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Da’at Tevunot -- The Knowing Heart

Section 1, Chapter 12


Before we could explain how G-d interacts with us while He's hidden and how we're to serve Him in that context, we'd first have to clarify something fundamental about His ways in the world. We’d actually touched on it before but we’ll approach it now from another angle [1].

G-d seems to work within certain paradigms in this world, and to exhibit certain “rules and regulations” (as Ramchal puts it) which the Torah attributes labels to. So He’s termed "merciful, gracious, long suffering, abundant in goodness and truth" (Exodus 34:6) for example, or "mighty" (Psalms 89:9), and the like [2].

But that seems incongruous, since G-d can't be depicted as He's unfathomable [3]. Besides, His actions themselves would seem to be beyond description, since they’re so unlike our own. For, while our actions20are offshoots of our personalities and makeup, and they always serve our needs, G-d's actions are nothing of the sort. Rather than being Self- serving, His actions are suited to us and our needs instead [4].


All we can claim to know about G-d Himself is that He exists, and that His existence is imperative, but we can say nothing about Him per se [5].

In fact, we're actually warned not to fathom His essential being -- to not “delve into things beyond (us) or to search out things hidden from (us)” but to “dwell (instead) on what we're permitted to, rather than contend with secret things” (Chagigah 13A; also see Ibid. 11b).

Besides, the truth of the matter is that whatever we’d say about G-d would be irrelevant to His being, given that He’s wholly beyond our ken, out of our experience, and is of a whole other order of being [6]. And so it’s said, “To whom will you liken Me? … says the Holy One” (Isaiah 40:25).


Despite His utter and intrinsic distinctiveness, He wanted to create the world, to interact with it, and to share His benevolence with us within it by (eventually) revealing His Yichud to us which we will bask in. So He set up the aforementioned system of “rules and regulations” that we sit in the midst of in order to do all that.

That means to say that He produced various “tools” that are not at all necessary for His own needs which He uses to interact with us -- which He could nonetheless replace or undo at will (in fact, G-d could very well have chosen to express other profoundly and unfathomably different tools here while interacting with us, but He chose not to), which we then attribute names to [7].

The overarching point, though (as we’d indicated before) is that while there seem to be different forces at work in the world at any one time, G- d is in authority at all times and at each juncture despite His hidden- ness and inscrutability [8], and that something of His Being can be grasped, thanks to the tools He employs here. And the final point is that whatever we know of Him is only as a consequence of those tools.


[1] See 1:4:1 where we discuss differentiating between G-d Himself and His attributes.

The “other angle” refers to the correlation between the subject of this chapter and the idea of sephirot.

There’s a large dilemma involved in the subject at hand that comes to this: if, as we’ll see later on in this chapter, G-d Himself is unfathomable, then how can He be depicted at all? But if He can’t be depicted, then how is the Torah to refer to Him and how can we speak of Him whatsoever? And if we and the Torah can’t refer to Him, then how are we to worship Him and draw close to Him, seeing how remote He would be from our minds?

The truth of the matter is that the subject of G-d’s depictions has concerned many of our greatest thinkers (see Moreh Nevuchim 1:56–60 for example, and Chovot Halevovot 1:10). The Kabbalistic solution to the problem lies in our being allowed to discuss the means G-d uses to interact with the world -- His “tools”, if you will, which they termed His sephirot -- rather than Him. For by understanding His tools, we understand His methodology, and by understanding his methodology we understand something=2 0of His thinking, which then helps explain something of Him.

The best classical text for a full treatment of the sephirot is R’ Yoseph Gikatilla’s Sha’arei Orah. For references to sephirot in Ramchal’s works see R’ Shriki (note 35), R’ Friedlander (p. 33) who draws our attention to Klallim Rishonim 1 (also see his iyyun 11 p. 34 for other Ramchal sources), and R’ Goldblatt (note 1 on p.77, note12 p. 474; also see his analysis of the sequence of the next several chapters from a Kabbalistic perspective at note 11 p.105). R’ Shriki (ibid.) also points out that sephirot alluded to in other places in Da’at Tevunot: ¶’s 80, 156, and elsewhere. See his notes 54 (pp. 93-94) and 126 (p. 226) as well.

[2] The truth is, G-d is depicted in many other ways, as well. He's said to speak (Genesis 1:3), to see (Genesis 1:4), to occupy space (Ezekiel 3:12), to sit (Psalms 2:4), etc.

Another point to be made is that a major issue associated with depicting G- d is that those descriptions make it seem as if He acts one way now and another at another time -- as if He were very human, and was affected by circumstances enough to need to change. But if G-d were indeed affected by things so, then He'd be beholden to them and not omnipotent. He would also be quite knowable. After all, it would be easy enou gh to keep track of what would move Him in one direction or another to thus determine what makes Him "tick" and ultimately to control Him. But that's entirely preposterous since G-d is utterly unknowable and is indeed omnipotent (as we’ll see). It thus becomes clear that the traits that G-d is depicted as having are meant to speak to something else altogether. And that’s where the Kabbalistic perspective spoken of above comes into play.

[3] See 1:3:2.

[4] See 1:2:4.

[5] See Derech Hashem 1:1:6 (based on Rambam’s Yesodei HaTorah Ch. 1) that what one should understand about G-d is that He exists, that He’s perfect, that His existence is imperative (i.e., that while He must exist if we and everything in the universe is to exist, we and everything else needn’t exist for Him to, since He’s beyond any needs and innately existent), that He's utterly self-sufficient, that He's simple (i.e., essential and unadorned), and that there's only one of Him. Also see ¶ 36 above.

See the following about our not being able or allowed to speak of G-d Himself: Da’at Tevunot 80, Adir Bamarom p.59a, Ma’amar HaVichuach 44, and Ma’amar Yichud HaYirah; also see the Vilna Gaon at the end of his commentary to Sifra D’tzniutah, “Sod Hatzimtzum”; the beginning of HaRav m’Fano’s Yonat Elim; Ramban’s introduction to his commentary to the Torah, Tikkunei Zohar 17a (Petach Eliyahu), and Moreh Nevuchim 1:58-59.

[6] After all, among other things, G-d is the only entity not to have been created. Just consider how radical a departure that fact is from reality as we know it! It sets G-d apart from absolutely everything past, present, and future; and other than His utter sublime, perfect, single, and simple perfection, it's the most singularly important factor separating us from Him.

[7] See Klach Pitchei Chochma 25, and ¶80 below.

[8] See 1:5.

Rabbi Yaakov Feldman has translated and commented upon "The Gates of Repentance", "The Path of the Just", and "The Duties of the Heart" (Jason Aronson Publishers). His works are available in bookstores and in various locations on the Web.



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