Monthly Archives: July 2013

Preview of 1:2:2

Apparently, there’s a “hitch” to God’s overarching benevolence — a condition that would have to be met.

ואולם גזרה חכמתו, שלהיות הטוב שלם, ראוי שיהיה הנהנה בו בעל הטוב ההוא. פירוש – מי שיקנה הטוב בעצמו, ולא מי שיתלוה לו הטוב בדרך מקרה.

It enables us to fulfill our greatest potential.

ותראה שזה נקרא קצת התדמות, בשיעור שאפשר, אל שלימותו ית’. כי הנה הוא ית”ש שלם בעצמו, ולא במקרה, אלא מצד אמתת ענינו מוכרח בו השלימות ומשוללים ממנו החסרונות בהכרח.

ואולם זה אי אפשר שימצא בזולתו, שיהיה אמתתו מכרחת לו השלימות ומעדרת ממנו החסרונות. אך להתדמות לזה במקצת, צריך שלפחות יהיה הוא הקונה השלימות שאין אמתת ענינו מכריח לו, ויהיה הוא מעדיר מעצמו החסרונות שהיו אפשריים בו.

.A laying out of the human situation

ועל כן גזר וסידר שיבראו עניני שלימות ועניני חסרון, ותברא בריה שיהיה בה האפשרות לשני הענינים בשוה, ויותנו לבריה הזאת אמצעיים שעל ידם תקנה לעצמה את השלימיות ותעדיר ממנה את החסרונות, ואז יקרא שנתדמית במה שהיה אפשר לה לבוראה, ותהיה ראויה לידבק בו וליהנות בטובו:

Derech Hashem 1:2:1

The class is still not posted on torah.org, I’m afraid.

1:2:1

People often ask why G-d created a universe in which people suffer [1]. The assumption lying behind the question is of course that life should be good, but where does that come from? After all, it’s easy enough to assume that life should be bad, or even indifferent. Why would we think otherwise? Apparently because the human heart knows only too well that G-d is good, and is stunned when things seem to contradict that.

Ramchal and others too [2] affirm our assumption that G-d in fact is good [3]. And he adds that in fact He created the world in order to “bestow goodness upon others” from the first [4].

The logic behind the assertion that G-d created the world in order to bestow goodness is as follows. We know that G-d Himself is good [5]; it’s axiomatic that good entities do good things [6]; and it’s obvious that there have to be recipients of that goodness. It thus follows that G-d created the universe in order to “bestow goodness upon others”– i.e., He created an atmosphere in which beings could exist to receive His goodness.

Ramchal then continues with the point that since, as we determined, G-d is utterly and perfectly whole [7], then He would logically be expected to bestow only wholly perfect goodness. And what is the only sort of perfect goodness that G-d could bestow? The experience of Himself! Hence, we enjoy G-d’s goodness most completely and most manifestly when we experience Him.

Such a full and utter experience of G-d Himself is referred to as d’vekut (clinging on to G-d) in Hebrew, It’s an ongoing theme in Kabbalah, Mussar, and Chassidic literature, and will be discussed in this work a number of times [8].

Perhaps the most cogent illustration of d’vekut is the one found in Sanhedrin 64a, where the experience is likened to that of two sticky dates attached to each other. The Talmud’s point there seems to be that it’s  an instance of two separate entities adhering on to each other for a time and becoming one for all intents and purposes (since it’s hard to determine just where one date ends, and the other begins), and of being affected deeply by the process.

The truth be known, Ramchal speaks elsewhere about what could only be referred to as “ultimate d’vekut“, in the End of Days [9}. But that’s not the subject at hand. His point here is that we can in fact attach ourselves on to G-d in different degrees in this world. And that while the ability to do that varies from person to person, each realization of it perfects us more and more so, brings us closer to Him, and it allows us to enjoy His true goodness (i.e., Himself).

Notes:

[1]       Ramchal especially stressed the importance of dwelling on these sorts of fundamental existential questions in Derech Eitz Chaim.

[2]       See Ramchal’s Da’at Tevunot 18, Klach Pitchei Chochma 2, Ma’amar HaChochma (“Hasephirot”), and Iggerot Pitchei Chochma v’Da’at (end). Also see Emunot v’Deot 1:4, Pardes 2:6, and Eitz Chaim, Sha’ar Haklalim 1.

