Monthly Archives: January 2016

Da’at Tevunot 1:2

Da’at Tevunot 1:2 (#’s 20-31)

1.

Now that we know that G-d wants us to perfect both ourselves and the universe we’ll need to unravel this next series of mysteries: just how are we imperfect and what are the consequences of that? What is human perfection in fact, and how does achieving it perfect all of creation? How do we come to it and what are its consequences [1]?

Well, there are Torah verses and quotes from our sages  we can cull from and some conclusions we can arrive at logically  to depict what perfection would be like. So we’d do well to use them to contrast perfection with, and to understand our current imperfection.

But Ramchal first indicates that in general perfection comes to “attaching oneself onto G-d’s holy presence [2], and to delighting in the act of grasping His glory without any of the impediments” [3]. He acknowledges that “we don’t really have the ability to understand just what this ‘attaching’ and ‘grasping’ is all about” at this point of our development, that is, “as long as we’re imperfect” [4]. But we’ve been granted allusions to it, as we’ll see.

2.

This phenomenon is depicted in the following verses: “Then you will delight in the L-rd, and I will have you ride on the heights of the earth” (Isaiah 58:14), “The upright will dwell in Your presence” (Psalms 140:13), and “In Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever” (Psalms 16:11). It’s spoken of in the Talmudic statement that “In the World to Come there will be neither eating nor drinking, nor procreation or business transactions, nor envy or hatred or rivalry; but the righteous will sit enthroned (there) with crowns on their heads, enjoying the luster of the Divine presence” (Berachot 17a). And it can be derived from the fact that like all things that yearn to return to their source, the soul likewise yearns to return its source, G-d Himself, and that achieving that would be perfection [5].

Nonetheless as long as we don’t yet cleave onto G-d’s presence and grasp His being we’re imperfect, and the fact remains that we were indeed created to achieve that and have been charged by G-d to set out to do it [6]. But there are a couple of other things we’d need to understand now that are rather mystifying before we can go forward.

3.

First off, it’s clear that G-d could have created us and the universe as utterly perfect to begin with, so why didn’t He? In fact we’d have expected Him to have, given His omnipotence [7]. The answer, we’re taught, lies in the fact that rather than create worlds and things in accordance with His own needs and abilities, G-d created them to fit ours.

As such, G-d could be said to have purposefully “held Himself back”, if you will; to have stifled His infinite ability to create perfectly when He formed the universe and ourselves. So, He didn’t create us as perfect to begin with simply because He deemed it necessary for us to perfect ourselves (and the universe with us) by ourselves. And that was so that we’d be able to achieve His goal that we be self-actualized [8].

Another legitimate question we could then ask is this: Given that we’re indeed imperfect, what then can we draw upon to perfect ourselves [9]? We’ll have to wait till we can answer that one, though [10].

Footnotes:

[1]         These themes will be expanded on later on in the book.

[2]         See Derech Hashem 1:2:3 and Messilat Yesharim Ch. 1.

[3]         There are thus two aspects to this: first “attaching oneself onto G-d’s holy presence” itself which is followed by the experience of “delighting in the act of grasping His glory without any of the impediments”. But the latter aspect would seem to suggest a certain detachment from G-d — a stepping back in order to fully assess on one’s own his grasp of His glory — while the suggestion has always been that we’d enjoy an eternal attachment.

It seems the implication is that one would first enjoy the utterly unfathomable state of adhesion on to G-d’s very being due him, but then he’d pull back to realize that it was he himself who was experiencing that as his reward for all of his efforts and service to G-d, and that he’d then adhere once again ad infinitum.

[4]         Much the way a four year old couldn’t be expected to fathom being forty.

After all, how could a mortal being subject to the exigencies of space and time ever fathom being attached on to and experiencing G-d Himself?

[5]         That’s to say that the perfection we’re capable of achieving is the state in which we’d dwell and delight in G-d’s lustrous presence joyfully as we soar above all human concerns, don regal “crowns”, and realize our dream of returning to G-d.

The idea that all things naturally yearn to return to their “source” is classical. It was used for example by the ancients to explain why fire flickers upward — to return to the source of fire in the heavens, etc.

While that concept no longer rings true to those of us with a scientific background, the basic notion behind it is still valid on a human level and helps to explain many things, including why children cling to their mothers, why individuals tend to stay close to their people or are drawn to others from their hometown or alma mater, why our minds and imaginations often draw upon archetypical ideas and longings, why people often regress into childhood patterns when they grow old, and most significantly (as Ramchal indicates) why we would want to draw close to G-d.

