How broad based this quest will be, depends upon the level of self discovery of the individual. It is for this very reason that the Ralbag’s perush al- Hatorah centers on the gleaning of toelet from the torah story. It is precisely the quest into self discovery, helping man attain ever more profound insights into his own functionality, that the Torah is intended to promote.
We left off with the question of a “starting point”- where does the quest for self discovery begin? What is the critical first step in transitioning from taanug to toelet?
The simple answer to this question is- Shabbat. Abstaining from melacha once a week is the key to beginning the path of self discovery and therefore, it lies at the foundation of the Taryag system.Why is this so? As the great Philosophers said, the first step in knowledge, is knowing one’s own self.
יראת ה ראשית דעת חכמה ומוסר אוילים בזו
Awe of Hashem is the beginning of knowledge, while arrogant fools have contempt for wisdom and self discovery
The great obstacle to knowing ones own self, lies in pretending that what I myself am, is obvious, even self evident. It is precisely this phenomenon of false self evidence, which blocks the entire enterprise of self discovery.
"דרך אויל ישר בעיניו, ושומע לעצה - חכם" משלי יב טו
The way of the arrogant fool seems right in his own eyes, but he who listens to advice is wise.
It is this self evidence that causes our preoccupation with means rather than ends. Exploration of ends presupposes an exploration of the self as an organism, an examination of what we are and what our functions are. In essence we must come to realise that man as an organism, is part of the great Craft of Creation and is therefore an object of discovery. Here again Einstein presents the point very well.
A human being is a part of the whole, called by us "Universe," a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. The striving to free oneself from this delusion is the one issue of true religion. Not to nourish it but to try to overcome it is the way to reach the attainable measure of piece of mind.
The New Quotable Einstein by Alice Calaprice (Princeton University Press, 2005: ISBN 0691120749), p. 206
When we think about it, what we are, in essence, is a mind operating through a body. Abstention from melacha on Shabat involves an insight into our identity as human beings. Specifically, we abstain from overindulgence in melacha precisely because to work 24/7 precludes our mission as minds. To be sure a mind, will act rationally in its practical affairs. It will use wise plans to conquer the material world, to the degree that it can be conquered. But a wise person will also note, that securing material resources is of little benefit, if it becomes an end in its own right. A life mission founded on pursuit of conquest of the world, for its own sake, condemns man to a life of frustration and failure. Instead, we must do melacha, in proper measure, to live the life of mind as an ultimate end.
ששת ימים תעבד ועשית כל מלאכתך. ויום השביעי שבת ליהוה אלהיך לא תעשה כל מלאכה
Six days you shall labor, and do all your craft, but the seventh day is a Sabbath dedicated to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any craft
As Einstein says:
“The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. He who knows it not and can no longer wonder, no longer feel amazement, is as good as dead, a snuffed-out candle. It was the experience of mystery — even if mixed with fear — that engendered religion. A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which are only accessible to our reason in their most elementary forms-it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man.
Albert Einstein, The World as I See It, Secaucus, New Jersy: The Citadel Press, 1999, p. 5.
Shabbat initiates man into this experience of mind, Einstein is speaking of. As such it is indeed at the foundation of the Dibrot and therefore of taryag Mitzvot. In the next post we will explore the Halachic significance of “self discovery”.