Previous Chapter

Chapter Three

The Bigger Picture

When one knows a number of things, and understands how they are categorized and systematically interrelated, then he has a great advantage over one who has the same knowledge without such distinction.
Introduction to The Way of God
Two people were standing in front of a painting in an art gallery. Each person was barely aware of the other because they were deep in thought, analyzing the artistís intention. Finally, one of the two became aware of his fellow "art critic" and mused,

"A man in a field with a horse.'

'Pardon me?' the other replied.

"Itís a painting of a man in a field pulling a horse," the first one repeated.

"A man pulling a horse? Itís a budding rose on a table."

"How do you see that?"

"Do you see this? Well, if you ..." The second person began, tracing lines in the air above the painting as he spoke, indicating how each part of the composition corresponded to a different part of the rose on the table.

In the meantime, a third person who had joined the two from behind stepped in and said,

"Nope, itís not that either. The brochure says that the painting is called "Sun Setting Over Ridge."

The first two looked at each other, smiled, and walked off together saying,

"Gee. I really thought I saw a horse and a man."

"I saw a rose on a table."

It is always fascinating how people can look at the same thing and yet interpret it quite differently. This is not just the case when it comes to paintings, but it is also true when it comes to interpreting a circumstance and life in general.

The reason for this "phenomenon" has to do with how our minds work. The process by which we receive, decipher, analyze, store, and use data is responsible for the different perceptions people can have of the same reality, a process replicated, to some degree, by a computer.

A computer, in order to store information and work with it, has to be able to receive and access data, and then analyze and interpret it. The storing and accessing of data is more a function of the technical construction of the computer. Analysis and interpretation, however, have more to do with the framework of information previously programmed into the computerís memory.

This "framework" consists of instructions and criteria that allow the computer to compare new data with old data, and search for similarities and differences. Based upon the result of this process, the computer makes a "decision" about how to respond to the new information, again, based upon a previous set of instructions.

The human mind works similarly. Every conscious moment, our minds are bombarded by more information than they can effectively process. Some of that data is stored, while most of it is ignored; it all depends upon information previously "programmed" into the personís memory.

Ultimately, life comes down to decisions, which eventually manifest themselves in our behavior towards circumstance and people. The quality of our behavior is directly the result of the quality of our decisions about the information we receive and subsequently analyze. This, in turn, is a function of the intellectual framework of ideas that has been created in our minds.

This idea can be understood through a simple example. Imagine two friends, with the same financial background and amount of money, who have a decision to make about whether or not to invest with a certain broker. Investor A, uncertain about the brokerís promises of quick financial gain, decides to investigate the brokerís claims and advice. Investor B, swept up in a tide of excitement about a "get rich quick" scenario, puts up the $5,000 and asks few questions.

Why the difference between the two approaches to investing with the broker?

On the surface, there is very little that distinguishes Investor A from Investor B. However, an analysis of each yields interesting results. It turns out that Investor A grew up in a home where money was tight and every penny was accounted for. Because of this, Investor Aís father taught his son to research any investment he might make.

Investor B also came from a home that was far from wealthy. However, his father never instructed his son about the value of money and investing wisely. Consequently, Investor B grew up looking to make money but without a sense of cautiousness. Investor Bís ignorance of the value of money and smart investing makes him a prime target for a less-than-honest broker.

In the end, both Investor A and Investor B invested their money with the broker and made some money relatively quickly - but not because of the wisdom of the broker. In fact, it was Investor Aís research that allowed him to dictate the terms of the investment for himself and his friend, and the form the investment was to take. The brokerís advice, it turned out, would have led to a loss of money!

Investor Aís framework created an intellectual context into which the brokerís information had to fit. Within the context of that framework, the brokerís words prompted a decision to responsibly investigate the offer. No such decision was demanded by Investor Bís mind, whose intellectual framework could not properly process the advice of the broker.

Thus, the better and more accurate the existing intellectual framework, the better and more accurate oneís interpretation of reality will be, as the following explains:

When one knows a number of things, and understands how they are categorized and systematically interrelated, then he has a great advantage over one who has the same knowledge without such distinction. It is very much like the difference between looking at a well-arranged garden, planted in rows and patterns, and seeing a wild thicket or forest growing in confusion.

When an individual is confronted by many details and does not know how they relate to one another or their true place in a general system, then his inquisitive intellect is given nothing more than a difficult, unsatisfying burden. He may struggle with it, but he will tire and grow weary long before he attains any gratification. Each detail will arouse his curiosity, but not having access to the concept as a whole, he will become frustrated.

The exact opposite is true when one knows something in relation to its context. Since he sees it within its framework, he can go on to grasp other concepts associated with it, and success will bring him pleasure and elation ... When one studies a subject, he must therefore be aware of the place of each element within the most general scheme. When one takes into account existence as a whole, including everything imaginable, whether detectable by our senses or conceivable by our minds, then he recognizes that things are not all in the same category and level. The categories are both varied and numerous, and as they vary, so do the rules and principles associated with them. In order to comprehend the true nature of each thing, one must also be able to recognize these distinctions.
(The Way of God, Introduction.)

