The Ra’avad points out a contradiction in the Rambam (hilchos Melachim) which is connected to this week’s parsha. In one place the Rambam says that Avraham Avinu came to a recognition of Hashem at age three, while in another place, the implication is that he came to realize Hashem’s presence at age forty-eight. What could be the explanation to these Rambams?
Rav Wolbe in his sefer Alei Shiur is medayek the Rambam and comes to the following answer. At the age of three, Avraham had already started asking questions about the world which led him to realize that the world has a Creator. However, the knowledge he possessed at this time remained as a mere intellectual knowledge of Hashem. Rav Wolbe calls it a “yedia b’mocho,” that is, “a knowledge of the mind.” When he became forty-eight years old, this knowledge went through a maturation process and entered his heart.
A common theme when learning Sefer Bereishis is to realize that the foundation of our neshomos and who we truly are today are found in our Avos (Drashos Ha’Ran on Parshas Toldos). Therefore, when we learn about Avraham and the rest of the Avos, we’re really opening up a portal of understanding about ourselves. The question then becomes, what point is there to take out of this yesod of Rav Wolbe that we can relate to?
One thought came to mind when I saw this piece in the Alei Shur. The Ramban says on the pasuk of “v’kedoshim tiheyoo” that even after a person does all the mitzvos, he still has an obligation to become kadosh. Meaning, there could exist people in the world who fulfill all the mitzvos in the Torah yet are still considered a “neveilah” (carcass). Achronim say that the Ramban could mean people who live lives of Halacha yet whose hashkafa stands diametrically opposed to da’as Torah. I think the pshat could be a little different. The wording of the Ramban, is that someone who performed the mitzvos can still be considered a neveilah. What’s the connection to a neveilah? There are many people who believe that fulfilling the action of a mitzva suffices to fulfill our obligation, but it’s not true. People could do the mitzvos and still be considered dead. Why? Because the mitzvos are supposed to accentuate a change. They’re supposed to make a person feel differently than he did before. Doing the mitzvos out of rote and habit, without any feeling whatsoever is considered doing the mitzvos; however, the person doing them is still considered dead. We are required to infuse our mitzvos with feeling and without that, we’ve done the mitzvos, but we’re still so far from being kadosh (which is a tachlis of yidden, as the pasuk says –You should be a goy kadosh…).
I think this may be the point of the Alei Shur. Avraham achieved a level of recognition about Hashem as early as age three, but it wasn’t enough. It’s not enough to just know about Hashem. We have to feel it.
Additionally, we see from Avraham that it took him forty-five years to come to this type of knowledge. Forty-five years! It’s possible this is coming to teach us that feeling the Ribbono shel olam’s presence is not just something that happens overnight; rather, it’s an avodah. It’s not something that just comes about if you happen to know Hashem exists. Rather it’s an avodah to work on- to repeatedly realize and recognize shvisi Hashem L’negdi Tamid. Only by doing that can one really feel Hashem’s presence.
The truth is, that we inherited this gift from Avraham. It’s in our genes to be able to constantly live with Hashem. But living with Hashem like Avraham doesn’t just mean knowing He’s there. It means feeling He’s there. It means not just saying words of Tefilla as fast as we can, but to realize that we’re actually speaking to Someone. There’s Someone on the other end of the line! I once spoke to a Rebbe of mine about this. He said that this avodah takes a lifetime. To feel as if one is doing a mitzvah right in front of Hashem is no small feat. To not just understand that we’re talking to someone during tefillos, but to feel it? It’s a lifetime of work. But that’s what we’re here for. So, we have a lifetime to achieve it.