This model is in fact found in many Kabalistic works, including but certainly not limited to Leshem Shevo v’Achlamah which states that “the goal of everything is to return to its Exalted Source” (Chelek HaBiurim 1, p. 83), and that “a lower light always longs to rise upward and to attach itself up above, so as to garner more and more light and blessings from the Infinite Light on high” (Ibid. 2, p. 14).

[6]         Thus to answer the questions raised at the top as to what’s imperfect about us that needs to be rectified — it’s our disconnection from G-d; the consequences of that are our sinfulness as well as our toxic sense of purposelessness; and the consequences of our actually perfecting ourselves would be the sort of unalloyed joy that comes upon the soul when it realizes its full potential.

[7]         That is, would Almighty G-d have been expected to do anything less than perfectly? It follows that His having created an imperfect world was on purpose. And we can extrapolate from there that everything G-d does is purposeful and premeditated, which is an axiom of faith and trust in G-d’s being and actions.

[8]         This too refers to the Kabbalistic concept of Tzimtzum (see note 7 to 1:1 above).

[9]         This won’t be fully explained until Section Two below.

[10]      So, to sum up the last chapter and this one, we learn that G-d calls upon us to perfect ourselves and the universe at large, and that we’re to be richly rewarded for doing that; that the reward in fact will be an experience of G-d Himself, which we sorely lack now; that G-d purposely fashioned us and the entire universe to accommodate our mission; and that there’s something within us that allows for so bold and otherworldly a phenomenon.

(c) 2016 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Feel free to contact me at feldman@torah.org

———————————————————-

AT LONG LAST! Rabbi Feldman’s translation of Maimonides’ “Eight Chapters” is available here at a discount.

You can still purchase a copy of Rabbi Feldman’s translation of “The Gates of Repentance” here at a discount as well.

Rabbi Yaakov Feldman has also translated and commented upon “The Path of the Just” and “The Duties of the Heart” (Jason Aronson Publishers).

Rabbi Feldman also offers two free e-mail classes on www.torah.org entitled “Spiritual Excellence” and “Ramchal”.

Preview of Da’at Tevunot 1:2 (#’s 20-31)

We mentioned that humankind is to perfect itself. But just how are we imperfect and what are the consequences of that? Also, what is human perfection and how does achieving it perfect all of creation? How do we come to it and what are its consequences?

There’s a lot to say about that but let’s determine first how imperfect we are by first understanding just what perfection is all about. Hence we’re taught that perfection comes down to “attaching oneself onto G-d’s holy presence and delighting in grasping His glory without and impediments that would deny us that”.

That principle is laid down many times in Tanach and the Talmud, as we’ll see. But it can likewise be derived from the fact that like all things that yearn to return to their source, the soul likewise yearns to return its source, G-d Himself.

Imperfect as we are now, we can’t really grasp what this “attachment” and perfection is all about, but at by at least knowing what it is we can establish just how imperfect we are not having achieved it yet, and by seeing just how far we are from it. So we obviously have a lot to do.

There’s yet another matter we’d have to present before we can go any further, which is that in fact G-d could very well have created us perfect from the first – in fact, He would have been expected to since He Himself is utterly perfect!

But He purposefully created us imperfect after having decided that we needed to prefect ourselves for our own good. And He thus purposely withheld His inherent beneficence in creating us, so to speak, in order to have us be the way we’d need to be in order for us to achieve the goal He had for us. So He acted in an uncharacteristically imperfect and limited way for our own benefit.

As such the principle is that G-d “held Himself back”, if you will, when He created us so as to have us achieve what He wanted us to, thus creating us imperfect so that we might perfect ourselves and be rewarded for our own efforts. And He did that ironically out of His own inherent beneficence in order to benefit us as much as possible.

There’s yet another thing we’d need to know now, though. Just what is it that we can draw on in order to achieve this perfection, given that we’re not now that way?

So, there’s obviously a lot of ground to cover and we’d need to go step by step and in order to explicate all of these issues.

