Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: When you come to the Land which I am giving you, and you reap its harvest, you shall bring to the kohen an omer of the beginning of your reaping. (Vayikra 23:10)
THIS WEEK’S PARSHA speaks about the holidays, and therefore, the mitzvah to count the Omer. I have spoken about this mitzvah from a few angles over the years, but it doesn’t hurt to reiterate certain points because they are so central to life itself.
From the moment man was placed into the Garden of Eden, life has been about da’as—knowledge. We’re so used to the story being that way, that we don’t consider how unusual it is, that the whole test was about something that seems to come so naturally to man, and that we take so for granted.
You know what else we take for granted? That there is “good da’as” and “bad da’as.” First of all, one would assume that knowledge is neutral, neither good nor bad, or at least only good. It is the usage of the knowledge that should determine the goodness or badness of the knowledge itself.
It is, which brings us to the Omer. Aside from being an offering to thank God for the bounty of wheat, it is a major part of our preparation for receiving Torah on Shavuos. Torah is THE da’as of Creation, THE source of Godly knowledge in the world. If the Omer is preparing us to receive Torah, it must be making us into the kind of people to use it the good way. We need to understand how.
The first thing to know, is that there is a huge fundamental difference between knowledge and Da’as, and I am far from the first person to point this out. Though we all know this on some level, and have realized it at various different points in our lives, it is an idea worth returning to over-and-over. Da’as, in this sense is not our automatic level of consciousness, and therefore requires an ongoing effort to reach and maintain. When we don’t make that effort, we just become, well, not-very-smart at all, even destructive.
The most confusing thing about Da’as is that it is not a guaranteed result of being intelligent. There are many people who are HIGHLY intelligent, perhaps the “smartest” people in the world, yet they lack Da’as. They can be intellectually versatile, and yet, tragically, miss out on Da’as…therefore, on ULTIMATE TRUTH.
The converse is also true. You don’t have to have the highest IQ, or even close to it, to have DA’AS. In fact, there are many people who have access to Da’as, who do not have access to much of the knowledge available to the average person today. And THEY, unlike so many other intelligent, non-Da’as individuals, have a pretty good appreciation of Ultimate Truth, what it is, how to relate to it, and the higher quality of life that comes because of it.
It’s not so hard to tell who belongs to which group, though there are always exceptions. You can tell by a person’s attitude towards life, their priorities, what they think about themselves, and most important of all, how they relate to God.
God? You mean this is another one of those religion versus atheists discussions? You mean this is another one of those in-defense-of-religion-against-the-hardcore-scientific-facts attempts?
Not at all. It is as important to defend religion against the “intellectuals” who dispute God as it is to defend the truth against under-experienced people who think they know it all, but don’t. No matter how erudite they may sound to themselves and others, they have mistaken knowledge for Da’as.
Bottom line? If they hadn’t, they would believe in God. If they hadn’t, they would be humbled by Torah. If they had Da’as, they would use their knowledge to try and PROVE the existence of God, not the OPPOSITE. If they had Da’as, they would appreciate that, as much as they already know, it is but a fraction of a fraction of what there IS to know, greatly limiting their ability to draw accurate conclusions about what they do NOT understand.
If the Da’as-limited person is already religious, it is not usually because they have worked it out, like someone who was raised secular and became Torah observant. It’s usually because they were raised in a religious environment, and it’s what they are used to. It is the only way of life they really know and which allows them to remain part of their family and community.
Without enough Da’as that can all disappear. Once they feel confident enough, they will break away from what will increasingly appear to them to be an archaic and limited way of experiencing life. And without Da’as, it will increasingly appear that way as they learn and absorb more modern, fearless interpretations of reality. Deluded they will think THEY are the real truth seeker.
Or they might remain religious, but out of habit…to fit into the culture with which they are most familiar and comfortable. It will depend upon the relationships they develop along the way, the pull they feel towards a yetzer hara-based society, and the level of risk they are willing to take by changing their life.
