Reprinted from The Times of Israel
How do we deal with a God that is so transcendent that human beings have no ability to access Him? This is a question humans have been asking since the dawn of time. We have an innate desire to connect with the Divine and many of us strive towards spirituality. We want to feel that we are connecting with something higher, something beyond the mundane physical world we inhabit.
Over history there have been many approaches to answering this question. Idolatry tries to bring God into the universe by taking a physical object and giving it the properties of a deity. Philosophy argues that a transcendent God is completely inaccessible and the best we can do is cognize the actions of the Divine through studying His creations. Christianity suggests that God impregnated a woman to create a physical son of God. By connecting with God the son, Christianity claims, one connects with God.
Judaism has an entirely different approach to this dilemma. If we follow the progression of the stories in the Torah we notice that originally God was very close to mankind. Adam and the Garden of Eden story shows this clearly. God spoke to Noah and gave him clear directions, the same applies to the patriarchs and Moses. As the Hebrews begin to form into a nation as the people of God, however, it becomes impossible for each individual to have the same sort of relationship with God as did Abraham and Moses. Instead we find the story of a collective Divine revelation at Sinai. Here God talks to all of the Israelites as one.
One might have thought that when God reveals Himself to mankind and talks to them in a collective manner, the message should contain deep esoteric truths. Why, in fact, didn’t God reveal at Sinai the answers to mankind’s deepest questions and yearnings?
The answer, it seems to me, is that asking people to follow rules and rituals is more profound than revealing esoteric ideas and deep philosophical concepts. In the end, any type of idea or concept depends on the ability of the individual to grasp it. Even if all those standing at Sinai that day were able to understand the ideas God would have theoretically revealed, who said that following generations would be able to understand them in the same way? Clearly throughout the generations these concepts would be misunderstood multiple times and in the end little of the original ideas would remain.
Instead God revealed a method that would allow those standing at Sinai and all subsequent generations to connect to Him. This was done through revealing a series of ten God-given rules that are simple to understand and to abide by and also add incredible value to the lives of those who follow them. This allows a connection to God to be immediate and timeless. With this model, connection to the Divine is not contingent on the adherent attaching themselves to an individual who may have died many years prior. Neither does it require an understanding of deep esoteric or philosophical ideas. All one needs to do is follow the will of God by keeping to his laws and practicing the rituals He set out in the Torah.
In reality we humans have no hope of comprehending God. Nor is it realistic to think that each individual will be able to communicate with God in the manner of Moses. Yet, in His immense loving kindness, God gave us a method through which we can have a sense of connectivity with the Divine–through following His will in the performance of the Mitzvot (commandments). It is this immense and rare God-given opportunity to become Godly that we celebrate this week during the festival of Shavuot.