This entails not living with Hashem as “He”—something hidden—but as “You.” In other words, although a person may believe that Hashem is right nearby, he may nevertheless relate to Him as “He” as if He is hidden, “for no man can see me and live” (Shemos 33:20). No being has a perception of Hashem, and so He is perceived as being hidden. But our teachers have said, “He is hidden from their intellects, yet revealed in their hearts.” In other words, although He is hidden from the intellect of all beings, and He cannot be grasped mentally in any way, He is revealed in the hearts of the Jewish people, as it says, “Hashem is the Rock of my heart and my portion (Tehillim 73:26). In the heart, one can feel that he is relating directly to Hashem. This is the depth of the inner essence of a person’s avodah [serving] here in this world—to live with Hashem, relating directly to Him at all times.
This book, Building a Sanctuary in the Heart (Bilvavi), engages with the way a person can believe in God, even obey His commandments, and still have a path of growing closer to Him. This is the truest kind of goodness we can know and be devoted to (Psalm 73:28). There’s an emphasis on obedience that itself is intimacy with God, through learning to see more clearly and know more deeply.
It would be very extreme and strange for a person to live like this, obsessed with coming closer to the road of loving and finding God, if it weren’t true that He made us and has formed a way to know Him. On the other hand, it would be unnatural and devastating to miss this reality, failing to see and respond with all our passion to the engagement of God with us. People struggle deeply with faith for so many reasons. It can be hard to imagine why God would create such a limited and painful world; current historical and scientific theories can seem compelling and block this path of belief. Some people are looking for comfort in its own right and feel that they don’t care about anything beyond what catches their attention, sometimes even in relationships. And some have known God in a meaningful way. Most of us have all three of these experiences, in different ways, as we come to our choices about what we see and what we will cling onto.
This book is challenging in that it speaks more about drumming into your experience a thing you already know, rather than finding a way with integrity to anchor into knowledge things that you have already felt. I found myself wondering how I could try to know something with a clearer level of feeling when there are still so many questions about it in the first place. Often I find it more natural to speak to God as “You” than to speak about Him; there is safety and truth in the knowledge that He hears, even when I know so little else. Finding truth is for Him and in Him, and life comes out from this. But I believe it’s true that when we do know something, we should let it transform us completely. We should hold onto it, remind ourselves often of it, and learn to feel a wider level of reality than the one that our small experiences allure us to.
While we have so much to find, He is already freely revealed in our hearts as we look to Him, and in the hearts and testimony of His servants.