The Two Mountains of Judaism

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By Yaakov Klein

(This article was written for the Pesach edition of Aish UK’s Perspectives Magazine.)

In sharp contrast to the traditional approach of the other Chassidic masters, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (1772 – 1810) would often play chess with the “enlightened” Jews of Uman, Jews who had forsaken the ancient tradition of their birth for what they saw as being a more sophisticated lifestyle. As they played, the great master would lovingly engage these Jews in dialogue about religion in the hope that they might realize their error and return to their roots. One day, during one of these sessions, the topic of God arose.

“Rabbi, you are clearly a man of superior intelligence who has mastered many wisdoms and academic disciplines” began one of the intellectuals. “How, then, can you believe that there is a “man in the sky”, a mythical being who created the unfeeling natural world that surrounds us? I find believing in God to be just as preposterous as believing in unicorns or dragons!”

Rebbe Nachman looked up from the game, his eyes burning with intensity. “My friend” he said, “Listen well. The God you don’t believe in, I don’t believe in either.”

The immature and limited understanding of God maintained by much of the world is something that an intellectually honest person has justified difficulty accepting as truth. But when we encounter the understanding of God presented by our holy tradition, we soon come to recognize that it is so much more profound, nuanced, deep, and sensible than we ever could have imagined. Rebbe Nachman didn’t tell the enlightened Jews of Uman to take a leap of faith. He asked only that they cast aside the preconceived “image” of the fairytale God presented by society and allow themselves to explore the depth of the Torah’s understanding. He knew that if they would engage in serious Torah study, peeling back layer after layer of understanding to reveal the inner light and depth carefully concealed underneath, they would find another God waiting at the core – a God they could indeed believe in.

One of the ways to begin finding the “believable God” hidden within what is often an unbelievable tradition is to explore the inner meaning of the stories, events, and laws of the Torah. Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook (1865-1935) taught that the Jewish soul longs for great expanses in religious thought; broad ideas which bind disparate concepts, unify great ideals, and whose powerful light can illuminate the innumerable minutia of the Jewish experience. In this essay, we hope to experience this kind of learning by exploring the deep meaning held within the two iconic mountains in the Jewish tradition – Mount Sinai, and the Temple Mount.

On the surface, the two mountains of Judaism seem kind of trivial. Their significance appears to depend only upon the function they served; Mount Sinai as the site for the giving of the Torah and the Temple Mount as the site upon which the holy Temple was built. However, the Chassidic masters revealed an entirely new level of understanding.

What is the difference between a teacher and a father? Although there are many, the prime difference between them is the difference between the conditional and unconditional nature of their relationships. A student’s relationship with his teacher is conditional. When he is behaving in class and absorbing the material, he is a student of his teacher, but if his constant disruption necessitates his transfer to a different program, his relationship with the teacher is immediately terminated. A child’s relationship with his father, however, is unconditional. No matter how poorly the son behaves or how badly he angers his father, he remains his father’s son. Even if he rejects his father entirely and runs away, it doesn’t help in the slightest. Nothing he does can sever that bond.

Now, what if a child were to be taught by his father? It follows that these two relationships would function at once. Put more accurately, there would be two levels to the relationship. On one level, it is true that if the child were never to learn anything, the father would cease to be his teacher. However, because the teacher is also his father, there is a level to their relationship that runs so much deeper in which their bond cannot possibly be broken – permeated, as it is, with unconditional love.

The Chassidic masters teach that these two levels are present in God’s relationship with every Jew: He is both our Teacher and our Father. The headquarters for this deep concept are the two mountains of Judaism, Mount Sinai and the Temple Mount

Whereas the biblical personality most closely connected with Mount Sinai is Moshe Rabbeinu (“Moshe our Teacher“), as he alone climbed the mountain to receive the entirety of Torah, the biblical personalities most bound with the Temple Mount are the Avos (“Fathers“), Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, each of whom revealed a new dimension of the place.

Mount Sinai represents the dynamic of our relationship with God in which He is our Teacher. On this level, our relationship with the Source of life exists to the degree that we heed His Will as revealed in the Torah, the Book of Life. The bursts of fire, clouds of smoke, and loud noises which accompanied the giving of the Torah are emblematic of its rigidity and the fearsome responsibility involved in our acceptance of its authority. If we are students of the Torah and committed to following its myriad laws and statutes, Hashem is our teacher; “Hamelameid Torah l’amo Yisrael – He Who teaches Torah to the Jewish nation“. However, if we turn our back on Hashem’s Will and disconnect from the holy Torah, ceasing to be students, then Hashem ceases to be our teacher – that aspect of our relationship is terminated.

However, there is another level of our relationship with Hashem, a far deeper level – the dynamic of the Temple Mount.  In this aspect, the relationship between each individual Jew and the Master of the world is entirely unbreakable. The Temple Mount radiates the light of Hashem our Father, Who loves His children unconditionally regardless of how poorly they may behave or how disconnected they may become. The Temple was the place where the most distant sinners could bring sacrifices to Hashem and recalibrate their alignment with the Divine. It was the place where each year, on Yom Kippur, the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holiest and achieve repentance for the entire Jewish nation.