(כ) אמר השכל – מן ההקדמה אשר הקדמנו יצא לנו שרש גדול להתבונן עליו, והוא ענין החסרון ושלמותו. כי עתה צריך לדעת מהו החסרון, ומהו תולדותיו, ומה הוא תקונו שתשלם בו הבריאה, ואיזה דרך העשות התיקון הזה, ומה הם תולדותיו:

(כא) אמרה הנשמה – אבל חושבת אני שהיה צריך להבין מהו השלמות שיגיע לו האדם כשהשלים עבודתו ושבת ממלאכתו, שאז נבין למפרע כל זה שהזכרנו. והטעם לזה פשוט ומבואר, כי הלא זה שישיג האדם לבסוף הוא מה שחסר ממנו בתחלה, ומפני שחסר ממנו הוא צריך להשתדל ולקנותו:

(כב) אמר השכל – כן דברת. אמנם השלמות נוכל להבין אותו עתה בכלל, ולא בפרט, אלא שבדעתנו אותו בכלל, נבין למפרע החסרונות בפרט, כי על כל פנים כל חסרון הוא העדר השלמות ההוא:

(כג) אמרה הנשמה – אמור מה שאתה אומר על השלמות הזה:

(כד) אמר השכל – השלמות הזה פשוט הוא מן המקרא ומן הסברא; והוא, שיהיה האדם מתדבק בקדושתו ית’, ונהנה מהשגת כבודו בלי שום מונע מפריד ומעכב. איבעית אימא קרא (ישעיה נח, יד), “אז תתענג על ה'”; (תהלים קמ, יד), “ישבו ישרים את פניך”; (שם טז, יא), “שובע שמחות את פניך” וכו’, ואחרים כאלה רבים עד מאד, הלא המה בכל פינות דברי הנביאים והכתובים, גלויים לכל העמים, דרשו מעל ספר ה’ וקראו. ובדברי רז”ל (ברכות יז ע”א), “העולם הבא אין בו לא אכילה ולא שתיה וכו’, אלא הצדיקים יושבים ועטרותיהם בראשיהם ונהנים מזיו השכינה”. איבעית אימא סברא, הנשמה אינה אלא חלק אלוה ממעל, הנה אין תשוקתה ודאי אלא לשוב ולדבק במקורה ולהשיגו, כטבע כל עלול החושק לעילתו, ואין מנוחתה אלא כשתשיג את זה.

אך מה יהיה ההתדבקות הזה, ומה ההשגה הזאת – אנו אין לנו כח להבין אותו כל עוד היותנו בתוך החסרונות. אבל מזה אנו מבחינים חסרונותינו, כי כמו שידענו שהשלמות הוא ההתדבקות הזה, כן נדע שהחסרונות הם כל הריחוק מזה, והמניעה המתמצעת בינותינו ובינו ית”ש, שבעבור זה אי אפשר לידבק בו כמו שנתדבק אחרי אשר תעבור המניעה, וזהו החסרון שאנו צריכים להשתדל להעביר ממנו, ולקנות השלמות אשר זכרנו. ואמנם כאן אנו צריכים להקדמה אחת עיקרית מאד:

(כה) אמרה הנשמה – ומה היא?:

(כו) אמר השכל – שהאלוה ב”ה היה יכול ודאי לברוא האדם וכל הבריאה בתכלית השלמות; ולא עוד, אלא שמחוקו היה ראוי שיהיה כך, כי להיותו שלם בכל מיני שלמות – גם פעולותיו ראוי שתהיינה שלמות בכל שלמות.

אלא שכאשר גזרה חכמתו להניח לאדם שישלים הוא את עצמו, ברא הבריות האלה חסרות השלמות. והרי זה כאילו עכב מדת שלמותו וטובו הגדול שלא לעשות כחק גדולתה בבריות האלה, אלא לעשותם באותה התכונה שרצה בה לפי התכלית המכוון במחשבתו הנשגבת. וכאן נכללת ידיעה אחרת, והיא, מה שאמרו ז”ל (חגיגה יג ע”א), “שדי – שאמר לעולמו די”; ושהשמים היו נמתחים והולכים עד שגער בהם כמו שכתוב במדרש (תנחומא בראשית סוף פרשת מקץ). והיינו, כי ודאי היה יכול לברוא יותר בריות ממה שברא, והבריות עצמם יותר גדולות ממה שברא; ואם היה רוצה לברוא בריותיו לפי ערך הפועל, לא היה להם שיעור, כמו שאין שיעור לו וליכלתו. אבל בראם לפי ערך הנפעל, דהיינו ששיער בהם המדה והתכונה הנאותה בהם לפי המכוון בהם. ונמצא, שעכ”פ עיכב, כביכול, יכולתו הרבה ובלתי בעלת תכלית, שלא תפעל בבריותיו כמו ערכה, ולא ת”ייי אלא לפי ערך הבריות האלה הנפעלות ממנה:

