Daat - Knowledge

By Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David (Greg Killian)


In this study I would like to take a closer look at daat, often translated knowledge, and what this has to do with praying. These two are closely interwoven and will require much thought to understand. This is a very difficult subject.


Most of this study is based on shiurim given by Rabbi Akiva Tatz.


To begin this study we will need to understand exactly what the Sages understood about daat and how they used the model of the human body to help us understand the daat and its connections. We will be only hinting at the sexual understanding of daat by examining the mouth and the tongue. But, it is enough for the wise to have a hint.


The mouth is a place of connection, both physically between people, and spiritually. The mouth is used for three things: Speaking, eating, and kissing. If one organ is used for three things, then the three things must be the same. As we shall see, each of these three is used for connection.




Speech is the vehicle that an infinite neshama shares its heart with a finite world. The most explicit intimate connection that can exist between two people is speech. Speech, which comes from the mouth, is capable of allowing another person, at some level, to understand what is in our soul. So it is also with the infinite G-d and His finite world. HaShem spoke to man through the K’ruvim in the Beit HaMikdash, which was where HaShem’s connection to the world is most manifest.




Eating connects the body and the neshama, the soul. Without food, the neshama would leave the body


The most intimate connection in this world is the connection between a neshama and the body. This most potent connection is maintained through eating. The Sages see the neshama and the body as the ultimate opposites, the ultimate male and female connection. The neshama is a spark of the infinite subsumed in a finite body. Finite and infinite truly are the opposites, which are cemented by eating. The combination of body and soul is something that we cannot understand. We must assume that it is a mystery known only to HaShem.


Food is the energy, which bonds two opposites together. Food was the last thing created. It was created as the energy, which binds these opposites.


One can understand food and eating by looking at what happens when one stops eating. If we stop eating for a short time, the neshama begins separating from the body and we manifest this separation by feeling weak. If we stop eating for a longer period, the body actually feels faint in response to the continued separation of the neshama from the body. If we continue this pattern, the neshama will completely separate from the body and we manifest this complete separation with death.


HaShem is spiritual as the neshama is spiritual; we as a people are physical like the body. Nevertheless, the Divine Presence can rest among us just as the neshama rests in the body. However, this was only true when the Beit HaMikdash stood and we brought korbanot, sacrifices. Through the “food” of the korbanot, the Divine Presence rested among us. However, now that the korbanot have been taken away, the Divine Presence has also been taken away from us just as the neshama leaves the body when there is no food.


The parallel of food in the spiritual world is the Korban (which means something that brings closeness from the root kirbah), a sacrifice. Sacrifices maintain contact, as it were, between HaShem’s infinite presence and the finite world. The place of sacrifice is the Beit HaMikdash. That is why the Holy place contained food, the bread of The Presence. The korbanot, the sacrifices were called HaShem’s food:


Bamidbar (Numbers) 28:2 Command the children of Israel, and say unto them, My offering,  [and] my bread for my sacrifices made by fire, [for] a sweet savour unto me, shall ye observe to offer unto me in their due season.


Vayikra (Leviticus) 3:11 And the priest shall burn it upon the altar: [it is] the food of the offering made by fire unto HaShem.


Vayikra (Leviticus) 3:16 And the priest shall burn them upon the altar: [it is] the food of the offering made by fire for a sweet savour: all the fat [is] HaShem ‘s.


As the body and the neshama are connected by food, so also is HaShem (pictured by the neshama) connected to the earth (pictured by the body) by the korbanot (pictured by the food). This also gives us considerable insight into the mystery of the body of Mashiach, the bride, making love, as it were, with HaShem, the groom.


As long as we brought sacrifices the Divine Presence rested among us. When the Beit HaMikdash was destroyed, the divine presence no longer dwelt among us. The Soul of the world departed with the cessation of the food, the korbanot.




Kissing is a most unusual, universal, human custom. It is a natural act of affection between two human beings. Between parent and child, between husband and wife, and even between friends. It is the way that two infinite souls connect in the physical, finite, world.


