Shiur #43: Know the God of Your Father – Between Knowledge and Love Part 1

  • Harav Baruch Gigi
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Dedicated by Steven Weiner and Lisa Wise with prayers for Refuah Shelemah for all who require healing, comfort and peace – 
those battling illnesses visibly and invisibly, publicly and privately. 
May Hashem mercifully grant us strength, courage and compassion.
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I. From Knowledge of God to Serving Him
 
Thus far, we have focused our examination of the mitzva of Keriat Shema to the first part of the first passage (the passage of Shema). We dealt with the mitzvot of recognizing the unity of God, loving Him, and studying His Torah – which, according to the Rambam at the beginning of Hilkhot Keriat Shema, are the focus of this passage.
 
In light of Chazal's determination that Keriat Shema consists of three passages, we encounter in the continuation of Keriat Shema the following framework of mitzvot: At the beginning, the mitzvot of tefillin and mezuza (in the last two verses of the first passage); at the end, the mitzva of tzitzit (in the third passage); and in the middle passage, all of the mitzvot ("Ve-haya im shamo'a").
 
After we have established our belief in and knowledge of the Creator, and after we have probed more deeply His unity, our love for Him, and our study of His Torah, thus accepting upon ourselves the yoke of the kingdom of heaven, we turn now to accept upon ourselves the yoke of the mitzvot. This structure of the system of mitzvot demands our attention and consideration.
 
In order to understand the framework of the system of mitzvot presented in these passages, in which tefillin and mezuza stand at one end, tzitzit at the other end, and all the other mitzvot in the middle, we must consider the unique significance of the mitzvot forming the framework. But first we must understand the transition from knowing God to serving Him through the observance of His commandments.
 
What we will say here is based on what is stated in Divrei Ha-Yamim, in David's testament to Shelomo when he entrusted him with building the Temple for God:
 
And you, Shelomo my son, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a whole heart and with a willing mind; for the Lord searches all hearts, and understands all the imaginations of the thoughts; if you seek Him, He will be found of you; but if you forsake Him, He will cast you off forever. (I Divrei Ha-Yamim 28:9)
 
The two books with which the Rambam's Mishneh Torah open are the foundation of the service of God: Sefer Mada (the Book of Knowledge) and Sefer Ahava (the Book of Love). Sefer Mada deals primarily with the knowledge of God, as we shall detail below, from which man comes to serve Him. The service of God spreads to all spheres of life, times, and places, as the Rambam spells out in the twelve books of the Mishneh Torah. Sefer Ahava deals with the realization of the principles of the knowledge of God in practical life, with the spread of the roots of God's service to the world of action.
 
II. The Foundations of Sefer Mada
 
Sefer Mada includes five collections of halakhot: The Laws of the Foundations of the Torah (Yesodei Ha-Torah), the Laws of Personal Development (De'ot), the Laws of Torah Study (Talmud Torah), the Laws of Idolatry (Avodat Kokhavim), and the Laws of Repentance (Teshuva). The gist of Sefer Mada is knowing God on the philosophical level, knowledge that includes connection and devotion.
 
This is the way that the Rambam, in Hilkhot Yesodei Ha-Torah, spells out the various stages:
 
First, one must know that there is a Being, who brings all other beings into existence and sustains them at all times with His power, that He is one, and there is none other like Him, that His unity is simple, and that He has no body or semblance of a body.
 
According to the Rambam, however, this stage does not suffice. This knowledge is the root of the first verse in Shema: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one." But in the next stage man is required to deepen his knowledge of God and connect with him to the best of his ability. The connection with God is achieved through the constant tension between two mitzvot, the love of God and the fear of Him, which the Rambam discusses in chapter 2 of Hilkhot Yedodei Ha-Torah.
 
A person who contemplates God's handiwork and creation sees His immeasurably great wisdom and fills with a desire to love and deepen his knowledge of God. At the same time, counter-forces act within a person, bringing him to say to himself: "What is man that you remember him?" This is the give and take of the striving for communion and love, a striving that is in constant motion.
 
