Photo Credit: Jewish Press

As we literally count the days until Shavuot, it is a good time to encounter some of the teachings of Rabbi Yehuda Loew ben Betzalel, the Maharal of Prague. The Maharal organized a significant portion of his philosophical writings around the Jewish holidays. Corresponding to Shavuot is Tiferet Yisrael (“The Glory of Israel”), which examines the wisdom of the Torah and its ramifications for the development of our own intellect. It is a classic work of epistemology and the philosophy of knowledge, written hundred of years before these topics became fashionable.

In the sixteenth chapter of Tiferet Yisrael, the Maharal reviews the approach of the philosophers, the “wise men of the nations,” to examining human nature. He says it is clear to anyone capable of perception that every being is made with a purpose, but obstacles in the physical world seek to divert it. Human intellect only achieves its purpose through unifying with the Divine wisdom that can only be known through the study of Torah; therefore, the secular philosophers are unable to define or to describe the perfection of human nature.


It is not, the Maharal teaches, that the individual Torah scholar is perfect or that any human can become perfect through the study of Torah. Rather, it is the Torah itself that embodies perfection for the collective human consciousness. No single person can understand the entire Torah in all its aspects, but he understands it in the way it is intended for him, and if he is able to achieve this level then he is said to have “received” the Torah. Indeed, no one person can be superior to any other in Torah simply by virtue of the amount or difficulty of Torah he has mastered. The relative “perfection” of every student derives from his success in mastering that little bit of Torah intended for him at Creation.

For this reason, the Maharal says, the Torah was given in the desert. Because when you reduce humanity to its essence, there is only the naked will and the Torah which complements it, so that man becomes a spiritual being, an enlightened consciousness. If the mind of a man can fully grasp the Torah as is appropriate to his intellect, then he becomes a participant in the perfection of mankind.


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Avraham Levitt is a poet and philosopher living in Philadelphia. He writes chiefly about Jewish art and mysticism. His most recent poem is called “Great Floods Cannot Extinguish the Love.” It can be read at He can be reached by email at [email protected].