• If I Knew Then What I Know Now

    In Chassidus, one of the distinctions made between the Exodus from Egypt and the Final Redemption is compared to the difference between a child and a mature adult. At Yetzias Mitzrayim, the Jewish people were like newly born children and everything that transpired from that time until the Ultimate Redemption is all part of one long maturation process • By Rabbi Zvi Homnick, Beis Moshiach Magazine • Full Article

    Rabbi Zvi Homnick, Beis Moshiach

    The newly appointed young Rabbi nervously welcomed the elderly couple into his office for a marriage counseling session. He had no idea how he was supposed to counsel people married for longer than he was alive and older than his own parents, but that was part of the job.

    Husband: Rabbi, this woman is crazy. If I knew how crazy she was I would have never married her.

    Rabbi: Let’s give your wife a chance to respond.

    Wife: It’s not true. He knew from day one that I was crazy from the very fact that I agreed to marry him.


    In Chassidus, one of the distinctions made between the Exodus from Egypt and the Final Redemption is compared to the difference between a child and a mature adult. At Yetzias Mitzrayim, the Jewish people were like newly born children and everything that transpired from that time until the Ultimate Redemption is all part of one long maturation process. This is the explanation given for why at the Pesach Seder the emphasis is on Chinuch and the little children. However, it is not exclusively for them, as even if there are no adults present at the Seder, the participants must ask the Four Questions and answer them. That is because until Moshiach comes we are all going through a process of growing up spiritually.

    What is the difference between a child and an adult in this context, and what is the level of maturity that we are trying to reach?

    Unfortunately, some of our ideas about the differences between children and adults in general derive from the twisted ideas of the secular world. In a world where adulthood is all about growth, intellectually, emotionally, and especially spiritually, the key difference can be distilled down to the phrase that serves as the title of this article, “If I knew then what I know now.” In fact, Jewish law distinguishes between a child incapable of bearing responsibility because he “has no Daas in him” and an adult who “has Daas in him.”

    Although we translate Daas as knowledge, correctly so, it does not refer to informational knowledge alone but to experiential knowledge. When I know something to the extent that it becomes a part of me, being fully cognizant of it as a reality to the point of actually sensing that it is so, that is Daas. There are two ways of acquiring experiential knowledge of reality, which correlate to the two dimensions of reality that we inhabit. There is tangible reality that we experience through our five senses and there is ethereal reality that we experience through our powers of faith, intellect and emotions.

    In tangible sensory reality, when a person experiences a burn, the conscious awareness and knowledge that fire (or anything heated by fire) is hot, causes pain and can inflict serious harm, leaves the realm of informational knowledge and becomes a part of his experiential knowledge. Information is filed away in the memory based on a system of importance and utility, and will fade over time the less that it is recalled and put to use. Experiential knowledge, on the other hand, becomes a part of the person so that there is no difference if having experienced a burn a person encounters fire one year later or fifty years later. The knowledge remains unchanged by the effects of time (as long as there is no impairment of cognitive function).

    When it comes to ethereal reality however, there is a difference between the beliefs, concepts and feelings that relate to and help us navigate tangible reality, and those that relate to and help us navigate spiritual/G-dly reality. What they have in common is that when it comes to ethereal reality in general, even experiential knowledge already acquired continues to remain a work in progress (more consciously so for the growth oriented person).

    In this context, the difference between child and adult is that the child has to be taught everything (and even what he is taught he still does not really “know”) and the adult is knowledgeable and mature enough to manage his own continued growth.


    In the depressing formulation of Shlomo HaMelech in Koheles, “Add in Daas, add in pain.” What this means is that the acquisition of knowledge comes with the pain of regret, “If I knew then what I know now,” and the painful realization that, “The more I know, the more I realize how much I don’t know.”

    For human beings, growing up is not just about physical development and the expansion of mental and emotional capacity. Nor is it just about acquiring the information and practical skills necessary to function as an adult in an adult world. It is primarily about acquiring an ever expanding awareness and knowledge of the meaning and purpose of my existence in the context of the larger reality (beliefs), understanding reality in the context of that meaning and purpose (intellect) and relating to reality (and others who inhabit that reality) in the context of that meaning and purpose (emotions). So it should come as no surprise that in the highly secularized world we live in, it seems that most people never grow up.

    The difference between worldly ethereal knowledge and spiritual/G-dly ethereal knowledge is that when Hashem created the world, He instituted a separation (in the form of a “decree”) between the worlds of spirituality/G-dliness and the tangible material world so that we have no direct access to “knowing” spirituality and G-dliness. Although we retained the child-like inborn faith implanted in our souls by the Avos (Patriarchs) even on the 49th level of impurity in Egypt, we had no “knowledge” of G-d and G-dliness. Yet, it was precisely that child-like faith, along with the miracles and divine revelations we witnessed, that led us to eagerly anticipate our impending freedom and to leave the only homes that we knew “in haste” and “in flight” to follow Hashem into a barren desert wasteland.

    It was only at the Giving of the Torah that the original “decree” was abolished and we first got access to “knowing” spirituality and G-dliness, and that is available exclusively through the Torah that we were given. So why does the Torah, whose very purpose is to take us from just believing to “knowing,” command us to celebrate that time of our early childish innocence, even going to extremes to recreate that child-like simplicity (eating simple matza, avoiding more developed bread products, focusing on telling the story to our children or our inner child, etc.)?

    And why, even after Moshiach comes, when we will have attained full maturity and the ultimate knowledge of “and the earth will be filled with the knowledge of G-d,” will we still remember and celebrate the early days of our youth in Yetzias Mitzrayim?

    The short answer (longer version hopefully to come) is that when it comes to growth in spiritual/G-dly “knowledge” it’s not meant to just lead to feelings of regret, “If I knew then what I know now,” and the pain of, “The more I know, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” Our ultimate goal is to reach the level of “knowledge” of Hashem’s Oneness as it transcends time, where past/present/future are all One. Then we will be able to fuse the experience of what “I knew then” with what “I know now” with what I will know when “all of them shall know Me from their small to their great.”


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