Monthly Archives: February 2016

Da’at Tevunot 1:4

Da’at Tevunot 1:4 (# 34 continued to end)

1.

As we’d indicated, the single thread that runs through the long course of history from beginning to end will prove to be the fact that G-d reigns over absolutely everything.

In point of fact, G-d’s sovereignty, know as His Yichud, is the only trait of His that we humans can fathom. For, while He is accessible to the heart and soul, and whereas we know a lot about Him from Torah, Tradition, and from logic, G-d Himself is utterly inaccessible to the mind.

So when reflecting on His perfection we might for example understand that G-d is wise, yet  we nonetheless can’t fathom the actual makeup of His wisdom; and though we can certainly follow that He’s omniscient, we nonetheless can’t grasp His actual omniscience; and the like. As our sages put it, “You (G-d) are wise, but not with a discernable kind of wisdom. You understand, but not with a discernable kind of understanding” (Tikkunei Zohar, 2nd Introduction) [1].

In fact, we’re not only not able to fathom those other traits, we’re actually warned not to even try. As it’s said, “Do not search out what is too wondrous for you, and do not delve into what is hidden from you” (Chagigah 13a), and “if your heart flees there …” i.e., to an idea that’s utterly beyond your mortal mind, then ”return to your place”, your own experience, instead (Sefer Yetzirah 1:8).

But while that’s true of abstract ideas about Him, nevertheless as the psalmist put it so effulgently, when one catches sight of G-d’s presence and sovereignty in the world he can “taste and see that G-d is good” (Psalm 34:8) — that He’s here in our world and holds sway over all of it.

2.

But Ramchal’s point is that not only can we discern G-d’s utter sovereignty now to a degree, it’s also true that it will become perfectly clear to us in fact in the end.

As such we’re actually charged by the Torah again and again to detect G-d’s sovereignty and to internalize its veracity, to the point where it’s unquestionable to us [2]. As it’s written, “Know this day and reflect upon it in your heart” again and again “that the L-rd He is G-d in heaven above and upon the earth below”, i.e., that He reigns supreme in all realms, and that “there is none else” who does (Deuteronomy 4:39). In point of fact, all of our people’s hopes and dreams as well as all the promises made to us about our ultimate redemption [3] hinge on G-d displaying His utter sovereignty — His Yichud — in the future.

We’ll discuss this all in more detail in the next few chapters; at this point, though, let’s just present the various verses that allude to this phenomenon.

G-d Himself expressed it in these terms: “I am He! There is no G-d with Me! I alone bring on death and bring on life; I alone wound and heal“(Deuteronomy 32:39); “I am He; before Me no ‘god’ was formed and after Me none shall be. I (alone) I am the L-rd, and aside from Me there is no savior” (Isaiah 43:10-11); “I am the first and I am the last; there is no G-d beside Me“(Isaiah 44:6); and “Know … that there is none beside Me. I am G-d, no one else. I form the light and create darkness; I make peace and create evil; I, G-d, do all these things“ (Isaiah 45:6-7) [4].

As the prophets Isaiah and Zechariah depicted it, “G-d alone will be exalted on that day“(Isaiah 2:11) — the day He reveals His Yichud — when, “G-d will (prove to) be king over all the earth. And … G-d and His name”, i.e., G-d and His reputation as sovereign of the universe, “will be one and the same“(Zechariah 14:9). And as it’s said “Hear O Israel! G-d our L-rd is the L-rd (i.e., His reign is sovereign) (Deuteronomy 6:4).

The point of the matter is that G-d alone reigns supreme — and that while there are undoubtedly other entities with wills of their own, ourselves included, in fact G-d alone will always have “the last word” so to speak; His Will will prove to reign supreme [5].

3.

In the end we’ll find that the whole slow, boundless, panoramic consideration of past, present and the promised future which we’ll be offered in this work will ultimately have us realize the fact of G-d’s Yichud.

And once we know that, we’ll be able to not only “know therefore this day” the truth of G-d’s absolute sovereignty in theory — we will have “reflect(ed) upon it in (our) heart”, and we’ll be able to realize on our own that “G-d alone is L-rd of Heaven above and of earth below — none other” (see Deuteronomy 4:39), despite the whirligig of earthly circumstances that seem to refute that.

Footnotes:

[1]         That’s because those and other such Divine traits are rooted in abstract notions about Him and about G-d’s inner being, while G-d’s sovereignty — His overarching command of everything in the universe — will manifest itself in the universe in the end.

[2]         Understand that most of us simply don’t sense G-d’s utter sovereignty. Even people of faith who assume that G-d certainly reigns in this world don’t actually assume He reigns supremely. And that’s because they presume that He Himself is subject and subservient to a number of cosmic laws and limitations (which Ramchal will discuss later on), and that His sovereignty can be thwarted, but that’s not true.