As the Rambam writes in chapter 4, after he helps us contemplate God's wondrous creatures:
 
When a person meditates on these matters and recognizes all the creations, the angels, the spheres, man, and the like, and appreciates the wisdom of the Holy One, blessed is He, in all these creations, he will add to his love for God. His soul will thirst and his flesh will long with love for God, blessed be He. He will stand in awe and fear from his humble, lowly, and base [nature] when he compares himself to one of the great and holy bodies…. (Hilkhot Yesodei Ha-Torah 4:12)
 
This love, which a person strives for and labors in, reaches at its highest level the level of prophecy, which expresses the highest attachment to God that a person can attain. As the Rambam states in the continuation:
 
It is [one] of the foundations of [our] faith that God conveys prophecy to man. Prophecy is bestowed only upon a very wise sage of a strong character, who is never overcome by his natural inclinations in any regard. Instead, with his mind, he overcomes his natural inclinations at all times. He must [also] possess a very broad and accurate mental capacity.
A person who is full of all these qualities and is physically sound [is fit for prophecy]. When he enters the "Pardes" and is drawn into these great and sublime concepts, if he possesses an accurate mental capacity to comprehend and grasp [them], he will become holy. He will advance and separate himself from the masses who proceed in the darkness of the time. He must continue and diligently train himself not to have any thoughts whatsoever about fruitless things or the vanities and intrigues of the times.
Instead, his mind should constantly be directed upward, bound beneath [God's] throne [of Glory, striving] to comprehend the holy and pure forms and gazing at the wisdom of the Holy One, blessed is He, in its entirety, [in its manifold manifestations] from the most elevated [spiritual] form until the navel of the earth, appreciating His greatness from them. [After these preparations,] the Divine spirit will immediately rest upon him.
When the spirit rests upon him, his soul becomes intermingled with the angels called Ishim, and he will be transformed into a different person and will understand with a knowledge different from what it was previously. He will rise above the level of other wise men, as the prophet Shemuel said to Shaul (I Shemuel 10:6): "[The spirit of God will descend upon you] and you shall prophesy with them. And you will be transformed into a different person." (Hilkhot Yesodei Ha-Torah 7:1)
 
The requirements for prophecy include wisdom and perfection of one's character traits. Thus, in Hilkhot Yesodei Ha-Torah, the Rambam emphasizes the need for acquiring knowledge of the creation and the intensity of the wisdom of the Creator in his creation.
 
In Hilkhot De'ot, the Rambam emphasizes the development of human character traits. He establishes that this is rooted in man's imitating the traits of his Creator:
 
[Our Sages] taught [the following] explanation of this mitzva: Just as He is called "Gracious," you shall be gracious; just as He is called "Merciful," you shall be merciful; just as He is called "Holy," you shall be holy. In a similar manner, the prophets called God by other titles: "Slow to anger," "Abundant in kindness," "Righteous," "Just," "Perfect," "Almighty," "Powerful," and the like. [They did so] to inform us that these are good and just paths. A person is obligated to accustom himself to these paths and [to try to] resemble Him to the extent of his ability. (Hilkhot De'ot 1:6)
 
            A person must also be careful about the health of his body, so that he will be capable of standing up to the tasks that have been cast upon him:
 
Since maintaining a healthy and sound body is among the ways of God - for one cannot understand or have any knowledge of the Creator, if he is ill - therefore, he must avoid that which harms the body and accustom himself to that which is healthful and helps the body become stronger. (Hilkhot De'ot 4:1)
 
In Sefer Ha-Mitzvot (positive commandment 3), the Rambam explains, based on the Sifrei, that another way to love God is by contemplating the Torah and studying it. In Hilkhot Talmud Torah, the Rambam expands upon this obligation, as we explained at length in the previous shiurim in our discussion of the value of the mitzva of Torah study.
 
