Da’as Rachamim Tif’eres

You might have noticed on the AishDas home page the motto “Da’as, Rachamim, Tif’eres” and wondered what it meant. It was something lifted from Dr Nathan Birnbaum’s organization “HaOlim”.

(Note to the skimmer: Please do me the favor of at least skipping down to the conclusion of this post. You’ll get the final explanation, without the sources.)

I recently found his explanation of the terms in a Hebrew magazine produced for Lubavitch schools in the early 1970s, and traced it as far back as a journal called Yavneh, year 3, issue 156-157, pp 8-9 published in Levov (Lemberg) for Kisleiv-Teiveis 5691 (late 1930 CE).

The three words are usually translated: da’as – knowledge, rachamim – compassion, tif’eres – harmony and splendor.

My translation:

Dr Nathan Birnbaum

Da’as, Rachamim, Tif’eresDa’as:

Even one who says that he doesn’t believe in G-d — feels Him. The loss of faith comes only from stupidity, foolishness or stubbornness.

If a person believed in Hashem, even in an emotionally cold way, there is no doubt that he also has da’as, although this is the lowest level of da’as.

On the higher levels, a person is illuminated, warmed, and is shaken by the Shechinah. He feels the closeness of Hashem anyway, in the furthest reaches of eternity — he has a path to his G-d, and he quakes in submission before Him and in love for Him.


The stream of Love that flows from under the Throne of Glory works not only in a direct manner, but also in an indirect way; in particular Hashem yisbarakh made man to rule with his physical love. The love of G-d readies man and adapts him to sacrifice all the urges of his heart for the sake of lofty things and moving ideals, and all his senses and feelings are pulled and drawn after what is high and uplifted, pure and holy…


The love of G-d purifies the heart. Makes the spirit [ru’ach] pleasant and refines the soul [nefesh]. In it man feels strength and joy, pleasure and entertainment, magical melodies. Love illuminates the face, brings happiness to the heart, and is a crown of grace to its possessor.


The feeling of love is the strongest of the feelings of the nefesh. Before it, the other feelings and motivations in a person bow and are nullified. In particular the love that is for G-d, it has an overpowering strength and it rule is great over all the forces of the nefesh. “רְשָׁפֶיהָ רִשְׁפֵּי אֵשׁ שַׁלְהֶבֶתְיָה — [your heart’s] flashes are flashes of fire, the Divine Flame.” (Shir haShirim 8:6)


How frightening is the emptiness one that can be felt in life, and how sweet is the light that appears on a person from the day he begins to feel in his heart G-d’s Love!

In G-d’s Love there is more power present and more sublime than any other inclination. G-d’s Love gives some embellishment of port, value and merit to life.

The essential reason of human suffering in the world, it is an overabundance of feelings and of love for oneself, and a person must put a stop to it. Man was not created for his pleasure or his own ends, but to love G-d. He must get habituated to love G-d in truth and entirely, and every time and every moment, and then he will not know evil; then he will know why he was alive, all the accursed questions won’t cry out to him any more, and he will not feel within his nefesh ruptures, contradictions and opposition, darkness and gloom. He will understand then, that his life is like an impotent city against the love and the light. The nefesh of man is taken from the storehouse of list and love, and upon a person is the obligation not to separate it from this… — — —

The person should please see the final purpose of the creation of the world, the love toward all creatures and in particular toward a person. Whomever doesn’t feel for his friends loss. even someone who helps him but his heart isn’t with him, or he damages the honor of the one he is helping – a person like this doesn’t know what rachamim is. If they say that some person disburses a log of money to tzedaqah — and indeed that is the truth of the matter — we have no greater proof than this that he is a master of rachamim.

On a higher level of rachamim one finds a person whose heart is full of warmth and generosity for all other people, even those who do not love him.


To give form to the substance and master it. Formation and mastery is the Might of the Creator in a direct way. Formation and mastery by another undermines the essence of Formation and Mastery [by G-d]. But the design of the substance is also made by the Creator in an indirect manner — through a person. [Hashem] gave [humanity] the senses for the purpose of tif’eres, the power to know from tif’eres, to be informed about it and to strengthen it.