A kiss is to the upper world what marital intimacy is to the lower world. In both acts there is a flow of energy.


The Gemara says that heaven and Earth kiss. The Gemara is hinting at the nature of the connection, and the mouth in this metaphor, which is the Beit HaMikdash. This is also the place where the infinite, first connected to the finite. The foundation rock in the Kodesh HaKodashim, the Holy of Holies, is the place where creation began.


The two Brits


With the organ of the Brit (brit is the Hebrew word for covenant) milah (circumcision) we can bring a soul into the physical world. With the Brit HaLashon (the tongue) we can bring a soul into the Olam HaBa, the world to come. This is the complete understanding of what Abraham and Sarah did in Haran. At the Peshat level it means they brought children into the world. At the sod level they brought their talmidim into the Olam HaBa. This is what the Torah is saying:


Bereshit (Genesis) 12:5 And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had made in Haran; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came.


Bearing children and bearing talmidim are both the same thing. One is in this world and the other is in the spiritual world. The lower form of connection brings a body into the world, the higher form of connection brings a mind into the world.


Marital Intimacy


The Hebrew word for the intimate connection between husband and wife is Daat, knowledge:


Bereshit (Genesis) 4:1 And Adam knew (daat) Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from HaShem.


Daat, knowledge, is achieved when we connect with a person or a piece of information. Daat is not merely collecting facts; it is an intimate connection with them. Daat always means an intimate connection.


Intimate relations between husband and wife takes place in an inner chamber of the home, just as the Beit (House) HaMikdash (of The Holy one) has an inner chamber. As husband and wife embrace in the inner chamber, so too, do the male and female Cherubim, in the Holy of Holies, embrace in love. When HaShem talks about His Beloved, He uses the terms of marriage and of intimate relations (Ezekiel).


Daat – The Hidden Part


Praying will take us in to this area. This is a strange experience because we repeat the same prayers over and over. Prayer is spitting out the same old tired words over and over. Prayer is the highest form of meditation. Prayer is hard work!


Prayer is not optional. The Sages teach us that our very existence depends on what we ask for. If we don’t ask then we do not receive. And if we do ask, we receive only what we ask for.


There are many problems with praying:


What does praying have to do with the rain, since rain is a central idea in our prayers? Geshem means rain and it also means all of our material existence. (The Hebrew word for rain is geshem, which means physical.) The root of geshem means the whole of physicality. Gush means a body or mass. Since Hebrew is a very sensitive language, it must mean that rain is intimately connected with all of physical existence.


Tefilah, prayer, means two opposite things:


1. Requesting things that we do not deserve to have or have any expectation of ever receiving. We are asking for mercy, not what we deserve.


2.   Negotiating in order to obtain exactly what we deserve. Negotiated JUSTICE! What profit do you have in my blood if I go down to the grave? Do the dead praise you?


When we have a single word, which means two opposite things, then we know that these two must be the same thing. Tefilah is one such word.


Additionally the Gemara says that HaShem prays and wears tefillin when He prays, just as we do. His Tefilah is very similar to ours:


Berachoth 7a R. Johanan says in the name of R. Jose: How do we know that the Holy One, blessed be He, says prayers? Because it says: Even them will I bring to My holy mountain and make them joyful in My house of prayer. It is not said, ‘their prayer’, but ‘My prayer’; hence [you learn] that the Holy One, blessed be He, says prayers. What does He pray? — R. Zutra b. Tobi said in the name of Rab: ‘May it be My will that My mercy may suppress My anger, and that My mercy may prevail over My [other] attributes, so that I may deal with My children in the attribute of mercy and, on their behalf, stop short of the limit of strict justice’. It was taught: R. Ishmael b. Elisha says: I once entered into the innermost part [of the Sanctuary] to offer incense and saw Akathriel Jah, the Lord of Hosts, seated upon a high and exalted throne. He said to me: Ishmael, My son, bless Me! I replied: May it be Thy will that Thy mercy may suppress Thy anger and Thy mercy may prevail over Thy other attributes, so that Thou mayest deal with Thy children according to the attribute of mercy and mayest, on their behalf, stop short of the limit of strict justice! And He nodded to me with His head. Here we learn [incidentally] that the blessing of an ordinary man must not be considered lightly in your eyes.