[3]         This refers to the Messianic Era, the resurrection of the dead, the great day of judgment, and the World to Come.

[4]         Great Mussar masters like R’ Yisrael Salanter, and R’ Yosef Zundel his teacher would counsel us to repeat Torah verses that speak to a trait one would like to foster in himself much the way that we in modernity speak of affirming certain insights we’d like to internalize by repeating them over and over again to himself. In that same spirit it would certainly do us all well to recite these statements about G-d’s utter sovereignty to affirm its reality to ourselves.

[5]         But haven’t we been granted free will which presupposes that one can thwart G-d’s will, which would suggest that His will and reign are not sovereign? And aren’t there forces for evil and sin in the world that seem to foil His will — and His benevolence cited earlier on — too? Suffice it to say that this will all be discussed later on.

(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 1:4 (# 34 continued to end)

All of G-d’s traits other than His utter sovereignty are unfathomable. We know for example that He’s “wise” but we can’t grasp His wisdom, and we likewise know that He’s omniscient but we can’t fathom that either, etc. As such, we’re not allowed to delve into those traits.

His sovereignty — which is termed His Yichud —  though, will be manifest, and we’re obliged to delve into it and take it to heart, which is indicated in various verses in Tanach and elsewhere. And so we’ll delve into this vitally important matter in this work.

ותראי שכל שאר מעלות שלמותו הבלתי בעלת תכלית אינם מתבררים אצלנו כלל, שאין בנו כח להשיג אותם. דרך משל, ידענו שהוא חכם, אבל לא השגנו סוף חכמתו; ידענו שהוא יודע, ולא השגנו ידיעתו. ועל כן אמרו ז”ל (תפלת אליהו, תיקוני זוהר, הקדמה שניה), “אנת הוא חכים, ולאו בחכמה ידיעא, אנת הוא מבין, ולאו בבינה ידיעא”. וכיון שאין אנו יכולים להשיג המעלות האלה, נמשך לנו מזה איסור החקירה בהם, כי על כל כיוצא בזה נאמר (חגיגה יג. בשם בן סירא ג, כא), “במופלא ממך אל תדרוש, במכוסה ממך אל תחקור”; וכן אמרו (ספר יצירה, פרק א), “אם רץ לבך – שוב למקום”:

אבל יחודו, אדרבא, זה מתגלה ומתברר לנו בירור גמור. ונמשך לנו מזה שלא די שהוא מתברר לנו, אלא שחייבים אנחנו להשיב אל לבנו הידיעה הזאת, לתקוע אותה בלבבנו בישוב גמור בלי שום פקפוק כלל. והוא מה שמצוינו משה רבנו ע”ה מפי הגבורה (דברים ד, לט), “וידעת היום והשבות אל לבבך כי ה’ הוא האלהים בשמים ממעל ועל הארץ מתחת אין עוד”. ופי עליון מעיד בעצמו ומודיע כי כל הנלקט מכל מסיבותיו הגדולות אשר הוא מתהפך בעולמו, הלא הוא גילוי יחודו הגמור הזה; כענין אמרו (דברים לב, לט), “ראו עתה כי אני אני הוא ואין אלהים עמדי”, ומקרא זה נאמר אחר שכלל כל סיבוב הגלגל, שהיה עתיד ומזומן להיות סובב בעולם, שנכלל הכל בדברי השירה ההיא של האזינו, וכמו שפשטן של כתובים עצמן מוכיח, והנה חותם החזון שלו חתם בלשון הזה, “ראו עתה כי אני אני הוא” וגו’. ובדברי הנביא ישעיה נתבאר בהדיא (ישעיה מג, י יא), “למען תדעו ותאמינו לי ותבינו כי אני הוא, לפני לא נוצר אל ואחרי לא יהיה. אנכי אנכי ה’ ואין מבלעדי מושיע”; וכמו שכתוב (ישעיה מד, ו), “אני ראשון ואני אחרון ומבלעדי אין אלהים”; וכמו שכתוב (ישעיהו מה, ו ז), “למען ידעו ממזרח שמש וממערבה כי אפס בלעדי אני ה’ ואין עוד. יוצר אור ובורא חשך עושה שלום ובורא רע, אני ה’ עושה כל אלה”. והנה “למען ידעו”, “למען תדעו ותבינו” כתיב, משמע שרוצה שנדע בידיעה והבנה. ותכלית כל ההצלחה שהוא מבטיח לישראל הוא התברר יחודו לעיני הכל. ודבר זה נזכר פעמים אין מספר בדברי הנביאים ע”ה (ישעיהו ב, יא), “ונשגב ה’ לבדו ביום ההוא”; (זכריה יד, ט), “והיה ה’ למלך וגו’ ביום ההוא יהיה ה’ אחד ושמו אחד”; (צפניה ג, טו), “כי אז אהפוך אל עמים לקרוא כלם בשם ה’ לעבדו שכם אחד”. וסוף דבר, הלא זה עדותנו בכל יום תמיד (דברים ו, ד), “שמע ישראל ה’ אלהינו ה’ אחד”:

נמצא, שכל מה שמתברר לנו באמת מעוצם שלמותו הבלתי בעלת תכלית הוא רק יחודו השלם. שכאשר נביט בהבטה עיונית על כל המעשים אשר נעשו תחת השמים, נראה הילוך אחד שסובב והולך, והיתה מנוחתו רק גילוי האמת הזאת. עתה צריכים אנו להבין היחוד הזה, ומהו הנרצה בו, והוא מה שצונו הכתוב (דברים ד, לט), “והשבות אל לבבך כי ה’ הוא האלהים” וגו’, משמע שצריך ישוב הדעת ועצה נכונה בענין הזה. וכבר אמרתי, זה ים גדול ורחב ידים הוא, שיש לנו לשוט בו כנפשנו שבענו:

(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 1:3

Da’at Tevunot 1:3 (#’s 32 – 34 beginning)

1.

Some people are said to enjoy “global vision” in that they seem to see things on the ground from on high and to take the big-picture into account. Others, though, including Ramchal, experience what we’d term “cosmic vision”. For while also seeing things from on high, these more exalted souls also see them from beginning to end with a clear view of ultimate consequences.

And so we find Ramchal making certain “cosmic” statements like the following here: “When we dwell on the whole array of G-d’s actions” at creation, then on “every major deed He has brought about since He placed man on earth” since creation, to every deed that “He assured us through His holy prophets that He’d (eventually) bring about, it becomes entirely clear” that….

So let’s see what we’d notice if we too could take all of that into account, since it will explain so many things to us about G-d.

2.

Before we get to that, though, there’s something we’d need to understand clearly [1]. It’s that even though we’d been told [2] that G-d wants us to grasp Him and that we’re capable of doing that in fact, it’s nonetheless vitally important to know that we could never grasp G-d’s full and infinite being. That’s simply beyond us. We can understand though (and will experience in the end) a fragment of G-d’s being.

After all, Ramchal points out, isn’t it said, “Can you fathom the mystery of G-d? Or can you probe the limits of the Almighty?”(Job 11:7); indeed, “who can enunciate the mighty acts of G-d or fully declare all His praise?” (Psalms 106:2) [3].

As such, while we’ll be discussing the overarching pattern of G-d’s ways in the world, the direction that His actions are heading in, here in the universe, and His over-all goals — which is all very buoyant, stunning, and electric unto itself — we nonetheless won’t be discussing G-d Himself [4].

In any event, our grasping even that relatively “small corner” of His being is what Ramchal and others assure us will bring us the great soul satisfaction we’d spoken of [5].

3.

And so Ramchal now depicts what one would come to realize if we were able to “dwell on the whole array of G-d’s actions”, on “every major deed He has brought about since He placed man on earth” , and on everything “He assured us through His holy prophets that He’d (eventually) bring about” cited above.

It would be the fact that G-d’s sovereignty and rule are supreme [6].

That’s to say that the one over-arching theme we’d see playing itself out in the long course of time from creation to the end of time is the fact that G-d is fully in charge of everything — despite an almost endless array of paradoxes that seem to contradict that. We’ll expand upon this phenomenon shortly again and later on, as it’s one of the major themes of Da’at Tevunot.

Footnotes:

[1]         Keep in mind that what’s to follow is one of the things we’d have to understand before we can know what we can draw upon to perfect ourselves — which is the actual subject at hand, as indicated at the end of 1:2.

[2]         See 1:2:1.

[3]         The truth be told, Ramchal will indeed be probing many hidden things in the course of this work. But let that serve as a lesson as to just what’s hidden from us and beyond our inquiries and what only seems to be.

[4]         G-d is utterly, utterly unfathomable, but not only because we aren’t privy to the mystery of His being, with the implication that eventually we just might. It’s because He is beyond space and time, and exists on a “plane” that existed before He created reality and will continue to exist after reality is undone.

Nonetheless, in a manner of speaking, the one and only G-d can be said to have two “sides”, if you will. There’s His “private side” — the way He is in His own element, where He is “Himself” and where no one other than He ever experiences Him. And then there’s His “public side” — the way He presents Himself outside of Himself, in the universe.

The point is that we won’t be discussing His “private side” since we simply cannot, but we can and are even encouraged to dwell on His “public side”.