All that has been said thus far expresses the essence of knowing God and loving Him. Thus, it is clear that it is forbidden to worship or recognize any entity other than Him. This is the second commandment, "You shall have no other gods before Me." These laws are spelled out in Hilkhot Avoda Zara with all their details.
 
Hilkhot Teshuva, which closes Sefer Mada, presents the process through which a sinner can return to God. Since he is endowed with free choice, a person can stumble, but at the same time, the paths of repentance are open before him. As soon as he repents, he is once again in God's favor. As the Rambam writes:
 
How exalted is the level of repentance! Previously, the [transgressor] was separate from God, the Lord of Israel, as it is stated (Yeshayahu 59:2): "Your sins separate between you and your God." He would call out [to God] without being answered, as it is stated (Yeshayahu 1:15): "Even if you pray many times, I will not hear."
He would fulfill mitzvot, only to have them crushed before him, as it is stated (Yeshayahu 1:12): "Who asked this from you, to trample in My courts," and it is stated (Malakhi 1:10): "O were there one among you who would shut the doors that you might not kindle fire on My altar for no reason! I have no pleasure in you, says the God of Hosts, nor will I accept an offering from your hand.”
Now, he is clinging to the Shekhina as it is stated (Devarim 4:4): "And you who cling to God, your Lord." He calls out [to God] and is answered immediately, as it is stated (Yeshayahu 65:24): "Before, you will call out, I will answer." He fulfills mitzvot and they are accepted with pleasure and joy, as it is stated (Kohelet 9:7): "God has already accepted your works," and it is stated (Malakhi 3:4): "Then, shall the offering of Yehuda and Jerusalem be pleasing to God as in days of old and as in the former years." (Hilkhot Teshuva 7:7)
 
At the end of Hilkhot Teshuva, the Rambam emphasizes the reward of the World-to-Come, in which there are no bodies and no eating or drinking, but rather the righteous sit with their crowns on their heads and delight in the radiance of the Shekhina:
 
[Consequently,] the statement, "the righteous sit," must be interpreted metaphorically, i.e., the righteous exist there without work or labor. Similarly, the phrase, "their crowns on their heads," [is also a metaphor, implying] that they will possess the knowledge that they grasped which allowed them to merit the life of the World-to-Come. This will be their crown. A similar [usage of this metaphor was employed by] Shelomo (Shir Ha-Shirim 3:11): "The crown with which his mother crowned him."
[Support for the concept that this does not refer to a physical crown can be brought from the prophecy (Yeshayahu 51:11)]: "Eternal joy will be upon their heads." Joy is not a physical entity that can rest on a head. Similarly, the expression "crown" used by the Sages [refers to a spiritual concept], knowledge.
What is meant by the expression, "delight in the radiance of the Shekhina"? That they will comprehend the truth of Godliness, which they cannot grasp while in a dark and humble body. (Hilkhot Teshuva 8:2)
 
The final chapter of Hilkhot Teshuva is also a summary chapter of the entire Book of Knowledge. This is what the Rambam writes in the last halakha in the chapter:
 
It is a well-known and clear matter that the love of God will not become attached within a person's heart until he becomes obsessed with it at all times as is fitting, leaving all things in the world except for this. This was implied by the command (Devarim 6:5): "[Love God, your Lord,] with all your heart and all your soul."
One can only love God [as an outgrowth] of the knowledge with which he knows Him. The nature of one's love depends on the nature of one's knowledge! A small [amount of knowledge arouses] a lesser love. A greater amount of knowledge arouses a greater love.
Therefore, it is necessary for a person to seclude himself in order to understand and conceive wisdom and concepts which make his Creator known to him according to the potential which man possesses to understand and comprehend as we explained in Hilkhot Yesodei Ha-Torah. (Hilkhot Teshuva 10:6)
 
This review of Sefer Mada illustrates that the central content of the book relates to man's aspiration to know God, to love Him, and to adhere to Him and His ways, all this in accordance with man's capabilities.
 