(translated to Hebrew: Alexander Shmuel Halpern [editor, Yavneh])

There is another source that summarizes Dr Birnbaum’s understanding of these concepts, his 1927 presentation to the Agudah (reprinted in in L’Or HaNetzach, p. 439, translation by R’ YG Bechhofer for an article in the Jewish Observer):

It is the greatest demand placed by Judaism itself on the Jewish people: “And you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a sacred nation.” If Charedim seek to be true activists, then they must consider how they will fulfill this lofty demand that Judaism makes. They must place this demand at the center of their activism.

I know that many – and not necessarily the most base among us – respond to such demands with a smile on their lips. They perceive this as exaggerated temimus, as a naivete that refuses to recognize the nature of humanity and its inescapable frailties. In truth, even I am far from believing that all human beings possess an equal capacity and ambition for a life of Mussar

What I think, what I hope to achieve, what I demand from Charedi activists who recall G-d’s ancient charge to the Jewish people, is a society that attains a lofty character, so that each member of the society ascends discernibly, whether to a great or small degree, even if that individual does not end as the outstanding Ba’al Middos

How can the ideal of sanctity and character refinement become the new driving force within Am Yisroel? It seems to me, without doubt, that this ideal can only serve as a driving force if we can find suitable individuals to accept upon themselves to enunciate and declare this ideal in all its breadth and depth. They must do so incessantly, without slavishness, with the full weight of the idea. Furthermore, there must arise a small force of pioneers in self sanctification to serve as an example and role model for Am Yisroel

[Organized Orthodoxy] is obliged to come together and create societal tools that will teach:

  1. How to deepen our awareness of Hashem out of love for Him [Da’as].
  2. How to dedicate ourselves to love our fellow human beings [Rachamim].
  3. How to pursue modesty [hatznei’a leches] as a manifestation of the glory of our Hashem [Tiferes]

We must admit that cold intellectualism has penetrated our relationship with Hashem. Following through with that metaphor, Ha’Olim cannot remain at ease with this frigidity. They must toil until within their societies, within each of their groupings and within each of their members there arise divine hislahavus and inner spiritual feeling.

To achieve aliya in Da’as Hashem there float before my eyes [the following ideas]:

  1. Torah study in a more profound manner: Every “Oleh” is required to expand and deepen his knowledge of Torah and Chochmas Yisroel. Before all else, if he does not possess basic knowledge, he must acquire it upon entering the society. The society must constantly supervise its members to ensure that they are fulfilling this obligation. It must provide the opportunity to learn and grow through shiurim that it will conduct within its circle. The society shall campaign among its members, their children and their students to convince them to embark upon a term of study in a yeshiva or under a renowned talmid chacham for one to three years.
  2. Festive gatherings of Charedim, for spiritual purposes (such as the introduction of the Eastern European Shalosh Seudos, etc.).
  3. Special instruction in the history and development of Hislahavus and Dveykus in Israel and its practice.
  4. Great emphasis must be placed upon a stipulation that every Oleh to refrain from any excesses or immodesty in speech, clothing, deed and from any competitive sport or gambling.
  5. The development of a pure esthetic that will free the architecture of our Shuls and the nature of our music from the influence of other religions…

To achieve aliya in bein adam l’chaveiro I consider:

  1. Instruction in the issues of bein adam l’chaveiro and guidance in expanded practical applications. Both modern and classic texts should be employed, with a particular stress on current situations. To develop a greater sense of belonging to Orthodox society as a whole.
  2. The obligation of every Oleh to engage in Cheshbon HaNefesh at least once a week, to ascertain if, and to what extent, he has fulfilled mitzvos and refrained from aveiros according to the instruction and guidance provided to him.
  3. An outright ban on certain material pursuits.
  4. Substantive and apolitical common counsel to resolve Jewish societal problems in the spirit of Torah and Mesorah. Even if the manner in which we display the public image of our lives does not currently convey our glory as the Chosen Nation, even if we are uncertain how to properly become the glory [pe’er] of the world, Ha’Olim cannot allow the status quo to continue. They must attempt to rectify as much as possible.

To achieve aliya in the manners of creating public lives, I depict to myself:

  1. Instruction in issues concerning glory [Tiferes]and its correlation to religion and Mussar [and] practical guidance in the application of these principles to the creation of appropriate public lives.
  2. The development of an independent Jewish social structure following Judaism and Mussar.
  3. The development of arts, especially architecture, music and poetry, rooted in the spirit of true Jewish Mesorah, and the establishment of competitions in these areas.
  4. The previously mentioned (in the section on Da’as Hashem) ban on excesses.

