Da’at Tevunot 2:3 (# 71-72 [beg.])

Da’at Tevunot 2:3 (# 71-72 [beg.])

1.

Purifying the body 1 is the soul’s main objective in this world, as we’d said 2. And the soul will be rewarded for that 3 because by doing that it enabled the body 4 to become righteous. And that allows for an enhancement of G-d’s glory and for the elevation of all of creation, given that everything was created so G-d could be glorified 5. After all, the soul delighted Heaven that way and will be rewarded for that 6.

Understand, of course, that the soul undergoes other things in the Afterlife, but that’s not our concern here 7.

2.

But to our great adversity, Adam and Eve’s error brought death into the equation 8. So the soul can’t bring on the aforementioned perfection until the body first experiences death 9. And the necessity of death for all helps explain why certain rare utterly righteous individuals had to die when they didn’t deserve to — because of “the advice of the serpent 10” (Bava Batra 17a).

Once the body is separated from its impurity 11 and comes back to life 12, the soul re-enters the body – along with all of the merits the body had earned beforehand in life. And the glow that the soul had earned in the Garden of Eden 13, because of its merits would then shine brightly upon the resurrected and purified body. And the soul will then further mend all the bad that the body had experienced beforehand 14.

3.

We’ve thus explained mankind’s obligations and its rewards for it in the course of the two time periods encompassing all of reality 15. And we’ve learned that since the body is imperfect, the soul must have its light shine upon it and purify it, and both body and soul are to be rewarded 16 once this purification process is completed.

Footnotes:

1                By means of the mitzvah-system (see 2:2:2).

2               See 2:2:2, and Zohar 1:115a which Ramchal cites in the text.

3               See 2:4 below.

4                See note 5 to 2:2 above where we pointed out that the term “body” here includes one’s self, personality, etc.

5                See Psalms 29:2 and Isaiah 43:5:7.

6                The point remains, though, that the soul also blooms on its own in the here and now – albeit in very subtle but vital ways beyond our ken; but it doesn’t yet live up to its full potential.

7                Ramchal’s concern here is the resurrection of the dead, not the Afterlife. See a discussion of the Afterlife in Derech Hashem 1:3:11.

Let’s clarify the chronology and “geography” involved here since it can be confusing: body and soul are together in life, the body then dies and the soul experiences the Afterlife (i.e., the Garden of Eden and Gehenom), body and soul are then reunited in the course of the resurrection of the dead, and the two then experience the World to Come.

8                Had they not erred, the soul would have purified the body right there and then, and our mission would have been accomplished from the first. See 3:14 below as well as Derech Hashem 1:3:6.

9                The point is that perfection could have and in fact should have come about quickly and easily, but it was delayed by the introduction of death and the need for the body to be purified very, very slowly.

10              To Eve and then Adam to eat from the Tree of Knowledge.

11              See Derech Hashem 1:3:12.

12              At the resurrection of the dead.

13              After the body had died.

14              See Zohar 1:113b, 116a which is cited by Ramchal in the text.

15              I.e., this world (including the Afterlife), and the World to Come (after the resurrection of the dead).

16              In the World to Come.

(c) 2017 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Feel free to contact me at feldman@torah.org

———————————————————-

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).

Rabbi Feldman also offers two free e-mail classes torah.org entitled “Spiritual Excellence” and “Ramchal” that can be subscribed to.

Da’at Tevunot 2:2 (# 69-70)

Da’at Tevunot 2:2 (# 69-70)

1.

Why, we might wonder, do we have a separate body and soul rather than a combination of the two, as G-d could very well have created us to have from the first 1?  The answer to that lies in the fact that our body and soul each plays a distinct and vital role in G-d’s ultimate intention behind the creation of the universe, which was for Him to be as benevolent to His created beings as possible 2. For, our initially having a separate body and soul enables us to perfect ourselves 3.

This question also touches on the idea discussed early on about just what our imperfections are rooted in and what enables us to rectify them 4.

2.

Our imperfections are rooted in the makeup of our body 5, which is material, dense and dark, and thus unable to bask in G-d’s holiness. As, “only those fully prepared to can pass through the King’s gate and visit His palace” 6, as Ramchal words it. And one who’s under the sway of all sorts of untoward desires certainly couldn’t do that.

So G-d granted us another vital element, the soul, which was hewn from the inchoate “stuff” beneath G-d’s Throne of Glory, which is by its very makeup capable of purifying our body and making it holy. In fact, purifying and elevating our body is the soul’s major function on earth 7.

In fact there have already been instances of individuals whose soul had so perfected their body that the two joined together before the World to Come. Moses was one such person, as was made manifest by the beams of light that emitted from his face 8, Enoch who entered Heaven with both his body and soul intact was another 9, and Elijah was another 10.

But the soul can only purify the body in this world by means of the mitzvah-system and by complying with the directives of the Torah. As such, the more engaged one is in Torah study and mitzvah observance, the more easily is one able to have his soul purify his body 11.

Footnotes:

1                That is, why aren’t we already the fully conjoined combination of body and soul we’ll be after the resurrection of the dead? After all, G-d could very well have created us whole and fully perfected from the first, so why did He decide not to?

