The Joy of Life

2 11 2010

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Yitzchak Cohen from his series, Man’s Obligation: A Study in Chovot Halevavot

Chovot Halevovot #7: The Joy of Life

King David said, “Mibsari echze Elokai. From my flesh, I perceive Hashem.” The Chovot Halevavot notes that the physical part of man a wonder. Hashem also gave us wondrous intelligence and the powers of recollection, differentiation, and perception. Our intellect distinguishes us from other living creatures.

The Shemoneh Esrei is divided into three sections: praise, supplication, and thanks.  All the blessings associated with supplication begin directly with entreaty except for the bracha of daat, which begins ata chonen. Why is this so? On Shabbat we do not entreat Hashem for any personal requests before reciting Havdala. One needs daat to make havdala. Therefore, we first recite “Ata chonen l’adam daat.” In a sense, Ata Chonen is praise to Hashem. Intellect is a gift from our Master to us while all the other bakashot in Shemoneh Esrei involve things that are a part of us like health, sustenance, and redemption.

Sometimes we do not appreciate our intellect until we see people who do not have it. The Pat Lechem explains that life becomes insurmountably difficult for a person without sechel. This is manifest in the way a person eats, drinks, dresses himself, and conducts himself.  Hashem’s blessing of intelligence indicates to us that there is a Creator.

How can we use our sechel to emulate Hashem? Sechel shows itself in sensitivities and feelings, not only in knowledge. The power of intellect can bring a person to emuna.  The Alter of Kelm used to say that Hasem created whatever was necessary for man to survive in this world, free of charge.  Emuna is something we need to survive, and therefore Hashem implanted it within each of us regardless of our level of Torah knowledge or intelligence.

The prophet Yeshayahu says, “The ox knows his master and the donkey his owner’s manger, but My people do not know Me.”  If an animal knows who is in charge of him, shouldn’t a person with intellect see that? Rav Elya Lopian answers that this is the animal’s nature while man has free choice. What is the prophet really saying? An animal naturally sees his master. Similarly, faith in Hashem is a natural part of us.

What is emuna peshuta? If you ask an atheist, “How do you know that your father is really your father?” He will most likely answer, “I never had this question, I feel it in my heart.”  Simple faith is a natural part of us, we do not need proofs or reasons. How then can man come to deny his Creator? Arrogance and refusal to submit to obligations and a higher calling can blind a person to emuna.

We can perceive Hashem not only with our intellect but with our power of speech as well. Communication is the pen of the heart. Hashem gave us a means to express our thoughts through speaking and writing.  This can be abused through lashon hara, shaming others, and hurting someone with angry words.  In contrast, we can sanctify Hashem’s name with these very gifts. Greeting a friend with a friendly “Good morning!” offering an encouraging word, and penning a letter of condolence are all ways to do chesed with our power of communication.  This too manifests the greatness of our Creator.

There are so many barriers blocking our perception of Hashem’s remarkable kindness to us.  Let us open our eyes and see His greatness with the awesome gifts He has given us.



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