III. The Foundations of Sefer Ahava  
 
With this aspiration, a person must serve his Creator with perfect service and a pure heart. The mitzvot in Sefer Ahava are the basis for strengthening the connection and devotion that draw on the knowledge of Sefer Mada. They lead man to the entirety of God's service in all realms of life and through all the mitzvot. In light of this, we will review the mitzvot discussed in Sefer Ahava, and consider their uniqueness and meaning.
 
Sefer Ahava is comprised of six sets of halakhot: the laws of Keriat Shema, the laws of prayer and the priestly blessing, the laws of tefillin, mezuza, and a Torah scroll, the laws of tzitzit, the laws of blessings, and the laws of circumcision.
 
It seems that the laws included in Sefer Ahava can be divided into two groups, which illustrate the fundamental ideas arising from this book:
 
1. The laws of Keriat Shema, the laws of prayer and the priestly blessing, and the laws of blessings.
 
2. The laws of tefillin, mezuza, and a Torah scroll, the laws of tzitzit, and the laws of circumcision.
 
The first group embodies tractate Berakhot, the first tractate in the Talmud. In other words, this group gives expression to the foundations of the service of God, as R. Tzadok HaKohen writes at the beginning of Tzidkat Ha-Tzaddik:
 
"Blessings are upon the head of the righteous" (Mishlei 10:6). Therefore, the Talmud begins with tractate Berakhot, as the most important thing is: "Know the God of your father" (I Divrei Ha-Yamim 28:9), and afterwards "serve Him," as one must know whom one is serving. This is the blessing [that is recited] before every action, to dedicate all of one's actions to God, as it is stated (Mishlei 3:6): "In all your ways acknowledge Him," as the Rambam writes (Hilkhot De'ot 3:3). And this is by way of a blessing, as they said (Berakhot 48a): The age for this is a minor who knows whom he is blessing. This is not the case with the rest of the mitzvot, where the [beginning] age is not from when he knows for whom he is laying tefillin or the like. It is clear that the essence of a blessing is the knowledge about whom one is blessing, as for this it was established. (Tzidkat Ha-Tzaddik 2)
 
As mentioned above, the Rambam follows the order of tractate Berakhot, which opens with the mitzva of Keriat Shema (chapters 1-3), moves on to the mitzva of prayer (chapters 4-5), and closes with the blessings over food, smells, and sights (chapters 6-9).
 
The mitzva of Keriat Shema must be carried out "when you lie down and when you rise up." A person must open and close his day accepting the yoke of heaven. Keriat Shema becomes the framework of his life. In fact, Keriat Shema opens and seals the life of every Jew on earth. The Shema opens the life of each person, with the Shema that is recited alongside the newborn's crib. The Shema also closes his life, with the Shema that is recited by a dying person or by those standing around him as his soul departs.
 
The Shema is the first mitzva that becomes binding upon a person and that he fulfills as an obligation when he reaches the age of mitzvot. As R. Tzadok says:
 
The first mitzva that becomes binding upon a person when he reaches the age of thirteen is the evening Keriat Shema, which is the beginning. (Tzidkat Ha-Tzaddik 4)
 
The mitzva of prayer is the mitzva of service of the heart, three times a day. This commandment is based on the verse in Tehillim:
 
As for me, I will call upon God; and the Lord shall save me. Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I complain and moan; and He has heard my voice. (Tehillim 55:17-18)
 
This is what is stated in the Yerushalmi:
 
It is written (Devarim 11:13): "To love the Lord your God and to serve Him with all your heart and all your soul." But is there service in the heart? What is it? Prayer. And so it is stated (Daniel 6:17): "Your God whom you serve continually, He will deliver you." Can it be that one can pray [all] three as one? It is stated explicitly in Daniel (6:11): "And he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God." Can it be that one can pray the three whenever one pleases? David stated explicitly (Tehillim 55:18): "Evening, and morning, and at noon, [will I complain, and moan]." (Yerushalmi Berakhot 4:1)
 