But see footnote 6 to 2:1 above which cites a source that says that body and soul were created as one at first, so which is correct? The answer is that while body and soul had been one in their ultimate root, they were soon separated for the purposes soon to be enunciated.

2             See 1:1:3.

That’s to say that our having a separate body and soul enables G-d to be more benevolent to us than if we’d been created as a combination of the two, for ….

3                In order to eventually reap the benefits of that benevolence.

                  See the third chapter of the first section of Derech Hashem for much of the above.

4                Ramchal raised a number of vexing questions early on in Da’at Tevunot that we weren’t yet able to answer, which we will in the course of the book. Relevant to the subject at hand, we said in 1:2:1, “we know that G-d wants us to perfect … ourselves”, but “what is human perfection in fact” and “how do we come to it”? And in 1:2:3 we asked, “given that we’re indeed imperfect, what then can we draw upon to perfect ourselves?” We’ll now begin to touch upon that.

5                The “body” in question includes one’s whole worldly self, including his mind, personality, memories, and the like — not just his rank physicality. It could be termed “the self” versus the soul as “the Self”.

6                Which is our ultimate goal (See 1:2:1-2).

7                Some think the soul is here to be purified itself, but that’s simply not so: it’s already pure, as we ourselves affirm every day when we recite, “My L-rd! The soul you have granted me is (inherently) pure!” (Morning Prayers).

As Ramchal underscored in the first chapter of Messilat Yesharim, “G-d … breathed into us a soul so exalted and distinguished — a soul greater than the angels themselves” that it’s manifestly out of place in this world. For what it’s meant to do, in fact, is to ready the body for the place in the World to Come, which both body and soul will then enjoy.

But it’s important to understand that body and soul are interdependent. See Sanhedrin 91b.

8                See Exodus 34:29-35. That is, Moses’ body was so pure that his soul’s light already shone through it on earth.

9                See Genesis 5:22-24.

10              See 2 Kings 2:11,

11              See Ch. 1 of Messilat Yesharim.

(c) 2017 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Feel free to contact me at feldman@torah.org

———————————————————-

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).

Rabbi Feldman also offers two free e-mail classes torah.org entitled “Spiritual Excellence” and “Ramchal” that can be subscribed to.

Da’at Tevunot 2:1 (# 59-68)

Da’at Tevunot 2:1 (# 59-68)

1.

We’ll now concentrate on humankind, whose existence is the whole point of G-d’s actions, and who are the only entities who serve G-d 1. In fact, understanding humankind will help us to understand all that preceded this discussion, given that humankind was the target of all that was spoken of there.

And we’ll concentrate on three things when it comes to that: on man’s makeup 2, his actions, and on the consequences of his actions 3. Then we’ll touch on the subject of the resurrection of the dead, which we’d cited early on 4.

2.

The first thing to concentrate on when it comes to that last point is that there’d have to be an eventual resurrection of the dead and a subsequent reconnoitering of body and soul because, given that G-d granted man both a body and a soul to use in his Divine service, it only follows that both would be rewarded in the end, not just the soul 5. After all, isn’t it said that “G-d withholds reward from no one” (Baba Kama 38A)?

And we’d also need to dwell on the astounding fact of man’s body and soul being initially joined 6, then separated, then fully joined in the end, since those phenomena certainly have their effects on a person 7.

Footnotes:

1                That is, up to now we’d concentrated on G-d’s being and His full sovereignty; we’ll now concentrate on ourselves and the role we play as the subjects of His sovereignty in the playing out of G-d’s great designs. And also, the truth be known, because nothing whatsoever is quite as absorbing, labyrinthine, and evocative to us as humanity.

Ramchal follows this same pattern in the first three chapters of Derech Hashem in fact, going from the study of G-d to that of humankind.

2                I.e., on his being comprised of a body and soul, as well as on…

3                I.e., on the things that affect his body and soul in life, the Afterlife, and in the World to Come (in fact, Ramchal’s real object of interest will prove to be the latter, given that the resurrection of the dead  — the professed subject at hand — is “merely” a stop along the way to the World to Come).

4                See our discussion in “Ramchal’s Introduction”.

5                Others reasons for the resurrection will be discussed later on in this chapter.

Besides, if only the soul were to be rewarded, then the body would have been nothing more than an indentured servant of sorts who worked long and hard for the soul, who — while it was indeed fed, clothed, and provided for in life — would still-and-all have nothing of its own to claim in the end.

6                He’s ostensibly speaking about the simple fact that our bodies and souls are conjoined when we’re conceived, but on a more esoteric level he’s referring to the idea cited in Iggrot Pitchei Chochma v’Da’at 19 about the original and fundamental unity and self-sameness of body and soul.

