Parshas Vayeira-Torah Or: The two levels G-d’s knowledge of man and How G-d judges the world

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Erda Na Vieirah….…”

[Torah Or p. 14b]

This week’s Torah portion discusses the destruction of Sodom, one of the most evil and infamous cities in history. Sodom was renowned for its evil character, its corrupt justice system, and the persecution of all tourists and guests that visited it. The Gemara in Sanhedrin[1] relates several examples of its inhabitants’ treacherous activities and the city’s perverted justice system. For instance, if one person was bruised or cut by another, the judge would rule that the injured party was required to pay the attacker for doing him the favor of letting his blood! One such court case involved Eliezer, the servant of Avraham, who was injured by a Sodomite. The Sodomite judge told Eliezer to pay the attacker for the act of bloodletting. Eliezer, who was a clever fellow, then attacked the judge and injured him. The judge inquired as to the meaning of Eliezer’s impudent behavior. Eliezer replied, “You can give the money that you are supposed to pay me for letting your blood to my attacker, and then this court case will be settled!”

The people of Sodom were particularly cruel in their treatment of strangers and their refusal to give charity or provide hospitality. Guests would be robbed, tortured, and murdered, as an official city policy. Giving charity to a stranger was punishable by death and considered a great crime in the Sodomite law system. In fact, in many languages, the term “Sodom” is still used today to describe acts of cruelty performed against other people. In light of the above, the Torah narrative of the destruction of Sodom raises many questions, on which this Mamar focuses.

To begin with, the verse states that Hashem wanted to descend to Sodom to see if the complaints He had heard about the city were actually correct. The entire concept of Hashem needing to perform an action in order to gain knowledge of an occurrence is baffling, raising serious questions on the meaning of the verse and the fundamental belief that Hashem is Omnipotent. These questions lead to a deep analysis of the entire concept of G-d’s knowledge of His creations’ actions. How does Hashem know about the actions we perform; our sins and merits? Does He have prior knowledge of all our future actions? If so, how does Hashem give us freedom of choice? Can we choose to change outcomes that G-d has already foreseen? As famous philosophers, such as the Rambam and others, have asked, “How does our belief in G-d’s knowledge of the future coincide with our freedom of choice”? These difficult and unresolved philosophical queries leave the human mind in a baffled state of confusion. The Mamar tackles, explains, and clarifies these issues in an organized and structured manner. To understand this matter properly, we first require a basic comprehension of the makeup of the spiritual worlds and the position of the Sefiros within them. Clarity in these concepts not only answers the questions raised above, but it also lends the learner a new perspective on the way that Hashem directs His world and the closeness that He feels towards His creations.   


Explorations of the Mamar

1.      Why did Hashem have to descend to Sodom to be aware of the atrocities of its inhabitants?

2.      How does the idea of Divine providence not contradict Hashem’s unity?

3.      How does Hashem know all our future actions?

4.      How does Hashem’s foreknowledge of our future choices not affect our freedom of choice?



The Question:

The verse states, “And Hashem said [to Avraham], ‘The scream of Sodom and Emorah is very great and their sin is very grave. I will descend and see if the scream that is coming towards Me is indeed correct, and if so I will destroy them, and if not, I will then know.’” Hashem’s statement here is most puzzling. Why does Hashem need to descend anywhere in order to know what is going on? Can’t He see everything that is happening in the world from Heaven? Surely He knows whether Sodom committed evil, so why would He need to descend and see in order to verify this? One of the fundamental principles of our faith is that the Almighty is Omnipotent. So what would be the point of Him descending anywhere to know what His creations have done?

The grammatical construct of this verse raises another question: The Hebrew word for “scream” is in the female gender, as is the expression meaning “coming towards Me”. However, the meaning of the Hebrew words “is indeed correct” at the conclusion of the verse is in the male gender. Why is there a sudden grammatical change of gender use within the same statement?


The scream of the attribute of judgment reaches Hashem:

In actual fact, the word “the scream” does not refer to the scream of the victims of the atrocities committed in Sodom. Rather, it refers to the scream emanating from the attribute of judgment, which is the Sefirah of Malchus. The Sefirah of Malchus is called Dina Demalchusa Dina, lit. “The law of the land is the law.” Although this is a Sefirah that contains judgment, this judgment is nevertheless known as “a weak judgment”. Its purpose is to place law and order in the world and steer it in a proper direction. With the words, “and the scream has come to Me,” Hashem is saying that He has received a complaint from the attribute of Malchus about the atrocities performed by the city of Sodom. However, we still need to understand why Hashem requires the attribute of Malchus to deliver this complaint if He already has foreknowledge of all actions even before they are performed. What is the purpose of this message?


