The Inside Connection

Rabbi Shmuel Klatzkin

 

He has also put the world in their heart… Kohelet

 

The Genesis narrative tells of a creation of ever-increasing self-awareness, beginning with the raw elements of existence and culminating in a creature described as being in the image of G‑d, the human being.

 

Though acutely aware that we do not know everything, and that  we cannot as lone agents figure our way towards the meaning and purpose we seek, we nonetheless find the world in our hearts.

 

What does that mean?

 

There is a Rabbinic tradition that identifies this with our evil inclination. The word for ‘the world’ in Hebrew has the same letters as the word ‘hiddenness’. The pure busyness necessary to sustain our lives here in this world seems to hide G‑dliness, and we feel a strain and a tension between our yearning for being at one with G‑d and between what life in this world seems to require of us.

 

The Rabbis address this in a Midrash. On the first days of Creation, G‑d saw that each completed work was good. However, after the creation of mankind, the text reads and behold, it was very good.  Said Nechemiah, son of R. Shmuel b. Nachman: Behold it was…good refers to the creation of man and the good inclination; very refers to the Evil Inclination [Kohelet Rabba III ii 3].

 

Along with the great achievement of human self-awareness comes a sense of tension. Somehow, there is something not quite whole within our very selves. We feel pulled towards the world—it is in our hearts; we feel pulled towards the spirit and the G‑dly. One seems to obscure the other; they seem somehow in conflict within.

 

This Midrash tells us that although that might be our sense of things, it isn’t G‑d’s plan. The presence of the world within our consciousness is part of the G‑dly design of the world. To continue with the same Midrash: “Were it not for the Evil Inclination, nobody would build a house, marry and beget children…”

 

The point the Midrash is implying is—there is no necessary rupture between the worldly and the G‑dly. This world is after all G‑d’s idea. Somehow, we must be one with both it and good in order to realize the extraordinary goodness—very good—that G‑d has in mind.

 

It is to the end of that extraordinary good that G‑d put the world in their heart. It is not just that we can live with the assurance from above that our worldly affairs do not by their nature sever our connection with G‑d. It is that within these worldly affairs themselves we are meant to realize in the most complete way possible the G‑dly intent in our own existence.

 

It is a principle of the Torah that our mind leads our lives. Our emotions are not directly under our control, but we can direct our mind towards those things which we want to know. For instance, I want to know more about a person I am attracted to, I spend time thinking about that person. The more I know about a person, the more I feel for them. They are not just a sketchy abstraction to me, but the more I know them, the more they take on a reality that affects me emotionally.

 

How do we establish an emotionally whole relationship with G‑d? We feared that because the world is in our hearts, perhaps then G‑d is hidden. But as we learn that it is G‑d who puts the world into our hearts, this must be in fact an opportunity for connection. By understanding and knowing the nature of this world He has placed in our consciousness, we are capable of knowing Him to the extent that we can.

 

And so on this basis, Maimonides writes in his code of law: “When a person contemplates these things and comes to know the created beings…and he will see the wisdom of the blessed Holy One in all the creatures, he will increase in love towards G‑d and his soul will thirst and is flesh will yearn to love the blessed G‑d.”

 

This pursuit of knowledge through understanding G‑d’s purpose in the world He put in our hearts is the key to an integrated humanity. Spirit, intelligence and emotions flow into each other, all coordinated expressions of a singular purpose. The rupture between G‑d and world, between the various aspects of one’s own personality, are simultaneously healed.

 

This sense of integral knowing is at the heart of the Torah’s psychology—and epistemology. The implication is not just that this pattern of a knowledge that emerges from purpose and reveals an integral unity is what works for human beings; but that this is what knowledge itself is all about.

 

There is no knowledge apart from the knower. A removed acquaintance with things which operate in isolation from us—this is not really knowledge. Stuck inside a Cartesian box, an isolated knower fundamentally apart and unconnected to a stream of facts that flows by—this is not a workable model of knowledge.

 

The knowledge towards which the Torah directs is far more robust than that. It works even when we admit that we are in the midst of the flow—it gives us a footing even when we are dancing our riverdance on a trampoline.

 

And at the root is the understanding that the consciousness that is in our hearts is put there purposefully by G‑d. In the knowledge of and by identity—realizing the nature of our very own consciousness and that it is of G‑d—we find what knowledge itself is all about.

 

 

 

Continue the conversation with Complexity, Confusion and Connection, part 2...

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