Da’at Tevunot 1:17 (# 54 – 56 [beg.])
There’s something not to be denied about G-d’s interactions with us, and it’s this 1. There are times when He acts in an open and above-board sort of way with us, as when He punishes or rewards us for our deeds, “showing us His hand” if you will and directly responding to our actions, measure for measure.
And then there are times when His actions don’t quite fit that pattern and His reactions aren’t at all straightforward, as when He functions in response to what Ramchal terms His own “profound counsel” 2 — His own plan which aims to lead us all toward the ultimate rectification and sees to it that everything contributes to that end.
In fact, that only stands to reason. After all, haven’t we been taught that “everything done by Heaven is (for the) good” (Berachot 60a); and hasn’t the prophet said, “In that day we will say, ‘I will praise You, G-d; for though You were angry with me, Your anger is turned away and You have comforted me” (Isaiah 12:1)3?
Indeed, we’ll come to understand for ourselves in the end that behind everything that happens in the world lies the fact that G-d will eventually make His ways known to us, that only goodness and blessings will come about despite our travails, that utter goodness will always rise up out of the bad, and that no one will ultimately be rejected as a consequence of his sins so much as “treated” for and cleansed of them, and that everything will be set right. It will become clear that all G-d intended from the first was to rectify things.
It will also become manifest in retrospect that G-d’s ways have always been far more “awesome, and infinitely wide and deep” than we imagined, as Ramchal puts it, and staggeringly beyond our ken. And it will be understood how “even the least significant of His actions is so full of wisdom and depth that it’s impossible to plumb them”.
For, while G-d’s actions “may seem to be straightforward” at times, still-and-all “their contents are (in fact) esoteric” and a by-product of G-d’s occult plan to do good; and they’ve always been rooted in “goodness rather than harm” even if we can’t “see them or understand (them in that light) now”. For, we can only grasp a “drop from the great sea” of His deeds and intentions 4.
We’ll also eventually come to know that even when He chides us and has us suffer trial and tribulation, things are not what they appear to be — it’s all for the good, as G-d only means to rectify us. He isn’t set on rejecting wrongdoers as the notion of “retribution” would seem to indicate. For, as He Himself said, “Have I any pleasure at all when a wrongdoer dies? …; (I’d rather) he repent of his ways and live!” (Ezekiel 18:23).
That’s to say that we’ll sooner or later see through the apparent and peer onto the meant. For, “as soon as G-d enlightens our eyes with insight”, Ramchal says, “we’ll come to understand (in retrospect) through the very things that happened” to us themselves before we became aware all contributed to His goal 5.
So let it be reiterated that whatever happens to us now as a consequence of our bad or good actions is still-and-all rooted in our ultimate perfected state, when “the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped” (Isaiah 35:5), For we’ll come to see and to understand the truth of G-d’s ways then as we never could before, and we’ll catch sight of the wisdom that runs through them like a rivulet of quicksilver 6.
1 This chapter returns to 1:15 and reiterates the important idea expressed there that G-d is always tilting the cosmos in the direction of perfection, and that nothing could ever thwart that. But it does underscore another point, which we’ll address below.
The truth be told, there are several instances in Da’at Tevunot, here and there, where Ramchal seems to be redundant. But it’s our contention that he purposefully repeats himself in order to underscore just how vitally important it is for us to grasp the things being said.
But see Klallim Rishonim 7 for other shades of meaning suggested here. They touch on the mystery of the “immanent” versus the “transcendent” lights spoken of by the Kabbalists. Ramchal contends that the imminent lights represent the way things seem to be while the transcendent ones represent things beyond our ken.
2 See 6:1:2 below, Clallei Milchamot Moshe 7, and Breishit Rabbah (Eikev) for use of this unusual and captivating turn of phrase.
3 That is, “In that day”, i.e., in the end, “we will say, ‘I will praise You, G-d; for though You were once angry with me,” I have come to understand that “Your anger is now turned away and You have comforted me instead”.
4 This is Ramchal’s additional stance here, referred to in note 1 above: that not only can’t we understand G-d Himself but that even His actions are frequently unfathomable.
5 That’s to say, we’ll eventually sit stunned assessing it all and say, “Now I understand why this and that (seemingly bad thing) happened to me – it was so that thus and such (good thing) could come about”.
6 Ramchal is careful to point out here in the text, though, that the overwhelming benevolence that we’re to experience will only come our way to the degree that we can handle it — it will not be to the degree that G-d’s own inherent essential benevolence could express itself. That’s to say that even though there’s much more to remark about the stupendous things we’re to experience than we’ve indicated, the point remains that there’s an even more stunning level that can’t even be cited.
Ramchal sets out to encapsulate this chapter at the end which we’ll offer here rather than above to avoid redundancy.
As he puts it, “G-d’s own inherent perfection is utterly unfathomable. But since He wanted to express His benevolence through acts that are in our ambit and not beyond it, He brought about various things that would eventually have us achieve perfection and a state of rectification. This factor underlies all His actions (here) and is their common denominator. Some and only some of this hidden factor can be caught sight of in G-d’s actions themselves when G-d wants us to open our eyes (to the truth of things), but G-d’s awesome and profound wisdom keeps the vast majority of it hidden away and unfathomable.”
(c) 2017 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman
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Rabbi Feldman’s new annotated translation of Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag’s “Introduction to the Zohar” is available as “The Kabbalah of Self” on Kindle here. His annotated translation of Maimonides’ “Eight Chapters” is available here and his annotated translation of Rabbeinu Yonah’s “The Gates of Repentance” is available here.
He has also translated and commented upon “The Path of the Just” and “The Duties of the Heart” (Jason Aronson Publishers).