(כז) אמרה הנשמה – כל זה מוכרח ודאי, כי מן האמונה הוא שהאלוה יתברך שמו הוא כל יכול בכל פנים, ואי אפשר לשום שום גבול או שיעור ליכלתו כלל. וכל מה שאנו רואים שנברא ממנו בשיעור מיוחד ומוגבל – לא יהיה לפי ערכו ח”ו, אלא לפי מה שגזר רצונו לפעול:

(כח) אמר השכל – נגדור הכלל הזה, אחר נלך אל הקדמה אחרת עיקרית מאד.

זה הכלל, האלוה ית”ש מנע, כביכול, את עצמו, פירוש, שמנע את יכלתו, בברוא נבראיו שלא לעשות אותם כפי כוחו, אלא לפי מה שרצה וכיון בהם; ובראם חסרים כדי שישלימו הם את עצמם, ויהיה שלמותם שכרם בזכות מה שטרחו להשיגו. וכל זה רק ברצותו להטיב הטבה שלמה:

(כט) אמרה הנשמה – עתה נשמע ההקדמה הזאת שאמרת:

(ל) אמר השכל – אנו צריכים להבין עתה מהיכן נמצא כח באדם להשלים חסרונותיו, כיון שנברא חסר. אמנם, הנה אנחנו נכנסים עתה בים גדיל ורחב ידים מאד, כי הצעות רבות וגדולות יצטרכו לנו קודם שנבא להשלמת עניננו. והנה לך צריך מתון מתון, להבין הדברים בסדר נכון, כי זה דרך החכמה – לקנות ידיעות זו אחר זו, עד שבסוף הכל יצא לאור ענין אחד שלם, שהוצרכו בעבורו כל ההקדמות ההם:

(לא) אמרה הנשמה – דבר דבריך על הסדר הנכון, ואני הנני מקשבת בכל ההמתנה וישוב המצטרך

(c) 2016 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Feel free to contact me at feldman@torah.org

———————————————————-

AT LONG LAST! Rabbi Feldman’s translation of Maimonides’ “Eight Chapters” is available here at a discount.

You can still purchase a copy of Rabbi Feldman’s translation of “The Gates of Repentance” here at a discount as well.

Rabbi Yaakov Feldman has also translated and commented upon “The Path of the Just” and “The Duties of the Heart” (Jason Aronson Publishers).

Rabbi Feldman also offers two free e-mail classes on www.torah.org entitled “Spiritual Excellence” and “Ramchal”.

Da’at Tevunot 1:1 (#’s 12-19)

1.

 

It’s hard coming upon the secrets of the universe. You have to unpack one bag after another, lay their contents out next to each other, then compare and contrast them all until the whole picture comes through. That’s exactly what we’re cautioned about here, since we’re going to be exposed to some of life’s deepest mysteries in the course of this work by degrees. So we’ll all need to have patience as we follow “the bouncing ball” as it goes from point to point. Let this serve as a word of warning.

We’ll start off with what we hope to learn over-all in Da’at Tevunot, and what Ramchal will offer in response to the question about the four principles of our faith discussed in the introductory chapters, and go on from there. As Reason puts it, we hope to uncover man’s makeup, what’s incumbent upon him in this world, and the aim of his life [1]. So we’ll clearly be touching upon some core human — and several specifically Jewish — issues, and we’ll need to proceed step by step.

 

2.

 

As Reason puts it, “The primary principle upon which the entire edifice stands” — bottom line — is the fact that G-d wants us to perfect ourselves and to perfect all of creation along with us [2]. Understand of course that we’re referring to perfecting ourselves spiritually [3] — that is, achieving the greatest and most exalted degree of humanity possible and elevating the world along with us, while drawing both ourselves and all of creation close to G-d in the process [4].

But there’s another element to our having to perfect ourselves (rather than be perfected externally, as we’ll soon see). For by doing it on our own we’ll be rewarded for our efforts (which will foster a whole other level of perfection that we couldn’t come to if we didn’t do it on our own), and we’ll have earned perfection rather than just enjoyed it as a gift outright (which would sully the effect, as we’ll also see).

