Face to Face

Parashat Va-era 5777

Rabbi Meir Sendor

This week Tal Orot teamed up with an organization called Haverut to offer a workshop in Jewish meditation for therapists, physicians and social workers here in Tzfat on the campus of Livnot U’Lehibanot. Haverut is a society for healthcare professionals founded and directed by Dr. Rachel Fox-Ettun. Its mission is to enhance the healing process by facilitating genuine connections between caregivers, patients and their families. They employ art and music and training in compassionate presence to provide spiritual and social support in a comprehensive healing environment. Haverut helps patients and their families cope with the challenges of illness by channeling the creative and spiritual strength that resides within every person.

Our workshop began with all participants making music together to attune to each other – a delightful way to start. The meditation we practiced is called Histaklut, a kabbalistic gazing technique in which we meditate in pairs facing each other with eyes open, learning to use all our senses and sensibilities, even hidden powers of perception we may not have known we had, to receive and appreciate the full presence of the other. It’s a profound technique and many of the participants had moving experiences. It is a sacred trust to receive the full presence of another person.

At the beginning of this week’s parashah, HaShem has a heart-to-heart with Moshe Rabbenu, helping Moshe to appreciate that he is being granted a deeper revelation of HaShem than the Patriarchs received. Moshe had been discouraged by the results of his first meeting with Paro, but HaShem reassures him that he and Am Yisrael are under His direct, personal providential care. Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Epstein in his commentary on this parashah in his sefer Maor Va-Shemesh goes into an important and daring digression:

מאור ושמש שמות פרשת וארא

ונראה על פי פשוטו, דהנה כתיב (תהלים כה יד) סוד ה’ ליראיו, יש לפרש כך; דהנה יש להבין מה זה סודות התורה, שקוראין כל ישראל ‘סודות התורה’, שאין לומר שהכוונה על חכמת הקבלה וכתבי האר”י ז”ל וזוהר הקדוש – דהנה לשון ‘סוד’ הוא דבר שאי אפשר לגלות לאחרים כלל, והלא כל הקבלה וכתבי האר”י והזוהר יכולין לגלות לאחרים ולפרשם ביתר שאת, ואם כן כיון שנתגלה – אין זה סוד. אבל מה הוא סוד שאי אפשר לגלות לשום אדם – הוא סוד ה’. רצה לומר, עצם אלקות, שהוא היה הוה ויהיה, והוא עיקרא ושרשא דכולי עלמין, זה אי אפשר לגלות לשום בריה, רק כל אדם משער לעצמו השגת אלקות לפי שכלו ולפום שיעורין דלביה. וכל מה שהאדם מזכך עצמו, ויגע עצמו יגיעות הרבה להשיג – כך ישיג בשכלו הזך יותר ויותר. ומה שמשיג שכלו באלקותו יתברך – זה אי אפשר לגלות לשום אדם מעמקי לבו, מה שהוא בלבו ושכלו; הגם שיכול לדבר לאחרים ולהכניס בלבם מציאת אלקות ויראתו יתברך שמו – אבל כל מצפוני לבו אי אפשר לגלות להם, כידוע לכל מי שנכנס לעבודה באמת.

It would seem, according to the plain sense, that when it says “the secret of Ha-Shem is for those who fear Him (Ps. 25:14),” it should be expounded in this way. One should understand what is meant by secrets of the Torah… One should not say that the intent is the wisdom of Kabbalah and the writings of the Rabbi Yitzhak Luria, z”l, and the holy Zohar. For the term “secret” refers to something that it is impossible to reveal to others at all. But the entire Kabbalah and the writings of Rabbi Yitzhak Luria and the Zohar can be revealed to others and explained adequately. If so, since it has been revealed – this is not a secret. But what is a secret that is impossible to reveal to any person? This is “the secret of Ha-Shem.” That is, the essence of divinity, that He was, is and will be, and that He is the root of all the worlds, this is impossible to reveal to any creature. Rather, each person intuits for himself a grasp of divinity according to his intellect and the intuition of his heart. The more that a person purifies himself and exerts himself with great exertions to grasp, the more he will grasp with his pure intellect. And what his intellect grasps of His divinity, be He blessed – this is impossible to reveal to any person from the depths of one’s heart, of what is in one’s heart and mind. Even though one can speak to others and convey to their hearts the existence of the divine and reverence for Him, blessed be His Name – but all the depths of one’s heart it is impossible to reveal to them, as is known to all who have entered this work in truth.

