How Close Is Hashem to Us?
Rabbi Yosef Kalatsky
The Limitations of Man's Understanding
1. G-d's Love for the Jewish People
The Torah states that at the end of time the Jewish people will eventually
do teshuvah and return to Hashem. As a result of this, Hashem will bring
forth great blessing to the Jews and He will, "...return to rejoice (l'sus)
over you (the Klal Yisroel) for good, as He rejoiced (sos) over your
forefathers, when you listen to the voice of Hashem, your G-d..." The
Torah uses the term "sos" to refer to the joy that Hashem will feel at this
time. The question is - why does the Torah use the term "sos" rather than
"simcha" or many other expressions of rejoicing?
Dovid HaMelech (King David) states in Tehillim (Psalms), "I rejoice (sos)
over your words (the Torah) as if I found a large amount of spoils." Dovid
HaMelech could have expressed his joy over the Torah and mitzvos with other
terms, however, he specifically chose this term. The Vilna Gaon z'tl
explains that the word "simcha" indicates joy that is complete, while the
term "sos" denotes a happiness that is incomplete. He explains this
through a parable:
In order for the king to reward his loyal subject for his service, he
allows him to enter into his royal treasury and take whatever his heart
desires but only for a period of five minutes. The subject is joyful and
thankful that he will be allowed to take whatever he wants from the royal
treasury. However, he is also anguished by the time constraint he is given
because he understands the opportunity at hand. Similarly, Dovid HaMelech
rejoiced over the Torah that he was given because he understood its
infinite value. However, at the same time he was distressed by the fact
that he was restricted to seventy years and would not be able to partake of
this treasure beyond that point.
With this explanation we can understand why the Torah uses the term "sos"
to express Hashem's joy and not the term "simcha". Hashem loves the Jewish
people to such a degree that even though so much blessing is bestowed upon
us, He is pained that He could not give us more. Since Hashem is infinite
with no restrictions, He wants to provide us with boundless blessing as
well; because of our own limitations, He is unable to do so.
If Hashem loves the Jews to such a degree that it gives him pain not to be
able to do more for us, then we should understand that when He denies us
His Goodness, it is clearly in our best interest. Now we can somewhat
appreciate the idea that because of Hashem's unending love for us that even
when we experience a set back in life we can understand that it emanates
from His Goodness and not from vindictiveness. If He could give us more, He
would. Therefore, the Mishnah states, "Just as one blesses Hashem for good
fortune, he must bless Him for misfortune." Because of his unlimited love
for the Jewish people, He does only what is good and necessary for us.
Reb Chaim of Volozhin z'tl asks, if punishment and suffering are necessary
as part of the rehabilitative spiritual process (which is only in our best
interest), then why should one pray to Hashem to heal him when he becomes
ill? Does one ask the doctor to withhold a life-saving procedure when the
only road to recovery is through that procedure? If so, then how do we
understand the blessing of the Amidah -"Heal us Hashem and allow us to
Reb Chaim answers that although Hashem brings illness upon a person as part
of the rehabilitation of his spirituality (which is a positive thing),
Hashem is nevertheless affected by the fact that the Jew is in a state of
suffering. It is similar to a parent who needs to assist the doctor when he
performs a painful procedure to his child. The parent is joyful that the
child will recover through this procedure; however, the parent feels the
hurt of his child. Therefore, Reb Chaim explains that if one prays healing
because he feels Hashem's pain (as a father to a child - and even to a
greater degree) then that feeling itself becomes the rehabilitative process
that causes the person to be deserving of recovery. One can only relate to
Hashem's pain (when a Jew is in a state of suffering) if one understands to
what degree Hashem loves the Jewish people.
2. The Capability of Man
The Torah states, "I call heaven and earth today to bear witness against
you: I have placed life and death before you..." The Midrash explains that
Moshe is saying to the Klal Yisroel "Heaven and earth were created to
accommodate mankind and that they have never deviated from their function.
