TORAH FOR THE NATIONS
The weekly Torah portion and its lessons for all people
Va-etchanan, Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11
Know today, and bring it into your heart that HaShem, He is God in heaven above and upon the earth beneath; there is none else.
In our present portion of VA-ETCHANAN, Moses launches into the main body of his final discourses to Israel and the world, which he starts by reviewing the very fundamentals of faith in God and the way we are to serve Him through the practice of His commandments.
The foundation of the entire edifice is contained in the key verse:
Know today, and bring it into your heart that HaShem, He is God in heaven above and upon the earth beneath; there is none else (Deuteronomy 4:39).
It greatly behooves us to ponder the true meaning and implications of this prescept, which is set forth by the outstanding codifier of Torah law, Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon ("Rambam", Moses Maimonides 1135-1204), in the opening words of his great Code:
The foundation of foundations and the pillar of all kinds of wisdom is to know that there exists a First Existent, and it is He that brings into being every existent, and all that exists in heaven and on earth and what is between them exists only through the truth of His existence.
Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Foundations of the Torah ( Yesodei HaTorah ) 1:1
What is this knowledge that we are commanded to cultivate? How is it possible for humans in any sense to attain "knowledge" of the Living God, who is infinite and all-powerful? We cannot even gaze directly at the sun without getting blinded. The sun is merely one of God's creations - how then could we presume to sneak a look at G-d and know Him?
It is obviously impossible to "know" God in the same way that we know any of His creations - through our five physical senses and our rational faculties - because God has no knowable form and entirely transcends the physical, material world. Nor is the knowledge of God that we must seek mere mental knowledge and understanding of some basic axiom that is inherently no different from any of the other axioms of rational thought, such as the truism that 2+2=4. Once having once learned such axioms, we know them for all time without needing constantly to advance and deepen our understanding of them.
But Moses says, "Know TODAY" - i.e. every single day of our lives - and he adds immediately that we must also BRING IT INTO OUR HEART. We are being asked to do more than simply know in our minds that there exists a First Cause. Mere intellectual cognition of this fundamental axiom of all axioms is not sufficient. We must bring this knowledge INTO OUR HEARTS - into our awareness on all levels and into our innermost being. The "heart" is not only the physical organ that ceaselessly pumps blood around our bodies as long as we are alive. The "heart" is an expression for the seat of all our knowledge, awareness, feelings, emotions and intuitions. The heart is the very center of our being - the SELF. Thus we are commanded to bring the knowledge of God into ourselves until this knowledge permeates and transforms every part of our being.
This is not a one-time task that once performed may be left aside. We must know God TODAY - because we can never attain final, ultimate knowledge of God. We must constantly go forward and advance in our apprehensions. Our knowledge of God must constantly develop and unfold with every passing day. We must strive to increase our knowledge and understanding of God every single day and at every moment.
If what we have to know and believe were so clear and obvious at all times, there would be no need for a specific precept and commandment constantly to increase our awareness and understanding. It is precisely because it is NOT always clear and obvious that we are obliged to make constant efforts to advance and deepen our knowledge of God, gaining ever-renewed apprehension of what is ultimately intrinsically unfathomable.
From the beginnings of human history, people of all races, backgrounds and beliefs have known that divine forces rule the world in which we find ourselves - the earth and its surrounding planets and stars. All people also have an underlying awareness that sovereign over all these forces is the one supreme Power that we call God.
Yet it is perfectly possible to look at and ponder existence and imagine that the universe is nothing more than a random concatenation of subatomic forces having no ultimate purpose or meaning. This indeed is the banner of the modern, purportedly "science-based" doctrines of atheism that are today being ever more aggressively trumpeted by all kinds of highly respected, celebrated "thinkers", "professors", "scientists" and media personalities.
One of the foundations of Torah faith is that God purposely designed a universe that is capable of being construed and interpreted in different ways - either as a most wondrous divine creation or as nothing but a meaningless, freak chance. God did this in order to provide humanity with the challenge of having to search out the real truth through our own efforts, thereby meriting a reward when we discover it.
