The Divine is in the details

What Does An Infinite G‑d Have With A Finite World?

By Rabbi Yoseph Kahanov, Jax, FL

Once, on Rosh Hashanah, the Alter Rebbe Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, asked his son the Miteler Rebbe to share some of the thoughts upon which he had reflected during his Davening-prayers earlier that day.

The Mitlerer Rebbe proceeded to enumerate the various liturgical passages and Kabalistic intentions upon which he had reflected. The Miteler Rebbe then inquired of the Alter Rebbe regarding his own meditations.

Instead of the profound and lofty response for which the Miteler Rebbe was prepared, the Alter Rebbe indicated that his thoughts were focused upon his “chair and Shtender-lectern,” (a reference to the presence of the Divine within the physical).


Dear Rabbi,

Why does the Jewish religion seem to obsess over insignificant details? How much Matzah we have to eat, which spoon I use for milk and which for meat and the right way to tie my shoelaces? It seems to me that by focusing on minutiae, it misses the bigger picture.  Is this nitpicking really the substance of spirituality?

(I actually already sent you this question over a week ago and didn't receive a reply. Could it be that you have finally been asked a question that you can't answer?!)


Dear Rob,

I never claimed to have all the answers. There are many questions that are beyond me. But it happens to be that I did answer your question, and you did get the answer. I sent a reply immediately. The fact that you didn't receive it is itself the answer to your question.

You see, I sent you a reply, but I wrote your email address leaving out the "dot" before the "com." I figured that you should still receive the email, because after all, it is only one little dot that’s missing. I mean come on, it's not as if I wrote the wrong name or something drastic like that! Would anyone be so nitpicky as to differentiate between "yahoocom" and ""? Isn't it a bit ridiculous that you didn't get my email just because of a little dot?

No, it's not ridiculous. Because the dot is not just a dot. It represents something. That dot has meaning far beyond the pixels on the screen that form it. To me it may seem insignificant, but that is simply due to my ignorance of the ways of the web. All I know is that with the dot, the message gets to the right destination; without it, the message is lost to oblivion.

Jewish practices have infinite depth. Each nuance and detail contains a world of symbolism. And every dot counts. When they are performed with precision, a spiritual vibration is emailed throughout the universe, all the way to G‑d's inbox.

If you want to understand the symbolism of the dot, study I.T. If you want to understand the symbolism of Judaism, study it.


(Anonymous circulation email)


I recently read a story of a certain, so called, Rabbi who had decided one December to accept an invite to play the role of “Santa” for a bunch of underprivileged kids in his community. Upon reading his account and how inspiring the experience had been for him, I could not help but puzzle over the man’s convoluted self-identity and values.

I soon realized that the key to my puzzlement lie in the fellow’s own words: “The question of stumbling across customs and religious boundaries did not concern me,” asserted Rabbi Santa, “I’d always believed in encouraging people to be less rigid about maintaining those rigid lines. . . So I practiced my sonorous and ‘Ho, ho, hos.’”

When contemplating the nature of the Being of All Beings and His essential qualities, which incidentally – contrary to what many think – is part of our Jewish obligation, the fact that He has neither body nor form or any other physical limitation, looms as a basic and cardinal axiom. 

All established religions are united in their understanding of G‑d as unbounded and too vast to be restricted or defined by any substance or matter. In fact, the very definition of the word “G‑d” implies the ultimate of boundlessness and transcendence.

Trouble is, that this theology tends to leave G‑d a tad removed from us mortals, as well as our physical world and daily activities. What, after all, does an infinite G‑d have with a material and finite world? Does the fact that He created it mean that He is necessarily found within it? There appears to be many a created entity that does not share a continual interest and constant bond with its maker and vice–versa.

While the Almighty certainly had good reason for creating a physical universe and its earthling inhabitants, goes the thinking, it is certainly not their earthy and mundane characteristics which attract His interest, but rather their higher intellectual and emotional qualities and potential.

It is for this very reason that in many cases the search for G‑d and spirituality leads its seeker to a form of worship that negates the physical dimension. Because G‑d is infinite and exalted, He is thought to be aloof. He is thought to be removed from the physical and corporeal aspects of life. Hence the way to find and  interact with G‑d is by virtue of our higher human faculties, i.e., knowledge, love, etc.  

If there is any use for the lower physical dimension, it would have to be limited to the extent that it serves to enable the higher senses of intellect or emotion. However, physical matter and activity, in and of themselves, are not perceived to be a plausible means of Divine service and interaction. Certainly not the sort of worship that would be prescribed by a transcendent and infinite creator.

This type of thinking is what has led so many people to the popular mindset of “belief without action.” In fact the majority of people who profess to believe in G‑d fall, to varying degrees, into this category. To them the observance of Mitzvos or rituals that do not serve a logical, tangible purpose (Mitzvos between man and G‑d) is a senseless endeavor. 

“Does G‑d really care if I wait six full hours between meat and milk, and not five hours and fifty minutes,” they muse? “Has He nothing better to do than fret over the size of the piece of Matzoh I eat on Passover, or whether I eat it at all?

Are we really to believe that when a piece of dough is baked within eighteen minutes, it is a consecrated and holy artifact – fit for the exalted Mitzvah of ‘Matzah,’ but when it lingers for one more minute unbaked, it becomes the unholy and repugnant item of severe sin – ‘Chametz?’ Why would one minute make such a big difference to G‑d?”

“What good does it do for an infinite G‑d, or anyone else, whether or not I wrap the black straps of Teffilin around my arms, or whether I observe the sundry laws of Shabbos or Kashrus?” There are those who would argue that it is actually demeaning to suggest that an almighty and unbounded G‑d would concern Himself with such seemingly trivial matters.

Judaism, however, stands firm in its belief to the contrary. Perhaps one of Judaism’s most revolutionary contributions to theology and the G‑d/man relationship is the notion that G‑d can be found in the finite as much as the infinite; that we serve G‑d with our hands as much as with our brains.

G‑d’s true greatness and infinitude is expressed in the fact that He is not excluded from the finite. While most things that are infinite lack the characteristic of finitude, G‑d, who is the ultimate and quintessential model of infinitude, cannot be banished from the finite, for that in itself would constitute the gravest of limitations.

When this notion is taken to its logical conclusion, it’s not just imperative that G‑d be present in physical phenomena in a general manner, but rather that He be present in the most extreme and minute aspects of the physical dimension.   

Hence, asserts Jewish theology, G‑d’s presence can be found in all types of finite objects and human behaviors; that the finest margins of time, space, shape, substance, color and, of course,  human actions, make a consequential difference to Him.

For reasons known to Him, there is higher Divine will and favor in specific activities that are carried out within the framework of a given time or place, be it the blowing of the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah or the four species on the holiday of Sukkos, or any of the other multitude of Divine commandments.     

In light of the above we can understand why in this Week’s Parsha, Terumah, G‑d expresses a desire for a dwelling place in our lowliest of worlds and His interest in every aspect and detail, from its construction to its design. We can thus comprehend why an infinite G‑d would involve himself with the shape, size, color and substance of every component and nuance of a physical structure, down to the finest detail.

Through our service of G‑d with all elements of our being, from the highest of intellect to the most detailed of action, may we build for Him a magnificent Temple, both personally as well as cosmically, with the coming of the righteous Moshiach, BBA.