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Knowledge of God

Harav Aharon Lichtenstein



Refu'ah Sh'leimah for Gittel Genendel Channah bas Sarah Miriam Yitta (Mrs. Grace Willer) from Rebecca, Shimon, and Sarah Miriam Schwartz.




Summarized by Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon




"And God spoke to Moshe, and said to him, I am the Lord.  And I appeared to Avraham, to Yitzchak and to Yaakov by the name of God Almighty, but by my name, the Lord, I was not familiar (lo noda'ti) to them." (Shemot 6:2-3)


     Rashi's comment on these verses is well-known: "The Torah does not say 'I did not make myself known to them' but rather 'I was not familiar to them.'  I was not known by My attribute of truth, for which I am called 'Lord' - true to my word, for I made promises to them which I have not yet fulfilled."


     There is a difference between knowledge of God and familiarity with God.  God appeared to the Avot, but they had primarily an intellectual grasp of Him.  Bnei Yisrael are granted not only intellectual knowledge of God, but also familiarity with Him.


     The Rambam opens his Mishneh Torah with the words: "The most basic foundation and the pillar of all wisdom is to know that there is a First Cause" - from the Exodus and Har Sinai onwards for all generations.


     Today it is difficult for us to reach the level of "familiarity" with God.  There are a few who manage to reach the level of "knowledge" of God - knowing Him in an intellectual sense, but not the level of "familiarity."  Their level of knowing God does not involve true communion, genuine closeness.


     Yet we are commanded to know God, and must strive to reach the level of "noda'ti" - familiarity.  How are we to fulfill this mitzva?  One important method is explained by the Ba'al Ha-Tanya and others, who teach that we achieve this through learning Torah.  Even though we cannot grasp God's actual thought, the Torah is identified with His thought.  When a person studies Torah, he is studying God's thought, and God's will becomes entrenched in him.  Obviously, in order for this to happen, we have to invest our hearts completely in our learning, such that it is not merely an intellectual pursuit and somehow 'external' to ourselves.  We have to feel God's voice and thought and will emanating from our study, and through this - with God's help - we can reach the level of "noda'ti."


(Originally delivered on Leil Shabbat, Parashat Va'era 5750.

Translated by Kaeren Fish.)



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