7                Now, the whole idea of the dead coming alive — stepping back into their old bodies as if they were pants and shirts, dusting themselves off, and going on with life again — is stupendous, though it’s actually hardly more astonishing than the phenomenal idea of human beings being conceived and born then dying in the first place. Still and all, the idea of the resurrection of the dead is too out of our experience for us to accept outright. Yet belief in the eventual resurrection of the dead is a tenet of our faith that’s cited many times. We’re told, for example, that “your dead will be revived” (Isaiah 26:19), and that “many that sleep in the land of dust will awaken” (Daniel 12:2). The most straightforward and lengthy depiction of it, of course, is the one laid out in Ezekiel 37: 1-14.

In fact, we cite the resurrection of the dead in our daily and special prayers (E.g., Elokai Neshama Shenanatta Bi, in Shemone Esrei, as Keil Malei Rachamim, etc.).

Also see Berachot15b, Ketuvot 8b, Kiddushin 39b, Megilah 7b, Sanhedrin 90-91, Shabbat 88b, Yoma 72; Rambam’s  Commentary to Perek Chellek and Hilchot Teshuvah 3:6, 8; TosafotBaba Kama 16b veHu); Emunot v’De’ot 6:7; Ramban’s Torat ha-Adam (end of Sha’ar ha-Gemul); and Sefer HaIkkurim 4:30.

Also see Ramchal’s own Ma’amar HaIkkurim “B’inyan HaGemul”.

In his discussion of the combination of body and soul elsewhere Ramchal harkens to the idea that this refers to the next level of discussion in the Kabbalistic writings after the aforementioned Tzimtzum and Kav (see note 1 to 1:15 above): the creation of the arcane and largely unfathomable realm known as Adam Kadmon (“Primordial Man”). See his remarks in Clallim Rishonim 8, Klach Pitchei Chochma 30-31,35, (c) 2017 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

(c) 2017 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Feel free to contact me at feldman@torah.org

———————————————————-

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).

Rabbi Feldman also offers two free e-mail classes torah.org entitled “Spiritual Excellence” and “Ramchal” that can be subscribed to.

 

Da’at Tevunot 1: 19 (# 58)

Da’at Tevunot 1: 19 (# 58)

1.

We’re now at the end of the first section of Da’at Tevunot in which Ramchal has set out to explain how G-d interacts with us as well as what His ultimate plans for the universe are, and he’s about to broach the recondite subject of the resurrection of the dead. His aim here, though, is to underscore the point made just before that it’s G-d’s will alone that steers everything 1.

He’ll do that by citing the well-known statement that “G-d is the site of the universe while the universe isn’t the site of G-d” (Breishit Rabbah 68:9). But we’d need to uncover some things before we could come to understand how that statement illustrates the point that it’s G-d’s willingness alone that upholds the universe’s very moorings.

2.

As Ramchal made the point early on 2, we know that only G-d’s existence is imperative 3. His point here is that everything else exists only because He wants it to 4. After all, aren’t we told that G-d’s will controls the great amorphous “upper waters” (Breishit Rabbah 4:3, Ta’anit 10A) and the colossal “support beams” that bear heaven and earth (Chagigah 12b); that it’s His “outstretched arms” which the cosmos rest and depend upon for stability (Ibid.); and that He bears everything here down below from up above (Yalkut Shimoni 1:964) 5? But the truth of the matter is that G-d Almighty didn’t need anything else: He single-handedly created and maintains the universe simply because He wants it to exist.

Knowing that, we can now understand the statement that “G-d is the site of the universe while the universe isn’t the site of G-d”. It means to say that while G-d Himself needs nothing in the background for Him to exist 6, the universe, on the other hand, simply couldn’t exist without G-d in the background wanting it to exist 7. For, indeed, it’s G-d’s will alone that serves as the reality behind everything since nothing could exist without it.

For, He existed before anything else could have, though certain ancient thinkers denied that, claiming instead that both He and the universe always existed. But that’s not true as the universe isn’t immortal — G-d had to want to create it, as nothing could exist without that in the background. Indeed, G-d wasn’t at all impelled by any “need” to create the universe: He created everything completely “out of the blue” and by dint of His own will.

3.

Ramchal then cites something that seems to contradict this. The psalmist wrote, “May G-d’s glory endure forever; May He always be pleased with 8 His handiwork” (Psalms 104:31). Doesn’t that seem to imply that it’s His handiwork — we — who please Him; that somehow we’re able to see to it that He’s glorified forever; and that He’s thus in some way better-off by our existence?

But of course that’s not so, and the explanation is as follows. Being that nothing could exist without G-d’s willingness for it to exist, the only reason why it could be implied that we have those abilities is because He wanted there to be entities that could please and glorify Him. Indeed, everything exists, is interacted with and continues to exist only because G-d wants that to be so 9.

Footnotes:

1                Refer to the end of 1:18. Also see Clallim Rishonim 4.

2                See 1:5 above and note 1 there.

3                I.e., only His existence is indispensable while everything else is expendable.

4                As such, everything then becomes indispensable because He wants it to exist. It’s just that they’re not inherently indispensable like G-d is. There are very many deep implications to this idea, but suffice it to say it follows that whatever exists is thus purposeful, intended, and indispensable, without exception.

5                That’s to say that while these statements set out to explain the “mechanics” of G-d’s control, G-d doesn’t literally take hold of the upper waters or the support beams, and He doesn’t have arms to bear the cosmos, but He does will all of those things to function the way they do so the universe can exist.