Hashgacha Pratis does not contradict Hashem’s unity-All is revealed and known before Him:

To understand the above matter, regarding the form of knowledge Hashem has of our actions, we must first introduce a known saying of the Sages regarding His knowledge: “Galuiy Veyadua Lifneiy Mi Sheamar Vehaya Haolam/It is revealed and known before He who said and created the world.” The words “revealed and known” were specifically chosen to tackle a difficult query raised by philosophers who could not fathom the concept of Divine providence in the face of Hashem’s unity. The philosophers could not understand how one can believe in the concept of Divine providence and at the same time believe that Hashem is a single, essential entity that is not made up, and will never G-d forbid be made up, of different aspects or parts. “Divine providence” means that Hashem decides and intervenes in every aspect of the world, which includes a multitude of matters. This contradicts the idea of Hashem’s unity, because every piece of knowledge requires one to focus his mind on the concept and acquire the information, thus incorporating this new information within the person’s soul, making it no longer a single entity that is clean of any outside parts. Likewise, when Hashem focuses and comprehends all the worldly matters of His creations, He is, so to say, making these multiple aspects of knowledge part of Himself, just like a person that has studied and now gained information. Hashem’s unity does not merely emphasize that He is the only G-d, but mainly that He is a pure single entity that does not incorporate any other aspects, including matters of intellect.

Chazal’s statement above answers this query. Hashem’s knowledge of worldly matters is unlike the knowledge of man, which places his exclusive focus and attention on a particular subject in order to gain the information that is within his mind and causes his mind to be bound together with this information. Hashem, however, does not need to focus on anything in order to know of its occurrence. Rather, everything is revealed and known before Him consequently and automatically without any focus or effort. Therefore in truth, Hashem’s essence is not made up of various aspects of information that have now been bound to Him through His study and discerning, and is rather always known before Him. This matter is very deep and intellectually fine and hence not all minds can fathom it.

The “eyes” of Hashem:

The verse states that, “The seven eyes of Hashem hover [male tense] over the world”. Another verse states that, “Hashem’s eyes hover [female tense] over the worlds”. This seemingly contradicts the idea mentioned above that Hashem’s knowledge of the world is simply revealed before Him. The concept of “eyes hovering over the world” tends to imply that He focuses on the world in order to gain knowledge of its occurrences. The explanation is as follows: The ten Sefiros are made up of both “Oros” and “Keilim”, lights and vessels. The Or is the G-dly energy found within each Sefirah, while the Keli is the means through which this energy can then be used to perform actions in the world. It is similar to the relationship between one’s hand and soul. A hand without vitality cannot do anything; it is the living being that is found within the body that allows the hand to perform actions. On the other hand, if the living being did not have a physical hand it would be unable to perform the act of giving charity. Hence the Or requires the Keli to define its energy and allow for its diffusion to the creations below. Now, every creation comes from a different Middah. For example, the angel Michael and his entire encampment of angels come from Chesed. The angel Gavriel and his entire encampment come from Gevurah. It is specifically the Keilim that give the Or the ability to create limited beings that come from a specific Middah. This, however, is not the only function of the Keilim. The Keilim are also in charge of bringing the merits and sins of every creation to the attention of the G-dly energy found within it.


The effect of a sin or mitzvah, and how it is brought to the attention of the world of Atzilus:

The function of the Sefiros is to direct the world and provide all its needs and necessities; rain, sun, and air. All the basic necessities and blessings that occur within the worlds, to the universe in general, and to each individual creature in particular, are directed from the Sefiros of Atzilus. The G-dliness that is found within these Sefiros runs the world, and the vessels of the Sefiros direct the channel of this G-dliness. It is also the function of the Sefiros to distribute reward and punishment to those that are deserving. One who deserves reward will receive blessing. One who deserves punishment will receive retribution. Now, how do these Sefiros receive knowledge of one’s acts? The process is the following: Chazal teach us that that each time a person sins, he acquires a prosecuting angel. This means as follows: Every Mitzvah is rooted in a different Sefirah and brings light and benefit to the Sefirah that it corresponds to. The angels are all rooted in a different Sefirah. When one sins, the angel that is rooted in that particular Sefirah feels the damage and gets blemished. This causes the blemished angel to prosecute the perpetrator who caused him to be blemished. The blemished angel then brings his prosecution to the angel that is appointed above him, and so on and so forth, each angel handing over the prosecution to the angel that is appointed above him, until it finally reaches the vessels of Atzilus. The vessels of Atzilus then make the blemish and sin known to the G-dly light that is found within it and punishment is meted out towards the world and towards the person for the forbidden act.


