Making Sense of Mitzvot: The Connection to God

            April 2013    
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Mystical Understanding of Torah and Mitzvot

By Avi Lazerson

The core book of Jewish mysticism is the Zohar. It tells us that the Torah and the Holy One, blessed is He, are One. The commentary of the Tikunai Zohar is that the 248 positive commandments are the 248 limbs and organs of the King.

The Tanya, a book written about 250 years ago that tries to bring mysticism into practical application, teaches us that the commandments are connected to the upper most desires of G-d which can not be understood except as they are put into worldly manifestations. The essence of G-d, as well as His thoughts and desires are impossible for a mortal to understand as they exist in G-d since He is from the realm of the infinite and our abilities are only on the level of the finite. Therefore we can not truly understand G-d's desires as they really are, rather, we understand them as they are manifest in those commandments that He has given to us to do.

It is difficult for us to conceive of what this exactly means, but the way of the holy Baal Shem Tov was to teach lofty ideas by using simple analogies. Perhaps the following will grant the reader a better understanding of our unique relationship to G-d.

Let us first consider an elderly infirm grandfather who has his grandson over to help him with his daily life. If the grandfather desires a cup of tea, he will ask his grandson to prepare one for him. He will explain exactly how he likes his tea, so much sugar or honey, so much milk, in a cup like this, etc. When the grandson goes into the kitchen to begin to brew the tea, he has connected himself to the desires of the grandfather. There is a binding of the two as the grandson begins to fulfill the desires of the grandfather.

Since the grandfather (in this case) can not do this for himself, the grandson has become the limbs of the grandfather, doing the actions that are necessary to bring to fruition the grandfather's desire.

Yet this bonding is only in a superficial manner. Whereas the grandson is carrying out the desires of the grandfather, it is only in the external realm of the grandson's being. The internal feelings and thoughts plus the actual desire that the grandfather has is not shared with the grandson.

We can take the relationship up a higher level. Let us assume that the grandfather was also a college professor and a philosophy teacher. He could engage the son in discussions of philosophy and life's values. They could discuss current events and politics. By doing this the grandson would have a deeper access to the grandfather's thoughts and values. The bond between them would begin to grow deeper as they discussed philosophical ideas.

The grandson would begin to assimilate many of the grandfather's life values into his own life. The grandson's life style would begin to become similar in values to that of the grandfather.

But we can take the relationship even deeper. Let us say that the grandfather speaks with his grandson about the events surround his early life, what it was like growing up in Europe, life as Hitler came into power. He could describe what it was like when the Nazis came looking for his family and he had to run away to save his life. He could describe the events and feelings he had and what it was like hiding in forests and searching for food and help, not trusting the non-Jews and sharing his feelings at that time with his grandson. The more that the grandfather shares his feelings with his grandson, the more the grandson begins to understand the inner workings of the grandfather and the more he begins to forge a deeper bond with him.

The grandson would now begin to feel the way the grandfather feels. The grandfather's fears and desires would become more accessible to the grandson. In doing this, the bonding between the two would become much greater that if the grandson merely made tea and other menial tasks for the grandfather.

In a manner similar, our relationship with G-d only begins with the mitzvoth. Whereas the mitzvoth are the external manifestation of the inner desires of G-d, still, by doing them we are connecting ourselves to Him in a manner that bonds us on one level.

As we continue, to learn G-d's desires as brought down in the Torah we begin to see the values and depth of G-d's 'mind' and hopefully we will begin to bring this into our own being and our own life. The more that we study the Torah, the more we begin to understand and absorb into our life the values of G-d.

After we have assimilated G-d's values into our life and our understandings of G-d's teachings from the Torah are deep enough entrenched into our being, we can begin to contemplate deeper meanings behind the various mitzvoth that are in the Torah. The more we consider and ponder the deeper meanings the closer we become to being one with the real One, G-d.

Our only mode and method of getting a closeness to G-d is through the Torah. We, as humans, are error prone. Only the Torah has the teachings of G-d in them. The more we learn the Torah, the more we bring G-d's value system into our beings. The more we observe the Torah's commandments, the more we enable ourselves to come closer to the Infinite One, G-d.


from the April 2013 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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