6                Because His existence is imperative and depends on nothing else, as we said.

7                That is, while G-d’s willingness for the universe to exist functions as the “site”, “space” or “setting” within which everything is situated – its background, His existence requires nothing of the sort.

Understand it also as underscoring the fact that while G-d can contain the entire universe and thus all of reality, and more, in His being, His being is too large for the universe to contain.

8                Or, by

9                Ramchal is making an important albeit erudite point here. He’s reiterating the important idea that not only is G-d’s being imperative but His will and thus His utter sovereignty (after all, what greater proof of His sovereignty is there than the fact that He need only stop willing for the universe to exist and it will!) are also utterly imperative.

See Ramchal’s own comments to Klach Pitchei Chochma 1, and see our first note to 1:5 above.

(c) 2017 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Feel free to contact me at feldman@torah.org

———————————————————-

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).

Rabbi Feldman also offers two free e-mail classes torah.org entitled “Spiritual Excellence” and “Ramchal” that can be subscribed to.

 

Da’at Tevunot 1:18 (# 56 [cont.] – 57)

Da’at Tevunot 1:18 (# 56 [cont.] – 57)

1.

This needs to be said too, before we come to the end of this first part of Da’at Tevunot. It’s that it’s vitally important to recall that G-d’s own ways are utterly and unfailingly perfect, yet He interacts with us in this imperfect world. How so? — by specifically accommodating His actions to the reality of the reward and punishment system that He established. Indeed, He tailors each of His ways here to the needs and makeup of that system 1.

And G-d’s own perfect ways will continue to accommodate themselves to the reward and punishment system as long as it will go on 2. But at bottom it is perfection that undergirds all of reality — even when the system of reward and punishment is at play, since perfection is what guides and moves everything along 3.

It’s just that as long as G-d’s utter sovereignty lies hidden away as it must for the meanwhile, things will go on the way we’ve thus depicted them for as long as G-d’s wisdom deems that they must. In any event, things will return to the original state of perfection in the end.

And so we’re presented with three components to factor into G-d’s interactions with us: the eventual revelation of His sovereignty, the day to day ethics-based system of reward and punishment, and G-d’s accommodating His perfection to that system. It follows then that we’d need to grasp all three if we’re ever to truly understand things here in the world.

Never forget, though, that it’s G-d’s will that steers all of the above and drives it; and that everything depends on His infinite abilities and will 4, He chose each thing’s makeup and ways, and everything is under His control.

Footnotes:

1                Ramchal doesn’t make this point here but he’s alluding to the fact that even though we can’t really grasp that yet, that’s the reality. For, just as we humans can only perceive the universe through the filters of space, time, and our senses, we can likewise only perceive G-d’s actions through the filter of the reward and punishment system that He set up rather than on their own.

The closest analogy to it – though it’s far from perfect – is the fact that we only understand our parents’ conduct when we’re young by the ways they reward or punish us for our actions, when that really says very little about themselves and their capacities.

                  It’s also fair to say that the fact that the reward and punishment system is the stage upon which the human experience plays itself out now – and will be until G-d’s sovereignty is exhibited — might explain why we often focus more on Divine retribution than on Divine love.

See Clallim Rishonim 6, “Harashimu” which discusses the Kabbalistic notions relevant here (i.e., the rashimu versus the kav), as well as Ibid. 23 “Inyan Hamochin”.

2                That’s to say that much the way that the soul undergirds the body (by keeping it alive, etc.) yet it accommodates itself to the body’s ways (by enabling it to express its physical needs, etc.), G-d’s perfection will continue to undergird the universe yet accommodate itself to the moral needs of society and human interactions as long as it has to (see 2:6 below for a discussion about the relationship between body and soul on this level).

3                See Clallim Rishonim 6, “V’od yesh”.

4                After all isn’t it said that, “The heavens were made by G-d’s word; by the breath of His mouth all their host (were made)” (Psalms 33:6); that “You, G-d, You are the only one. You made the heavens, the highest heavens and all their hosts, the earth and all that is upon it, the seas and all that is in them. You (alone) grant them all life” (Nehemiah 9:6); that we’re to “Lift up (our) eyes on high and see who has created these!” (Isaiah 40:26); and that “It was I (G-d alone) who made the earth and created mankind on it; it was My hands that stretched out the heavens; I commanded all their host” (Isaiah 45:12).

 

(c) 2017 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

 

Feel free to contact me at feldman@torah.org

———————————————————-

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).

Rabbi Feldman also offers two free e-mail classes torah.org entitled “Spiritual Excellence” and “Ramchal” that can be subscribed to.

Da’at Tevunot 1:17 (# 54 – 56 [beg.])

Da’at Tevunot 1:17 (# 54 – 56 [beg.])

1.

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.

2.

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.

Footnotes:

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

Feel free to contact me at feldman@torah.org

———————————————————-

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).

Rabbi Feldman also offers two free e-mail classes torah.org entitled “Spiritual Excellence” and “Ramchal” that can be subscribed to.