The Sefiros reveal to Hashem the occurrences of the world:

Based on the above, we can now answer the seeming contradiction between the verse that states that Hashem’s eyes discern the activities of the creations and the fact that Hashem does not need to involve Himself in any way in order to know of these occurrences. This is because it is only the Keilim of Atzilus that discern and actively observe the actions of the creations, having a system of angelic messengers that relate the information to them. However the Or Ein Sof that is within the Keilim do not perform any action at all to find out this information, and it is all revealed and known before Him through the Keilim. Therefore, the “eyes of Hashem” that observe the world’s occurrences refer to the Keilim and their messengers, while with regard to Hashem Himself, everything is known before Him through the Keilim. This also answers the paradox of the philosophers, who could not fathom how G-d can perform Hashgacha Pratis and still remain a single entity that is not composed of any added aspects, as in truth it is the Keilim that involve themselves with Hashgacha Pratis and not Hashem in His essence.


Why Does Hashem need Sefiros to give Him knowledge of occurrences?

The above teaching [that the Keilim recount to Hashem all the occurrences of the world without Hashem needing to involve Himself in it] begs the question of why Hashem requires the Keilim at all to recount to Him the information. As Hashem is all-powerful and knows everything, why does He need the Keilim? Would He truly not have knowledge without the Keilim? To understand this, we must first introduce the two levels of Divine providence and Divine knowledge.


The two levels of Divine knowledge:

There exist two forms of G-d’s Divine providence and His knowledge of the events surrounding the creations. One is called Daas Elyon/Higher knowledge, while the second is called Daas Tachton/Lower knowledge.

Daas Elyon: One form of the Divine knowledge of worldly occurrences does not affect Hashem at all, and so that knowledge has no repercussions on the worlds of which He has knowledge. Therefore, this form of knowledge of sin does not lead to any punishment. [All reward or punishment that is distributed by people is motivated by feeling either proud or hurt by the other’s actions. If however, the one person is not affected in the slightest by the other person’s actions, whether for good or for bad, then he has no motivation to reward or punish him.] It is regarding this level that the Midrash states, “If you have done good, what have you given Him?” and, “He did not see sin in Yaakov”. This means that although the sin does exist and G-d is knowledgeable of it, nevertheless since the sin causes Him no effect in this higher method of knowledge, He therefore does not see any reason to punish. This level is the source of Divine mercy and forgiveness. The reason why this level of knowledge does not affect the world is because it is above the Seder Hishtalshilus, and encompasses the worlds in a way of Makkif/Soveiv, [and thus He does not feel the actions of His creations, despite the fact that He has constant revealed knowledge of them]. It is from this level that G-d has constant revealed and un-invested knowledge of all of man’s past, present, and future actions.

Daas Tachton: This form of Divine knowledge of worldly occurrences does affect the world, as this knowledge is invested within the creations. It therefore feels the effect of sin of the creations and sends down Divine punishment. This level of knowledge is found in the Sefiros of Atzilus. Now, in Daas Tachton there is no prior knowledge of one’s choice of good and evil, as the knowledge of man’s actions only comes after the sin, through the informing angel that brings awareness of the sin to the Sefiros. The reason why the Sefiros do not have any prior knowledge of the sin is because the Sefiros give vitality to all the creations. Therefore, if in truth the Sefiros had prior knowledge of man’s choices, they would lead man towards making those choices, and his freedom of choice would be jeopardized. So Hashem arranged that the level of knowledge of the world that affects and directs the world does not have knowledge of future events.

Accordingly, two forms of Divine knowledge exist, each of which satisfies one of the verses above that describe His knowledge. The “eyes” of Hashem refers to Hashem’s lower knowledge of Daas Tachton, in which the Sefiros must discern the actions of the creations. The level of “Galuiy Veyadua/Revealed and known” refers to a Higher knowledge called Daas Elyon, to which all is known and revealed before Him without any effort. It also explains why the Keilim must inform the Or of Hashem in the Sefiros of the actions of the creations, as Daas Tachton, the level of Or in the Sefiros, does not have prior knowledge of man’s choices. Hence in order for punishment to be meted out to those liable to receive it, the Or must be given knowledge of their actions. The Or receives this knowledge through the angels and Keilim/vessels. However, with Daas Elyon, although Hashem already has foreknowledge of all of one’s actions, since this knowledge does not affect the world it therefore does not give retribution, and retribution is given only when Daas Tachton receives this knowledge.