The Hebrew name which in the English biblical translations of our key verse is rendered as "God" is ELOHIM. This is one of the main Hebrew divine names found in the Bible. It appears all through the account of Creation (Genesis chapter 1) and constantly recurs throughout the rest of the Five Books of Moses and the Prophets and Holy Writings (TaNaCh).
The name ELOHIM is grammatically a plural form. Not only is it one of the main Hebrew names referring to the True God. It is also frequently used in the Bible in reference to "other gods", i.e. the objects of idolatry. These "other gods" may indeed be personifications of actual divine powers (such as Venus, goddess of love and fertility, or Mars, god of power, military prowess, etc.). However, the very essence of the Sinaitic Covenant that God struck with Israel for the benefit of all humanity is that all these different powers exist only in virtue of the One Supreme Almighty God who created everything and rules over all.
In our verse, Moses is teaching us that the thing that we have to know when we encounter such a vast diversity of powers and phenomena revealed throughout creation on all the different levels, is that everything comes forth from HaShem.
The Hebrew word HaShem simply means "the Name". The word HaShem does not appear in the biblical text of our verse. The Hebrew divine name that is actually written in the Torah scroll is that transliterated in the letters YHVH. This is known as the "essential" name of God. On account of its supreme sanctity, it is strictly forbidden to pronounce it as spelled, and it may not be defaced or erased once it has been written. To avoid possible desecration of this Name, it is customary to refer to it as HaShem.
It was the revelation of this "essential" name of God that was the essence of His self-revelation to Israel at Sinai (Exodus 20:2, cf. Exodus 6:2-3). In our key verse, Moses is saying that the very essence of what we must strive to know and understand ever more deeply with every new day and moment in our lives is that "HaShem, He is God".
The significance of the Hebrew "essential" Name of God is discussed in greater detail in "What's in a Name".
What we are to know is that, underlying all the diverse phenomena that we experience in so many different ways, day after day, moment after moment, there is one single, sovereign Power. We are constantly exposed to different experiences. Our entire purpose and mission in ever-changing circumstances is to uncover and make ourselves aware of the unifying factor, the ultimate Divine unity that underlies everything.
Some believe in a supreme God but imagine that He is remote and unreachable "in Heaven", as if He set the universe in motion like a master craftsman who made a watch, only to withdraw and leave the world to its own devices, neither knowing nor caring what goes on here on earth.
This is not true. Moses is teaching us that we are to know and understand that God is not only in Heaven "up there", but also right here with us on earth "down below". God is present in everything and rules over everything. Indeed, the essential mission of Abraham and his true heirs is to bring this knowledge to the world (See Rashi on Genesis 24:7). And in order to bring it to others, we must first bring it into our own hearts.
This knowledge leads to the ultimate joy, because the Torah teaches that God is good - perfect goodness - and therefore ultimately everything is for good, including even pain, suffering and death.
Know today, and bring it into your heart that HaShem, He is God in heaven above and upon the earth beneath; there is none else.
"Know this day and consider it in your heart that HaShem is God in heaven above and on earth below; there is no other" (Deuteronomy 4:39).
The only way to know God is through complete faith. Only faith can bring you to true knowledge and perception of God's greatness: "And I will betroth you to Me with faith, and you shall know God ! " (Hosea 2:22).
Many passages tell us to know God: "Know this day and consider it in your heart... " (Deuteronomy 4:39). "Know the God of your father" (I Chronicles 28:9). "Know that HaShem is God" (Psalms 100:3). These verses teach us to know and be mindful of God's presence at all times and not to forget Him for a moment.
Great kings constantly remind their subjects that they have a ruler. Soldiers in particular are trained to know who their king and master is - "In order that His fear should be on their faces" (Exodus 20:17) - so that they should serve their master unconditionally. Subordinates are constantly told, "Know that you have a lord and master." The intention is that they should keep this in mind and never forget it, in order not do anything against his will.
The same is true of the Kingdom of Heaven. We are told: "Know the God of your father!" Know it and don't ever forget it! "Know this day and consider it in your heart, that HaShem is God!" "Know that HaShem is God!"
