Parshas Vaeschanan-Likkutei Torah-Belief in G-d versus knowledge of his existence

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Parshas Vaeschanan


Veyadata Hayom Vehasheivosa…”

[Likkutei Torah p. 4]

This Mamar expounds upon a verse in this Parsha that embodies the very core of Judaism: belief in G-d. It discusses the difference between belief versus objective reality, blind faith versus deductive reasoning and human intellect, and establishes the premise that the Mitzvah to believe in G-d and the Mitzvah to know G-d are two different commands. The Alter Rebbe, in the introduction to Shaar Hayichud V’haemunah, states that a Jew must have pure faith in G-d’s unity. This means that not only must this faith be without question, but it must be a faith of purity. In other words, with regard to those matters of faith that can be intellectually understood and deduced, one is in fact obligated to strive to comprehend them. One who merely accepts these matters as articles of faith alone and does not strive to grasp them in his mind is considered to have impure faith. Indeed, Chassidic teachings emphasize that Judaism promotes the aggressive pondering of the human mind to conclude that G-d exists and to not leave this matter simply to faith. In this vein, one must know what to believe and what must be known due to human comprehension. The Mamar deals with this very fundamental part of our faith and separates matters of belief from matters of knowledge. The Alter Rebbe then takes this issue a step further, stating that it is not enough to simply know of G-d, but one must contemplate this knowledge until it is internalized into his very nature and instincts. Furthermore, the Alter Rebbe teaches that even those matters about G-d that are of belief and faith can be internalized until they actually become objective reality. This Mamar serves as the core of many other Mamarim on the dual subject of belief and knowledge, most notably the famous Mamar of the Tzemach Tzedek (the Alter Rebbe’s grandson) entitled “Mitzvos Hamanas Elokus,” printed in Derech Mitzvosecha


Explorations of the Mamar

1.      What is the Mitzvah to believe in G-d? Do we believe He exists, or do we know He exists?

2.      Is one commanded to try to intellectually confirm G-d’s existence?

3.      How does one fulfill the Mitzvah of Veyadata Hayom?

4.      How can one prove G-d’s infinite existence to the finite human mind?

5.      What is the difference between Emunah (belief) and Yedia (knowledge)?

6.      How does one internalize his faith and knowledge of G-d to the point that they become a reality of his very nature?


The Question:

The verse states, “Veyadata Hayom Vehasheivosa El Levavecha/You shall know today and return unto your hearts.” This seems to be redundant, as the Torah has already stated, “Ata Hareisa Ladaas/You have been shown to know,” so why must it further state, “You shall know today?” To understand this, we must first examine the Mitzvah of Shema. The first Mitzvah that we were commanded after the Aseres Hadibros at Matan Torah was the Mitzvah of Shema. What remains to be understood is why the verse mentions this Mitzvah at the conclusion of the verses discussing the Jewish people entering Eretz Yisrael? The Mitzvah of Shema is an obligation that is subject to the person (body) and not just the land of Israel (location). To understand all this, we must first introduce the difference between Daas [knowledge of G-d] and Emunah [Belief in G-d].


Two commandments:

Emunah in G-d and Daas of G-d are listed as two separate commandments in the Torah. The verse states, “Da Es Elokei Avicha/Know the G-d of your father.” This means that one is commanded to know and actually comprehend G-d. This is one Mitzvah. Another verse states, “Vayaminu BaHashem/And you shall believe in G-d.” This is the Mitzvah to believe in G-d, above and beyond one’s cognitive capacity. The question is what are we commanded to believe and what are we commanded to know? If one knows, why call it faith, and if he believes then he doesn’t need to know!


G-d’s existence is fact – not faith:

In truth, that which the world considers “Belief” or “Faith,” that G-d enlivens everything and created the worlds from nothing, is a grave mistake. This is not a matter of belief or blind faith at all, and no Emunah is required to reach this conclusion. Everyone sees the vitality in the world; its structure, movements, and function. Just as each person knows he is alive and feels his existence even without actually seeing his soul, so too does the world scream in testimony of the life-force within it, which vivifies it and causes it to function. The entire planet, indeed, universe, is like one large living entity in a continuous state of existence, containing a deeply engrained life-force within giving it life, movement, and functionality. This matter is so conclusive to the human mind; it is as if one feels it in his very being. It is for this reason that the verse states, “Mibesari Echzeh Eloka/from my flesh I see G-d,” as He is seen with such intensity that it is as if one is feeling his own flesh.


How does the world testify G-d’s existence to us?

This matter is well expounded upon in other Chassidic Mamarim and teachings. In general, there are various testimonies from the world, along with one’s own empirical evidence, that testify to G-d’s existence with the same surety and absoluteness of conviction as an object one sees or an emotion that one feels. Just as we are certain of the existence of an item that we see, so too can we intellectually aver G-d’s existence to the same degree. There are a number of logistics that lead to a conclusion of G-d’s existence. The following are the methods:

1.      We see life in the world: The spheres constantly move, the wind blows, plants grow. How does this happen? Who is moving the world? Who is moving the sun? Who is pushing the plants out of the ground? This proves an existence of a spiritual force that is above the physical domains of mass or matter.

2.      Designer’s trademark: The complexity of the universe as a whole, and each individual creature in particular, testify that there must be a designer as it could not have happened on its own, the same way that a novel could not have been created through the random spillage of ink.

