Monthly Archives: June 2013

Preview of 1:1:6

Next is the fact of God’s “necessary” oneness. This will touch on what’s termed His Yichud which different people understand in singular ways, as we’ll see.

וממה שצריך שידע עוד, שהמצוי הזה יתברך שמו מוכרח שיהיה אחד ולא יותר. פירוש: שאי אפשר שיימצא מצויים רבים שמציאותם מוכרח מעצמו, אלא אחד בלבד צריך שיימצא במציאות המוכרח והשלם הזה. ואם שיימצאו נמצאים אחרים, לא יימצאו אלא מפני שהוא ימציאם ברצונו, ונמצאים כלם תלויים בו ולא מצויים מעצמם:

 Then there’s this summing up of our understanding of Him.

 נמצא כלל הידיעות השרשיות האלה שש, והם: אמיתת מציאותו יתברך, שלימותו, הכרח המצאו, היותו בלתי נתלה בזולתו, פשיטותו, ויחודו:

Derech Hashem 1:1:5

Class can be found here.

Next is that G-d’s being is “simple” [1]. That’s to say that while we and everything else around us are a mélange of many distinct and dependent capacities and elements, G-d isn’t. His being is a single pure and indivisible reality [2].

He’s certainly depicted as exhibiting many separate mental, personal, and supernal traits and capacities — after all He’s said to have a will of His own, to be wise, capable, and perfect, among other things — but still and all His own being is singular, pure and indivisibly simple [3].  In other words, He’s simply G-d, but He expresses His being in many ways.

It’s just that we need to use such terminology when we refer to Him [4]. In fact, how could we not describe Him in such terms? To say that He has none of those traits would seem to deny His omnipotence and would disparage Him in our eyes.

The point is that in His essence He’s inexplicably pure and indivisible; we just can’t fathom that since it’s so out of our experience which is space-, time-, and material-bound [5]. In fact, Ramchal warns never to “draw an analogy between what we see in created beings and G-d’s own being, as the two are wholly disparate and we can’t assess one from the other”. Can there be any two things more polar opposite than Creator and created being?

His being “simple” in essence is another one of those things that we need to depend on the Tradition to know [6]. We can, though, rely on certain logical deductions to bolster our faith in the fact that there’s a creative, purposeful Being above the laws of nature, who is without lacks, imperfections, multiplicity, and relativity. As otherwise nothing else subject to those less than perfect traits could come about or continue to exist.

Notes:

[1]       See Yesodei HaTorah 1:7, Sefer HaIkkurim 2:9, and Pardes 5:4.

[2]       The original is terse and confusing at this point, so we’ll cite it here and explain it as best as we can.

Ramchal speaks of “the (human) spirit”, by which he clearly means the mind, and therefore means to contrast it with G-d’s “spirit” or makeup. That implies of course that he equates the human mind with its spirit (Nephesh in Hebrew), and that he means to use it to contrast it with G-d’s being. But that’s very confusing to us, since we don’t equate the mind with the spirit, and we’d never equate either with G-d’s Being, So let’s present his statement with that in mind.

Ramchal says that the human mind “has many different and distinct capacities — like memory, will, and imagination — and (that) each is separate from the others. Memory (for example) has its own boundary, will has its own; and memory never enters into the boundaries of will or vice versa, with the same being true of the other (mental capacities)”. He means to say that each one of our mental capacities is separate from the others, but that G-d’s “spirit” or essence can’t be subdivided like that: each of His capacities “bleeds” into the others, if you will; and that the lot of them are in fact one “simple”, unadulterated entity that is G-d.

The point of the matter is that while we can blend our various capacities (we can, for example, evoke a memory of an aroma and thus combine the tactile with the cerebral, etc.) we nonetheless would have to consciously and purposefully combine the two, while everything about Him is simply “there”, in G-d, and wholly, simply so.

We presented that idea in easier terms in the above text to prevent this confusion.

Contrast this with Rambam’s discussion of the oneness of the human Nephesh at the beginning of the first chapter of Sh’moneh Perakim.

[3]       See Hilchot Teshuvah 5:5 for a discussion of what sets G-d’s thinking process apart from ours.