[3]       Until now we’ve proved that God exists and laid out His characteristics. We’ll now address His relationship with His creation and determine that He is purposeful (rather than simply present), engaging (rather than removed), and benevolent (rather than malevolent or indifferent).

[4]       Do people suffer? Decidedly so. So, how does that square with the idea of G-d’s benevolence? Ramchal seems to offer an explanation with a statement that he makes below that G-d only bestows goodness “to the degree that (His recipients) can benefit from it”. The point seems to be that while G-d always bestows goodness ultimately He also allows for wrong and bad outcomes because benefitting people who can’t accept, endure, or handle some level of goodness or another would harm or hurt them. So He allows those people to suffer, and to also concurrently manage to endure more and more goodness step by step. That way He’ll ultimately bestow pure goodness upon them, too … when they’re ready for it.

Elsewhere Ramchal offers other explanations for why this world was created that seem to contradict this one. He says at one point that G-d created the world to allow for an environment for human free-will (Adir Bamarom p. 88), which we’ll expand upon later on in this chapter; later on in this work he’ll explain that the world was created so that mankind could attach itself upon G-d’s being in the World to Come (2:21, 4:1:4), which we’ll address a little later; and elsewhere he says that He created it to reveal His Yichud — literally, His (utter) Oneness, but which actually  refers to His utter and sole sovereignty and rule (Da’at Tevunot 34; 4:4:1 below). He clears up the apparent contradiction by offering that G-d wanted man to earn His benevolence by his self-elected acts of righteousness (Da’at Tevunot 44). And that G-d’s ultimate reward (and act of benevolence) would be to, indeed, reveal His Yichud.

[5]       After all, He gives altruistically (what’s in it for Him anyway?) and takes nothing in return (what would He need?). See Rabbeinu Tam’s Sefer HaYashar, Gate 1.

[6]       See Da’at Tevunot 18 as well as Emek HaMelech, Sha’ar Sheahuai HaMelch 1 and Shomer Emunim 2:14.

[7]       See 1:1:2.

[8]       See 1:2:3-4; 1:3:1,6; 1:4:4; 2:2:1,5-6; 2:8:2; etc.

[9]       See note 4 above as well as the first chapter of Messilat Yesharim.

(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 1:2:1

We turn now to the purpose of creation, which according to Ramchal here, in DerechHashem, is …

 הנה התכלית בבריאה היה להטיב מטובו ית’ לזולתו

… so God that might express His benevolence. He says otherwise in other works, and we’ll deal with that, as well as expand on the idea of God’s benevolence.

The greatest act of benevolence God could display would be to give of Himself, which entails Devekut.

. והנה תראה, כי הוא לבדו ית”ש השלימות האמיתי המשולל מכל החסרונות, ואין שלימות אחר כמוהו כלל. ונמצא שכל שלימות שידומה חוץ משלימותו ית’, הנה איננו שלימות אמיתי, אלא יקרא שלימות בערך אל ענין חסר ממנו, אך השלימות בהחלט אינו אלא שלימותו ית’. ועל כן בהיות חפצו ית’ להטיב לזולתו, לא יספיק לו בהיותו מטיב קצת טוב, אלא בהיותו מטיב תכלית הטוב שאפשר לברואים שיקבלו. ובהיותו הוא לבדו ית’ הטוב האמיתי, לא יסתפק חפצו הטוב אלא בהיותו מהנה לזולתו בטוב ההוא עצמו שהוא בו ית’ מצד עצמו, שהוא הטוב השלם והאמיתי. והנה מצד אחר, הטוב הזה אי אפשר שימצא אלא בו, על כן גזרה חכמתו שמציאות ההטבה האמיתית הזאת יהיה במה שינתן מקום לברואים לשיתדבקו בו ית’, באותו השיעור שאפשר להם שיתדבקו. ואז נמצא שמה מצד עצמם אי אפשר שיתוארו בשלימות כשלימותו ית’, הנה מצד התדבקם בו, יגיע להם באותו השיעור שאפשר ליתאר בשלימות ההוא ית’, מצד היותם מתדבקים בו, וימצאו נהנים בטובה האמיתית ההיא, בערך שאפשר להם ליהנות בה. ונמצא היות כונתו ית”ש בבריאה שברא, לברוא מי שיהיה נהנה בטובו ית’ באותו הדרך שאפשר שיהנה בו:

A lot more is discussed here, as we see, which we’ll try to explain, too.