We need to be reminded time and time again. Everyone knows in general terms that "HaShem is God". However, the distractions and temptations of this vain world cause many to forget it much of the time. This is why the Torah reminds us: "Know that HaShem is God!" "Know the God of your father!" That is to say: Bring this knowledge deep within yourself until it is bound tightly in your mind and heart at all times. This is the meaning of "Know this day and consider it in your heart that HaShem is God."
Perfect knowledge is when you bind your mind to your heart so that you know in your heart that "HaShem is God." When you bring this knowledge into your heart, you will be filled with deep awe, fear and reverence of God and you will not sin.
Each person's knowledge and awareness of God are unique to himself according to the horizons of his heart. Our basic knowledge of God derives from what we have been taught by our holy forefathers, who struggled all their lives to divest themselves of all material attachments. They conquered all their negative traits and desires, releasing themselves from the root of evil. This was how they came to true recognition and understanding of their Creator.
They have left this good heritage to us and our duty is to accept it with the utmost joy. "Happy are we! How good is our portion! How pleasant is our lot! How beautiful is our heritage!" (Morning Prayers).
When the Torah tells us to "know" God, it is teaching us to bring this holy knowledge into our minds and thoughts and bind it in our hearts constantly at all times in order that "His fear will be upon our faces so that we will not sin" (Exodus 20:17).
Sichot Haran #217
It is impossible to explain to someone else how you personally perceive God's greatness. You can't even explain it to yourself from one day to the next. Tomorrow you will not be able to recapture completely the understanding you had today.
It is impossible to describe one's perceptions of God. They are so lofty - higher than high! They cannot be put into words.
Sichot Haran #1
The ultimate goal of all knowledge of God is to realize that one knows nothing. Yet even this is unattainable. A person may come to realize his own ignorance, but only in a certain area on a particular level. There is still the next level, which he has not even touched. He does not know enough about the next level to begin to realize his ignorance. No matter how high he climbs, there is always the next step. A person therefore knows nothing: he cannot even understand his own ignorance. For there will always be a level of ignorance beyond his present level of perception.
Sichot Haran #3
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The more you draw yourself to God, the more you must realize how far you are from Him. When a person believes that he has succeeded in achieving closeness to God and understanding of Him, it is a sign that he does not know anything at all. If he did, he would understand that he is very far from God and knows absolutely nothing, because God's greatness is without limits.
Likutey Moharan I, 63
* * *
You should reflect on the different situations and occurrences that God sends your way day by day. Each day has its own thoughts, words and deeds. They are all completely unique to that day. God "contracts" His infinite, endless Godliness in such a way that Godliness is present even in the innermost point of the finite material world in which man finds himself. Thus God sends to each individual the thoughts, words and deeds appropriate for the day, the person and the place. Within them are hints intended to draw the person closer to God's service.
This is why you should pay attention to what happens to you and consider what it may signify. Think about the thoughts, words and deeds that God sends you each day in order to understand His hints to you to draw closer to Him at every moment. This applies to everyone, no matter who and in what circumstances.
But be cautious when thinking about these things: you must stay within certain limits and not delve to excess, because otherwise it is possible to stray beyond the bounds of holiness. Flying off into speculation can be dangerous. Stay within the limits of human understanding and steadily expand your horizons without trying to step beyond your level, because "you may not investigate that which is too wondrous for you" ( Chagigah 13a).
Likutey Moharan I, 54
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The whole earth is full of God's glory. No place is devoid of God, Who fills all the worlds and transcends all the worlds.
Therefore even one whose occupation involves contact with non-believers cannot excuse himself from serving God on account of being constantly surrounded by gross materialism. Godliness can be found everywhere, in all material things and even in the languages of the nations. Without Godliness they could not exist or endure at all. It is just that as the levels descend, Godliness becomes increasingly "contracted" and veiled in many garments.
Accordingly, even if you are sunk in the very lair of evil on the lowest of all levels, even if you believe you are so far from God that it is impossible for you to draw closer, you can still find Godliness in the very place to which you have sunk. There too you can attach yourself to Him and repent with all your heart. Even there, God is not far away. It is just that the veils are thicker.