It would help at this point to hearken back to our discussion in 1:1:2 where we referred to the two perspectives from which to approach G-d: as He is Himself, within His own Essential Being; and as He is when He relates to His created phenomena. As such in His own Being G-d is a single, simple entity, but when He relates to us He exhibits certain traits.

Let’s use this analogy. Most things in this come about as a result of a single, simple thought. Let’s suppose for example that I have the idea that I’d always like to “do the right thing”. That single simple thought has countless applications in the world, of course. In much the same way, when G-d relates to the created world He manifests His simple Being in countless ways.

[4]       See Klallim Rishonim 1 and Ma’amar HaIkkuim (“BaBorei Yitbarach”) as well as Moreh Nevuchim 1:36, 46, 47, and 52, and Pardes 3:1, 4:9.

[5]       In the past, humankind had too often been struck by its own supposed ability to grasp things fully, and to be able to enunciate what it grasped. And it believed that what couldn’t be enunciated just didn’t exist. So science did its best to plot and graph everything exactingly, literature strove to say things “just so”, art and music tried to “capture the moment” perfectly, etc.

At a certain point in modernity, though, it became clear that things weren’t what we perceived them to be. So science addressed issues like “chaos” (for example), literature turned to evoking hazy and nuanced senses of things, and art and music allowed for the abstract and discordant. By this point we’ve apparently given up on the struggle altogether and settled for virtual reality.

Now, the Kabbalists always knew that virtual reality is all one could ever hope to understand in this world. For our senses only experience things so deeply and no further. We simply don’t have the capacity to dig deeper down to “actual” reality, much like the ancients didn’t have the capacity to grasp the truer picture that the microscope would have allowed them to.

As such we’d offer that there are essentially four levels of reality: surface reality, microscopic (and submicroscopic) reality, virtual reality, and the actual reality. Mankind settled far too long for a surface view of things, we were then thrilled with a microscopic view, and we have only now come upon virtual reality in the face of the actual level of reality which we now know is beyond us. Though not often spoken of, this acquiescence to virtue reality is an exciting and profound admission of human limitations.

Ramchal’s point is that when it comes to spirituality, the best we could ever hope for are virtual depictions. For the life of the spirit is far beyond our grasp. Consequently, G-dliness (which can only be described as “meta-spirituality”) is hopelessly further yet beyond us.

Rambam evoked a remarkable image relevant to our point in his comments to Perek Chellek. He declared that we haven’t any more capacity to fully grasp the spiritual than fish have the wherewithal to grasp the idea of fire! Drawing upon that we’d venture to say that we haven’t any more capacity to fully grasp G-dliness than fish have to grasp the idea of ideas!

[6]       See 1:1:2 above.

(c) 2013 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”.

Preview of 1:1:5

Since this is a long and complex siman we’ll break it down into parts and lay out each parts ideas.

 וכן צריך שידע, שמציאותו ית’ מציאות פשוט בלי הרכבה וריבוי כלל, וכל השלימיות כלם נמצאים בו בדרך פשוט.

.”God’s being is depicted as “simple

פירוש – כי הנה בנפש ימצאו כחות רבים שונים שכל אחד מהם גדרו בפני עצמו. דרך משל, הזכרון כח אחד, והרצון כח אחר, והדמיון כח אחר, ואין אחד מאלה נכנם בגדר חבירו כלל. כי הנה גדר הזכרון גדר אחד וגדר הרצון גדר אחר, ואין הרצון נכנם בגדר הזכרון ולא הזכרון בגדר הרצון, וכן כלם.

אך האדון ית”ש איננו בעל כחות שונים, אע”פ שבאמת יש בו ענינים שבנו הם שונים, כי הרי הוא רוצה והוא חכם והוא יכול והוא שלם בכל שלימות. אמנם אמתת מציאותו הוא ענין אחד שכולל באמתתו וגדרו פירוש – אמתת ענינו. כי אין שייך גדר בו ית’ אלא על צד היתר לשון כל מה שהוא שלימות.

What sets His Being apart from ours, and what’s often said of Him that seems to contradict that.

ונמצא שיש בו כל השלימיות לא כדבר נוסף על מהותו ואמתת ענינו,  אלא מצד אמתת ענינו בעצמה שכוללת באמתה כל השלימיות, שאי אפשר לענין ההוא מבלתי כל השלימיות מצד עצמו.

About God’s perfection.