As we walk the narrow bridge of spiritual growth, it is imperative that we consider our relationship with Hashem using this dichotomy – teacher and parent, Mount Sinai and Temple Mount. The aspect of Mount Sinai demands that we be attentive students, intent on internalizing and actualizing Hashem’s Will in our daily lives through the medium of Halacha. It urges us on to making the sacrifices necessary for us, the students, to earn a highly coveted relationship with the Master Teacher, the Author of existence. However, by the same token, the aspect of Temple Mount gives us encouragement, strength, and hope during lapses in our connection, when the road to spiritual success is strewn with impassible obstacles and the journey seems useless. At the moment when the Satan succeeds in convincing us that, due to our repeated failings, God has no interest in our efforts, the smoke of the incense wafts out of the Holy Temple in our hearts, filling our world with light, comfort, and the knowledge that, like a father who loves his children unconditionally, Hashem adores us, takes pride in our every movement, and cherishes the tiniest attempt to grow close to Him.

The key, as in most areas of life, is balance. Once that balance is struck, the Jew finds him or herself in a relationship with Hashem which, in times of success, encourages even greater levels of commitment to the Torah lifestyle, and, in times of despair, shines the light of divine encouragement, support, and everlasting hope.

Climbing the mountain of spiritual success requires that we never lose sight of these two special mountains, Mount Sinai and the Temple Mount. “I lift my eyes to the mountains… my help comes from God.

 

Yaakov Klein is an inspirational educator and musician. He is the author of two books, Sparks from Berditchov and Sunlight of Redemption (Feldheim). After studying in the Mir Yeshiva, Yaakov and his wife Shira settled in Chicago, where he taught for the Illinois Center for Jewish Studies. After moving to back to Israel in 2018, Yaakov spends his days lecturing in various yeshivot, producing music, and working on future books.

 

13 COMMENTS

  1. “Hashem our Father, Who loves His children unconditionally regardless of how poorly they may behave or how disconnected they may become.”

    The תורה הקדושה, our holy Torah, in the second section of Shema, which is recited multiple times a day, warns Jews of going astray, in which case (ר”ל) it says וחרה אף ה’ בכם, Hashem will get very angry, כביכול.

  2. “A student’s relationship with his teacher is conditional. When he is behaving in class and absorbing the material, he is a student of his teacher, but if his constant disruption necessitates his transfer to a different program, his relationship with the teacher is immediately terminated. ”

    Note however the teaching of Chazal that talmidim are like children, תלמידים הרי הם כבנים.

    • Great point. I think this means **when the student is being a student**. This line is talking about when the student stops being a student – then he is no longer a talmid. There has to be a cut off point, right? Chazal are talking about when the student is still bgeder talmid. An actual parent child relationship has no geder though. That’s what the article is saying I think

    • This is true if they are really talmidim which requires both the student and teacher to make that choice and even with that said they can change their mind; however a parent or a child have no choice, in the sense that your parents are the same for eternity.

  3. Firstly this article is brilliant and I enjoyed. About the comment above: this was explained in the article! The “vchara af” is an expression of the “teacher relationship” which gets destroyed. But the father relationship is always still there. If you get angry at your child do you stop caring about them and stop loving them? If you do something is really wrong. But the loving them still doesn’t negate the anger you feel. That’s why there are so many pesukim about Hashems unconditional love “beIN kach ubein kach’ “shalom shlom l’rachok vilakaroiv” “hasharui eschem bisoich tumaschem”. There are more too. This contradiction with other verse like vchara af is explained with the parent/teacher thing. Very cool. Special idea.

  4. number one- Looks like some people just can’t handle Hashems love for them. Too scary. They would rather an angry god.

    • Hashem gets angry when people do not behave properly.

      That is what the Torah says, that is the Jewish religion.

      Those who want to erase parts of the Torah they don’t like, ח”ו, and make a new “religion of love”, as Christians did, are doing something new and different. Don’t try to tell me that that is old-fashioned Judaism.

      • Angry on the level of teacher! That’s what the article says! But there is always a deeper level of “beIN kach ubein kach’!” That’s chazal! Not Christianity rl!! And all other maamarei chazal like that one! Just because Christianity distorted the Torahs messages of love it doesn’t meant that we have to abandon them. That is dangerous. That is why we have so many problems today

      • Sorry to tell you Judaism is definitely a religion of love !!!! Except it’s defined by the Divine contrarily to Christianity.
        Didn’t Hillel say we could sum up all the Thora in “ואהבת לרעך כמוך”?
        Hachem loves us so much even when we sin chas veshalom. Yes there are consequences to our actions but Hachem’s love for am Yisrael is bigger than it all and if we only understood that how much more would we love Him and how better would we serve Him.

    • אבינו – our father. מלכנו – our King. This would also fit father teacher. Not sure what you are missing here. This essay doesn’t encourage “starting up” only the ability to do teshuva

  5. The Torah tells us in Vayikra (25:55) כִּֽי־לִ֤י בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ עֲבָדִ֔ים עֲבָדַ֣י הֵ֔ם אֲשֶׁר־הוֹצֵ֥אתִי אוֹתָ֖ם מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרָ֑יִם

    We are slaves, or servants, of Hashem.

    Is that is conveniently left out of the article because it doesn’t fit into the author’s neo-Hasidic pshetel?

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