The Birth of Israel
Israel’s history begins with the Exodus from Egypt. Until then, Jacob’s descendants had laws and various elements of distinctions, but were not yet considered a nation; only when they journeyed from Egypt and received the Torah, with its complete code of conduct, did they become a people with a national goal and collective destiny. The master prophet Ezekiel describes this event, the Exodus from Egypt, as a birth, for it was in fact the birth of the Jewish people.
From Question to Answer
Since Passover was the initiation, the beginning of growth, there is special emphasis on the children: We perform many activities during the Passover Seder only to involve the children, to arouse them to ask questions. In fact, the very idea of asking, inquiring is an indication and an initiatory activity in the art of learning. Children’s asking is therefore a beginning of knowledge, a birth; which then leads to maturity, and eventually, on some level, to answers.
In the learning process, one begins at a state of confusion and uncertainty, a state of unknowing, and then advances to clarity and answers. Passover represents this form of liberation as well; a radical shift from a slave—dependency and uncertainty, to the condition of master—able and certain.
Giving and Receiving the Torah
The objective of Exodus is true freedom, which was reached with the giving of the Torah. The freedom we experience through accepting, receiving and deeply absorbing the Torah is that we align ourselves with the inner reality of all creation, with the Creator’s inner most will. Torah is the blueprint and very foundation of all creation. Integrating the Torah deeply into our lives connects us with the ultimate, unrestricted, uninterrupted flow of creation—its authentic freedom.
The essential experience of the giving of the Torah is continuous. The questioning children in the Hagadah represents each of us in an immature state, for questions primarily exist in a confused state of mind—a pre-Torah condition and marred perception of reality. The answer—given by the adults at the Seder table, which in this context represent the spiritually mature—is accessed only after we have gone through the Exodus and grown to appreciate the subtlety of Hashem’s will. It is a tale of how we arrive from questions and uncertainty, to answers and clarity.
The Wise Son
Let us now understand the wise son’s question in the Hagadah of the Seder night.
—The Hagadah describes four types of sons who come to the Passover Seder: a wise son; a wicked son; a simpleton, and one who doesn’t know to ask any question.
Of all the questions, the wise son’s is most fitting to scrutinize, being that it is a ‘wise’ question. In a matter of speaking, the wise son’s question can reflect a state of pre-giving of the Torah, wherein the answer he receives represents a post-giving of the Torah, post-exodus existential reality.
Here is the wise son’s question; he asks, “What are the Testimonies, Statutes, and Laws, which G-d our G-d has commanded you?”
But is this a wise question? It seems quite simple. Doesn’t he know what the mitzvoth are? What’s more, we must understand why he uses the phrase, “that G-d has commanded you,” as though excluding himself, when he should have said “us,” a more inclusive term.
Physical Action, Spiritual Reaction
As explained, questions demonstrate spiritual immaturity, a pre-giving of the Torah condition; and from this perspective, the wise son doesn’t understand how man draws down and reveals G-dliness through the physical deeds of mitzvoth:
Prior to the giving of the Torah Divine service was a spiritual undertaking, with prayer, study and meditation, activities we find the patriarchs and the matriarchs involved with, and even when there was some physical act, it was simply to prepare for its spiritual counterpart; this paradigm resonates logically with the wise son. What puzzles him is the new Divine service of action, for what connection is there between physical action, acts that are seemingly void of any spirituality, meaning devoid of ‘ethereal content’ and the spiritual reaction of revelation? Perplexed he asks, “What are these Testimonies, Statutes, and Laws”; and he therefore excludes himself by saying, “which G-d commanded you.”
The answer to the wise son’s question is the Exodus from Egypt, culminating with the giving of the Torah. Until that point, the revelation attained through doing mitzvoth was only a manifestation and expression of the creators light, but afterwards a bridge was forged and instilled within us was the incredible ability to draw down and reveal the Essence – the source of the Divine light and expression.
To explain: Until the giving of the Torah man reached upward by his own initiative, and the revelation he achieved as a result was therefore only a Divine expression, which was limited and unable to become apparent in the physical world; man’s finite restricted capacity was able to touch and elicit only a ‘restricted’ limited form of revelation – a light that was confined in its spiritual property, disconnected from anything physical. For that reason, man’s Divine service before was only in the spiritual realm. Then came the giving of the Torah, beginning with an initiation and later invitation from above, and there was a revelation of the infinite light, as it is limitless, beyond form, but also manifested within the limited. Being that the Essence is transcendent of all expressions, both physical as well as spiritual. With this, a new model was introduced: Now we can draw down and reveal the deepest levels through physical deeds, for the Creator of both the physical and spiritual, chose to be revealed specifically through action oriented mitzvoth.
This is what the answer aspires to clarify to the questioning wise son.
Links to the Infinite
The wise son also specifies in his question: “What are the Testimonies, Statutes, and Laws.” —These three types of mitzvoth correspond to three types of connection to the Divine, for mitzvoth are cords, openly linking creation with creator, and they therefore trigger three aspects of divine manifestation.
Even if he may somewhat comprehend that the actions of the mitzvoth touch the Essence, he has trouble grasping that there are categories and distinctions within the range of mitzvoth themselves; that each individual mitzvah produces a specific manifestation.
There are two defining elements in mitzvoth:
- that they are all the creators will, irrelevant of which mitzvah, and
- that each individual mitzvah expresses and reveals another element of the Divine.
