We live at a time when information is free-flowing and readily available. If you want to know how to fix the leaky sink in the bathroom, google it. Want to finally learn to play guitar or speak French? Google it.
Yet Rebbe Nachman teaches that the main knowledge is realizing that you know nothing at all. This advice is very difficult for the modern mind to comprehend. It would be one thing if, in nineteenth-century Ukraine, they had limited access, but the Rebbe implies that the greatest knowledge is actually knowing how much you don’t know, and that applies even today.
The Rebbe teaches this in the context of perceiving the Divine. God is so immeasurably great that, when one does merit to experience just a little of His greatness, he begins to understand that God is so much greater then he previously thought. I once met a doctor who was a baal teshuvah. He told me that he decided to become religious while he was a young medical student, when a discovery was made that revealed a new, deeper layer in the workings of the human body. This soon-to-be doctor had a background in science and found this to be puzzling. He said to himself, “If they just now discovered this deeper layer and the human body is so much more sophisticated than previously thought, how many more layers are still undiscovered? And who created these?” The young medical student now understood how little he knew and set out to learn more.
The Zohar teaches that God, the Torah and Israel are all one. Just as the Divine is beyond the pale of human comprehension, so too is the greatness of each individual soul. Even the soul of the lowliest Jew is uniquely great, and because of this, we have no perception of what takes place with each of us in our lives and where our awesome final destination will be. But we do know that each day God deals with us in the most incredible ways, and in His lovingkindness seeks to constantly bring about our salvation. This is the meaning of the verse “The kindnesses of God never cease…They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23). Even when God is hidden and life seems difficult, we can use our faith to strengthen our knowledge that behind the scenes, He is orchestrating the most incredible process with each one of us.
Life’s process was the great challenge that Abraham faced. On the one hand, he was promised the Land of Israel and that his descendants would live there. Yet he was told to offer up his son as a sacrifice. On the third day, Abraham actually came face to face with this: “He saw the place from a distance” (Genesis 22:4). What place did he see? He saw the future Holy Temple, the place of his offspring’s spiritual fruition – but, at the same time, he was to slaughter his only son! Could salvation be any more distant?
Sometimes we realize the kindnesses that God has showered down on us and this reinforces our faith in our ultimate salvation. For example, maybe we were finally able to pray with real connection, but soon enough experienced a blockage and felt distant again. This process is very confusing to us and these conflicting feelings can cause us to get lost along the way. We must always remember Abraham’s simple faith in God. There is a method behind this perceived madness. Although we have experienced God’s kindness, the more we experience of Him, the more we are to understand that we really know nothing at all. If He has distanced Himself from us, it must be that this, too, is meant to ultimately draw us close.
Just like our father Abraham, if we can visualize the distant salvation and not be distracted by the immediate conflicting illusions in our mind, we will arrive at the most incredible destination. Amen.
Based on Likutey Halakhot, Shiluach HaKen 5