To Know Is to Touch

Travis West

READ : Psalm 1
Exodus 3:1-14

The Lord knows the way of the righteous. (v. 6)

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was a profoundly influential theologian. His writings are complex and layered with meaning. His penetrating reflections on Judaism, his passionate love of God, and his commitment to social justice mark him as one of the most dynamic and important religious figures of twentieth-century America. He once commented on the Hebrew understanding of the process of thinking: “Thought is like touch, comprehending while being comprehended.”

I'd like to suggest an alternate phrasing of this profound sentence: “Knowledge is like touch, comprehending while being comprehended.” The Hebrew word yadah (“to know,” v. 6) is related to the word yad (“hand”). You can hear the resonance: yad and yadah. There is a connection, in the Hebrew way of thinking, between knowing and touching. Heschel put his finger on it (pun intended!) by suggesting that there is a profound mutuality to all knowledge. If I touch something, it touches me back. Similarly, if I am to truly know someone, I must also be known by them. To the Hebrew, knowledge is never abstract. It is always found in the crucible of communion.

Psalm 1 declares that God “knows” the path of the righteous. He does not know in the abstract, but rather is intimately involved with our lives. God “touches” our path as we walk in his ways. Maybe we should, like Moses, remove our sandals so that our feet can feel the holy ground beneath them, and by touching God come to know him more.


I want to know and to touch you.