The implication of this idea is simple, yet dramatic. A personís whole belief structure is not necessarily based upon how intelligent they are, or how much they know about a particular topic. It is based upon how they interpret what they learn, and that is based upon their previous intellectual framework - which may have more to do with family upbringing than with years of college study and scientific experimentation. (In other words, what one previously knows dictates what one will intellectually see in what one physically sees.)

Thus, as much as, if not more than "seeing is believing", believing is seeing:
(As a side point, oneís inability to "see" God has more to do with oneís previous intellectual context than it does with what one sees with oneís eyes; the same information can yield dramatically different interpretations, as the following quote reveals.)

In short, the works of modern science, taken one by one, seem enough to dampen a personís hope for higher meaning. If religionís stock-in-trade is the inexplicable, the coming years donít look like boon times. This is half of the giant paradox, and itís one reason why the average scientist today is probably less religious than the average scientist of 50 or 100 years ago.

The other half of the paradox comes from stepping back and looking at the big picture: an overarching pattern that encompasses the many feats of 20th century science transcends them; a pattern suggesting, to some scientists, at least, that there is more to the universe than meets the eye, something authentically divine about how it all fits together. (From an article in TIME Magazine (December 28, 1992) titled, "What Does Science Teach Us About God?")

Is the world a "well-arranged garden, planted in rows and patterns" or is it a "wild thicket or forest growing in confusion"? It all depends upon oneís vantage point ... upon how much of the "big picture" they see.

Detailed bits of information, without an appropriate framework into which they can be placed yield very little other than fascinating insights into the working of creation. But it is the Ďbig pictureí that turns knowledge into wisdom, that reveals the meaning in every aspect of daily living.

It is not unlike looking at a large wool tapestry close up. Before your eyes may be a series of colored wool threads, which are beautiful in themselves but which, from your vantage point, indicate very little meaning. Step away from the tapestry, however, and you gain a view of the entire work, which yields a pattern that in turn reveals the meaning of the individual threads.

This is the purpose of Torah, or as it is more appropriately called, Toras Chaim (Instructions for Life). Torah is designed to provide mankind with a comprehensive and accurate intellectual framework - a vision of the entire structure of creation. After all, the midrash says that, prior to creating the world, God looked in the Torah as if it were the blueprint for all of existence. (Braishis Rabbah, 1:1)

What this means is that the more Torah one knows, the more complete oneís vision of all of creation will be. Torah expands a personís intellectual framework accurately which is bound to enhance the quality of oneís decisions and the way they respond to opportunities.

Thus, it is the framework provided by Torah that turns knowledge into wisdom. (Thus King David completed his previous statement about wisdom being the result of fear of God with the words, "good understanding to all who do them," i.e., the commandments. Psalms 111:10. How do the commandments provide good understanding? Because they are far more than simply rituals; they are expressions of Divine philosophy and manís potential.) And if it is true the:

Tree of Life... is Torah, as it says, "It is a tree of life for all who grasp it." (Proverbs 3:18). (Seder Eliyahu Rabbah, 1:2)
Then ultimately, it was the same understanding provided by the Tree of Life that somehow turned the knowledge of good and evil into wisdom, into knowledge that revealed God, rather than hiding Him. This is confirmed by the following:
... According to the Ari, the sin of Adam was that he didnít wait for his partner Shabbos. But doesnít the verse specifically state that the sin was eating from the Tree of Knowledge? It seems that anyone who merits to achieve the 50th gate in holiness can no longer be damaged by any further knowledge ... Shabbos is the Tree of Life, a tree planted in a place of life, which is understanding. (Shem míShmuel, Parshas Braishis)
As esoteric as this quote may be, its simple message is that Adam erred by not first eating from the Tree of Life before eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. As a result, the knowledge he gained, as neutral as it may have been, damaged him (i.e., separated him from God, which is evident by the way Adam hid when God called him). (Distanced from the Source of Life, Adam was bound to die as a consequence.)

In sum, the Tree of Life (Torah) leads to an intellectual framework. An intellectual framework results in vision of God. A vision of God leads to wisdom, and wisdom leads to self-fulfillment - the goal and pleasure of life. Only one key remains to be discovered: the key to the Tree of Life, for,

... God banished him from the Garden of Eden, to work the soil from which he was taken. And having driven out the man, He stationed at the east of the Garden of Eden the Cherubim and the flame of the ever-turning sword, to guard the way to the Tree of Life. (Genesis 3:22.)
© by Mercava Productions

Next Chapter
Table of Contents
Rabbi Winston's main page
Back to Neveh Homepage

The webspace for the Neveh Zion site has been generously donated by

send your comments to webmaster@neveh.org