There is an interesting, almost paradoxical aspect to studying and understanding Torah, which leads us to a major, vital perception of it.
On the one hand, we are charged with grasping, perceiving, and comprehending Torah (which includes any aspect of Judaism that leads us to recognize and fathom Hashem, His relationship with us and our obligations towards Him) with our own seichel, our own acumen, our own insight and intellect. So fundamental an idea is this, that we have seen (in our two previous articles) that we are to reject any ‘help’ from Divine sources in determining what the Torah means or according to whose opinion we should rule. Even if we happen to get it ‘wrong,’ Hashem wanted the Torah to be as understood by people, since He gave it to people and for people. Moreover, even if that seems contrary to objective truth, Hashem wanted the truth of Torah to be the reality shaped by our understanding (as long as those perceptions are initiated by those who have developed a finely honed knowledge of what is legitimate Torah discourse and what is not.) This is not unlike the concept in physics known as ‘The Observer Effect.’ This certainly puts man and man’s comprehension at the forefront of Torah.
On the other hand, every moral lesson we learn about Torah teaches us that a person has to develop the power of self-negation, a sort of a nullification of the ego, of self-satisfaction. Moshe Rabbeinu was the quintessential ‘anav mikol ha’adam’ —the humblest man on the face of the Earth. Har Sinai, as is well known, was the smallest of all the mountains. Torah is compared to water, which flows downward, to teach how the natural habitat of Torah knowledge is within a person who feels his essential smallness. The forty-eight attributes listed by Chazal as ways to acquire Torah are mostly traits of disavowal, even elimination, of any trace of self-regard.
How can this be reconciled? We understand that it is not an open-and-shut flat-out contradiction. Nevertheless, the question was a personal how. How does one juggle these two seemingly, practically, antithetical ideas?
We presumably understand and accept that the laws of nature, as we refer to them, are but a manifestation of Hashem’s will. Hashem wills all the laws of physics, chemistry, light, energy, matter —the whole gamut of the intricate dictates of our corporeal environment. These are, as we say in our daily prayers, ‘chok nassan velo ya’avor’ —they are a decreed rule, not to be trespassed. As we know to be the case, barring what we call a miracle, these laws are immutable, set, and indestructible, as befits phenomena of G-dly decree. In fact, on a deeper level, the Rambam explains in Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah (2:10) that Hashem and His will are inseparable, that no aspect or attribute of Hashem has components. Thus, as the Rambam puts it, “He, what He knows, knowledge itself, and His will, is all One.” His will is not a part separate from Him, but is but a manifestation, a revelation, of Him (don’t worry if you are getting a headache —the Rambam writes there that this is something that the human mind cannot grasp). What this seems to mean is that everything we see, His will, is not separate from Him. (Of course, He ‘hides’ Himself more or less, depending on the kedushah that a particular object or place can contain and absorb.) Therefore, the Chovos Halevavos writes in Sha’ar Habechinah, the ‘Gate of Reflection’, that when we study and understand nature, we are studying and understanding Hashem.
How much more so is this true as it relates to the spiritual world! The laws of the Torah are certainly an even more explicit revelation of Hashem’s will, and thus, a part of Himself. Thus, it is even more essential that they be unchanging and immutable, for they are a display of G-dliness in the spiritual realm in this world.
However, here Hashem has stepped in, so to speak, and said, “These laws, the laws of the Torah, will not automatically just be. I will leave it in the hands of mankind, through free will, to decide, so to speak, if I will ‘be’ there or not.” Although the Laws of the Torah should logically, naturally, just ‘be,’ certainly no less than the laws of gravity and electro-magnetism —here Hashem willed that the spiritual manifestation of Him be dependent upon man’s behavior (i.e., free choice).
That would mean that when we choose wisely, when we follow Hashem’s game plan, our actions are organically in sync with Hashem’s will. Thus, doing it properly, once we make that decision, should not be a tiring battle in which we may be winning a struggle (a la Tanya’s beinoni), but the triumph of the spiritually natural order over chaos and unreality.
It also means that we relate to it as G-dly in its very nature, meaning that while Hashem left it up to people to decide, its essence is inherently and fundamentally imperative.
This brings us back to our original conundrum. Certainly, a healthy person should feel confident, self-assured, with convictions and aspirations to rise higher and higher as one who climbs a mountain. Free will: it’s up to you. Yet after attaining that height, that elevation, after climbing that emotional, psychological, and spiritual mountain, we are face-to-face with G-d and G-dliness. It is then that we must fall into submission mode —the knowledge that the reality is that Hashem has empowered, enabled and invested in all that we do is nothing but humbling. Yes, we have chosen to do Hashem’s will; yet it is Hashem and only Hashem Who is the source of that, of it all. This certainly deflates any illusion we may harbor that we, our power, our own endowment, has accomplished whatever it is that we have accomplished. This twin ying-yang —where we get to choose, but we are merely choosing to live in an objective reality of G-dly dimensions and genuine substance, thus ultimately negating any reason to feel any superiority. That is what lies at the heart of a person’s attitude and interconnection, with G-d. Yes, a mountain. But a Sinai.
A meaningful and happy Yom Tov to all.