| At the Core |

Keep It Simple

Pure faith bypasses the mind; it’s rooted in the soul

With Rav Moshe Wolfson

A century ago, Einstein transformed the world of physics with the discovery E=mc2. He was eminently up to the task of explaining exactly how and why matter converts into energy. I have no understanding of physics and I therefore have no choice but to simply believe Einstein’s theory of relativity.

This is what Shlomo Hamelech means when he says “Pesi yaamin l’chol davar, v’arum yavin la’ashuro — the simpleton believes everything, but the clever one understands properly” (Mishlei 14:15). The smarter a person is, the less he needs to believe those around him, because he can investigate matters with his rational mind. Only the simple, uneducated, naive person has to believe what he’s told without question.

Beyond the Mind

When it comes to emunah, however, things are a bit more complicated.

True, if a person insists on only believing in G-d to the extent that his rational mind allows him to, and will then expend exhaustive efforts searching for the true religion, and will do so with sincerity and honesty, he will in all likelihood discover the principles of emunah. The evidence proving the existence of Hashem and truth of the Torah is overwhelmingly obvious to the unbiased mind.

However, emunah based on logical observation alone is very limited. Hashem is absolutely and completely beyond the understanding of the human mind. As the Rambam says, “The mind of a person cannot understand and is incapable of grasping and investigating Him” (Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 1:9).

We’re also told, “Will you find G-d through rational investigation?” (Iyov 11:7) and the Zohar declares, “No mind can grasp him at all” (Tikuna Shivin 121:71). In addition, in the Shir HaKavod at the end of Mussaf we say, “I compare You with various descriptions, but I [still] don’t know You.”

Listen to My Painting

Is the problem that we’re not smart enough? No. Even if we were to bump our IQ up to 500, we would not understand Hashem. We cannot understand Hashem with human intelligence not because we have too little of it, but because it is the wrong “sense” for grasping G-dliness.

Your friend’s cheeks are pink and her tone animated. “You’ll never believe it! I was in Carnegie Hall and there was a symphony so beautiful, I was able to see it! I also went to the Museum of Art where there was a painting so magically beautiful, I was able to hear it!”

Rather than being amazed, you’d regard your friend with concern.

Why are you concerned about your friend’s mental state? Perhaps the song was so marvelous that she was actually able to see it with her eyes? No. You know that no matter how harmonious a symphony, it can only be heard; and no matter how masterful a painting, it can only be seen. Each stimulus can only be absorbed through the sense created to assimilate it.

Similarly, no matter how quick or deep, the human mind cannot understand Hashem, because it’s the wrong “sense” for grasping G-dliness.

The sense that comprehends G-dliness isn’t the human mind but the Jewish neshamah, which is chelek Elokai mima’al, a part of Hashem. The more developed and active a Jew’s emunah peshutah, the more he can experience nearness and connection to Hashem.

The rebbi walks into the beis medrash Erev Shabbos and finds Yankel the shoemaker reciting Shir HaShirim with tears streaming down his cheeks. “Yankel, do you know what the words mean?”

“Rebbi, who needs to know the meaning of the words when the words alone are so sweet!”

Yankel connected to the emotionally evocative words of Shir HaShirim, not because he understood their meaning with his mind. His vibrant emunah peshutah allowed him to experience the G-dliness of the words.

This is why so many gedolei Yisrael rejected chakirah — philosophy, intellectual acrobatics — as a means to reach emunah. In a play on words, Rav Wolfson notes, “v’ligduloso ein cheiker,” you cannot achieve an understanding of Hashem’s greatness through chakirah, investigations.

Today, most people are not interested in philosophy because of its abstract nature and, since, by its own admission, is an unreliable source of truth.

The more a person is in contact with his neshamah, the more he can “understand” Hashem. Tzaddikim, who are in deep contact with their neshamos have a much greater grasp of Hashem then average people. We call this ruach hakodesh. In its most developed form, this is nevuah.

Follow Your Instinct

Tanya (ch. 18) interprets Dovid Hamelech’s words in Tehillim (73:22), “I am foolish and ignorant, I am an animal with You,” in a way that would seem to insult our human intelligence. He teaches, “Because I am foolish and like an animal, that is why I am able to be with You [Hashem].” What does this mean?

Animals lack rational intelligence. They may display behaviors that seem to imply brilliance, but they don’t understand the wisdom of their own actions. The bee doesn’t understand the chemical processes involved in creating honey, nor has the beaver mastered the science of engineering.

Tanya is teaching that if we’re to truly be with Hashem, we have to be like animals. The beaver, bird, and spider follow their instincts. You, Jewish man, woman, and child, follow your instincts! Connect to your instinct of emunah peshutah, which is rooted in your neshamah, so that you should be able to be with Hashem.

“Hashem guards a fool,” a pasuk in Tehillim (116:6) tells us. The Tanya comments on this that a person who lives like a fool — i.e., he connects to Hashem through his instinctive emunah — will be protected by Hashem.

Similarly, regarding the pasuk “The Torah of Hashem is true, it makes the fool wise” (Tehillim 19:8), Tanya tells us that a person who allows himself to be a fool — i.e., to connect to Hashem through instinctive emunah rather than rational emunah — will be able to absorb the wisdom of the Torah.

Awaken the Connection

How do we awaken our natural, inborn emunah peshutah? We’ve previously discussed learning Torah, davening, performing mitzvos, and surrounding ourselves with good Jews. Another powerful way of awakening our instinctive connection to Hashem is merely by bringing it to the fore of our consciousness.

When faced with the ordinary, everyday temptations of life, or when we feel too lazy to put forth the energy to daven, learn, or perform mitzvos properly, Tanya advises us to meditate for a few minutes: “I would go through the worst tortures in order not to deny Hashem’s existence because my soul is incapable of disconnecting from Hashem. Can’t I give up a little bit of my comfort and convenience to maintain and strengthen that connection? If I would go through the hottest flames for Hashem, can’t I bite my tongue, delay that gratification, get off the couch, control an urge, etc., for His sake?”

Knowing that real emunah isn’t the product of intellectual understanding, enables us to understand a puzzling statement of the Baal Shem Tov: “After all my lofty spiritual achievements and sublime comprehensions of Hashem, bin ich a nar un ich gleib, I’m a fool and I believe.”

The Baal Shem Tov understood that the most valuable form of emunah is emunah peshutah. In order to connect to Hashem, it was more critical that he instinctively believe in Him than that he understands Him. Simple emunah bypasses the mind, it is rooted in the instincts of the Jewish soul.

In a nutshell: Use your logical mind to understand the world you live in, but use the instincts of your neshamah to try to grasp G-dliness.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 672)

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