Our most personal, intimate relationship with God cannot be expressed to another person. The same is true of our most personal, intimate relationships with each other. Even our efforts to express our love to the person we love are never enough. The sacred depths of relationship remain a precious secret, not given to words. Emmanuel Levinas extolls the ineffable mystery of the face to face relationship, the opening to the endless depth of the other. It is through our human relationships, says Levinas, that we discover openings to the divine:

The existence of God is not a question of an individual soul’s uttering logical syllogisms. It cannot be proved. The existence of God… is sacred history itself, the sacredness of man’s relation to man through which God may pass (R. Cohen, ed.,Face to Face with Levinas,p. 18).

Rabbi Saadiah Gaon, in his commentary on Sefer Yezirah, says: “in Heaven, it is all faces.” And so we sat together, face to face, with a sensitive group of caregivers, working on trying to become even more open and caring, trying to open to the depths of each other and the endless depth of the divine. We met in the meditation room on the top floor of Livnot U’Lehibanot, with a view of the sky and the mountains of the Meron range partially hidden in clouds, and it really was a little bit of Heaven.



4 thoughts on “Face to Face

  1. Yosef Resnick

    Perhaps the shoresh of our *not* being able to reveal our innermost conception and feelings of G-d is His “inability” to be able to reveal Himself to us, in a real and true way, while we are in Galut.

    So maybe, when Moshiach comes, (may it be soon!) and we have a true revelation of Elokus in this world, we will finally then have the ability to communicate our innermost feelings of what G-d is – and that understanding will finally be a complete and true one – to another person.

    1. Rabbi Meir Sendor

      Thanks for your insight, Rav Yosef. There is some support from the last sugia in Ta’anit 31a for your general idea that there may be a future time in which we can share our innermost sense of HaShem with others. There Rabbi Eleazar says: “in the future the Holy One, blessed be He, will make a circle for the righteous and He will sit in the middle among them in Gan Eden and each one will point with his finger, as it says “and it will be said in that day: behold this is our God, we hoped in Him and He has saved us, this is HaShem, we have hoped in Him, let us celebrate and rejoice in His salvation (Is. 25:9).” He is speaking, though, of consciousness in Olam HaBa, the World to Come, after the Yemot Ha-Mashiach. But the Rambam does say that in time of the Mashiach “the engagement of the whole world will be only to know HaShem. Therefore Israelites will be great sages, knowing hidden things and grasping the Mind of their Creator according to human ability, as it says “for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of HaShem as the water covers the sea (Is.11:19).” So at least, in the time of the Moshiach, we will be on the way, sharing our awareness more deeply. According to the Ari z”l, even in Olam HaBa our growth in awareness of Ein Sof continues Ad Ein Sof, endlessly. May the Moshiach come speedily in our days!

      1. Yosef Resnick

        Dear Rav Sendor, Thank you for the clarification. I believe it is a machloket between the Rambam and Ramban; will Olam haBa, after the initial yemos haMoshiach, be just neshamot, or neshamot b’gufim? I know that Chassidut (at least Chassidut Chabad) poskins like the Ramban. Thoughts?

        1. Yosef Resnick

          Like the Ramban, meaning neshamot b’gufim. So, seemingly, we will have the chance to relate to each other on a much more authentic and deeper level, informed and motivated by a true understanding and recognition of who and what G-d is. (But maybe the Rambam is correct!) 🙂

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