the breath.

(Written by Rabbi Yisroel Blumenthal)

The deepest yearning of man is the longing to connect with God. It is not enough for a person to know with the mind and the intellect that God exists. We yearn for connection, we yearn to experience God.

In the material world we distinguish between knowledge that is purely intellectual on the one hand and between sensory knowledge on the other. Abstract concepts that were not illustrated to us in the physical world, such as the solution to a mathematical equation, remain in the realm of the intellect. We do not connect with such knowledge on any level of depth. We have not experienced that knowledge. In sharp contrast to intellectual knowledge, we have sensory knowledge, concepts that we encountered through our senses. A scene that we saw, sounds that we heard, experiences that impacted us on the level of the sensory. These concepts touch our inner beings, we sense that we truly connect with that which we have experienced through the senses.

Since God is not a physical being, we will not be able to acquire knowledge of God through our physical senses. This fact presents a certain problem. We yearn to connect to God, but we cannot do so in the way that we connect to our material surroundings…

The key to connecting to God is found in Genesis 2:7. The Scripture teaches that God brought man to life by breathing into his nostrils. Throughout scripture we find that the inner being of man, generally translated as soul, is called by the Hebrew name “Neshama”, which literally means: “breath” (see Proverbs 20:27, Job 32:8). Our inner being is a breath from God, our inner being is what yearns for God, and our inner being has the ability to experience God. The connection that is achieved when the inner being of man experiences God surpasses every sensory experience that exists. Our senses are external to us, our inner being IS us. When our neshama/breath/inner being connects with its Creator, WE have experienced.

The barrier that stands in our way is not the fact that God is not physical, because our inner being is not physical either. The barrier that stands in our way is the fact that we do not connect to our own inner beings. We perceive ourselves and we define ourselves according to the experiences of the body, of the emotions, of the senses and of the intellect, but we fail to tune into the yearning of our inner being, the experiences of our inner being and the reality of our inner being.

One of the clear distinctions between our external shell; our bodies and emotions on the one hand, and our inner beings on the other hand is the type of experience that they seek. Our external shell seeks experiences of taking, it wants to posses it wants to absorb and take in. Our inner being is not a “taker”, it is a “giver”. Our inner being, which is but a breath from God, by its intrinsic nature reflects God’s goodness, kindness and giving. Our yearning for God is not a desire to “take in” another spiritual experience. It is not a self centered desire. It is a desire to be absorbed into God’s love, into God’s goodness, into God’s holiness and into God’s purity. It is a desire to give ourselves over to God. It is a desire to give rather than a desire to take. Ultimately we will become the channel for God’s light that will flow through our inner beings to light up the world (Isaiah 60:2,3).

We can summarize these concepts by stating that the chief barrier that stands between us and our connection to God is the fact that we do not identify ourselves with our own inner beings, and instead, we identify with our external shells that seeks to take and to posses.

With this knowledge in front of us we can understand one of the central themes of Scripture. Time and time again we are told and reminded that God desires justice and kindness (Genesis 18:19, Isaiah 55:1, Jeremiah 9:23, Ezekiel 18:27, Micah 6:8, Psalm 106:3, Proverbs 21:3). Justice and kindness are described by the prophets as “knowing God” (Jeremiah 22:16). People who seek closeness to God before walking on the path of justice and charity will not find God (Isaiah 58:2).

Justice and kindness are the steps we follow to move from our identification with our external shell and towards connecting with our own inner beings. Justice is the recognition that the desire to take that which is not rightfully ours is an abhorrent desire. It is not a desire that we should identify with. Love of kindness is the development of the desire of our inner beings to give. When we love kindness and charity, we identify with the breath of God inside of us that seeks to be a part of God’s giving.

Only after we have moved from the “taking mode” to the “giving mode” can we hope to walk humbly with our God.

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