Therefore, the wise son perhaps understands that now there is a new way of serving: pre-giving of the Torah life was a spiritual service, and afterward there are physical deeds. But if so, there should be a clear distinction in the outcome of performing mitzvoth—before the spiritually-oriented service inspired revelation, and now, after the giving of the Torah, while the physical Divine service may in fact elicit the highest forces, they should not be in a revealed manner. For how can physical action be the cause of a revelation of the spiritual? And yet, seeing that each mitzvah is distinct from the next, he understands that each causes a variant expression than the other, and thus he is utterly puzzled.
Three Forms of Mitzvoth
Before explaining the flaw and essential spiritual immaturity of his question, let us first probe the nature of the mitzvoth to understand the change that the giving of the Torah brought about, and we can then analyze the details of the wise son’s question:
There are three types of mitzvoth:
Testimonies are mitzvoth testifying to an event, as Passover testifies to the Exodus from Egypt.
Statutes, or decrees, are mitzvoth without any apparent rational reason other than being divine commands, such as Kosher dietary laws.
Laws are rational mitzvoth, such as, not to kill or steal, and the like.
These three distinct mitzvoth characteristics exist in all the three types: each mitzvah is a Testimony, for it testifies to the one who commands the mitzvah. Similarly with Statutes, decrees without any apparent reason; for even Testimonies such as Passover or Shabbat, and even rational Laws such as not to kill or steal, include details that have no seeming rationale, for example, the amount that one who steals must repay. And the same with rational Laws—all mitzvoth, including Statutes, have some element of reason, for even Statutes have a Divine reason, though we don’t necessarily always perceive it. In fact, the Rambam (Maimonides) writes concerning Statutes, “It is appropriate to contemplate them, and to the extent that one can rationalize them, he should,” for there are indeed ‘reasons’ even for Statutes.
Three Degrees of Revelation
As a mitzvah is a connection that causes a revelation, there are clearly three types of revelation caused by the three types of mitzvoth:
- a light that garbs itself within creation—Ohr Memale - light that fills creation);
- a light that transcends creation, although still connected with the realm of creation—Ohr Sove - light that surrounds, and
- an infinite light that is entirely beyond the realm of creation—Ohr Ein Sof - the infinite light.
The light that permeates creation and its details is easily perceived, whether in a sun rise or set, or the birth of a child, and may be intellectually comprehended;. One therefore performs Laws, rational mitzvoth, to draw down this ‘graspable’ light.
To reveal the light that surrounds creation, which is somewhat obvious—for the existence of the permeating light indicates that there is a source, which isn’t as easily perceived—one performs Statutes, which are beyond reason. He subdues and transcends his reason, and thereby elicits that Divine light.
However, with the infinite light—the Creators innermost Essence, which is utterly concealed and beyond the realm of creation and intellect—setting aside the intellect does not suffice. This light is beyond its realm to the extent that any manner of relation to the intellect, even to say that it negates it, is absurd. We can only elicit this inconceivable light through performing Testimonies. Just as judicial testimony is needed only for something that is otherwise unknown.
For if something is known or will become known, what need is there for witnesses to testify? Likewise, to reveal spiritual Divine levels that otherwise remain concealed—to reveal this inconceivable, awesome light—we need the Testimony that reveals something new.
Microscopic man reflects the entire macroscopic reality, essentially, all that exists within creation as a whole exists in miniature within man. To connect with the direct and most apparent Divine life-force, one performs the Laws, using one’s intellectual abilities. For the transcendent, more obscure life-force, one performs the Statutes, drawing on a deeper level of soul to connect with the Source of all life. However, to connect with the creators innermost Essence, which is entirely beyond expression and manifestation, one turns within, to his very essence, for only that reflects The Essence.
When the verse in Isaiah says, “you are My witness,” this is referring to our very essence. For the essence of our beingness is our soul, which is “truly a part of the Divine Above.”
Nevertheless, although our essence testifies to the Essence of all reality, this truth is revealed through the performing of mitzvoth, and more specifically Testimonies—revealing what is otherwise entirely concealed.
A Wise Question
The wise son’s question now becomes ever more clear: His foremost difficulty is with action-oriented mitzvoth, and from this pre-giving of the Torah state he therefore wonders, “What are the Testimonies, Statutes, and Laws?,” meaning, how can one touch Essence through performing Testimonies, and draw down the light through performing Statutes, and then reveal the light to the point of being clearly perceived, through performing Laws—and all of this specifically through performing the mitzvoth in a physical manner.
To grasp the answer, he must first comprehend and experience, truly re-experience the going out and shedding of the condition of Egypt:
The Exodus, culminating with our receiving the Torah, gave us a new type of mitzvah performance. We no longer perform mitzvoth “from below upward,” seeking out the Divine solely through spiritually-oriented tools such as prayer and study, for now the initial connection is established from Above. The Creator has given us the tools and there are no longer any limitations to our connection; for it isn’t based on human standards, but on the Infinite’s standards. And what’s more, through these mitzvoth the very Essence will become as apparent as ‘rational Law’.
Experiencing the Giving & Receiving of the Torah Every Day
This idea of questions and confusion, a pre-Torah state, followed by answers and certainty, a redemptive, post-Torah state, is continuous throughout all of life’s stages. No matter how high we climb, the next day we should re-experience Torah from anew, as though we encountered it for the very first time this very day. We should always feel as if today we received the Torah, and what we achieved in the past is but an immature, pre-giving of the Torah state compared with what we can now achieve in the present moment. For every day, in fact every moment, offers us new opportunities for growth and spiritual advancement.