Berachoth 6a R. Abin son of R. Ada in the name of R. Isaac says [further]: How do you know that the Holy One, blessed be He, puts on tefillin? For it is said: The Lord hath sworn by His right hand, and by the arm of His strength. ‘By His right hand’: this is the Torah; for it is said: At His right hand was a fiery law unto them. ‘And by the arm of his strength’: this is the tefillin; as it is said: The Lord will give strength unto His people. And how do you know that the tefillin are a strength to Israel? For it is written: And all the peoples of the earth shall see that the name of the Lord is called upon thee, and they shall be afraid of thee, and it has been taught: R. Eliezer the Great says: This refers to the tefillin of the head.


R. Nahman b. Isaac said to R. Hiyya b. Abin: What is written in the tefillin of the Lord of the Universe? — He replied to him: And who is like Thy people Israel, a nation one in the earth. Does, then, the Holy One, blessed be He, sing the praises of Israel? — Yes, for it is written: Thou hast avouched the Lord this day . . . and the Lord hath avouched thee this day. The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Israel: You have made me a unique entity in the world, and I shall make you a unique entity in the world. ‘You have made me a unique entity in the world‘, as it is said: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. ‘And I shall make you a unique entity in the world’, as it is said: And who is like Thy people Israel, a nation one in the earth. R. Aha b. Raba said to R. Ashi: This accounts for one case, what about the other cases? — He replied to him: [They contain the following verses]: For what great nation is there, etc.; And what great nation is there, etc.; Happy art thou, O Israel, etc.; Or hath God assayed, etc.; and To make thee high above all nations. If so, there would be too many cases? — Hence [you must say]: For what great nation is there, and what great nation is there, which are similar, are in one case; Happy art thou, O Israel, and Who is like Thy people, in one case; Or hath God assayed, in one case; and To make thee high, in one case.


No one, including women, is exempt from praying, according to most authorities. They must spend at least a couple minutes a day in prayer.


Praying means to request things. The middle sixteen blessings of the Amida are requests for various things. What does this have to do with meditation?


Meditation is not switching our mind off and becoming a zombie! Meditation means getting to the essential root of who you are, and changing it. Meditation is changing our ratzon, our desire.


There is a major paradox to prayer: HaShem is our Father and a father gives his child what he needs. Therefore, why do we have to ask since HaShem already knows what we need? A loving father will NOT give his child something that is bad for the child. So why do we pray? Consider what His Majesty Yeshua and His Talmidim said:


Matityahu (Matthew) 6:7-8 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen [do]: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.


Yaaqov (James) 4:1-3 From whence [come] wars and fightings among you? [come they] not hence, [even] of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume [it] upon your lusts.


Most people understand that prayer as an attempt to change HaShem’s mind. We negotiate with the expectation that we can change HaShem’s desire. The bottom line is that we cannot change HaShem or His ratzon. It is not possible to change HaShem’s mind!


The correct understanding of Tefilah is that we stand and try to change US. We do not try to change HaShem. We try to change ourselves! We try to change US into the person who does deserve the things that we are asking for. We attempt to change us to the point that we could handle the thing that we are requesting. We attempt to change our ratzon, our desire, to desire something different. When we desire the right things, then HaShem will give us what we desire.


How do we change ourselves through praying? It is easy to understand how we change ourselves though mitzvot and other similar actions, but how are we changed through prayer? And how de we change by requesting things?


This is where we connect with the daat. The act of praying a request is the act that can change our ratzon, our desire, by switching on the daat.


Daat is the central line that connects the right and left hand sides if the body. It runs through the central organs in the body. It runs through the Brit HaLashon (the tongue), and the Brit Mila (the organ of circumcision), the two male organs. These are the two organs that make fruit in the world. The Brit HaLashon we use to make talmidim, spiritual children, who will enter the Olam HaBa and the Brit Mila we use to make physical children. Thus we can understand when the Torah speaks of Daat:


Bereshit (Genesis) 4:1 And Adam knew (daat) Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from HaShem.


