Let My People Know

"The value of ignorance"


To be sure, every mitzvah establishes a connection between one's soul and the Infinite light, whether one is aware of it or not. 

The kavanot, or right intentions, serve to enhance this unity, and the more one is conscious of the factors involved, the greater the intensity and efficacy of the mitzvah. 

Thus, every mitzvah has its own kavanot, its accompanying thoughts before and during the actual performance. 

The first part is a reflection on the fact of being in the Divine Presence, of His standing over me; the second part is the creation of contact between myself and the Infinite light.

In this process, a person can become so frightened and awestruck that he is rendered unable to continue to perform the mitzvah. 

It is, therefore, important also to see the value of ignorance, of not knowing the higher meaning of the mitzvah. 

For if one penetrates and probes too deeply and becomes too acutely aware of the details of one's words or actions in the awesomeness of standing before God, it can become dangerous in many ways. 

However, if a person is sensitive enough and intelligently aware of what is happening to him, if one truly seeks God as the highest value, then the true fear of God can be understood. 

The one who says: ''Well, I tried and didn't succeed" is not being sincere. 

For the degree of effort one invests in seeking God is not to be measured in the same way as ordinary occupations. 

One cannot equate the worthwhileness of meditation before performing a mitzvah with the worthwhileness of making a particular purchase in the grocery store. 

Thus, when speaking of the meditation process involved in the mitzvah, it is quite impossible to say much more than that it depends on the person himself.

There is a story told about a Chasid who was an enthusiastic disciple of the founder of the Chabad movement. 

He was a rather simple Jew who had considerable difficulty in understanding the intellectual subtleties of his rabbi. 

Although at that time, this great teacher was trying to expound a more popular version of the Torah to make it available to all, the disciple, nevertheless, began to despair of ever reaching the level of his own fellow disciples. 

He would repeat the lessons in vain; he just could not grasp their meaning; finally, in utter despair, he made the long journey to the rabbi in order to ask what he should do. 
The rabbi told him, more or less, that everything can be learned with the right amount of effort, which was different for each person. 

A clever person could do it in less time, a simple person required more time and more effort. 

The disciple went home, wound up all his affairs, and returned to the rabbi in order to devote all his time to Torah. He plunged into meditation and study, working hard to attain both understanding and a capacity for right contemplation. 

In other words, he concentrated on the ability to put all else aside and to focus his attention on one single thought, until this fragment of an idea became clear to him from every possible angle. 

Thus he sat for many months. Sometime later, one of the grandsons of the rabbi related that the man never became more than a mediocre scholar, but his understanding of Chasidism was beyond compare.

This was due in no small measure to his self-taught capacity to concentrate on one single subject for many hours on end.
Nothing could disturb him, and when he had completed his contemplation, he could explain the matter with great clarity. 

As an indication of the regard he was able to earn, one of the rabbi's sons dedicated one of his writings to him, a work that was both complex and technically involved. 

This is an example of what is meant by "If by effort you have found something, believe it." 

The point is that every person has the capacity to learn. 

Moreover, every Jew can experience the fear of God; but in order for it to be significant, it has to be developed by reflection and meditation. 

Then, too, will the actions of such a person become "perfect service," without significant blemish. 

Even when a person is not naturally conscious of his innate awe and fear, he may somehow be aware of the need for it, and this feeling can be enough to give wings to a sincere and stubborn effort. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From The Long SHorter Way by Rabbi Adin Steinaaltz