Da’at Tevunot 1:16 (# 51 – 53)

Da’at Tevunot 1:16 (# 51 – 53)

1.

We need to make an important point, though. Are we saying that G-d’s very Self will be revealed? Didn’t we say that His Self is simply unknowable and can’t be experienced 1? No, His very Self won’t be.

For, even the sort of utter rule and control over everything that His sovereignty entails which will be revealed in the end is distinct from G-d’s very Self. Since G-d’s sovereignty has to do with His relationship with the cosmos and His very Self is utterly apart from creation and utterly beyond our experience and ken 2.

It’s just that G-d decided to function to a degree within the dimensions and paradigms that we function in when He created the universe rather than within His own unfathomable reality. So while His own full Self lies in the background and won’t ever be revealed 3 we experience something of His presence here and now, and will know a far fuller flowering of that in the end, as we’d said.

2.

In fact, G-d could be said to have “held Himself back”, if you will, by two enormous degrees 4. Firstly, He only does things here that we can endure rather than what He’s fully capable of manifesting, and thus holds Himself back from displaying His natively full, blindingly rich benevolence simply because we couldn’t bear it.

And secondly, He also hasn’t even manifested the degree of benevolence that we could and will bear in the end— for now. As while He could have created us from the beginning as perfect and as capable of basking in the light of His sovereignty as we could, He didn’t, for His own good reasons 5.

.3.

The point remains, though, that G-d didn’t want our state of imperfection to go on forever — for there to always be the sort of Sturm und Drang, blessings and curses, and moral contentions that characterize our world now. Rather, He wanted perfection to flower forth from the midst of it all.

But let it never be forgotten or mistaken: our destined, relevant perfection cannot compare to G-d’s own inherent perfection whatsoever. As His perfection, “His utter simplicity” as Ramchal words it, “is utterly irrelevant to our experience” no matter how exalted that experience will be.

Footnotes:

1                See 1:3:2 above and note 4 there as well as 1:12:2 and note 3 there.

2                For G-d Himself exists in a space-less, time-less “space” and “time” that’s utterly devoid of definition and beyond conjecture, and is chockfull of utter G-d and nothing else. Were we to dare try to portray that realm in the context of anything in our experience we’d gingerly liken it to something as abstract and subtle as the notion of having the idea for an idea, or to a memory we might have had once of having had a memory long ago. But that too is inadequate for our understanding of the utterly subtle and nonrepresentational nature of G-d’s context.

3                Other than to Himself.

4                See 1:2:3 above as well as Clallim Rishonim 2 and 6 (further on than what’s cited in the previous chapter) and Klach Pitchei Chochma 28.

5                So G-d Himself lies far, far in the background and is removed from our experience. And not only is that so but the single facet of His Being that we will experience — the revelation of His sovereignty — has purposely been denied us up to now. Perhaps that explains the sense of terrible and chill distance from Him that we often feel, although maybe the promise and expectation of the revelation of His sovereignty explains the sense we have of His otherwise very real presence. Recall, though, that we’re still and all able to attach unto His presence indeed, as Ramchal assures us in several places here and elsewhere (See notes 2 and 3 to 1:2 for reference to this).

 

(c) 2017 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

 

Feel free to contact me at feldman@torah.org

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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 1:15 (# 48 middle – 50)

Preview of Da’at Tevunot 1:15 (# 48 middle – 50)

1.

Despite the daunting reality of G-d’s seeming absence in this world, bear in mind that His ultimate aim is to disclose His presence and sovereignty, and to make it clear that His having concealed it in the first place was a means to reveal it in the end 1. For, though His hiddenness allowed for the system of right and wrong 2, G-d will ultimately bring everything to a state of perfection 3 and shower all with His beneficence 4.

And so eventually the whole murky system of right and wrong that G-d established here for the meanwhile will be undone, and all will be set right; for the 6,000 year-long period of spiritual trial and error will have played itself out, and G-d’s presence will be manifest along with all the perfection that will follow in its wake. In fact, G-d is consequently always affecting, shifting, and arranging things and circumstances here and now to bring that day about, and every single day brings us closer to it 5.

As the prophets affirmed, “You have (always) done great things … O L-rd my G-d. For Your wonders and Your thoughts are for (i.e., directed toward) us” (Psalms 40:6), “You (G-d) have dealt wondrously; (You have conjured) devices (for the revelation of Your Yichud) from long ago” (Isaiah 25:1), and “G-d … devises means so that anyone who is banished (as a consequence of his sins) will not be cast from Him (in the end)” (2 Samuel 14:14).

Understand though that the whole process — G-d’s hiddenness and His eventual revelation — had to follow a measured course of action. For as Ramchal puts it, “G-d certainly didn’t want to adopt a system of right and wrong for a certain amount of time, then abandon it and set up another one in which His sovereignty would reign in one fell swoop, like someone who regretted what he’d done (and seemed to have changed his mind)”.

Instead, G-d wanted to bring the change about from “within” in such a way that His sovereignty would simply evolve out of the system of right and wrong we experience now. And then the experience of perfection and G-d’s Yichud would be revealed, and the two eras 6 will stand in clear contradistinction to each other, as we’ll see later on.