Bereshit (Genesis) 4:25 And Adam knew (daat) his wife again; and she bare a son, and called his name Seth: For God, [said she], hath appointed me another seed instead of Abel, whom Cain slew.


Daat is inner wisdom that we know because we know. It is not amenable to examination using the various tools of the scientific method. It is like a camera. A camera can take a picture of everything but itself. In the same way we can use external knowledge to examine everything except the Daat.


Daat is the place where we know that we exist. We do not know we exist because of external measurements. We know we exist only because we know. Proving we exist has been a major problem of philosophy for a long time. In philosophy, we have come to grips with the knowledge that we can NOT prove that we exist. We only know we exist because we know.


One of the ways that we can experience the daat is through a near death experience. For example: If one is drowning and at the last moment is raised above the water, that first breath is an experience of daat. At that moment there is no debate about whether you do, or don’t exist. At that moment you know that you exist.


The root, or the highest point, of daat is called ratzon. Ratzon comes from a Hebrew root, which means to run, because the ratzon is the source of all movement. All motion begins because we want something.


On the human body this is the point where the baby’s head is open. It is the place where the tefillin are worn. This is the highest place of the daat and this place is called ratzon, desire.


When we pray, we can travel up to the highest point of daat and actually reach our ratzon! This is the goal of our Tefilah. We can reach the place of what we want and reform that desire to become something new. With our Tefilah we can become something new. Consider that what we want, our ratzon, is what we are. That is, the root of our desire is what makes us human; it is what makes us different from all other creatures.


If all we want is to eat, for example, we are no different from a monkey in the forest. This is a very poor ratzon. What we try to do in our Tefilah is to change our ratzon to want what HaShem wants and then use the needs of the body to serve HaShem.


(It is an important exercise to get at the “root” desire. For example:  If we desire money it is usually because we want to buy something. The thing that we buy may also be something like a car that we are using to impress a young lady. Ultimately, when we finally get to the root, what we really want is to marry the young lady, but it started with the desire for money. The root, the ratzon, was NOT the money or the car; the root was the desire to be married.)


What we ask for is not always what we need. In fact there is often a fine line between what we need and what we actually ask for. HaShem will ONLY give us what we need, of those things we have requested.


Chazal, our Sages, teach that when the Torah says that man was created in the image of HaShem, that that means that we have free will, like HaShem. This means that what we want is who we are. Nothing stands in the way of desire. Nothing stands in the way of ratzon.


Therefore, when we pray we are changing, at the highest level, who we are, by asking for things. Our mediations, our Tefilah, are to change the very essence of who we are. We change ourselves to want the things that we are asking for. In so doing we make HaShem’s ratzon, our ratzon. Because we are a different person, because we have a different ratzon, we could deserve those things that we did not deserve before we changed who we are by changing our ratzon.


This explains why the first of the thirteen middle blessings of the Amida is a request for daat. The daat is the beginning point, which leads us to our ratzon.


Praying is usually something we do at the extremes of our life: When something is going very well, or when something is going very badly. There is a mitzva to pray when we are in crisis:


Shemot (Exodus) 22:22-24 Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child. If thou afflict them in any wise, and they cry at all unto me, I will surely hear their cry; And my wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless.


Bamidbar (Numbers) 12:9 And if ye go to war in your land against the enemy that oppresseth you, then ye shall blow an alarm with the trumpets; and ye shall be remembered before HaShem your God, and ye shall be saved from your enemies.


This is not the only way it should be. Whilst it is a mitzva of the Torah to pray when we are in crisis, there is another higher aspect of praying. There is actually a halacha which demands that we pray to continue our existence! Just to stay alive we need to continually make that connection with HaShem and continually change our ratzon. In praying for our existence we reveal Malchut, the Kingship of HaShem.