Divine future knowledge does not contradict one’s freedom of choice:

Understanding that Hashem has two distinct forms of Divine knowledge also explains why G-d’s knowledge of all one’s future choices, and whether he will be a Tzaddik or a Rasha, does not remove from the creations their freedom of choice between good or evil. Since the future knowledge of one’s choices is only in Daas Elyon, which is in a way of Soveiv, it therefore does not affect the world or its creations. It does not lead the person into performing the choice that was foreseen. On the contrary, it is us who decide for Hashem the knowledge He has of our choices. Hashem sees what choice one will make in the future, and if in truth, one would have chosen differently, Hashem would have known that other choice. We decide for Hashem the identity of the choice of which He will have prior knowledge, and Hashem does not decide for us what choice to make.


    Understanding Rashi’s comment that “Hashem does not know future choices”

    According to the above, that G-d’s knowledge of Daas Tachton and its effects only come after the occurrence of the sin, one can understand a puzzling Rashi in Sotah 2a. There, Rashi states that G-d has no knowledge of one’s future regarding whether he will be a Tzaddik or Rasha, as everything is in the hands of Heaven except for the fear of Heaven. Rashi therefore explains that a couple is not matched based on whether one will be a Tzaddik or a Rasha. As the belief that G-d knows everything, including our future choices for good and evil, is a foundation of our faith, how can Rashi make such a statement? According to the above, this is now understood: Rashi in Sotah was discussing how G-d matches couples before they are born, and such activity is only managed by Daas Tachton. With Daas Tachton, G-d in truth only receives the knowledge of a sin after it was already committed.



Hashem descended to investigate the actions of Sodom-Hashem descends from Daas Elyon to Daas Tachton:

Based on the above, one can now understand the meaning of Hashem’s statement that He needs to descend to investigate the actions of Sodom. Until that point, Hashem had known the actions of Sodom only from Daas Elyon, from which Divine retribution is not given. Hashem thus stated, “I will descend” to the level of Daas Tachton and thus discern their actions and bring them the necessary repercussions. According to the above, one can also now understand the meaning behind all those verses in the Torah that state that Hashem “now knew”, such as at the Exodus, where it says that after the Jews screamed to Hashem that He now knew of their suffering. The explanation is that although Hashem knew of their suffering beforehand, it was only in a way of Daas Elyon, which did not bring repercussions to the Egyptians, and now “He knew,” which means He brought His knowledge down to Daas Tachton, which would give retribution. 


Within the level of Daas Tachton, which brings reward and punishment to actions done by man, there are two different forms of Divine judgment. One comes from Malchus [Nukva-the attribute of femininity], while the latter comes from Z”a [Duchra-attribute of masculinity]. Malchus represents stern judgment, while Z”a represents kindness. A judgment of Z”a comes in a way that Hashem views the actions of His creations in a form of Chesed, and thus judges them favorably, in search of an explanation or justification to save them from punishment. However, a judgment from Malchus is stern and severe and does not search for any justification or favor to mellow the appearance of the creations’ evil actions. An example of these two forms of judgment can be seen in Hashem’s judgment of the generation of the Flood. Prior to the Flood, Hashem stated that He was bringing the Mabul/Flood to the world because He saw that the heart of man was evil from time of birth. After the Mabul, Hashem told Noach that He would not destroy the creations again with a Flood as, “It is not their fault that they contain evil from birth”. The same reason Hashem used to justify the Mabul was then used after the Mabul to decree that a Flood would never occur again. This is because, before the Mabul, Hashem judged with Malchus, while afterwards He judged with Z”a, and thus viewed that same reason in a positive light to never again bring a Flood.


The gravity of the sin of Sodom and the great kindness of Hashem even when He sits in judgment:

From the above, one can now understand the reason for the interchange of female and male genders in the verse. Hashem stated that prior to destroying Sodom, He would give them a chance of being judged through the masculine level of Z”a, which would judge them with a form of Chesed and would try to give them the benefit of the doubt. If, however, even from this level of judgment they were found to be guilty, then they would be deemed deserving of total destruction. From this, we learn the kindness with which Hashem desires to judge His creations and it is only after no justification can be found that Hashem exacts retribution.


Lessons of the Mamar

·         You affect what knowledge Hashem will have of your decisions. Hashem’s knowledge of your choices does not affect you in any way when making those choices. On the contrary, it is your choices that affect the knowledge that He will have of you.

·         Every person has various angels that are appointed over him and can be turned into a prosecutor through a sin, or a defender through a Mitzvah. Each sin has a ripple effect of causing damage to all the angels appointed over oneself until this damage reaches the Sefiros.

·         Hashem is a loving G-d who desires to extend His mercy and judge each person with a favorable eye. When we lend others a favorable eye, we emulate Hashem and arouse Him to act this way towards us as well.



[1] 109a-b

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