Monthly Archives: November 2013

Preview of 1:3:2

As we pointed out in a note above, we go here from the yetzer harah versus the yetzer hatov dynamic to that of the body versus the soul. Both body and soul are depicted, and the conflict between them is laid out as well as the consequences of either’s domination.

ואולם להיות הדבר הזה נשלם כראוי, גזרה החכמה העליונה שיהיה האדם מורכב משני הפכים, דהיינו מנשמה שכלית וזכה, וגוף ארציי ועכור, שכל אחד מהם יטה בטבע לצדו, דהיינו הגוף לחומריות והנשמה לשכליות, ותמצא ביניהם מלחמה, באופן שאם תגבר הנשמה, תתעלה היא ותעלה הגוף עמה, ויהיה אותו האדם המשתלם בשלימות המעותד, ואם יניח האדם שינצח בו החומר, הנה ישפל הגוף ותשפל נשמתו עמו, ויהיה אותו האדם בלתי הגון לשלימות, ונדחה ממנו ח”ו, ולאדם הזה יכולת להשפיל חומרו לפני שכלו ונשמתו, ולקנות שלימותו כמ”ש:

(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”.

Derech Hashem 1:3:1

Class can be found here.

To reiterate, we alone among all beings are able to draw close to G-d and to attach onto His presence [1]; and we’re indeed able to achieve the sort of moral and spiritual perfection that would allow for that (as well as the imperfection that would disallow that). But if we’re to achieve that sort of perfection we’d need to strive for it by our own volition and free choice [2]. Because if we were to somehow come upon perfection by happenstance, by dint of inborn characteristics, or by legacy, then we wouldn’t have chosen to achieve it freely, as we must do.

That’s why humankind was originally placed in a situation in which each person could freely choose between perfection or imperfection and could achieve either [3], and why each was born with both a yetzer harah and a yetzer hatov either of which he could choose to favor [4].

Notes:

[1]       This chapter encapsulates a lot of what had been said in the previous one (especially 1:2:5), which is why we referred to this as a reiteration. These ideas are restated — better said, underscored here — because this chapter, which is entitled “Humankind”, will take what had been said before about humanity and build on it. In fact, that’s the basic underlying methodology of Derech Hashem: ideas are offered, expanded upon, and then further build upon.

[2]      While the idea of free will was discussed in the previous chapter, this is the first actual mention of it in Derech Hashem. As was pointed out in 1:1:2 we’re only free on an ethical, spiritual level. That’s what sets us apart from all other beings (see Da’at Tevunot 158).

For more on free will see 1:5:4-5, 2:1:3, 2:2:3, 2:4:2, 4:4:1, and 4:6:1 below; Adir Bamarom p. 88; Da’at Tevunot 43-44, 48 (as well as the other places cited here); Messilat Yesharim, intro.; “Da’at Tevunot Part 2” 4-6, 16, 18 (found in Ginzei Ramchal pp, 21-23, 26, 31); etc.

It’s vital to note, though, that while free will allows us greatness and it defines the human experience, it’s is only a “temporary” phenomenon and will be eradicated in the end, when it will no longer be needed (see Da’at Tevunot 40), since its purpose would already have been served and humanity will no longer strive toward spiritual excellence of their own volition.

There’s another point to be made. We in the Western world consider ourselves to be quite free, quite at liberty to do and say as we please. But that’s political freedom rather than the sort of primal, transcendent, moral freedom which we’re granted and would need to bolster in order to achieve the kind of spiritual perfection we’re addressing here.

For the truth be known, our real power lies not in the civic realities and other circumstances that G-d alone controls. It lies in the freedom we have to fulfill ourselves on a deeply personal, existential level. And that’s what free will is all about. It touches on your essence rather than your trappings, your soul’s place in the cosmos rather than your personal place in the world.

[3]       It’s important to point out that while we were originally “placed in a situation in which each person could freely choose between perfection or imperfection and could achieve either”, that changed after Adam and Eve’s sin, as we’ll see in 2:4:2 below.

[4]       Yetzer harah is usually translated as “the evil inclination”, and yetzer hatov as “the good inclination”. Now in truth, most of us (with obvious exception) aren’t “inclined toward evil”; most can be said to be inclined toward good. But we do do wrong because of the yetzer harah, which is a pull downward toward the spiritually mundane, a settling for an existential B or C. What we’re to do then, is to strive to live up to the demands of the yetzer hatov, the inclination to be truly good (even great) on the deepest levels, and to thus attach onto G-d.

For more on the yetzer harah and yetzer hatov see 1:4:6, 2:2:2, 2:3:1, 2:6:2, and 4:8:1 below, as well as Adir Bamarom p. 88; Klach Pitchei Chochma 14 (in Ramchal’s own comments); Messilat Yesharim, Ch’s 2, 3, 5; etc.

Notice that the rest of the chapter doesn’t expand upon the yetzer harahyetzer hatov dynamic, but rather on the body-soul interplay. In short, that’s because the body tends to encapsulate the expressions and needs of the yetzer harah while the soul does the same for the yetzer hatov, but much more can be said about that.