Did one ever plant a wheat kernel and have it grow barley? Heaven and earth
are not subject to reward and punishment and yet they do not deviate from
the purpose for which they were created. Therefore Klal Yisroel who is
rewarded for doing good and punished for doing evil, definitely should not
( from the purpose for which they were created)."
Chazal explain that the laws of nature operate in a specific manner because
Hashem chose their functions to help mankind to maximize its purpose, which
is to choose between good and evil. Just as Hashem created heaven and earth
with all the ingredients necessary to help mankind fulfill its purpose, so
too did He create the human being with all the capability to fulfill his
purpose. What is the purpose of man? - To serve Hashem - to sublimate and
subordinate the physical to the spiritual, despite one's inclination for
the material. Therefore, man was given the capability to bring about that
The Torah tells us that Hashem provides man with all that is necessary to
fulfill his purpose; and the mechanism that is needed to succeed and
advance spiritually is the Torah itself. Just as the heavy rains pierce
the ground to sustain the tree (though its roots) and just as the dew
continuously covers the vegetation of the earth to bring about blessing and
sustain existence, so too did Hashem give us the Torah which is the
equivalent of both rain and dew to sustain our spirituality.
The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh explains that the Written Law (Torah Sh'Bichsav)
is equivalent to rain because it is tangible as the rain is visible.
However, the Oral Law (Torah Sh'Bal Peh), which is communicated verbally,
is as unnoticed as the dew when it is falling. Just as Hashem gave rain and
the dew to sustain existence so too did He gave us the Written and Oral Law
to sustain our spiritual existence. Therefore a person cannot say that it
is too difficult to do the Will of Hashem, because He provided us with
whatever is necessary to bring that about.
Pirkei Avos (Ethics of Our Fathers) states, "Im ein Kemach, ein Torah (If
there is no flour, there is no Torah)." Meaning that one cannot study Torah
if he does not have material sustenance; Therefore, Hashem provides
it. Otherwise, one can say that he cannot study Torah because of his
personal circumstance. However the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh explains this
statement in Pirkei Avos differently - "If there is no flour, it is an
indication that there is no Torah." If one toils and does not succeed then
it is an indication that he is not pursuing Torah - because if he were,
then Hashem would provide for him adequately.
We must be cognizant of events that we experience in our lives. These are
indications which give us direction and understanding on whether we are on
the proper path or have gone astray. We need to understand why there are
difficulties and tragedies on a personal and communal level. If Klal
Yisroel is not succeeding spiritually then there is no material
success. However if Klal Yisroel, as a whole, is functioning as a
spiritual entity, then Hashem will provide whatever material success is
needed to accommodate our purpose in existence.
3. Does the Jew Have the Ability to Empower Hashem?
The Torah states, "You have weakened the Rock (referring to Hashem) which
gave birth to you, and forgot G-d who brought you forth." There are a
number of commentators who explain this verse in many ways. The Sforno
explains that the Torah is saying that if the Jew's focus in life is
materialism, then his understanding of Hashem, (The Rock), will become
weakened because he is distracted from his spirituality.
The Zohar tells us that when Hashem informed the angels that He was going
to create man, their response was that man is deficient and not even worth
mentioning - because he is prone to fail. Hashem nevertheless created man
and punished the angels who opposed this. The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh explains
that the verse "You have weakened the Rock..." is referring to Hashem's
position that man's existence is worthwhile. However, if man fails, then
he weakens Hashem's position in his defense.
Rashi on the other hand explains this verse differently. It is referring
to the fact that Hashem bestows existence with His blessing; however, if
man should fail in the spiritual realm, then Hashem will withhold His
blessing because the Jewish people are not deserving. Therefore, the Torah
is saying, "You have weakened the Rock..."