But why would G-d have wanted us to perfect ourselves? asks the Soul. In order to understand that, we’re told, we’d first have to know why G-d wanted to create the universe in the first place (another very, very weighty question!), as we now will.

 

3.

 

As best as we can determine — because we’re neither as wise nor as knowledgeable as we like to think we are, nor are we as privy to G-d’s plans as we’d like to be — it comes to this.

G-d is characterized as “The Benevolent Being” par excellence [5]. And given that it’s simply the way of one such as He to do good things, G-d thus set out to create entities to do good for, i.e., ourselves and the world at large. But in order for His goodness to be as beneficial as it could be, He needed to contend with one very human foible: the fact that we seem to need to do things on our own rather than accept handouts, given that “one who eats what’s not his own is ashamed to look (his benefactor) in the face” (Jerusalem Talmud, Orlah 1:3). That means to say that we find it hard to just take things [6].

His point is that if G-d didn’t make allowances for that, we’d be held back from achieving perfection, and His ultimate plan would thus have been thwarted; so He did indeed allow for it and has us strive for our own perfection rather than granting it to us outright [7].

Footnotes:

[1]         “Man’s makeup” refers to the fact that we’re ironically and so notably comprised of both a body and a soul, “what’s incumbent upon him in this world” refers to our moral and spiritual obligation to have our soul govern our body, and “the aim of his life” refers to the ominous notion that we were created to attach onto G-d’s presence. All of this will be discussed in the course of the book.

Ramchal offered in his introduction to Klach Pitchei Chochma that the best way to fight the yetzer hara, in fact, is to dwell on fundamental questions like this. Apparently because doing so keeps one on course and it reminds him of what his life’s about and how to direct one’s energies and proclivities. Sadly, our generation doesn’t dwell on these sorts of questions and we suffer deeply in our hearts and souls as a consequence.

[2]         As Ramchal put it elsewhere, “If we master ourselves, cleave onto our Creator, and make use of the world’s things to help us in our Divine service, both we and the world with us will be elevated” (Messilat Yesharim Ch. 1). Also see Derech Hashem 1:4:6-7, Iggerot Pitchei Chochma v’Da’at 18, Adir Bamarom p. 37, Ramchal’s own introduction to Ma’amar Havikuach, and Sefer Kitzur Hakavanot p. 1.

[3]         See Derech Hashem 1:2:2.

[4]         From the first let it be said that this is a daunting and stunning thought that should both humble and bolster us — humble us because it lays an enormous responsibility on our shoulders, and bolster us because it indicates that G-d apparently knows we’re capable of realizing it.

[5]         See Derech Hashem 1:2:1, Klach Pitchei Chochma 3, 92, and Adir Bamarom p. 393.

[6]         This is the element within us that what would have sullied the effect of our being perfected externally we cited above.

See Tosephot in Kiddushin 36b, “Kol Mitzvah”; Maggid Maisharim (Breishit, “Ohr Layom Shabbat 14 Tevet”); HaRav m’Fano’s Yonat Elim (beginning); and Orchot Tzaddikim, Sha’ar Habusha for this concept. Also see Klach Pitchei Chochma 4.

[7]         In short, G-d is benevolent to be sure, but He shapes His benevolence to the needs of human nature: we cannot easily accept “charity” outright so He tempers His kindness with some hesitance and allows us to “earn” it.

Without getting into too much detail, this is an illustration of the Kabbalistic notion of Tzimtzum — of G-d having had to limit His full presence with the creation of the universe in order to accommodate its nature and needs. See Ramchal’s Klallim Rishonim 2 and Klallot Ha’ilan1, and Klallei Sefer Milchamot Moshe 2 for discussions of Tzimtzum.

(c) 2016 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Feel free to contact me at feldman@torah.org

———————————————————-

AT LONG LAST! Rabbi Feldman’s translation of Maimonides’ “Eight Chapters” is available here at a discount.

You can still purchase a copy of Rabbi Feldman’s translation of “The Gates of Repentance” here at a discount as well.

Rabbi Yaakov Feldman has also translated and commented upon “The Path of the Just” and “The Duties of the Heart” (Jason Aronson Publishers).

Rabbi Feldman also offers two free e-mail classes on www.torah.org entitled “Spiritual Excellence” and “Ramchal”.