Likutey Moharan I, 33
* * *
God's glory cries out from all things, for "The whole earth is filled with His glory" (Isaiah 6:3). Even the stories of the nations cry out with God's glory: "Let the nations tell of His glory!" (Psalms 96:3). His glory is reflected even in their tales and stories.
God's glory cries out, calling and signaling you to draw closer. For God wants you with all His love and kindness.
Sometimes your prayers become like flames and the words flow from your lips with burning fervor and desire. This is God's own light within you, calling you to draw near. Your fervent passion is a spark of God's own essence - for "He is your praise, He is your God" (Deuteronomy 10:21). God Himself is your praise and prayer. Sometimes you can literally pray before God Himself.
And even when God withdraws and seems far away, you must still pray to Him. You must actually cast your prayers, throwing them towards God from afar, as it says: " Cast your burden upon God" (Psalms 55:23). "Happy is the man who knows how to cast arrows" ( Tikkuney Zohar). These "arrows" are the prayers that must be thrown towards God.
Sichot Haran #52
This world exists only to bring about God's eternal purpose.
There is no need to be upset about whether or not you have money. Even with money, you could waste away your days. The world deceives us completely. It makes us think we are constantly gaining but we end up with nothing. People spend years working to make money, but in the end, when they come to the final reckoning, they are left with nothing in their hands. Even when someone becomes rich, in the end he is taken from his money.
Man and wealth cannot remain together. Either the money is taken from the man or the man from his money. No- one has ever stayed with his money. Where is all the money people have been making since the beginning of time? People have always been busy making money - so where is all the money? It has all become absolutely nothing!
Who can say that he serves God according to God's true greatness? Someone who has even the faintest conception of God's greatness cannot understand how anyone could claim to serve Him. Even the highest angel cannot boast that he is able to serve God.
The main thing is desire. Always long and yearn to come closer to God.
Many people would like to serve God but not all have the same desire. There are many different levels of desire. Even in one and the same person, the intensity of his desire may change from moment to moment. The main thing is to yearn constantly for God - and in between, to pray, study and keep His commandments.
Nor is there any need for sophistication. Just be sincere and simple. Even in your sincerity, you must not be foolish. But sophistication is totally unnecessary.
It is no good to be old. Whether it's an old Chassid or an old Tzaddik, being old is no good. Be new each day. Always make a fresh start. The only thing that improves with age is a pig, which becomes stronger as it grows older ( Shabbat 77b).
Nor is there any need to be extreme. Serving God is not fanaticism. The real fanatics are those who pursue the material world without serving God. People consider it fanatical when a person completely abandons the material world to immerse himself wholly in devotion. Yet even this is unnecessary. You can serve God without going to extremes.
Take my advice and don't let the world fool you. No- one ever came to a good end by pursuing worldliness. Even those who hold the entire world in their hands end up badly, losing out both in themselves and for generations to come.
If the world is nothing, what can you do? To know what to do in this world you need help from Heaven. But as the people of Israel, we need no further help. We already know what we must do, because the Torah teaches us what to do.
People say you should not seek greatness, but I say you should seek only greatness. Look for the greatest possible Tzaddik. Choose only the greatest Tzaddik as your teacher.
The passions that wear man down do not really exist. We have to eat and drink and do what is necessary to sustain the body. Likewise, we must have children. All this is necessary, and can be accomplished in holiness and purity.
Man's mind has the power to withstand all temptations. Every person has the potential of wisdom. You must bring out this potential wisdom and make it actual. With this potential wisdom alone you can overcome all temptations.
You may have succumbed to the desires of this world and sinned in many ways. You may have damaged your mind, leaving it weak and confused. But you still have some intelligence. With this alone you can overcome all desires. One grain of intelligence can stand against the whole world and all its temptations. Wherever you are, you can be close to God. You can approach God and serve Him even in the lowest pit of hell.