When the meraglim (the spies) returned from scouting out the Land of
Canaan, they reported that they had seen the decedents of the giants and
other untenable situations. They had said that the nations of Canaan "are
stronger than Him". Rashi cites Chazal, who explain that the spies were
actually saying that the tribes of Canaan were even stronger than
Hashem. They believed that Hashem was able to defeat and destroy the
Egyptians, but the Canaanites had thirty-one kingdoms and Hashem did not
have the power to destroy them. How do we understand this? The spies
themselves participated in the Sinai event and prophesized while in an
awake state. After understanding the awesomeness and capability of Hashem,
how is it possible for them to say that He is not able to defeat thirty-one
Based on Rashi's interpretation of the verse "You have weakened the
Rock..." we are able to understand what the spies were saying. Hashem's
level of interaction with this existence is based on the Jew's merit. If
the Jew adheres to the Torah and does the Will of Hashem then he is
deserving of His blessing; however, if the Jew fails and is undeserving,
then Hashem withholds His blessing and does not allow the Jew to succeed.
Meaning, that Hashem binds Himself to the principle of "reward and
punishment". The spies believed that the Jews had sufficient merit to be
redeemed from the enslavement of Egypt; however, they believed that they
did not have sufficient merit to allow Hashem to bring about the conquest
of thirty-one kingdoms of Canaan.
Their understanding was that the infrastructure of "reward and punishment"
- the principle of being deserving - was put in place by Hashem to govern
existence and was established in a way that even G-d Himself was not able
to override the system. However, this was/is not the case. Despite one's
unworthiness, if Hashem should choose to interact with existence in a
positive manner, then He overrides the system.
The Menorah in the Bais HaMikdash was placed outside of the Holy of Holies,
on the other side of the paroches (curtains) which was the separation
between the Covered Sanctuary and the Holy of Holies. The Torah states,
"the Menorah must be placed outside of the paroches." The Midrash explains
that Hashem is actually saying, "You must put the Menorah outside the Holy
of Holies (which is the location of the Divine Presence) so that you should
not mistakenly think that I need your light." The Midrash continues and
says that Moshe asked Hashem, "Why do you want us to kindle the lights of
the Menorah since You are the light of the world?" Hashem responded by
saying," The reason I want you to kindle the light is to elevate you in the
eyes of the nations of the world - that they should see that I do need your
light." It seems that the two statements of Hashem are contradictory. On
one hand Hashem says the Menorah must be placed outside of "My location"
(the Holy of Holies) to indicate that He does not need our light. On the
other hand, His response to Moshe is that in fact He does need our light.
The answer is - under normal circumstances the world functions within the
context of reward and punishment. If we succeed spiritually then Hashem
bestows blessing on the world. In other words, our "light" is needed
because it determines the level on which the world functions. However, if
we should fail spiritually, then Hashem's blessing is withdrawn and the
world is diminished. Seemingly, from this one could believe that the Klal
Yisroel empowers Hashem. However, this is not the case because if Hashem
chooses to override the system, He is not limited or bound by any criteria.
This is indicated by the location of where the Menorah is placed: "it must
be outside of the paroches to indicate that I do not need your light. - I
am able to bestow blessing, regardless of your unworthiness."
The Torah tells us that there will be peace in the Land when the Klal
Yisroel will follow the Statutes of Hashem. Is there no peace today
because of the reality of anti-Semitism "Esav sonei l'Yaakov - Esav
despises the existence of Yaakov" or is it because the Jewish people are
not adhering to the Dictates of the Torah? If the Jewish people were to
follow the ways of the Torah, then they would strengthen "the Rock";
however, if we as Jews falter, then He becomes "the Rock that we have
4. Why is the Jew Held to Such a High Standard - Especially on Rosh Hashanah?
The Mishna in Tractate Rosh Hashanah tells us that a Shofar cannot be made
from the horn of a cow. The Gemara explains this by giving two
reasons. The first reason is that the horn of a cow is referred to as
"keren" and not "Shofar". Secondly, there is a principle "Ein kateigor
naaseh sanheigor - that a prosecutor cannot be an advocate." The horn of
the cow represents the Golden Calf (Chet Ha'Agle) with which the Jews
sinned at Sinai. Anything, which has relevance to the Golden Calf must be
avoided at a time when we are in need of an advocate. The cow or gold
arouses the most serious level of prosecution against the Klal Yisroel.