(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”.

Preview of 1:3:1

This is mostly a reiteration of the last chapter’s main points about the human situation and potential. What sets this apart from the above is the actual mention of free-will and -choice, and of the yetzer harah and yetzer hatov dynamic.

כבר זכרנו היות האדם אותה הבריה הנבראת לידבק בו ית’, והיא המוטלת בין השלימות והחסרונות, והיכולת בידו לקנות השלימות.

ואולם צריך שיהיה זה בבחירתו ורצונו, כי אלו היה מוכרח במעשיו להיות בוחר על כל פנים בשלימות, לא היה נקרא באמת בעל שלימותו, כי איננו בעליו, כיון שהוכרח מאחר לקנותו, והמקנהו הוא בעל שלימותו, ולא היתה הכונה העליונה מתקיימת.

על כן הוכרח שיונח הדבר לבחירתו, שתהיה נטיתו שקולה לשני הצדדין ולא מוכרחת לאחד מהם, ויהיה בו כח הבחירה לבחור בדעת ובחפץ באיזה מהם שירצה, והיכולת גם כן בידו לקנות איזה מהם שירצה. על כן נברא האדם ביצ”ט ויצ”ר, והבחירה בידו להטות עצמו לצד שהוא רוצה:

(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”.

Derech Hashem 1:2:5

The class can be found here.

Human beings, who will assume the central role in the playing out of eternity and of G-d’s intentions for it, who will be the focus of the remainder of this work, and to whom all other entities both more mundane and more celestial than they are subservient, are in that position because of two propensities [1].

First, because we can grasp exalted things that no other entity can [2]; and second, because we can acquire far loftier characteristics [3]. That is what enables us to perfect ourselves and to draw close to G-d. Their opposites — concentrating on more mundane things, and settling for lesser character traits — are what limit us and draw us away from G-d.

We’ve thus been placed in a world that enables either propensity so that we’d (hopefully) choose the loftier one [4].

Notes:

[1] Many would be struck by the fact that Ramchal designated all of humanity as the center of concern rather than the Jewish Nation which, after all, has been chosen to observe G-d’s Torah and to thus fulfill His wishes in this world. He seemed to evidence that same sympathy at a couple of other points. He said that “all souls in their entirety are (in fact) one soul” (Klallei Pitchei Chochma v’Da’at 4), Jew and Gentile alike; and similarly, that “all souls were incorporated in the soul of Adam” (Derech Eitz Chaim, based on Shemot Rabbah 40:3).

Nonetheless Ramchal explained in the fourth chapter of Section 2 below, there came to be a point when this was longer true. Indeed, had Adam and Eve not sinned, then all of humanity would have been capable of drawing close to G-d equally; and had later generations not sinned either, the same would have been true. But he underscores the fact that since that didn’t come to fruition then only the descendants of Abraham — the Jewish Nation — has that ability.

The point of the matter is that we’re still at the beginning of Ramchal’s study of human potential; and so far in this work, all of humanity has the ability to draw intimately close to G-d Almighty. But as we’ll discover, that’s simply no longer true; only the Jewish Nation can ultimately do so — and only by fulfilling the conditions presented below.

[2] See Rambam’s Iggeret Taimon; Moreh Nevuchim 3:54; and Sh’mone Perakim Ch’s 2, 7 (where he discusses good character traits, too). Also see Avodat HaKodesh 3:13.

[3] As most would understand by now, the more exalted things we’re encouraged to grapple with and try to grasp include G-d’s being and His intentions for the universe, and His Torah-based requirements of us. It’s not yet clear what personal characteristics he’s referring to, though. But that comes to this.

We all know very many “nice” and “good” people who go out of their way to be kind and friendly, who can take a joke, who like other people, and who think it’s good to be good, and bad to be bad. Yet they may be utterly childish at home, selfish, grumpy, rude, and even heartless; they may lose their temper easily, sulk, berate people behind their backs, cheat in small but nettlesome ways, respect hardly anyone, etc. That’s to say that they’re not truly “good” people so much as fairly average individuals who want to please and be liked, but who drop all that when they’re home and in safe quarters. Faced with the delicious prospect of drawing close to G-d Almighty, such individuals would certainly be “nice” to Him, too, but they’d probably complain about something He said once they’d left His presence.

Only the sort of person who’s good to the core, who’s driven by an electric and driving urge to be good, do good things, help, give, and excel in his or her being could ever hope to achieve the sort of laudable character we’d need to grow close to G-d.

Ramchal most famously laid out the character traits one should strive for in his Messilat Yesharim, but also see 2:3:1 below for some discussion of this.

[4] Many of these ideas will be reiterated later on this in this work, in 1:4:4, 4:4:1, 4:5:1, 4:9:1-2, etc. Also see Ma’amar HaIkkurim, “b’Torah u’Mitzvot”.

(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”.