והנה באמת הדרך הזה רחוק מאד מהשגתנו וציורנו, וכמעט שאין לנו דרך לבארו ומלות לפרשו. כי אין ציורנו ודמיוננו תופס אלא ענינים מוגבלים בגבול הטבע הנברא ממנו ית’, שזה מה שחושינו מרגישים ומביאים ציורו אל השכל, ובברואים הנה הענינים רבים ונפרדים. אולם כבר הקדמנו, שאמתת מציאותו ית’ אינה מושגת, ואין להקיש ממה שרואים בברואים על הבורא ית’, כי אין ענינם ומציאותם שוה כלל שנוכל לדין מזה על זה.

Our inability to depict Him

אבל זה גם כן מן הדברים הנודעים בקבלה כמ”ש, ומאומתים בחקירה על פי הטבע עצמו בחוקותיו ומשפטיו, שאי אפשר על כל פנים שלא ימצא מצוי אחד משולל מכל הטבע חוקות וגבוליו, מכל העדר וחסרון, מכל ריבוי והרכבה, מכל יחס וערך, ומכל מקרי הברואים, שיהיה הוא הסבה האמיתית לכל הנמצאות ולכל המתילד בם, כי זולת זה, מציאות הנמצאות שאנו רואים והתמדתם היה בלתי אפשרי:

Depending on the Tradition again, but how logic helps.

Derech Hashem 1:1:4

The class can be found here. (A mistake was made on-line listing this as 1:1:5, but I hope that will be fixed soon.)

Next are the ideas that G-d’s existence “depends on nothing else”, and that He exists “of His own volition” [1]. In other words, He is utterly and infinitely Self-sufficient.

It’s easy enough to understand the first statement. After all, He must depend on nothing or no one else in order to exist given that, by definition, an Almighty G-d would simply have to be independent, sovereign, and Self-sufficient. And only He could survive in such a state.

That’s simple enough. The next statement, though, is a little more opaque. By saying that G-d exists “of His own volition”, Ramchal is stating that G-d’s existence isn’t a rule that He has to follow. G-d exists simply because He wants to exist, period. Again, He’s independent and above all rules.

The ancient Greeks believed that their gods (and there’s simply no comparison) were beholden to something greater than they — the so-called “Fates”. If something was fated to happen, they claimed, there was nothing a Greek god could do to prevent it. G-d Almighty, though, is beholden to nothing.

In fact, many people mistakenly believe that G-d is beholden to logic. As if logic were more powerful than He, just as the “Fates” were more powerful than the Greek gods. But that’s simply not true. G-d is no more beholden to logic than He is to, say, gravity [2].

Notes:

[1]       As it’s written, “the world and its fullness are Mine” (Psalms 50:12).

See Ma’amar HaIkkurim (“BaBorei Yitbarach”) which also underscores G-d’s utter Self-sufficiency with the remark that He’s “unaffected by anyone or anything else”. But that suggests a number of things — most significantly for our own purposes, that He isn’t affected by our prayers or our actions. Why pray then if G-d isn’t moved to change His decisions in response to our prayers and pleas? And why be good if doing so wouldn’t make any difference in the end? Isn’t it written, “If you sinned, what do you do to Him, and if your transgressions are many, what do you do to Him?  If you are righteous, what do you give Him? Or what does He take from your hand?  Your wrongfulness (only affects) a man like yourself, and your righteousness (only affects) a son of man” (Job 35:6-8).

These are extraordinarily profound questions which have been answered numbers of times in the Tradition. Suffice it to say for now that we pray and strive to be good because G-d wants us to, given that doing so deepens, widens, and enriches our hearts and souls. That’s to say that He wants us to for our own benefit rather than for His own (see 1:2:1 on G-d’s utter benevolence). So He’s indeed not personally affected by our prayers and righteous deeds, but He’s in favor of them; and is there anything better a mortal can do than to acquiesce to G-d’s favor?

Also see Klach Pitchei Chochma 1 (in Ramchal’s own comments), as well as Yesodei HaTorah 1:2.

[2]       As such, all attempts to force G-d into a logical corner fail in the end. And all questions of, say, whether He could create a force greater than Himself or not and the like are simply irrelevant to His utmost, absolute sovereignty.

(c) 2013 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”.