As a means of ascent in all three aforementioned areas I consider:

Involvement in the education of young men and young women according to the demands of Ha’Olim – an involvement that will become especially substantial when it will be possible to arrange such education among large groups of Ha’Olim or in their respective communities…

There is no room to doubt the importance of Ha’Olim to the entirety of Agudas Yisroel… Not only will they carry the pressure of Yahadus in to the world of treason thereto; more so, they, through their Avodah in the ideals of Mussar and Middos (a labor unto itself) can be a special force for the Agudah, if only the Agudah realizes how to take advantage of this opportunity.

For although the Agudah’s strngths are mostly organizational and political, it cannot derive its life force from those strengths… It must focus on those inherent strengths of Yahadus itself, its eternal ideas and ancient yearnings as well. In the final analysis, stength of will is contingent on those ideas and yearnings…

Please do not allow your hearts to persuade you that all there is here is the foundation of yet another redundant new society. That which we will found here is a Kiddush Hashem that will and unite the driving forces of Chassidus, of the Mussar Movement, of the Talmudic Masters and of the ambition for loftier Derech Eretz… This will be a Kiddush Hashem to an extent never before attempted. A Kiddush Hashem that will be the first step toward the blossoming of the ancient Torah, a debt that we owe Hashem in return for the chesed He has granted us in choosing our nation. It is the first step toward fulfilling the task, for which Hashem has chosen us.


It would seem from these sources that Dr Birnbaum’s ideal is something like what follows. At least, if it was not his intent for HaOlim, it explains what I meant by the motto when I chose it for AishDas.

Da’as: Knowing G-d. Not knowing about Him in some philosophical way, but knowing Hashem the way one knows a Parent and a Beloved. I do not think it’s coincidental that Dr Nathan Birnbaum chose the word “da’as“, with its implications of experiential knowledge and intimacy. “And Adam knew Chavah his wife, and she conceived…” (Bereishis 4:1).

Rachamim: Being a conduit of Hashem’s Love from its source “under the Throne of Glory” through the higher levels of the soul to the nefesh, the souls presence in the physical world, so as to bring that Love to the others we encounter there.

Tif’eres: Human autonomy and creativity, the ultimate expression of our Image of the Divine, when placed in service of the Almighty. Thus tif’eres involves both the notion of a Jewish aesthetic and refinement of the self through mussar. It is creating a unity of soul in which one can be fully self-expressive and yet fully in service of the Creator.

The triad could be seen in terms of perfecting three relationships, as the Maharal understands Torah, Avodah and Gemillus Chassdim. Daas describes the ideal relationship with G-d, rachamim guides our interactions with others, and tif’eres is perfection of the self.

Or we could see them in terms of a single process, and this understanding is not contradictory. Da’as is how one attaches oneself to Hashem’s good and love. Rachamim is sharing that love with others, being good to them as He would. And tif’eres is the process of maximizing our ability to do so, now and in the future.

(Dear skimmer: If I now tempted you to return to the top and read through, click here.)

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  1. Neil Harris says:

    This was an amazing post. Thanks for providing not only the beautiful translation, but the passion within your written words.

  2. Bob Miller says:

    Why would competitive sport be totally off-limits?

    • micha says:

      The person you would have to ask is no longer with us. I was presenting the spirit of the ideals, and less concerned with DNB’s application. Personally, I have seen how much my kids have grown in their interpersonal skills from team sports, from caring about their teammates to picking up an opposing player who was knocked to the floor in the scuffle.

      But Dr Birnbaum did give us hints about his intent, since he makes a single clause out of “competitive sport or gambling” and avoiding these are apparently an implementation of “refrain[ing] from any excesses or immodesty”. It is all one bullet item in his list.

      Did he dislike the competitive spirit? Or perhaps thought it forces people into the spotlight (“immodesty”)? What do you think?

      • Bob Miller says:

        I’m wondering if Dr. Birnbaum made distinctions between spectator sports and everyday formal or informal sports, or between spectators and participants.

        Also, a common thread between competitive sport (however he saw it) and gambling might be betting!

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