3.

The truth is that G-d interacts with us even now both ways at the same time. As we all know, He now allows for reward and punishment 7, and thus judges and rules accordingly; yet at the same time He unobtrusively and covertly allows His inherent benevolence that will eventually lead to perfection to permeate the world as well 8.

Interestingly enough, G-d seems to allow Himself to be swayed by, or to even be subservient to our actions and ethics in the here and now, and to thus reward or punish in reaction to us rather than His own penchants 9.

But know that while G-d certainly judges our actions and responds to them measure for measure, and He has innumerable ways and agents to administer justice10, nevertheless He is still in actual fact bringing everything to the state of perfection 11.

That’s not to deny the fact that He still-and-all has purposely held back His sovereignty from the world, created us imperfect, and has us endure more darkness than light in a world of wrong and injustice. It’s just that the fact remains that He will manifest His full benevolence and sovereignty in due course and will bring us to the state of perfection that is our destiny.  For, the revelation of G-d’s Yichud is the truth that simmers beneath the surface of things that roils more and more resoundingly and comes closer and closer to the top 12.

Footnotes:

1                That is, G-d purposely hid His presence, which then has us yearn for it, which makes its appearance the greatest favor He in His beneficence can grant us. As there’s no greater gift than a need fulfilled; and there’s no greater need than the one for G-d’s manifest presence.

See Clallim Rishonim 6 for a discussion of the Kabbalistic themes underlying this chapter. In short, after G-d hid His presence as a consequence of the Tzimtzum (see note 7 to 1:1, note 6 to 1:3) He left a mere “Trace” of His presence behind (see note 7 to 1:14). At a certain point He reintroduced a fuller stream of His presence termed the Kav (or “Line”) which enables more and more of His presence to appear, so as to affect the perfection referred to in this chapter. The interplaying of the Kav and Reshimu is what’s depicted here, and it’s a central theme in Ramchal’s thoughts. See his Assarah Orot 7.

2                Within which some enjoy and deserve G-d’s favor and others don’t.

3                See 6:6 below for discussion of the state of perfection.

4                Let’s clarify this. We all see the need for reward and punishment in this world, given that there’s right and wrong which should be reacted to appropriately. But there simply won’t be a role for any of that once everyone is dazed and stunned by the stark reality of G-d’s presence and sovereignty: that reality will simply undo wrongdoing (and thus punishment). And that is what we’re heading toward .

5                That’s to say that every seeming impediment, every “sideswipe” and “curve ball”, will prove to have been perfectly timed, fully appropriate, on-target, and imperative. For it will be found that absolutely nothing was independent of the process of revelation, nothing irrelevant to it; everything said, thought, done, and planned was a part of it all, along with each nuance and shade-of-a-nuance. The underlying point is that the great redemption and revelation of G-d’s sovereignty is indeed on its way, whether we know it or not. Have faith, for the great mystery will be solved, and the knottiest of puzzles will be unraveled right before your eyes.

6                I.e., “before” and “after” the revelation of G-d’s sovereignty.

7                Ramchal terms this His “values-based rule” (G-d’s other means of interaction is termed His “Yichud– and perfection-based rule” as we’ll see in the note 12 below).

8                We could perhaps liken G-d’s Yichud-mode to our autonomic nervous system and His values-based mode to our voluntary movements. The autonomic nervous system controls various vital bodily functions on its own and without our input, and sees to it that we thrive (sometimes even despite ourselves). Our voluntary movements, on the other hand, follow our dictates, right or wrong, and can either better or even undo us. In much the same way, it’s G-d’s Yichud-mode that always sees to it that we thrive — more so, that we perfect ourselves; while His values-based mode allows us the freedom to better or harm ourselves.

9                Ramchal remarks in the text here that this in fact explains statements that seem to deny G-d’s sovereignty such as Psalms 68:35, Deuteronomy 32:18, (see Eicha Rabbah 1:33 about these two verses), Zachariah 3:9, and Jeremiah 50:20.

His point seems to be that it’s as if G-d wasn’t G-d at all so much as a servant to a higher force than Himself whom He’s to answer to, if you will — right and wrong. But the truth is that G-d does indeed work on two levels at the same time: He allows Himself to “acquiesce” to His own creation’s demands on the one hand, but He also sees to it that His own will is the last word, as the mode of acquiescence will eventually be undone and G-d’s sovereignty will indeed manifest itself — as soon as G-d decides it should.

10              In fact, that goes far to explain the odd and surprising roles we find ourselves in from time to time as we act as G-d’s agents for others, unbeknownst even to ourselves; and it also accounts for the utterly unexpected appearance of so many things in our life.

11              Ramchal also remarks in the text that all of this explains the statements, “I, G-d, do not change” (Malachi 3:6) and “I have never changed” (Zohar 3:281a), which mean to say that even though G-d may seem to acquiesce to others’ wishes now, nonetheless His native sovereignty will be apparent in the process of time.

