Ramchal on the Sephirot (2)

Here’s the metaphor we cited last time, as set out in Klallei Ma’amar HaChochma. Ramchal asks us to imagine “a sage who came to a particular community and who, for some reason, didn’t want to be known to be as wise as he truly was but to be taken as just like the others instead. So he’d speak and interact with them in ways that would guarantee that he wasn’t recognized (as a sage) or lauded for wanting to live among them. And he adapted whatever he said or did toward that end accordingly”.

His point is that that’s how we’re to conceptualize God’s interactions with us via the Sephirot. For like the sage’s assumed persona which hides his actual personality, God likewise assumes a “persona” when He interacts with the world which covers over His own “personality”. For, He “talks to us” and “acts like us” by functioning within space and time by means of the Sephirot which can do that (among other things) [1].

The implications, of course, are that while some think the Sephirot are actually God, they’re woefully mistaken and have fallen for appearances; also that the wise will always catch sight of God in the world by looking behind the “persona” and noting the Sage’s personality [2].



[1]        Here’s the point at which we can discuss a seldom spoken of characteristic of Klach Pitchei Chochma, its wordiness and over-analytical style, which has turned many away from it. The style was undoubtedly affected by Ramchal’s study of formal logic (see his Sefer HaHigayon) but it does not sit well with modern sensibilities or tastes. We’ll take pains to avoid that throughout this work, but we’ll take this opportunity to illustrate it by presenting nearly the whole of what Ramchal offered in this wonderful metaphor which we contend he over-explained. Here is what’s said immediately after the metaphor is offered with our explanations and remarks.

“Now, if we were to analyze this sage’s situation just then, we’d first need to determine what he really was; second, what he seemed to be to those around him; third, what he wanted to accomplish by being (i.e., by appearing to be) of that stature; fourth, how his being considered that way agreed with and helped accomplish his goal; and fifth, how what he said and did agreed with his general principle and how they managed to accomplish that. But to do that correctly, we’d need to evoke all sorts of physical and sensory-based images, and to treat those images as separate phenomena so as to understand them on their own and together.”

That is, we’d need to think of the sage’s assumed persona as a sort of cloak over-covering his real one, or a “body” over-covering his “soul” or real self.

Then we’d need to describe “what brought this false impression about, and how it did that”, and whether it came about “because the sage wanted it to, or because it was inevitable”. We’d have to “analyze the various elements of the false impression” and to break that down further yet and to see how the parts all work together. Then we’d have to determine “how those (smaller) elements connected to the entire false impression, and then how all the various parts and the entire false impression relate to the desired end” of convincing the people that the sage wasn’t a sage in fact”.

He then offers this vitally important part of the equation: “In truth,” despite the very many elements involved in the process, “this doesn’t represent a large number of phenomena” since it’s really only a breakdown of one thing — the sage’s wish to misrepresent himself; and it doesn’t suggest “a change in the person of the sage himself”, as he’s the same person whether he’s being himself or hiding his qualities. All it does is show that “his persona was altered to the degree he wanted it to be in the eyes of the people, and in order to accomplish what he set out to”.

“Thanks to this parable you can understand the Sephirot” Ramchal now offers. “God Himself as He truly is, is never revealed (i.e., He never presents Himself) to humankind outright,” he says, “He is only revealed (i.e., He only presents Himself) to the degree He wants to be, and for a particular purpose which He has in mind”.

Ramchal now offers that in order to go ahead with our explanation of how God interacts with the world through this parable, “we’d now need to analyze (the difference between) His true Being and the way He reveals (i.e., presents) Himself. We’ll treat them as if they were two separate phenomena (for analytical purposes) and we’ll thus declare that God Himself is ‘sequestered’ within the way He wishes to reveal Himself (i.e., His true Being is over-covered by the persona He wishes to present).

“We’d term the revelation itself (i.e., the persona that God assumed) ‘Emanated (i.e., Separated) Light’ and its component parts we’d term Sephirot. We’d speak of them as if they were separate phenomena which were nonetheless inter-related and connected, and we’d set out to determine the purpose of the whole of them and of each one, their causes and effects of each, and each one’s precedents and antecedents —  as we would do with all sensory-based phenomena (that we’d analyze in order to understand).”

“We’d term God’s actual Self Ein Sof and say that Ein Sof was sequestered and can be discerned within the Sephirot” just as the sage himself is over-covered by the persona he assumes, though his true personality can be detected within it if one looks deeply.

He now begins to focus on the Sephirot themselves and says that “If we were analyze the relationship between the Sephirot and creation, between the various Sephirot themselves to each other, and between the Sephirot and Ein Sof, then (we’d offer that) none of this represents a change in Him” — meaning, the fact that there are Sephirot doesn’t indicate a change God’s own personality.

“For if, as we indicated, an individual (who assumes a persona that’s not a true reflection of himself) can be discerned (within the persona nonetheless) doesn’t experience change (i.e., his essential personality doesn’t change just because he assumes that persona), that’s all the more so true of God, who is Omnipotent and can (thus) do whatever He wants without any constraints”.

Ramchal then concludes by saying that we should explain God’s governance by means of the Sephirot in light of this metaphor (as we did above).

[2]       To use another metaphor, the Sephirot can be seen as the “gloves” that God “wears” while interacting with this world. Because of them He seems to have “hands” just as we do and to be like us, since we can see the outline of His “hands” within the gloves. Yet unbeknownst to us He doesn’t have hands whatsoever; and in fact, He’s doing the “task at hand” an entirely different way that has nothing to do with hands.

(c) 2011 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Feel free to contact me at feldman@torah.org


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