A Kabbalistic Approach to Spiritual Growth
Inspiration and integration parallel the two ideas which are juxtaposed inside the Hebrew word for “wisdom”–chochmah. When split in half, chochmah produces two words: chech, meaning “taste/palate” and mah, meaning “what.” Based on this linguistic fact, wisdom is defined in Kabbalah as “the ability to taste what is.”
Wisdom thus defined implies a sensitivity to the aspect of God which precedes and transcends creation–that which Kabbalah calls Ayin Ha’Amiti, or “True Nothingness,” because it exists beyond words or concepts of any kind. No quality can be ascribed to it, and nothing affirmative can be said about it. Only that it is not this and not that. Wisdom is a sensitivity to this hidden source of all things. Since an educator’s goal is to cultivate wisdom, this linguistic correspondence is significant.
Taste of Wisdom
The 12th century grammarian, Rabbi David Kimhi (better known as the Radak) actually identifies the root of chech, or “taste/palate” as chinuch (having eliminated the consonant nun which is one of seven “weak” letters that typically disappear as the root goes through its conjugations and grammatical forms). Based on this identity of root stems, a definition of chinuch should convey some notion of tasting or eating. For example, education is like introducing the student to new foods, for the educator is actually sensitizing his students’ spiritual and intellectual palate to new dimensions of reality. The educator awakens the latent tastes or propensities in his students and brings them into conscious awareness where they can be developed and refined.
When King David uses this idea in the Psalms–“taste and see that God is good”–he is describing an awareness below the threshold of visual perception which precedes and actually induces the experience of sight.
This idea of “tasting” is best discussed in a framework that identifies the inner and outer sensitivities of each of the five senses:
Sight is a sensitivity to light, the most rarified of physical phenomena. It is the ability to receive and order the patterns of color, light, and dark as they are reflected from an object. Although the light itself originates elsewhere, it is perceptible only through its interaction with the physical world. The inner expression of sight is the ability to sense the hidden potentialities of another’s soul.
Hearing is a sensitivity to vibrations in the atmosphere. It requires receiving stimulus that originates at a distance. Its inner counterpart is the ability to discern the voice of truth amidst a throng of pretenders.
Smell is a sensitivity to minute quantities of substance in the air. It requires actual contact with the stimulus, although the ultimate source of the scent may be distant. The inner quality of smell is the ability to sense another’s emotional state.
Touch appears from one perspective as the most external and superficial of the senses, since it requires physical contact and only carries information about the surface of an object. Yet touch is also the common denominator of all the senses, since in every instance a stimulus “touches” a sense organ and creates an experience of perception. The inner expression of touch is the union of souls, an encounter that may be triggered by, but greatly transcends, speech, deed, or physical proximity.
Finally, taste is an ability to distinguish various flavors by taking the substance into one’s mouth. It requires contact, and what is more, one must actually bring the stimulus inside oneself. Something can look good and smell good, but the real test of character is its taste. The corresponding inner sense is the ability to verify truth through hypothesis, experiment and experience.