3.      The existence of time proves a Being before Time: We witness the passage of time, hence corroborating the existence of time. Time by definition must have a beginning, otherwise there would never be a present, as it’s impossible to pass an infinite amount of time in order to reach the present. This raises the question of who created time and in essence, who created the universe (physical space), which is bound to time and thus must have been created either together with time or after time, but not beforehand (i.e. no space without time). This forces a conclusion of the existence of a being that created the universe. Since this being created time, he cannot be bound by time, as otherwise he too would have to be created, and if he is created we revert back to the original question of who created time. Thus there must be a being that is not bound by time.

4.      Cause and effect proves G-d’s existence: Everything has a cause. There must be one first cause that created the universe. What is that first cause? One cannot say the universe created itself, as that means it was around before it was created. One must thus conclude that something exists that does not have a cause. One cannot say that an infinite amount of cause and effect exists without a beginning, as we already established that time by definition must have a beginning. Hence there must be a primary existence that is not bound to cause and was not created. What is this existence that does not have cause? We must conclude that this primary existence is an infinite being, otherwise, he too would have a cause, for how else did he become finite? If, however, the first existence is infinite, then by definition he is not bound by logistics of cause and effect, as part of being infinite means he always existed and will always exist and is all able. Hence, only the recognition of an infinite being, which is by definition causeless, can satisfy the question of how the first existence came about. There is no other possible answer. The intellect thus forces an acknowledgment of G-d’s existence.



What is Daas?

This testimony of the human mind to G-d’s existence is not considered as faith/Emunah, but rather as knowledge/Daas. Daas refers to knowledge of such intensity that one actually feels it in his emotions. The term Daas represents applied contemplation and an internalization of a matter that make it a constant before one’s very eyes, and that one’s heart never departs from the consciousness of it. Thus, regarding G-d’s existence, the Daas-based command of Veyadata Hayom is for a Jew to contemplate and integrate the reality of G-d’s existence on the cognitive level and to perpetually live with that reality. It is not enough to simply float the facts of G-d’s existence through one’s mind, as mere thought is rarely enough to change one’s natural feelings or actions. Rather, one is required to deeply connect his soul with this reality by contemplating it in a vivid and animated method until he begins to actually experience the reality of His presence before him.


A parable from oxygen:

Oxygen is one of the central factors that allow us to live, without which we could not survive. Nevertheless, how often do we appreciate or recognize our dependency on oxygen, our need for air? In fact, one could theoretically go his entire life without ever thinking about the oxygen that he breathes. However, as soon as one places his head under water, it hits him like a lightning bolt and the only thing he can think of is oxygen! He becomes instantly aware of its importance and existence and his constant dependency on it. Yet one need not go underwater to grasp oxygen dependency. One can accomplish this even while on the ground, breathing fresh air, through simple contemplation and awareness. This parable is the parable of our relationship with the knowledge of G-d’s existence. We know He exists, but that knowledge   lies dormant in the back of our minds and we can live our entire lives completely unaffected by it, similar to our ignorance of the very air we breathe. Nevertheless, one can escape the natural unawareness of G-d’s existence via contemplation and thoughtful observation. The daily contemplation and awareness of G-d will then help change one’s very nature so that it too will begin acting in a way befitting before G-d, thus fulfilling the verse, Shivisi Havayah Linegdi Samid.



What type of G-d does the world testify to us?

The physical world’s overt testimony of G-d’s existence, in a way that can be felt by one’s very flesh as a visual actuality, is only regarding His aspect of Mimalei Kol Almin. This means that the only testimony we can experience of G-d in this world is the fact that he gives it life. What we lack however, is the vivid proof of His aspect of Soveiv Kol Almin. In other words, the world’s testimony speaks nothing of His powers, omniscience, whether or not everything is like naught before Him, whether or not He is found everywhere, and all the other G-dly characteristics. So while the experience of the world undoubtedly testifies to the existence of a supernal power that enlivens it, it does not reveal what this power is or its capabilities. It naturally reveals more about the creations than it does about the Creator. It is precisely for this reason that we require Emunah/faith. The facts that we believe about the supernal power, which have been proven to our intellect, as being omnipotent and infinite and found everywhere simultaneously, are not possible to bring into the level of Daas, for they are incomprehensible. Rather, one must believe and is commanded to believe, that these attributes are correct about Him.


Internalizing the Emunah of Soveiv Kol Almin:

The verse states,“Dwell on the land and nurture the faith.” This means that one is required to nurture his faith until it is set in his heart in a way that the Daas is vividly felt. The means to achieve this is with Torah and Mitzvos. Through the Torah and Mitzvos and the Avoda of Tefillah, one is able to draw down the level of Soveiv Kol Almin into one’s very heart. This is the meaning of Shema Yisrael, that this Emunah in Soveiv Kol Almin becomes internalized by the heart. This is hinted to in the verse, “Shema Yisrael Hashem,” that the level of Hashem that we believe in, “Hashem Echad,” will be drawn below into Echad, which are the boundaries of the worlds, the seven heavens and one earth. 


The Mitzvah of Veyadata Hayom:

The command of Veyadata Hayom is not to have knowledge and internalization of G-d’s existence as it is expressed in Mimalei Kol Almin, as that knowledge is readily experienced from testimony of the world, and its internalization was already commanded in the verse of “Ata Hareisa Ladaas.” Rather the verse is referring to the knowledge and internalization of the aspect of Soveiv Kol Almin, which had yet to be commanded.


Lessons of the Mamar:

·         Know that there is a Mitzvah to comprehend G-d’s existence in this world, and the Mitzvah of Emunah only relates to His powers and capabilities.

·         Take time to internalize your faith and knowledge of G-d’s existence. Think about it for a few minutes daily, and see how it affects your service of G-d and faith in Him.


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