Da’as – Awareness, the basis of all Middos
All our Middos – emotions – start with Da’as. It is not possible to feel אהבה ויראה – love and awe of Hashem, or of anything for that matter, only once a person perceives the thing that is being loved or awed.
The Bnei Yisoschor gives the following parable in Sefer Derech Pikidecha. A child is afraid of a cat but does is not afraid to touch shards of glass. In the child’s small mind, the cat is intimidating because it moves and eats, but the glass is just an object and he doesn’t realize that the glass can injure him.
When the child grows older and understands what a cat is and what glass is, he will start fearing to play with the glass and will stop fearing the cat. The perceiving and understanding of something causes the right emotional reaction to it, be it love or fear.
The Da’as can be in Katnus – smallness, or in Gadlus – greatness. Katnus is when the da’as sees something that is finite as infinite. Love and fear to material objects are Katnus because it is finite. Just like in a dream we have strong feelings about things, but when we wake up all the feelings disappear because it is only real for the moment that one is dreaming, the same is in this world. When we love and fear finite objects or ideas, it only invokes feelings in the moment. When our da’as achieves a level of clarity and sees our whole life in context and the world in context, many important things become less important, and many unimportant things become very important.
Originally, continues the Bnei Yisoschor, we all had the right Da’as to love and fear Hashem, but we became confused after eating from the עץ הדעת – tree of knowledge. As it says in Koheles, “אשר עשה האלקים את האדם ישר, והמה בקשו חשבונות רבים – for Hashem made man straight, but they sought many intrigues”. Through Torah and Mitzvos, the light of Hashem brings us back to have the right da’as to love and fear Hashem and to think in greatness rather than in finitude.