A Heart to Know - כי תבוא

Thursday, 31 August, 2023 - 10:37 pm


A Heart to Know

In the final days of his life, Moses spoke to the Jewish people and told them that only now, forty years after receiving the Torah, are they ready to internalize its message and understand its teachings. Moses stated: 

Yet until this day, the Lord has not given you a heart to know, eyes to see and ears to hear. (Deuteronomy 29:3)

Indeed, based on this verse, the Talmud derives that the same applies to all teachers. A student will not comprehend the full depth of his teacher's wisdom until forty years have passed: 

Rabba said: Conclude from here that a person does not understand the opinion of his teacher until after forty years (Talmud, Avoda Zarah 5b)  

Nevertheless, the verse seems a bit difficult to understand. How can we say that the Jewish people who experienced the extraordinary Divine revelation at Sinai did not possess knowledge of the Torah? The sages refer to the generation of Moses as "the generation of Knowledge", how can the Torah imply that they lacked "a heart to know"? 

The Chassidic commentaries offer a beautiful interpretation. 

The verse does not say that the people did not have knowledge, or the ability to see and hear. The key emphasis of the verse is on the words "heart," "eyes," and "ears". At Sinai, and throughout the forty years in the desert, the Jewish people's experience was intensely spiritual. In a sense, they studied Torah in an effort to transcend the world, to escape the gravitational pull of earthly existence, and to become submerged within holiness and spirituality. So, while they certainly experienced knowledge, the knowledge did not permeate and affect their physical reality, their heart, eyes, and ears. 

Specifically after the forty-year period in the desert, as the Jewish people stood at the bank of the Jordan river prepared to enter the land of Israel, were they going to experience a life not of transcending the world but rather of transforming it. The holiness of the land of Israel and the Temple in Jerusalem represent the ability to sanctify the earth and permeate it with holiness. Only at that point did the Jewish people receive not only knowledge in the spiritual sense but knowledge that had the transformative ability to sanctify every aspect of our life. 

Adapted from the Sfas Emes 

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