3.8 Learning to Perceive God

Sources refer to Rabbi Bachaye ibn Pakuda's Chovos HaLevavos (Duties of the Heart)


Seven Different Types of Signs (Chapter 4)

There are seven different types of signs of wisdom in creation that we may observe and contemplate:

1. The signs of wisdom inherent in the basic elements of the world. Regarding these, King David said, “Forever, Hashem, Your word endures in Heaven, Your faith from generation to generation. You established the Earth and it remains. According to Your ruling, they stand today because all things are Your servants” (Psalms 119:89-91);

2. The signs of wisdom inherent in humanity, which is the apex of creation. King David referred to this when he said, “Hashem, our Master, how elevated is Your Name throughout the Earth!” (Psalms 8:10);

3. The signs of wisdom inherent in the form of a human being - physically, mentally and spiritually – which makes him superior to other forms of life. Regarding this Job said, “You clothed me with skin and flesh, You sheltered me with bones and tendons. You have given me life and kindness and Your word guards my spirit” (Job 10:11-12);

4. The signs of wisdom inherent in other species, from large to small, that walk, fly, swim or creep, in all their vast variety. Job said, “Who prepares food for the raven when its young cry to God and they wander without food?” (Job 38:41), as well as numerous other verses describing God’s relationship with a broad array of His creations;

5. The signs of wisdom inherent in plant life and geology, as per the verse “He spoke of the trees, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that comes out of a wall” (I Kings 5:13);

6. The signs of wisdom inherent in the various sciences and disciplines that God designed so that a person might earn a living, meet his needs, and benefit in all other ways. We see this in the verse, “Who put wisdom in the innermost parts? Who gave understanding to the heart?” (Job 38:36);

7. The signs of wisdom inherent in the Torah and its laws, through which a person might serve God and acquire for himself a share in the Next World, as per the verse “Turn your ears and come to Me; listen and your souls will live” (Isaiah 55:3).

Signs of God’s Wisdom in Creation (Chapter 5)

Throughout this chapter, the Chovos HaLevavos shares numerous examples of signs of God’s wisdom that are evident in creation. Here, we share just a few of them:

  • Look at the kindness God shows to the unborn by cradling them in their mothers’ wombs, where they are sheltered from the elements and no one can touch them. Food is provided requiring no effort by the fetus itself. When he is ready, the baby leaves the womb without any planning on its part but through God’s power;
  • Once born, the infant is provided with nutritious milk from its mother. The milk is not so profuse as to pose a burden to the mother by flowing freely at all times, nor is it so scarce as to require the infant to exert great effort in extracting it. This is thanks to God’s design of the nipple’s opening, which is like the eye of a needle;
  • The Chovos HaLevavos goes on in some detail about the wonders of the human body – hands for holding, feet for walking, eyes for seeing, ears for hearing, a nose for smelling, a tongue for speaking, teeth for chewing, a stomach to digest food, a liver to remove toxins, and much more. The hidden benefits of our organs, the Chovos HaLevavos tells us, are even greater than the ones that are obvious to us;
  • Consider a person’s intangible faculties, such as the capacity to think, to remember, to forget, to reason, to speak and even to feel shame. What would it be like if a person lacked even one of these abilities? Imagine if a person couldn’t remember – he would have no idea what he owned, what he had seen and heard, who his friends and enemies were, or even how to get home. Experience – which is crucial in making decisions – would be useless. But the ability to forget is also important! Without it, a person would never cease mourning as he couldn’t get past the misfortunes that befell him, and he would be in constant anxiety because he would not be able to stop worrying about things that might occur;
  • Think about how wonderful the gift of writing is! Thanks to this ability, we can read the words of people far away, or who lived long ago. People can communicate with their loved ones, life-saving instructions can be transmitted, and knowledge can be preserved;
  • Many more examples are given.

The Chovos HaLevavos tells us that everything created not only testifies to God’s wisdom, it also benefits man in some fashion, either obvious or hidden. For example, the benefits of light are obvious but those of darkness are more subtle. Without it, we would be unable to cease our daytime activities and recuperate. Without night, there would be unceasing daytime, so we would be incapable of distinguishing different periods of time. How would we have hours, days or weeks if we lived in a world of continuous daylight? We would be unable to schedule appointments or to celebrate time-dependent occasions like Shabbos and the holidays.

Finally, a sign of God’s wisdom is evident in the availability of different substances. For example, a person cannot live more than a few minutes without air, therefore air is literally everywhere. We also need water to survive but one can live longer without water than without air. Accordingly, water is also plentiful but not to the same extent as air. Different food sources may vary in their availability but substitutions can be made so that there is always something to be had. Similarly, clothing is important but not as desperately needed for survival; supplies may be limited but different materials can always be found. Gold, silver and precious gems are not important for survival and, accordingly, they are rather rare.

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