But if they remain religious, it will be hollow. How hollow will depend upon how much Da’as they have or don’t have. Mitzvos will be perfunctory, soulless, as will their tefillah, ESPECIALLY their tefillah. Or they will do what they must because they have some fear of the consequences of not doing so. TRUE fear of God will NOT be obvious from them.
Such is the waste of a life lacking Da’as.
Shlomo HaMelech, the wisest man to have ever lived—which means Da’as was his thing—instructed us:
If you want it like money and pursue it like treasures, then you will understand fear of God, and Da’as Elokim you will find. (Mishlei 2:4-5)
In this short little directive is a universe of thought. Really, it is the secret of life. He is telling you, in essence, that if you have TRUE fear of God—as opposed to just fear of punishment—then you must have Da’as. Conversely, if you have Da’as, then you must, by necessity, have true fear of God. The two ideas are completely INSEPARABLE.
So, if someone seemingly intelligent gets up and starts throwing out all kinds of facts and observations about life to prove that God doesn’t exist, or that man has meaninglessly evolved over hundreds of millions of years, you can conclude that, as smart as they are, they are Da’as-less. They may be very knowledgeable about what they speak about, but not about what they speak about in the context of Ultimate Truth. And, for the sake of your own Da’as, you’ll probably want to avoid them.
Tricky, isn’t it? VERY. That’s why so many people have, and do, now more than ever, make this critical mistake in life. We don’t have to look very far to see the truth of this, though we do have to go back in time, almost 6,000 years. That’s when mankind failed the test of the Aitz HADA’AS Tov v’Ra—the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
And make no mistake about it. Adam had been no intellectual pushover. Far from it. He knew more things that we may ever know, and had a FAR more profound appreciation of Creation, spiritual AND physical. All the geniuses of history combined would not match his level of intelligence…and yet, he chose the WRONG kind of knowledge.
Even Shlomo HaMelech, and great people before him and after him, are faulted for similar mistakes. And very often, unlike many others, they meant well. They had the right intention, but the wrong modus operandi, and it sometimes cost them their lives, and in some cases, almost their portion in the World-to-Come.
But WHY is it so tricky? Why AREN’T Da’as and knowledge one and the same? Why is it that a person can be so smart, and yet so uninformed…and dangerous to others who also don’t understand such distinctions?
If you already doven the Shemoneh Esrai, you should already know the answer. Our rabbis, in THEIR great wisdom and concern for us built it right in, so that three times a day we’d be reminded about what we need to pursue and how elusive it can be. A person with a decent amount of Da’as can’t miss it.
This is what they wrote and we pray in the fourth blessing:
You graciously bestow DA’AS upon man and teach mortals BINAH—understanding. Graciously bestow upon us from You, DAYAH—knowledge, BINAH—understanding, and HASKEL—discernment. Blessed are You God, who graciously GIVES Da’as.
It’s a GIFT…and from GOD yet? If you want Da’as, you have to get it from Heaven? This explains why people who don’t believe in Heaven can’t get it. But isn’t EVERYTHING a GIFT from GOD? Even being able to find some idea on the Internet by googling it?
Of course. But a pumping heart is also a gift, whether it be in the chest of a righteous person or an evil one. Apparently there are some gifts that God gives freely, and some He reserves only for those who can use them as intended. This is what Rashi taught us on the fourth verse of the story of Creation:
God saw that the light was good, and God separated between the light and the darkness. (Bereishis 1:4)
He saw that the wicked were unworthy of using it, and therefore set it apart for the righteous in the Future Time. (Rashi)
If this doesn’t tell us what we should be doing at this time, what will?￼
Bereishis 3:6. ￼ Drushei Olam HaTohu, Drush Aitz HaDa’as, Siman 1-2. ￼ Drushei Olam HaTohu, Drush Aitz HaDa’as, Siman 3-7; Chagigah 15a.