Monthly Archives: September 2014

Derech Hashem 1:4:6

The class can be found here.

1:4:6

“The root of Divine service” Ramchal declares here [1], “lies in your constantly engaging yourself with your Creator [2] and comprehending that you were created to attach yourself onto G-d [3], and were placed in this world [4] to prevail over your yetzer harah [5], subjugate yourself to G-d [6] through reason [7], overturn your physical cravings and inclinations [8], and to apply all your activities to this end [9] without ever wavering from it [10].”

Notes:

[1] Though it hadn’t been our practice to do this till now, we’re about to present a literal translation of the entire paragraph, since it serves as a singularly vivid and pithy statement of the meaning of life.

In fact, a faithful student of truth and wisdom would do well to safeguard this paragraph for him or herself, and to set it aside in a cozy spot close to the heart. For what we’re about to read is a gift outright — a veritable recounting of the realizations the soul had before entering the world. If you find yourself somehow not taken by what’s stated here, then you’d do well to reconsider your vision of the ideal life and wait another five years before re-reading it. (I myself have read it again and again for decades now and have always been bedazzled by the brush with ultimate truth that it is.)

To put it into context recall that this statement is offered on the heels of our discussion about our inner and outer conflicts, about the great sway physicality holds over us, about the challenges presented us by that situation as well as the great spiritual victory it allows for, and about the great remedy for all that which is the mitzvah-system. And recall too that it sits in the midst of the chapter that focuses upon “Human Responsibility”.

We’ll try to explain each phrase as we come to it as succinctly as possible. As such, this first phrase “The root of Divine service” means to express the idea that what life is, all in all, is service to G-d rather than to self.

Ramchal raised the idea of dedicating what you do to the service of G-d in a number of places, including 1:4:7, 9, 2:2:1, 4:9:2 below; Messilat Yesharim, in the introduction and in Ch. 1 and Ch. 19; Derech Chochma; and in Sefer Kinat Hashem Tzivaot. Also see Berachot 63a and Rambam’s Shemone Perakim, Ch. 5.

[2]       That Divine service “lies in your constantly engaging yourself with your Creator“, for unbeknownst to most, we’re to foster an intimacy with G-d that’s rooted in catching sight of Him and hearing out what He says all the time.

[3]         For “you were created to attach yourself onto G-d“ at bottom — nothing else. Everything else we do is either ancillary or disruptive, and every other attachment we have is non-adhesive in the end and piteous in comparison.

[4]       And you “were placed in this world” specifically, where things are meant to get done and where goals are meant to be met.

[5]       So as “to prevail over your yetzer harah” which is to say, to set self in hand, overcome all extraneous indulgences and charge ahead despite all other promptings.

[6]        And to then “subjugate yourself to G-d” rather than to glitz.

[7]       “Through reason” rather than through whim.

[8]       To “overturn your physical cravings and inclinations” in your quest for closeness to G-d to cravings for and inclinations toward Him instead.

[9]       To “apply all your activities to this end” alone, as this is your supreme mission after all.

[10]     And you’re to do that “without ever wavering from it” for a goal is a goal, and alacrity and dedication alone is what leads us to it.

(c) 2014 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”.

Prologue to 1:4:6

We’re now presented with a laying out of the contents and purpose of serving G-d, which comes to the following. We’re to always “face” G-d and “attach” ourselves onto Him — which we’re to know is the very thing that we were created to accomplish — by conquering our yetzer harah, by subjugating ourselves to G-d with our minds, by overturning our rank desires, and by unflaggingly directing all of our actions towards this end.

ו. והנה שרש כל ענין העבודה הוא, היות האדם פונה תמיד לבוראו. והוא שידע ויבין שהוא לא נברא אלא להיות מתדבק בבוראו, ולא הושם בזה העולם אלא להיות כובש את יצרו ומשעבד עצמו לבוראו בכח השכל, הפך תאות החומר ונטיתו, ויהיה מנהיג את כל פעולותיו להשגת התכלית הזה ולא יטה ממנו:

 

(c) 2014 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 1:4:5

Class can be found here.

1:4:5

It’s in fact the mitzvah-system that lays out the parameters that we’re to function within [1]. Each imperative [2] is intended to allow one to earn and incorporate within himself a degree of perfection, and each prohibition [3] is meant to withhold a degree of murkiness and imperfection.

It’s vitally important to know that each element of every mitzvah has been designed with humankind’s true makeup and circumstances in mind, with the degree of one’s own and the world’s needs [4], as well as with each thing’s own needs and conditions for perfection.

Indeed, G-d who knows all of this in fact, and knows all of creation and the role each thing plays in creation, oversees everything and incorporated all of that in His mitzvah-system. As it’s said, “G-d commanded us to follow all of these rules … so that He might grant us goodness” (Deuteronomy 6:24) [5].

Notes:

[1]        … spoken of in 1:4:4.

Many people see mitzvahs as mere “good deeds” — as ways of earning Divine “merit badges”, if you will. Others see them as concrete symbols of high ideals, expressions of Jewish people-hood and culture, of uniquely Jewish ethical imperatives, and the like. And others tie them in with Jewish history and past circumstance (and come to dismiss them as irrelevant in modernity). But the mitzvah-system goes far beyond all of that. As we’ll see below, it was instigated by G-d Almighty who took our hearts and minds into consideration when determining its makeup, and who wants to draw us close to Him, and made that its goal.

Ramchal’s point here is that the only thing that takes the needs of both our body and our soul into consideration and can nourish both (see 1:4:2-3) is the mitzvah-system. For thanks to it I can, for example, eat for my body’s sake and yet have it fulfill my soul’s needs by reciting a beracha (i.e., blessing) before and after eating, eating to fulfill a Shabbos or Yom Tov obligation, etc.

Ramchal speaks about the mitzvah system in very many of his works. See for example Messilat Yesharim Ch. 1; Adir Bamarom pp. 3, 186; Tiktu Tephillot 267, “Da’at Tevunot 2” 9, 16, 44; Klallei Pitchei Chochma v’Da’at 8; Introduction to Ma’amar HaVichuach; Da’at Tevunot 70, 126, 158; and Klach Pitchei Chochma 46.

Also see Avodat Hakodesh 3:63; and Sh’nei Luchot HaBrit, Torah Ohr, Re’eih.

[2]       I.e., each so-called “positive” mitzvah, which is a terrible translation of mitzvah tasseh, better translated as an act that it’s a mitzvah to do.

[3]       i.e., each so-called “negative” mitzvah, which is an even worse translation of mitzvah lotasseh, better translated as an act that it’s a mitzvah refrain from.

[4]       Thus the mitzvah-system in conjunction with the human soul, mind, body, and will could be said to be one huge “engine” with interrelated parts, along with interrelated processes that can sometimes be explained and otherwise not, that are sometimes manifestly successful and oftentimes only clandestinely so, but which is ultimately meant to move everything toward one end: closeness to G-d.

[5]       This makes the point that the mitzvah system is part of G-d’s means for beneficence (see 1:2:1-2).

 

(c) 2014 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”.