On Yom Kippur, the Kohen Gadol (the High Priest) officiated with two sets
of vestments. He would wear the golden ones when he performed the service
that was not specific to Yom Kippur. When he performed the service that
was particular to Yom Kippur, he wore white vestments. He was not
permitted to wear the golden vestments for the Yom Kippur service because
he had to enter the Holy of Holies (the location of the Shechina - the
Divine Presence) to atone for the Klal Yisroel, and if he wore gold, then
he could not function in the capacity of an advocate.
The Gemara asks, since the principle of "a prosecutor cannot be an
advocate" has no relevance outside of the location of the Shechina, then
why can't we utilize the horn of a cow to fulfill our obligation of Shofar
since this mitzvah is also performed outside of the Holy of Holies?
The Gemara answers that when one blows the Shofar it is considered as if he
is standing inside the Holy of Holies. How do we understand this? Rosh
Hashanah is the Day of Judgment (Yom HaDin). The Midas HaDin (the
Attribute of Justice) of G-d is so exacting on this Day that even the
angels in heaven tremble from its awesomeness. Midas HaDin subjects all of
existence to an exact level of scrutiny.
The Second Bais HaMikdash (the Second Temple), which stood for 420 years,
had more than 300 Kohanim Gadolim (High Priests) officiating over this
period. However, the First Bais HaMikdash, which stood for a period of 410
years, had only eleven. The Gemara tells us that if the Kohen Gadol was
not fully spiritually qualified, he would expire immediately when he
entered into the Holy of Holies. This occurred because being so close to
the Shechina (the Divine Presence), if he was not in a perfect state, he
would be subject to Midas HaDin. It is evident from this that when Midas
HaDin is functioning in its most potent form it is an indication of our
close proximity to the Shechina. Therefore, Rosh Hashanah, which is the Yom
HaDin (Day of Judgment), is an indication of how close we are to Hashem.
On one hand, the Judgment of Hashem is awesome and fearful, causing the
angels in heaven to tremble. However, on the other hand, His closeness to
us reveals the degree to which we are valued. Being in such proximity to
the Divine Presence on Rosh Hashanah is the equivalent to standing in the
Holy of Holies. Therefore, we do not fulfill the mitzvah of Shofar with a
cow's horn because the principle of "a prosecutor cannot be an advocate" is
in force, just as it was for the Kohen Gadol; This is unlike Yom Kippur,
when he was the only one permitted to enter into the Holy of Holies.
It is stated that the Shofar should be taken from a ram because it
symbolizes the ultimate submission and sacrifice for Hashem. When Avraham
Avinu (Avraham our Patriarch) was told by Hashem to bring his only son
(Yitzchak) - who he loved - as a sacrifice, he did not hesitate and
immediately embarked on that mission. However, after the binding of
Yitzchak, an angel called from heaven and told him not to slaughter his
son. At that moment Avraham noticed a ram caught in the thicket and
prepared it to be brought as a sacrifice in the place of his son Yitzchak.
As a result, Hashem valued the sacrifice of the ram as if Avraham had
sacrificed his own son. Therefore, the ram's horn symbolizes the most
advanced level of dedication and sacrifice to Hashem.
When Satan, the prosecutor of the Jewish people, begins his prosecution, he
is silenced by the sound of the ram's horn because it is the ultimate
advocate of the Klal Yisroel.
Understanding the gravity of the Day of Judgment, we must also recognize
Hashem's exceptional love for us, which is the basis for the Attribute of
Justice. Despite the awesomeness of the day, the Jew must feel fortunate
that we are in this situation because of His closeness to us.
Copyright © 2002 by Rabbi Yosef Kalatsky and Project Genesis, Inc.
Rabbi Kalatsky is the founder of the Yad Avraham Institute, a New York-based learning center whose mission is to disseminate Torah to Jews of all backgrounds and walks of life.