It needs tremendous effort, or help from God - or both - in order to subdue the impurities in the mind until you want nothing in this world and everything is the same to you. Then, "When you walk it will lead you, when you lie down it will watch over you, and when you wake up, it will comfort you" (Proverbs 6:22).
When you have purified your mind, there is no difference between this world, the grave, and the next world. When you only desire God and His Torah, all are the same. In all three you can be attached to God and his Torah.
However, if you are attached to this world, there is an agonizing difference. This world is spread before you while the grave is tight and narrow. But when you purify your mind, all will be the same.
Sichot Haran #51
The non-believers have no life even in this world. As soon as things go against them, and certainly when trouble strikes, they simply have nowhere to turn. Since they attribute everything to nature, they are left with nothing to fortify them.
But one who has faith and believes in God has a very good life. Even when trouble strikes, he can still fortify himself with his trust in God, because he knows that everything is for the best. Either this suffering will cleanse him of his sins or eventually bring him some great benefit. For God's intention is certainly for good. Therefore the man of faith always has a good life both in this world and the next.
The non-believers, however, have no life either in this world or the next. Those who really know them see that they are always racked with suffering. They endure constant pain and anxiety because things never go exactly as they want. All their days are filled with pain and anger.
In this world it is impossible for everything to go the way one wants it. Those who ignore the true, enduring purpose of life, satisfying only their material desires, are doomed to a life of constant pain and suffering without having any way to console themselves.
But if you have true faith, your main hope is in the world to come and you therefore have a very good life. Whatever happens to you, you have faith that everything is for good - whether it comes to remind you to repent or to atone for your sins so that you may be worthy of the everlasting good of the world to come.
Your sins and wrongdoing may cause you great anguish. You may suffer the worst agonies of regret. Yet your very contrition over your sins actually increases your days and adds to your life, for "The fear of God increases one's days" (Proverbs 10:27).
You may experience great pain when you regret your sins. You may feel deeply ashamed when contemplating God's exalted greatness. You may cringe in fear of punishment. Whatever form it takes, this suffering is caused by your very fear of God, and "The fear of God increases one's days." Your very pain and anxiety add to your days.
If you are a person of faith, you will find it easier to repent. True repentance must balance the sin. You have to endure pain and suffering in equal measure to the enjoyment derived from the sin.
Since you believe in God, you will never be able to have complete enjoyment from any sin because any wrong you do will be with mixed feelings and in the full knowledge that it will end bitter ly. You know the bitter punishment for each sin, so that if you succumb to temptation you are filled with regrets even as you sin. It is therefore much easier for you to repent because you do not have to endure unbearable pangs of repentance since the pleasure from your sin was never very great.
For the non-believers, however, repentance is more of a burden. Having suffered little pain or remorse at the time of the sin, they are obliged to suffer when they repent in order to balance the pleasure of the sin.
Sichot Haran #102
"Repent one day before your death" ( Avot 2:10).
Yesterday and tomorrow are man's downfall. Today you may be aroused towards God. Don't let yourself become discouraged because of what may have happened yesterday or what may happen tomorrow.
No matter wh ere a person s tands, there are always reverses. Many people become discouraged as a result, and stop putting any real effort into their devotions.
That is why you must "Repent one day before your death. "
"Before your death" is your entire life. During your entire lifetime, you may be worthy of only one day of repentance.
This one day is more precious than all treasures. For what does a person gain from all his worldly effort? Nothing remains of your entire life other than this one day when you return to God.
Sichot Haran #288
* * *
"Today if you will but listen to His voice!" (Psalms 95:7).
Think only about the present day and the present moment. When someone wants to serve God, he may see it as a heavy burden. But if you remember that you have only today, it won't be such a burden. Don't push off serving God from one day to the next, saying, "I'll start tomorrow - tomorrow I'll pray with real devotion."
All we have is the present day and the present moment. Tomorrow is a whole different world.
"Today if you will but listen to His voice!" (Psalms 95:7). Today!!!
Likutey Moharan I, 272
Man's world consists only of the present. Whatever you can do to serve God, do immediately and determinedly without delay.
Chayey Moharan #431
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