12              The Neshama asks the Sechel at this point in the text to encapsulate his main points here. We’ll present his words in this note rather than above to avoid redundancy.

“G-d manifests two traits in this world: a values-based rule and a Yichud-and-perfection-based one. The values-based rule necessitates (the existence of both) right and wrong which all good and bad phenomena depend on, and it’s rooted in G-d’s hiddenness and (innate) benevolence, and in His concealed perfection.

“The Yichud-and-perfection-based rule (on the other hand) is the trait that will (eventually) bring on the perfection of all created things (even when they don’t deserve it) and is rooted in G-d’s inherent benevolence. (The latter) functions regularly though clandestinely in the presence of the values-based rule so as to bring everything to perfection (in the end), and it’s rooted in G-d’s inherent pure benevolence. Despite its hiddenness it never fails to shine goodness upon us. (In short,) while His values-based rule is (now) manifest and outright, (G-d’s full and perfect) sovereignty is hidden and concealed (though certainly with us all along).”

(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 1:14 (# 48 beg.)

Da’at Tevunot 1:14 (# 48 beg.)

1.

Knowing now what we do of His omnipotence and benevolence, we’d have expected G-d Almighty to have produced a perfect, utterly and unimaginably effulgent, fecund, boundless, wholly good, G-dly world 1. But He clearly didn’t.

Instead, simply because He wanted to interact with us in a particular way before He revealed His Yichud, He uncharacteristically formulated an utterly and radically original other sort of reality: imperfection 2. And it is that imperfection which forms the crux of our universe and the epoch of time we’re in now.

So, let’s characterize this epoch of time in which our own ethical and spiritual input plays so active a role and where G-d hides His presence 3.

2.

The current epoch is the one in which good and bad choices are there for the taking and in which the righteous are to be rewarded and the wrongful punished; in which we’re either drawn to G-d, which is our goal, or distracted from Him; wherein the Jewish Nation — the people chosen by G-d Himself to execute His plan and make the whole of it right and just-so — can somehow be exiled and quashed for thousands of years; the one in which humankind is sometimes lofty, other times base; where all the unholy, polluted phenomena like idolatry and the like which the prophets promised would be undone in the end now function 4; and it’s where the principle that “everything is in the hands of Heaven but the fear of Heaven” (Berachot 32B) holds sway, by virtue of the fact that G-d who indeed controls everything nevertheless allows for  wrongfulness and injustice 5.

What can’t be denied is that this world of right and wrong is also the one in which the righteous are vexed and challenged, where each and every move they make is scrutinized; where we’re sometimes soiled and other times cleansed; and where destructive forces are loosed and our people are subjugated to foreign, even idolatrous values and control.

The point again is, though, that had G-d wanted to, He could certainly have created the world otherwise by revealing His Yichud from the first and disallowing for wrong and injustice. But instead He purposefully and willfully created the one we’re in now, and that He’ll undo it after His goal will have been met 6.

3.

Understand, though — and this is an important point — that that’s not to say that G-d has abandoned this world (G-d forbid!). For He still bestows us with existence and vigor by means of what’s termed His “emanations” 7. It’s just that those emanations don’t cascade down to the world as they would be inclined to so much as flow (perhaps even only trickle) down.

G-d nonetheless sees to it that the world is sustained all the time by spurring it on and granting it vigor. It’s just that the degree of vigor He allocates for it at this point is nearly nothing compared to what His own abilities would ordinarily allow for. Hence, the force pulsing throughout this universe is “like a shadow of someone, rather than he himself”, as Ramchal puts it, like “the smudge left behind after letters are erased” rather than the letters, as “more darkness than light” compared to the full vigor it could exhibit. We’re satisfied with that, not knowing any better and given that “from our perspective, that’s all of life”, in Ramchal’s words here 8.

The point is that G-d’s emanations have to come to us to that degree at least, though, or we’d simply be undone 9. Nonetheless, what remain as a consequence of this constricted level of emanation, which is a by-product of G-d hiding His Presence from us, is our world and our life — the reality and mother-substance we’ve been thrust into, depend on, trust, and have come to accept as all of reality.

Footnotes:

1             See 1:2:3.

2             3:1 below will speak of the originality of imperfection and wrongfulness.

3             Let’s retrace our steps here in order to understand what’s being offered.

Recall that Ramchal referred to the fact that there’ll be three epochs of time in 1:11:3 (as well as 1:10:1): the one within which G-d’s presence is hidden, the one in which His presence is to be revealed, and the transition period between the two.  He then stepped aside for a while to focus on the various “tools” G-d uses to interact with us in 1:12-13, but he’s now returning to the three epochs, beginning with the one in which G-d’s presence is hidden.

4            Ramchal cites the following verses that depict the end of this epoch as one in which “the haughtiness of man will be bowed down, and the arrogance of men will be brought low; when G-d alone will be exalted …. and (when) He will completely abolish the idols” (Isaiah 2:17-18), when “it will come to pass … says the L-rd of Hosts, that I will cut away the names of the idols from the land, and they will no more be remembered” (Zachariah 13:2), and when G-d “will destroy death forever; … wipe the tears away from all faces; and will remove the insult of His people from all the earth; … and it will be said on that day, ‘Behold! This is our G-d for whom we have waited!’ and He will save us” (Isaiah 25:8-9).

