In this week’s Haftarah we find, “יָדַע שׁוֹר קֹנֵהוּ וַחֲמוֹר אֵבוּס בְּעָלָיו יִשְׂרָאֵל לֹא יָדַע עַמִּי לֹא הִתְבּוֹנָן/An ox acknowledges its master, and a donkey, it’s master’s trough but Israel does not know (Me), My nation does not consider (Me).”
This pasuk can certainly not be understood literally. How can the prophet say that the nation of Israel acknowledges God less than an ox, God forbid, when we bless and pray to Him? The Sfas Emes explains that the prophet is berating us for not fulfilling our mission to clarify and make known God’s rule in everything that He created.
The pasuk above then means that even though God’s life force is in the ox, it is our duty to clarify this, to make it known. In this we failed.
Along these lines we find in the book Or HaMe’ir a novel understanding of the mishna in Avos, “כָּל שֶׁרוּח הַבְּרִיוֹת נוֹחָה הֵימֶנוּ רוּחַ הַמָקוֹם נוֹחָה הֵימֶנוּ .../One who is pleasing to his fellow man, is pleasing to God …” Literally this translates as, “One with whom the spirit of his fellow man is comfortable, the spirit of God is comfortable.”
The Or HaMe’ir explains that when the mishna refers to the spirit of man, it is referring to the spiritual force within us that is from God. When a person acts according to what will benefit the spirit, then the spirit of God rests in his actions. As a result, the objects of his actions are spiritually elevated. In the words of the mishna, “the spirit of his fellow man is comfortable from him.”
The way to create a recognition in our surroundings that God is with us, that there is a powerful spiritual aspect hidden within the physical world, is by believing it is there and acting accordingly.