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Beit Midrash Jewish Laws and Thoughts Foundations of Faith

Chapter 17

15. Perceiving God

One of the first questions asked by one who seeks out faith is, “Can man, the finite and ephemeral being that he is, possibly perceive the infinite and boundless God. Why, it is impossible to see God, for, “No man shall see Me and remain alive” (Exodus 33:20).
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One of the first questions asked by one who seeks out faith is, "Can man, the finite and ephemeral being that he is, possibly perceive the infinite and boundless God. It is impossible to see God, for, "No man shall see Me and remain alive" (Exodus 33:20). Moreover, it is impossible to perceive God through the agency of any of the other human senses. Even man's power of thought does not suffice to grasp a God Who transcends the human mind. This said, we appear to be left with no channel for relating to Him. And if man was granted the capacity to grasp and perceive God, he would effectively limit and restrict the greatness of God. How, then, does one escape this vicious circle?
Foundations of Faith (50)
Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed
16 - 14. Contradictions between Science and Torah
17 - 15. Perceiving God
18 - 16. God's Hand in Nature
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The solution to this dilemma is at once simple and profound. Indeed, we cannot grasp God Himself, but we can perceive His doings in the world. Through His actions, God is perceived by us as creator and conductor of the entire universe. There is no place in all creation where He is absent, "His glory fills the earth" (from the Sabbath Keushah prayer). All of creation evinces the greatness of God's actions. We perceive God's absolute sovereignty over creation with all of our senses. As far as God's revelation through His actions, He is very close to us; regarding God's essence, He is sublime, transcendent, and beyond comprehension, and there is no adjective that can accurately describe Him. He is above all.

The sages hinted at this idea when they said God resembles the soul of man in five respects:
1. Just as the soul fills the body, so God fills the world.
2. Just as the soul sees and is unseen, so God sees and is unseen.
3. Just as the soul sustains the body, so God sustains the world.
4. Just as the soul is pure and above the body, so God is pure and above the world.
5. Just as the soul resides in the innermost chambers, so God resides in the innermost chambers.

Though the soul itself cannot be seen, it is revealed through the actions of the body. Even though the soul itself is invisible, speech and every bodily movement testify to the existence of this inner life force. Similarly, God Himself can be neither seen nor felt, but His existence is revealed through His actions. This is the profundity of the faith that permeates man's entire being, saying, "There is none like You, God." Such a faith lifts man to the highest of heights, to a place which the eye cannot penetrate and the mind cannot grasp.

According to this principle, the sages fixed the wording of the benedictions so that they begin in the personal (second person) - "Blessed are You ..." - and then change over to the impersonal (third person) - "...Who has sanctified us..."

The sages did this in order to teach us the proper manner of relating to the Almighty. On the one hand, He reveals himself to us; on the other, He is hidden from us. He reveals Himself to us through His actions, and it is through His actions that we become acquainted with Him; yet, He Himself remains hidden from us.

"You are He" - there is no contradiction here, rather, an accurate description of God. Hence, "You are He - the first, and You are He - the last, and without You we have no saving and redeeming king."

Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed
Rosh Yeshiva of the Bet El Yeshiva, was the head of the Yesha rabbis board and rabbi of Bet-El, founder and head of Arutz 7.
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