Ramchal’s Introduction (Da’at Tevunot #’s 1-11)

1.

Certain things are clear to us from the first while others simply aren’t. We may believe in them, espouse them, and live our lives according to them, but we still and all might not truly “get” them. And that’s certainly true for things about our own religion. For while there are specific matters of the faith that we’re to hold by if we’re to be true to our Torah’s ideals — known as Rambam’s “Thirteen Principles of the Faith”  — some of them are straightforward enough while others simply aren’t. It would clearly do us well to understand the ones that we can’t quite grasp at first.

So it seems that while the Soul who’ll be raising questions of Reason in Da’at Tevunot certainly believed in all thirteen of the principles, nonetheless as he put it, some of them “I accept as true but don’t actually understand”. The bulk of this work will set out to solve his dilemma. And this opening section of the book serves as its introduction, though Ramchal didn’t present it as one per se.

 

2.

 

As the Soul put it, he understands the fact of G-d’s existence as well as His oneness, eternality, and His non-physical makeup; the idea that everything that exists derived out of sheer nothingness (known as creation ex nihilo) [1]; the reality of prophecy and the uniqueness of Moses’ own prophecy; and the ideas that the Torah we have now is from G-d Himself, that it’s eternal and the very one revealed to us at Mount Sinai.

Why did he have no trouble with these themes? For, while they’re actually quite knotty and arcane, they’re somehow easier to contend with than the others. These touch on very abstract philosophical notions like how to define G-d, the makeup of the Torah and the nature of prophecy, and more, but the other ones that the Soul does want to dwell on go deeper-down into our beings. They include the ideas of Divine providence, G-d’s system of reward and punishment, the coming of the Messiah, and the resurrection of the dead.

 

3.

 

Why would anyone be especially confused about these four? It seems because unlike the other principles cited, these touch upon our very own life-experiences, humanity, relationship to G-d, and our very raison d’être. As, “Divine providence” speaks to how we and G-d interact with each other, “reward and punishment” addresses the things that G-d values and what He disparages, “the coming of the Messiah” contends with the direction the world is heading in, and the idea of “the resurrection of the dead” helps define ultimate reality [2].

Indeed, we all need to have those things fleshed out for us, for the truth of the matter is that life seems so impetuous, haphazard, disordered, and aimless, that we often don’t quite catch sight of G-d’s providence or of His over-arching aim for the universe.

After all, things oftentimes seem to just befall us, to land upon our roofs at night at random, and to be beyond us. The outer cosmos seems to pirouette prettily in the vast distance, but — truth be known — for no apparent reason; as things don’t seem to be leading anywhere, and G-d’s attention seems to be otherwise riveted. There’s also the fact that many good souls often seem to know no peace, while the bad seem to do quite well, which has always puzzled many and will be touched upon here at some length. So allow us now to explore these principles of the faith — and our own souls in the process [3].

Notes:

[1]         Rambam didn’t actually include creation ex nihilo among the principles of the faith but see Moreh Nevuchim 2:13-35.

[2]         Though Ramchal did in fact explicate Divine providence, reward and punishment, the Messiah, and the resurrection of the dead at length in Da’at Tevunot, the truth of the matter is that they’re actually not his main focus here as anyone who has studied the work in depth would know. The key and upending revelation of G-d’s overarching and utter Sovereignty (His “Yichud”) and the ramifications of it will prove to be the major themes here.  The latter, though, will help to explain Divine providence, reward and punishment, the Messiah, and the resurrection of the dead, and vice versa.

[3]        As we’d indicated, Da’at Tevunot is rooted in a number of difficult Kabbalistic premises. While we won’t expand upon them much here, we’ll allude to them at various points.

As such, we’re told that the four principles of the faith that we’ll be expanding on here — Divine providence, reward and punishment, the coming of the Messiah, and the resurrection of the dead — allude to the four Partzufim of the world of Atzilut (see R’ Goldblatt’s comments on pp. 18-19, 473 of his edition of Da’at Tevunot).

Irrespective of the terminology, the point is that those Partzufim speak to G-d’s various ways of interacting with us in the course of eternity (which clearly touches on Divine providence, reward and punishment, the coming of the Messiah, the resurrection of the dead, and more), and is thus very germane to the discussion.

 

(c) 2015 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Feel free to contact me at feldman@torah.org

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