We can begin to understand this concept of Malchut by understanding that when we stand before HaShem to do our Tefilah; we are standing in front of The King. When we pray we are like a slave in front of his master. This we do just to continue to exist. We are making a request of the King that He should allow us to continue to exist. What gives us the right to ask HaShem to allow us to live? The Sages teach that the merit of simply coming before The King in prayer is all we need to deserve the right to petition The King. When we stand before The King as His subjects, we make Him King. A king is only a king if he has subjects who proclaim Him to be king.


Midrash Rabbah - Lamentations V:19. THOU, O LORD, ART ENTHRONED FOR EVER, THY THRONE IS FROM GENERATION TO GENERATION (v, 19). Is there enthronement without a throne or a king without a consort? (The Temple is HaShem’s throne and Israel His consort; so there must be a restoration since the enthronement is for ever.)


Now we can understand that praying is greater than just us reforming who we are. Praying is actually a revelation of the presence and Kingship of HaShem. Therefore when we stand to do Tefilah we must be dressed like we were standing before a king. We are not allowed to be sloppy or incompletely dressed. We must be scrupulously clean. Our bodies must be completely clean because we are standing before The King! The Sages teach us that our mouth should be empty and our head should be covered. These are the requirements of Tefilah.


Somehow we must stand in abject terror and at the same time we must stand in ecstasy. We must realize that we stand like a slave before a master who has the power to kill us and the power to bring us ecstasy. Both concepts are brought out by the word Tefilah. Thus we can understand the Psalmist:


Tehillim (Psalms) 2:11 Serve HaShem with fear, and rejoice with trembling.


Standing in prayer is the ultimate connection between the higher and the lower worlds. On the one hand our very existence depends on it, yet on the other hand we can also experience ecstasy because of it. Thus we understand the connection to daat. If we stand in front of HaShem, He stands in front of us.


If we do not pray for rain, it will not rain. Rain is one of the three things that HaShem Himself does without an angel:


  1. He opens the womb.
  2. He opens the grave and brings resurrection.
  3. He makes the rain fall.


Rain comes unpredictably and is always a direct result of our prayer. Our Sages teach us that when Adam awoke on that first day, he saw a world without vegetation. He realized that it was his responsibility to pray for rain. When he did, HaShem brought the rain, which allowed the sprouts just under the surface to bring forth vegetation on the earth:


Chullin 60b R. Assi pointed out a contradiction [between verses]. One verse says: And the earth brought forth grass, referring to the third day, whereas another verse when speaking of the sixth day says: No shrub of the field was yet in the earth. This teaches us that the plants commenced to grow but stopped just as they were about to break through the soil, until Adam came and prayed for rain for them; and when rain fell they sprouted forth. This teaches you that the Holy One, blessed be He, longs for the prayers of the righteous. R. Nahman b. Papa had a garden and he sowed in it seeds but they did not grow. He prayed; immediately rain came and they began to grow. That, he exclaimed, is what R. Assi had taught.


Bereshit (Genesis) 2:5 And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew: for HaShem God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and [there was] not a man to till (avodah) the ground.


Avodah is the Hebrew word for the work of service to HaShem of which the primary service is Tefilah, prayer! Without Tefilah there would be no rain. Tefilah is the connection, which connects the rain to the earth.


Thus we see that the world is set up in such a way that if we do not ask it will not be given. All of creation is subject to human request. If we want it, we must ask, even though HaShem wants to give it to us, He will not unless we ask. We have to bring down the mercy by asking, yet after we ask we see that that is the way HaShem wanted it from the beginning. Thus the paradox of the two meanings of Tefilah. We must ask for the mercy, yet it was HaShem’s justice that it should be. We are the key to unlock that which has to be, but will not be unless we ask. Rain is the symbol of this, yet the entire material world is just like this. It is HaShem’s will that it should be, but only if we ask for it. This is the power and key to Tefilah.


* * *


This study was written by

Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David

(Greg Killian).

Comments may be submitted to:


Rabbi Dr. Greg Killian

4544 Highline Drive SE

Olympia, WA 98501


Internet address: gkilli@aol.com

Web page: http://www.betemunah.org/


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