maintained so that it can serve its intended purpose. After God created all things, He continued to oversee them and maintain them in their desired state. Because Man is an active moving influence through his Free Choice the providence dealing with man must be different from that concerning other species. In the case of man it must oversee and scrutinize every detail of his activities, and bring about things that are the result of his actions. Man must therefore have individual providence, and everything must be the result of his deeds, no more and no less.
God is constantly involved with our lives, in direct proportion to how much we involve Him. God becomes more or less involved depending on our level of awareness of Him. God constantly provides us with opportunities to grow, prospects to work on ourselves and fix what is lacking. The more we attach the more directly will God be involved in our lives.
Summary of Concepts:
- Our relationship with God must be one of reason.
- We must understand the reasons for choosing a way of life.
- We must integrate all knowledge.
- The knowledge must stimulate acting with the awareness of God.
- The impact of our Mitzvot is beyond all physical and spiritual creation.
- The Mitzvot connect us to infinite life and pleasure.
- The Mitzvot are tools to connect all I have to their Source of existence.
- We cannot understand anything for what it truly is unless we recognize that it was created by God.
- We must live in God’s “likeness” and make choices with awareness of the implications of those choices.
- Everything we do, think and say matters to God.
- The Mitzvot should give us an immense sense of dignity and self respect.
Section 1, Chapter 1, Paragraph 1(All translations of the Way of God are taken from Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, Feldheim Publishers, NY 1977)
Mishnah Berurah, Orach Chaim, Chapter 1; “V’Hu,” in the name of the Sefer Hachinuch, Introduction and Mitzvot 25, 26, 417, 418, 432, and 487.
This is my father’s, Rabbi Yaacov Weinberg OB”M, understanding of the Six Constant Commandments. My uncle, Rabbi Noach Weinberg, strongly disagrees, and takes a different approach.
My father, Rabbi Yaacov Weinberg OB”M in a lecture titled “Awe of Heaven” delivered in September 1999
Job 35:6-7 (Most translations of biblical verses are taken from The Stone Edition, Mesorah Publications, NY, 1996)
Maimonides, Commentary to the Mishnah, Sanhedrin, Chapter 10. Mishnah Torah, Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah beginning of Chapter 1
Ramchal, The Path of the Just, Chapter 1(All translations of The Path of the Just are taken from Shraga Silverstein, Feldheim Publishers, NY 1966)
For more on this concept see Parts 6 & 7 of Mitzvah/Concept 2: Free Choice and God’s Will & Divine Will and Ability
My father OB”M was adamant that the above is the accurate translation. This is usually mistranslated as “The Lord is our God.” God is everyone’s God whether they accept Him or not. He is God by definition. The only issue is whether we accept God as our Lord, meaning; we accept His authority.
My uncle disagrees. He teaches that the definition of “Accepting the Yoke of Heaven” means the awareness of God’s Unity.