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Shabbat Parashat Eikev 5771

Ein Ayah: Knowing Hashem from Childhood

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Berachot 7:26-27)

Gemara:  Rav Nachman said: A child who knows whom we bless counts for a zimun. Abayei and Rava were sitting before Rabba. Rabba asked: “Whom do we bless?” They said: “Rachmana (Hashem, in Aramaic). “Where does He live?” Rava pointed to the roof. Abayei went outside and pointed to the sky. Rabba said: “Both of you will be rabbis.” 

Ein Ayah:  No one can grasp Hashem’s essence. Therefore, the idea of knowing Him is relative and depends on the level of the person. A person is created with all the personal attributes needed to reach his personal shleimut (completeness), with the most crucial ones developing earliest.  Recognition of Hashem is the first stage in embarking upon a life of morality. When one gets a good start on it in his youth, he sees blessing in it throughout his life. Therefore, the internal feeling upon which knowledge of Hashem is built must be present from an early age, (i.e., when he “knows whom we bless”), even as it develops along with his wisdom.

This feeling includes appreciation for what one has received. Before he can explain cognitively for what and to whom he has appreciation, he naturally feels that he should turn to some great and lofty entity known as Hashem with appreciation. That is why a child is included in the ranks of those who glorify Hashem’s Name before he can understand Hashem philosophically, for his emotional recognition of Hashem is a true one. The natural connection, which in any case, philosophical inquiry should bring on, suffices. After all, “Hashem made man straight” (Kohelet 7:29), and when properly educated, he can preserve the straightness his Creator granted him.

The natural inclination to know Hashem deeply is found more strongly among people of stature. Furthermore, the specific path they will eventually take in seeking out Hashem is imbedded in them in advance. Some scholars have an approach and connection to the Divine that is more focused on truths that are more directly linked to Hashem, i.e., the Torah and its intricacies. Others cannot be so limited in scope and reach the level to deal with a variety of ideas and connect them to the greatness of Hashem that they intuit with a highly developed thought process. They can go beyond the strict focus and understand that which transcends words, while realizing that everything must be true to the details of the Torah. This is similar to what the Rambam (Moreh Nevuchim 1:15) says about the angels in Yaakov’s dream, who went up and down the ladder. In other words, one can rise to high philosophical levels and bring them down to earth.

Rava pointed at the ceiling because his inclination, even as a child, was to focus in a more confined manner on Torah as his connection to Hashem. He was happy to find his place within the “tent of Torah.” Abayei was inclined to seek Hashem in more open areas, and thus went outside to point to the endless sky. The inclinations as children found expression in Rava and Abayei’s respective adult lives. It is not surprising that the gemara (Rosh Hashana 18a – many Rishonim say that the gemara referred to Rabba, not Rava) says that Rava was involved exclusively in Torah study, whereas Abayei was also involved in acts of kindness, and therefore Abayei lived longer. Rava was so connected to Torah and saw in it his happiness and calling to the extent that he could not take himself away to be involved in other matters. That is why we accept Rava’s Torah rulings above Abayei’s, because a focused wisdom is often closer to the practical wisdom of ruling. As we find regarding Rabbi Meir (Eruvin 13b), if one is too unique in his approach, his friends cannot grasp his thought process and the halacha does not follow him. While both approaches are good and holy, the more focused one is closer to set halacha, the blueprint for our actions. Perhaps for the same reason, halacha is not set by prophecy but by more cut and dry halachic rules.

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