Let it also be said that while He’s not really Himself under the latter circumstances and is somewhat “restricted” there, nonetheless since we could potentially relate to Him under those circumstances. and since His assuming His “public side” best serves His ultimate goals, He presents Himself that way to us.

[5] See 1:2:2 for a citation of this experience, and also see Adir Bamarom p. 396.

That’s to say that while we may become dismayed by the fact that we can only discern a small part of G-d’s being, all the same, discerning even that small part will bring us the unfathomable bliss promised us. In fact, the implication is that a revelation of a higher order would for all intents and purposes be just too much and would undo us.

[6]         This factor is termed the playing out of G-d’s Yichud. The word Yichud is derived from Echad, one, and literally translates as “unity” or “uniqueness”, but that’s not the point here. It’s closer to the idea of professing faith in the Yichud Hashem, “G-d’s Oneness” (see Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah 417), i.e., in Monotheism, which is the gist of Ramchal point. What it comes down to is belief in the doctrine that G-d alone is in control of the universe.

The term will be expanded upon later. See for example 1:5:5, 1:7:2, 1:10:1, etc. See R’ Shriki’s Rechev Yisrael pp. 167-228, and his important essay HaYichud in his commentary to Da’at Tevunot pp. 61-66. And see Klach Pitchei Chochma 1-4 for a definition of the concept as well as a discussion of its dynamics.

This chapter is discussed on an esoteric level in Clallim Rishonim 3. The discussion there touches upon and goes beyond our discussion of the notion of Tzimtzum in our notes to the previous chapters so it would help to put Tzimtzum (and what’s beyond it) into context here in order to explain what’s said in Clallim Rishonim.

Simply put, the Ari said at the beginning of Eitz Chaim that before G-d created the cosmos all that existed was Himself. Given that He’s all-encompassing, infinite, and omnipotent, and that no mortal or finite being could exist in His environment, G-d “contracted” or “concealed” His full being so as to allow for an environment in which lesser beings could in fact exist, and that process is what’s termed Tzimtzum.

By doing that, G-d then created an “empty space” — a space devoid of His manifest presence — which would indeed allow for finitude to exist. Ramchal’s point in Clallim Rishonim is that that realm is what’s under discussion here, since it’s where G-d’s full being cannot be experienced.

That empty space was said to have been created in the “center” of the primordial “space” that was suddenly “devoid” of Him. Ramchal makes the point that the word “center” in this context isn’t to be taken literally, since we’re talking about a realm that’s beyond space and time; it’s only the “center” in the sense that it occupies “center stage” when it comes to G-d’s intentions for the universe.

(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 1:3 (#’s 32 – 34 beginning)

Even though we’d pointed out that G-d wants us to grasp His Being, we’ll never be able to grasp the whole of His infinite Being, only the very small part of it that He’ll reveal to us. Still and all that small part will be the source of the great pleasure and delight we’ll derive from grasping Him we spoke of. After all, how in fact can we be expected to grasp G-d’s full perfection?

Let’s make this assertion about that, though. Taking into consideration as much as we can of everything G-d has done so far and everything that He’s prophesied to do in the end, the one trait of His that’s clear to us about Him is His utter sovereignty. Nothing else.

(לב)  אמר השכל – ראשונה צריך שתדעי, שאף על פי שאמרנו כבר שרצה האדון ב”ה לתת השגה מיקר שלמותו אל נבראיו, ודאי הוא שלא היה הרצון בזה לתת להם השגה מכל שלמותו אשר אין לו סוף שיעור ותכלית כלל; אלא אדרבה, רק קצה קטן ממנו רצה לגלות להם, ובו יהיה כל תענוגם בהשיגם אותו, כמו שביארנו. וזה דבר פשוט ונרצה מאד, מן הטעם כי אי אפשר לעלול ונברא אשר כמונו להשיג כל שלמות הבורא ית”ש, וכענין שנאמר (איוב יא, ז), “החקר אלוה תמצא, אם עד תכלית שדי תמצא”. ונמצא, שכל מה שיוכלו להשיג הנבראים, לא יהיה אפילו כטפה מן הים הגדול מן השלמות של הבורא ית”ש:

(לג) אמרה הנשמה – זה פשוט אצל כל חכמי לב, וכבר נאמר (תהלים קו, ב), “מי ימלל גבורות ה'” וגו’:

(לד) אמר השכל – עתה כשנשיב אל לבנו כל סדרי מעשיו ית’, כל המעשה הגדול אשר עשה מני שים אדם עלי ארץ, וכל אשר הבטיח לנו לעשות ע”י נביאיו הקדושים, הנה מה שמתברר לנו מכל זה בירור גמור – הוא עוצם יחודו יתברך.

 

(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”.