(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”.

Derech Hashem 1:1:6

There are some problems with the archives on this class at torah.org (hence the delay on this) so I won’t have a link until that’s fixed. Here’s the text itself, though.

1:1:6

We’ll end off our foray into the nature and make-up of G-d here and then venture into less utterly transcendent though lofty spiritual realms, including the nature of our own beings; the meaning of our lives; what G-d expects of us; and how our righteousness or wrongfulness affects us personally as well as the entire world, the Jewish year, the Jewish day, and so much more.

Ramchal offers one last insight into G-d’s being here and then sums up the entire chapter by encapsulating the six facts about G-d that we’d do well to dwell on and take to heart if we’re ever going to understand this world and His ways in it.

His last point is that it’s likewise important to know that there’s only one G-d. This isn’t simply the idea that there’s only one Creator and L-rd of the universe, which most people of faith accept as true. His position is that G-d is necessarily that by dint of the following fact.

Everything in this universe is a product of a more comprehensive phenomenon, rule, or being that explains it, overrides it, and allows it to exist [1]. As such, G-d Almighty is the one overriding and comprehensive Being behind the existence of the universe without Whom nothing could exist or be explicable.

So while Ramchal had already shown that G-d’s existence “depends on nothing else” and that He exists “of His own volition” [2], his point here is that G-d is unique in that [3], and that “everything else depends on Him” for its existence and all else, and “cannot exist on its own” [4].

Thus the six facts about G-d we’d need to recall are that He exists (1:1:1), He’s “whole” (1:1:2), His existence is imperative (1:1:3), He’s utterly Self-sufficient (1:1:4), He’s “simple” (1:1:5), and, as we just saw, that there’s only one of Him [5].

Notes:

[1]       An abstract example would be the fact that the unrelated numbers 907 and 6,322 (to pick any two at random) are both a product of the fact that there’s a linear number system, without which they wouldn’t make sense or exist. And a concrete example would be the fact that all parts of a painting are a product of the entire painting, and only exist because the painting itself does. This principle also explains all laws of nature, of physics, etc.

[2]       See 1:1:4 and 4:4:1.

[3]       There’s another way that G-d is unique. He alone determines what will happen in the end. See 4:4:1; Klach Pitchei Chochma 1 (in Ramchal’s own commentary there); and Da’at Tevunot 36. While this is a very important point and is central to Ramchal’s thinking, he nonetheless didn’t expand upon it in “The Way of G-d”.

Some would suggest that Ramchal is indicating another unique aspect of G-d: that only He exists and nothing else has autonomous existence. While this idea (referred to as “Panentheism” — not Pantheism which is a wholly other idea and heretical) is cited in a number of illustrious works of Jewish Mysticism (see Sefer Tanya 1:48 and all of the second section there; Nephesh HaChaim 3:2-8; Pitchei Sha’arim, Netiv HaTzimtzum 6; etc.), and while it’s erroneously recorded as the gist of 1:1:6 in all Feldheim editions of “The Way of G-d” in their sidebar, Ramchal never spoke of this idea.

There’s one way, though, that one might legitimately claim that this is Ramchal’s intention here. There’s another version of the line which we’ve translated as “everything else depends on Him” and “cannot exist on its own”. Using that alternative text, R’ Aryeh Kaplan translated the phrase to read “all other things … partake of Him and do not have intrinsic existence”. While that’s an elegant way of expressing Panentheism, still-and-all no other version of the text of “The Way of G-d” (including R’ Y. Spinner’s, which is based on the original manuscript, and doesn’t even cite R’ Kaplan’s version as an alternative reading) uses this alternative text.

[4]       See Ma’amar HaChochma as well as Yesodei HaTorah 1:4.

[5]       A final point. The Way of G-d is set out like a tree. It starts with a seed, sets out roots, and extends upward and outward. The “seed” has been this chapter, which discusses G-d’s make-up. All that follows is an offshoot of it. So, always keep this chapter in mind and dwell on it often. For without it — without G-d and what we know of Him — nothing else makes sense.

(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”.