I Don't Understand A Thing!
No thinking person would give a million dollars to a 10 year-old. A child that age doesn’t have the capacity to manage that kind of money. Putting a huge amount of money into the hands of a 10 year-old is ill-advised at best and potentially dangerous.
It’s an imperfect analogy, but one I’m using to illustrate a powerful spiritual idea that I’ve come upon in my own Torah study. I’ll speak about myself here, but I believe what I’m saying is true for many (most) people.
We walk through life expecting the world to make sense to us. We apply our prodigious intellects to figure out what’s going on and we feel a sense of frustration when things don’t add up or we can’t make sense of something. That frustration comes because we think we should be able to understand the world.
I want to introduce you to a spiritual perspective on this assumption that brings me great comfort and deepens my personal sense of connection with God. It’s quite simple really, although I know, before I say it, that it will make some people massively uncomfortable.
People don’t see the truth. We don’t have the capacity to accurately perceive the true significance of most of what happens to us.
That’s because God is so much bigger than we, in our limited human form, can even imagine.
We live in a world where our vision is clouded. It’s very hard to see the truth clearly. It takes a lot of spiritual work and a lot of assistance from Above.
Stay with me. I’m going to get a little mystical here, but just a little. I promise.
We live in a world of free choice. That means we are constantly asked to choose. But the right choice, the Godly choice, is often not obvious to us, exactly because our vision is cloudy.
That seems unfair. If God would show me the right choices, if He would help me see the complete consequences, for good or for bad, of my actions, before I made a move, I would have a much better chance of doing the right thing.
But here’s the rub. If a person could see the unvarnished truth and would go against it anyway, that would be much worse. So it’s actually a chesed of God, a kindness, that He doesn’t let us see the whole picture. Because when we err, the punishment is less, exactly because we are all flying blind. God is able to excuse some of our mistakes, as it were, because He knows we don’t have the full picture yet.
So one reason God hid the deeper Torah truths is to be able to judge us more favorably when we veer off course, when we sin. When did this happen? According to the Sages, God hid His deep Torah truth after the Second Temple was destroyed in 70 CE and the Jews were sent into exile.
This is yet another thing to mourn for on Tisha B'Av. We once had a much greater understanding of God and it was taken away, along with the Second Temple.
God’s deep Torah wisdom, knowledge of which helps us understand how He works in the world and what the consequences of our actions are, is a gift for all of humanity. But the time has to be right.
There’s a tradition that the Zohar, the foundational work of Jewish mysticism attributed to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a 2nd century Sage, was hidden and rediscovered in 1270. For over a thousand years, its wisdom was taken from the world.
Since then, through the deeper Torah teachings of Chassidut and Kabbalah, which have been slowly coming back into the world, ordinary Jews like me can access a tiny part of this deep Torah – enough to acknowledge that Kabbalah, Judaism’s mystical tradition, has the capacity to answer humanity’s most perplexing questions.
But we’re not ready for such a gift. Just as you don’t thrust a cool million into the hands of a 10 year-old, but rather teach a child how to handle money by giving them successively larger amounts to manage, so Hashem is gradually releasing deep Torah awareness back into the world.
We’re not completely ready for such a gift, but it’s coming.
In the meantime, it’s enough to strengthen our emunah, our faith that a Divine Intelligence runs the world in ways we can’t even begin to imagine. It’s a sign of spiritual growth to be able to say, “God runs the world. I don’t know anything.”
When we will merit to see God’s Master Plan for ourselves? This is one of the promises of geula – of the Final Redemption. The veil that is over our eyes, that prevents us from seeing the whole Truth, will be removed.This is what it means when the Torah promises that God will circumcise our hearts:
And the Lord, your God, will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, [so that you may] love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, for the sake of your life (Deuteronomy 30:6)
Rabbi Shalom Arush explained a similar concept: “People are limited in perception – they only see a tiny portion of the entire picture. No one knows the past of every soul, who it was and what it did in previous lives. No one knows what each individual soul must rectify during its current go-around in the physical world. What's more, no one can possibly know the underlying reasons behind each person's personal condition or circumstance.”
For now, for me, it’s a measure of my own spiritual development that I acknowledge that God runs the world with a magnificent, nuanced Hand that I can’t understand.
In the meantime, I wait, trusting that eventually, we will all be shown the rest of the story.
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