Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev once challenged G-d, “Master of the Universe, You have placed all the earthly temptations before our eyes, while the spiritual pleasures and rewards for following Your will are relegated to the books we study. That is quite
unfair! Why not reverse things and fill our senses with an appreciation and understanding of spirituality, and leave all material benefits and pleasures to the library shelves. See, then, how few people will sin!”

What does “understanding” mean?

There’s an English expression “to grasp an idea”.  Just like you can grasp or hold a ball, feeling it and controlling it from every side, your brain can understand, hold and feel an “idea” in the same way.

As people, we can understand things we like to eat, do and figure out how to get more of them (this is instinctual and survival stuff).

We can also understand nature (biology and physics), the engineering of machines, and different skills.

We can also understand people (like I wrote last week about the satisfaction in marriage of understanding and connecting to another person).

Understanding people is harder than understanding machines or nature.  That’s why the real big salaries go to people who have mastered interpersonal relationships, not science or academics (see Dale Carnegies book, How to win friends and influence people).

What about understanding the “metaphysical”?  (metaphysical means: “the branch of philosophy that deals with the first principles of things, including abstract concepts such as being, knowing, substance, cause, identity, time, and space.”  I would add anything spiritual to that list…)

We humans do have the ability to understand things beyond that which we can touch and feel or see (even with a microscope).  

The difference between our understanding of the physical and the metaphysical is:

  1. Understanding existence (ידיעת המציאות)- our understanding of heaven, angels and everything else “metaphysical”.  We can know that it exists and learn things about it, but it’s all theoretical.  We don’t intimately experience it.

  2. Understanding essence (ידיעת המהות)- our understanding of things we experience in this physical world.  This is stuff we can see with our eyes, feel in our bones, and relate to in an intimate way.

And this is where there’s a huge gap in what we call “understanding”.

As humans (soul in a body), we can understand the essence of physical things but anything beyond physical we call “abstract”.  In other words, we can’t understand it’s essence.

Rambam teaches that souls in heaven, angels, and even planets have intellect, and it’s a deeper understanding than what humans understand.

Souls, angels and planets experience the reality Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev was describing.  They can intimately understand the metaphysical, in a way of “understanding it’s essence”.

As of now, once that soul descends into a body, its ability to understand becomes constricted, and can only fully understand mundane, finite and tangible things.

Part of humanity’s journey towards Moshiach is pushing the limits of our understanding, and spending the time to learn about that which we currently can only understand in a way of “understanding it’s existence”.

When Moshiach comes, we’ll reach that goal of “bridging the spiritual and the physical” and come to understand G-d in a way of “understanding the essence” to the extent possible.

Are you looking forward?


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