5             The idea that “everything is in the hands of Heaven but the fear of Heaven” implies that G-d’s sovereignty can apparently be undone if we decide not to “fear Heaven”, i.e., not to take G-d seriously. The point is, though, that since it’s G-d Himself who has granted us that freedom as well as the wherewithal we would need to follow through on it, His sovereignty is not only not undone, it’s actually bolstered.

6             That’s to reiterate the point that the world of right and wrong and of exile will eventually be undone and replaced by a newer, transcendent reality that’s beyond right and wrong, reward and punishment; for, none of that will be necessary once G-d’s Yichud will be revealed. See 1:10:1 above.

7             His “emanation” or what’s described in the text as the “overflowing of G-d’s superabundant goodness” is termed shepha in Hebrew. See Job 22:11 and 38:34 which speak of an “abundance (shepha) of water over-covering you”; Vayikrah Rabbah 27, where G-d is depicted as providing plentifully (mashpia) when He gives; and refer to Derech Hashem 2:8:3.

There are some other Kabbalistic references here, too. Without going into great detail, the Kabbalists speak of a “Trace” of G-dliness left behind after the Tzimtzum process (spoken of in note 7 to 1:1 above and note 6 to 1:3). which is known in Hebrew as the reshimu. It’s alluded to here, given that it represents the minimum amount of G-dliness needed for the world to function spoken of here. For discussions of the reshimu in Ramchal’s works see Clallim Rishonim 5 and 6*, and Klach Pitchei Chochma 26-27,

8             As such, we’re like very poor people who know nothing of what life can be like with the wealth that others know of and are to be pitied for our short-sightedness.

9             Not as if our batteries had suddenly died and we’d be left behind to rust off the side of the road, but rather as if we’d simply vanished without a trace.

In fact, after Moses spoke to G-d about the Jewish Nation’s grave sin of having constructed the Golden Calf and pleaded with G-d to forgive them, he then asked Him quite spectacularly to just, “blot me out from Your book” (Exodus 32:32) if G-d wouldn’t forgive them. G-d clearly didn’t acquiesce to that, but we have to wonder if anyone (significant or otherwise) might have been blotted out of the Torah, in fact, without leaving a trace!

In any event, this seems to serve as the paradigm of just how things would be if G-d were to utterly remove His shepha, G-d forbid: all records would be gone about this world and it would be as if it had never existed.

 

(c) 2016 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Feel free to contact me at feldman@torah.org

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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 1:13 (# 46 – 47)

Da’at Tevunot 1:13 (# 46 – 47)

1.

There’s another thing about G-d’s interactions with us we’d do well to explain now 1. It’s that we’re only able to grasp the effects of G-d’s actions — not the means and processes He uses to bring them about, because they touch upon things about Him that we can’t fathom 2, given that we can only comprehend things that touch upon us 3.

And so while G-d is said to “know”, “remember”, “reflect upon”, “sympathize with”, “anger”, or to “want” one thing or another 4, in truth He doesn’t at all experience those the way we do. All we can say is that He experiences certain ineffable thought processes that are somehow and mysteriously analogous to what we’d experience in certain circumstances, but that they’re nevertheless utterly removed from ours.

The point of the matter, in any event, is that we experience the kinds of interactions and effects He’d want us to 5.

2.

It’s also true that what He’s said to refrain from doing 6 is beyond our ken. For, He just has to “say” something for it to come about — albeit in ineffable ways — in our realm to the extent He’d wants it to 7. A classical example of this ineffable ability was the time He was able to say something and have it heard by Moses and concurrently not be heard by the Jewish Nation right beside him 8.

The fact of the matter is that G-d is omnipotent 9 and no “rule” 10 or “limitation” 11 could ever thwart Him, for while our actions are finite and have their limitations, His are infinite and boundless.

And now that we understand just how perfect, exalted, omnipotent, and unimpeded G-d actually is we can begin to comprehend some of the otherwise unfathomable and bewildering aspects about life, history and the course of things we’re often thrown by 12.

Footnotes:

1                See Clallim Rishonim 6 “V’Kav” for a discussion of this.

There’s some seeming redundancy here and 1:12 since both discuss G-d’s interactions with us. Nevertheless while Ramchal discussed G-d’s use of character traits there he’ll be concentrating on His thoughts and actions here.

2             I.e., His thoughts and processes.

3             I.e., our material thoughts and processes.

4             Which involve thoughts and processes beyond us.

5             When He deploys those thoughts and processes.

6             Or what He does to a limited extent, as we’ll see below.

7             That is, He can bring two contradictory phenomena about at the same time.

8             Ramchal is referring to what’s said in Torat Cohanim, Parshat Vayikra 2:10 here.

9             And thus ineffable.

10           Of logic or of some other theoretical lawgiver.

11           Which could theoretically be placed on His abilities.

12           Which will be discussed next.

(c) 2016 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Feel free to contact me at feldman@torah.org

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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”.