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:
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.
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.
We’re being led to believe that the world is falling apart and that things are getting worse and worse by the day. There may be some truth to this notion, but it’s mostly false. For a full month, the Idaho murder story has dominated headlines, and this story demonstrates my point. It perked my interest and I started reading up on serial killers, and noticed an interesting trend. They all seem to have been from the 70’s. The fact that a PhD in criminology, who had no crime history, was tracked down in a month is testament to how far DNA and detective work has come. The infamous serial killers went on for decades and killed many, many times before being caught. Of course, it’s important to remind ourselves that this individual in Idaho hasn’t been convicted, and we should let the court work through it’s course. But the point is true nonetheless. Why aren’t there any serial killers of the 2020’s if the world is getting worse and worse by the day? Because would-be serial killers are getti
I took a trip to Washington D.C. to visit my step-uncle and aunt and comfort them for the loss of their daughters . Torah teaches that visiting mourners, especially in their home, is comforting to the mourners and to the deceased. Indeed, the process of death is painful not only to the family of the deceased, but to the deceased themselves. The ability to do productive work, help people and do mitzvahs is only possible while alive in this physical world, and this is why death is painful (unlike what most people think, that death is the end of pain). We mourn with the dead over the lost opportunities to give light to the world. On the way back, I stopped in Dallas, TX for a day. It made $$ sense and gave me the opportunity to visit a couple good friends and supporters who have moved there. Here are some observations and reflections from the visit: Texas was very different than I expected. I wasn’t expecting the toll roads and traffic. Instead of Ford and Chevy pickup trucks, I was
I made a mistake. A local friend asked me if I could pull together a minyan so he could say Kaddish for his father. I told him I’d try. So I sent out an SMS message from our database to a few dozen people I thought might like to help this nice fellow by joining a minyan. One of the recipients felt my tone was too technical and not heartfelt enough and responded with some healthy rebuke. It was painful. But I’ve learned how to go through these painful rebukes a few times in my life. Here is a line from the Rebbe’s calendar: “ My father wrote in a letter: Cherish criticism, for it will place you on the true heights. “ I’ve heard that they’re called blind spots. Like when you’re driving. And a car is right beside you, but you just can’t see it. The only way to find it is by turning your head. I was created with character flaws (and maybe someone else reading this email was too). And the worst part about these flaws, Is that sometimes I’m completely oblivious to them! I might write somethi