Many reasons have been given for the requirement to pray three prayers a day. The essential reason seems to lie in the nature of the world. Three times create the cycle of human life: evening, morning, and noon. They are mentioned in the words of King David in Tehillim, as the Yerushalmi notes:
 
And from where did they derive three prayers? R. Shemuel bar Nachmani said: Corresponding to the three times that the day changes for people. In the morning, a person must say: I thank You, O Lord, my God, and God of my fathers, that You have taken me out from darkness to light. In the afternoon, a person must say: I thank You, O Lord, my God, and God of my fathers, that just as I was privilege to see the sun in the east, so have I been privileged to see the sun in the west. In the evening, he must say: May it be Your will, O Lord, my God, and God of my fathers, that just as I was in darkness and You took me out to light, so You will take me out from darkness to light. (Yerushalmi, Berakhot 4:1)
 
he connection between the three prayers and the three Patriarchs further expresses this point. Each of the Patriarchs represents a different "time" and a different reality in which man turns to God. Avraham represents the renewal and bursting forth of the morning and the morning prayer, Yitzchak represents the persistence and continuity of the afternoon and the afternoon prayer, and Yaakov represents the sunset, the crisis, the evening and the evening prayer.
 
This is very striking in the formulation of the Yerushalmi:
 
R. Yehoshua ben Levi said: The prayers were learned from the Patriarchs.[1] The morning prayer from our father Avraham (Bereishit 19:27): "And Avraham got up early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the Lord." And standing [here] means prayer, as it is stated (Tehillim 106:30): "Then stood up Pinchas, and prayed." The afternoon prayer [is learned] from our father Yitzchak (Bereishit 24:63): "And Yitzchak went out to meditate [la-su'ach] in the field toward evening." And sicha [here] means prayer, as it is stated (Tehillim 102:1): "A prayer of the afflicted, when he faints, and pours out his complaint [sicho] before the Lord." The evening prayer [is learned] from our father Yaakov (Bereishit 28:11): "And he lighted [va-yifga] upon the place, and tarried there all night." And pegi'a [here] means prayer, as it is stated (Yirmeyahu 27:18): "Let them now make intercession [yifge'u] to the Lord of hosts," and it is stated (Yirmeyahu 7:16): "Therefore pray not you for this people, neither lift up cry nor prayer for them, neither make intercession [tifga] to Me." (Yerushalmi, Berakhot 4:1)
 
Prayer thus encompasses the changing conditions of the day, under which man turns to God. With this appeal, a person seeks to serve Him at all times and in all situations.
 
We will continue this discussion in the next shiur.
 
(Translated by David Strauss)
 
 

[1] The wording of the Yerushalmi emphasizes the fact that the Patriarchs serve as the source for the need to pray in different life situations. The formulation in the Bavli, which emphasizes the fact that it was the Patriarchs who instituted the various prayers, can be understood differently. If we are dealing with an enactment, in the sense in which Chazal usually use that term (that is, that they Patriarchs ordained an obligation to pray), then we can see in their words the basis of the obligation. But if we understood the idea of enactment in the sense that the Patriarchs established that there is room for prayer in the situations of morning, afternoon, and evening, then their words accord with what follows from the Yerushalmi. This is the more persuasive understanding.
This appears to be the understanding of the Rambam. The Rambam asserts at the beginning of Hilkhot Tefila, that until the days of Ezra there was no obligation to offer three prayers a day, even though he mentions in Hilkhot Melakhim that each of the Patriarchs offered a unique prayer – the morning service, the afternoon service, or the evening service. It would seem, then, that he did not view the Patriarchs' prayers as an enactment that imposed an obligation on later generations, but rather as acts of personal prayer on their part that could serve as an example for the prayers of their descendants.