The Torah relates an extraordinary phenomenon at Sinai: the
Jewish people gathered at the mountain were able to hear the lightning, see the
thunder. What necessitated such unusual sensations? Wasn’t the word of G-d,
accompanied by thunder and lighting, sufficiently spectacular?
But perhaps the purpose of it was to impress upon them that
Torah is an all-enveloping experience, even more real than what is ordinarily
apprehended by the senses…
Based on the verse, Zeh Keli v’anveihu (“This is my
G-d and I shall glorify Him”), the Sages delineated a three-fold path to greater
awareness of the reality of G-d and Torah. First: Building the Beis HaMikdash.
Just as Zeh Keli indicates that at the Splitting of the Sea G-d was so
real to them that they could point to Him, so too the Mikdash is a physical
place that you can point to, where you can feel G-d’s presence intensely.
Secondly, they derive from this verse the concept of hidur,
beautification of the mitzvos. The mitzvos have to be appealing,
they have to be esthetic. This also magnifies its reality.
The third concept is emulating G-d (ani v’hu). We
approach G-d through His attributes. If they are abstractions to us, the reality
of it is thin, attenuated. But if we manifest them ourselves—since G-d is
merciful, we act mercifully—then we can apprehend Him much more fully. We can
see G-d in ourselves, which enhances our apprehension of His reality in the
These same three pathways can be found in the verses of
Tehilim: Shivti b’vais HaShem kol y’mei chayai. A person’s goal
should be to dwell in the House of HaShem all of his days. Rabbi S.R. Hirsch
says that it doesn’t mean that King David literally wanted to live in the Beis
HaMikdash. (Although, as king, he was permitted to sit in the azarah, he
was not permitted to sleep there.) He referred, rather, to the place, the
dimension, in which one can feel that G-d is real, wherever that may be
Lachazos b’noam HaShem: to observe, see or comprehend the
pleasantness of G-d. This corresponds to the esthetic aspect.
U’levaker b’heichalo—to visit in His abode. This refers
to our contemplation of how G-d projects His attributes into this world, how He
acts in the world.
Achas shoalti mies HaShem: The Arizal said: achas
is acronymic for Eretz Yisrael, Chayay olam haba, and Torah.
These three correspond to the abovementioned three pathways.
Eretz Yisrael can be thought of as an extension of the Beis
HaMikdash. Outside the Land, HaShem’s presence feels much more distant. Of
course, if you’re not sensitive, you’re not going to feel anything here, either;
but if you’re sensitive, you’ll feel it more here. Secondly, in the next world
the righteous sit and bask in the beautiful rays of the Divine Presence.
Thirdly, Torah, teaches us the attributes of the Almighty, which we emulate and
incorporate into our personal reality.
To be sure, there are different levels of awareness. There’s
a mitzvah not to fear the enemy as we go to war. But how is it possible
not to fear? We can understand that we could be commanded not to run away, but
how can we be commanded not to feel fear?
The idea is the following: Let’s say a person has a phobia of
mice, he’s terrified of them. Now this person is in a burning building, and he
sees an exit; but there’s a mouse right there in front of the exit. Will his
fear of mice stop him from running out the exit to safety? Of course not. The
fear of burning to death is so much greater than the fear of the mouse, that
he’ll go right through that exit. Not that he’s lost his fear of the mouse, but
his mind is so filled with the greater danger of the fire that the fear of the
mouse shrinks instantly to insignificance. Likewise, when you go to war; if you
see clearly the reality of G-d, all other concerns, including one’s own safety,
beco me negligible. The reality of the burning need to engage and defeat the
enemies of G-d, overwhelms the fears of one’s own demise. The fear remains, but
it doesn’t matter.
(This installment concludes Rav Leff’s series on emunah.)