A Kabbalistic Approach to Spiritual Growth
According to Hassidic teachings, the quality of recognition has three levels of depth:
the external and intellectual, which describes the accumulating of facts and information;
a more inner and emotional state of sensing truth; and
the deepest level of knowing. At this last level one binds oneself to truth at the innermost dimensions of mind and soul.
A deeper way of understanding the process by which knowledge creates the highest level of unification comes from studying the Hebrew word ha’carah (““recognition”) and its cognate naichar (“strangeness”), both of which share the same root. Though etymologically related, these two words appear to convey two contradictory ideas. This appearance, though, is misleading as we shall see.
Both words appear together within one sentence in the Book of Ruth (Ruth 2:10), wherein Ruth asks Boaz, who will eventually marry her: “Why are you so kind as to recognize me when I am a stranger?”
The context is most revealing when we consider the story that is told in the Book of Ruth. When Ruth, a Moabite princess and convert to Judaism, first arrived in Israel as a young widow, she was very poor. She supported herself and her former mother in law, Naomi, by collecting the stalks of grain which, according to Jewish law, must be left in the fields for the poor after harvesting. She was gathering barley from the property of Boaz, the relative of Naomi, and Boaz instructed his workers to give her special assistance. Afterwards, he actually invited her to remain in his fields. This spurred her to ask him the above question. She subsequently married Boaz. Their only child, Oved, fathered Jesse who became the father of King David, and it is from their line that the Messiah will descend.
That these two antithetical meanings of the same root appear together only once in the entire Bible and in the story of Ruth who is considered the prototypical convert, reveals an important lesson for the educator. Often a teacher’s first impression upon meeting a new student, is that the two of them have little in common–that the student is a stranger, in the sense of being different and distant from the teacher. Yet the educator must convert this initial sense of strangeness into a recognition and familiarity that brings forth a union of souls. Thus recognition is the secret of any kind of conversion–of transmuting one’s first impression of distance into a sense of recognition and commonality.
This is the criteria which most distinguishes the great leaders of each generation. For example, God explained to Moses that He had chosen Joshua as his successor because Joshua was “a man with spirit in him.” The sages explain this to mean that “he was a man who had the ability to relate individually to everyone.” This ability to appreciate all people, and to recognize the point of commonality behind the many layers of difference, is a necessary requirement of leadership and an equally essential tool for education.