With all this in mind we can now respond to our third question.
For we’d raised the point (there) that when we consider ourselves closely we find ourselves to be as tainted and lowly as can be. Yet (conversely) when we consider our Creator, we (surmise that we) should actually be of the highest order, as only befits (creations of) such a Creator, than whom no one is more exalted. After all, it’s only natural (to assume) that a perfect Being (like Himself) would (only) produce perfect beings.
So, why aren’t we perfect?
But now we can understand why.
For the truth of the matter is…
Our body (i.e., our self), with all its meaningless exigencies and trappings, isn’t our real body (self)! (After all, how could it be, since) our real, eternal, and perfect body (self) has already existed in the Infinite’s Being in the first era, where it (had already) assumed the perfect tsurah of bestowance (that is due it) in the destined third era, where it’s (already) in essential affinity with the Infinite One.
That is, the people we are today, with all our foibles and missteps, woes and pratfalls, are not who we are at bottom. For, our real selves are already subsumed in the Infinite’s Being and are already without its uniquely human ratzon l’kabel, know it or not. Of course, Ashlag’s aim is to indeed have us know that, and to thus embrace the inevitable on our own by assuming a life of Torah and mitzvah observance.
But wouldn’t it be reasonable to argue that we really shouldn’t be made to endure the second era after all, in light of the acridness of the struggle and the agony of the obstacles? No, we’re told; for…
Our situation in the first era (when we’re already subsumed in the Infinite’s Being) requires us to be conferred in the second era with a husk of a body (self) with its corrupt and flawed selfish ratzon l’kabel that separates us from God, so as to rectify it and to (thus) genuinely experience our eternal body (self) in the third era (on our own).
So we really shouldn’t object. Since (we have to experience the second era, as) we can only serve God in a mortal body (which we only have then), as one can’t repair something he doesn’t already have (see 15:4).
As such, there’s really no good reason to dismiss the second era, since it’s the only context in which we can purposefully and willfully serve God of our own volition, and undo our own very human blemishes when we have them to undo. For we haven’t any in the first era and won’t have them any longer in the third, so as it’s put so pithily in the Talmud, “if not now, then when? (Pirkei Avot 1:14)”
Despite that, the fact remains that…
We’re indeed already in the (sort of) perfected state that’s appropriate for (entities created by) the perfect Creator; and yet God has (indeed) also placed us in our situation in the second era (despite that, for the reasons we indicated). So, our (present) body (self) doesn’t (actually) blemish us whatsoever, since it’s doomed to die and be undone, and it’s (in fact) only with us for the time it takes to be undone and to assume its eternal (perfect) state.
Only a seer of the likes of Yehudah Ashlag would dare wax poetic about “mere” death and pooh-pooh it as he does at the end here. But the truth lies with him in the end, and we’d all be wise to take heed.
(c) 2011 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman
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AT LONG LAST! Rabbi Feldman’s translation of Maimonides’ “Eight Chapters” is available here at a discount.
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Rabbi Yaakov Feldman has also translated and commented upon “The Path of the Just” and “The Duties of the Heart” (Jason Aronson Publishers).