Da’at Tevunot 1:2

Da’at Tevunot 1:2 (#’s 20-31)

1.

Now that we know that G-d wants us to perfect both ourselves and the universe we’ll need to unravel this next series of mysteries: just how are we imperfect and what are the consequences of that? What is human perfection in fact, and how does achieving it perfect all of creation? How do we come to it and what are its consequences [1]?

Well, there are Torah verses and quotes from our sages  we can cull from and some conclusions we can arrive at logically  to depict what perfection would be like. So we’d do well to use them to contrast perfection with, and to understand our current imperfection.

But Ramchal first indicates that in general perfection comes to “attaching oneself onto G-d’s holy presence [2], and to delighting in the act of grasping His glory without any of the impediments” [3]. He acknowledges that “we don’t really have the ability to understand just what this ‘attaching’ and ‘grasping’ is all about” at this point of our development, that is, “as long as we’re imperfect” [4]. But we’ve been granted allusions to it, as we’ll see.

2.

This phenomenon is depicted in the following verses: “Then you will delight in the L-rd, and I will have you ride on the heights of the earth” (Isaiah 58:14), “The upright will dwell in Your presence” (Psalms 140:13), and “In Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever” (Psalms 16:11). It’s spoken of in the Talmudic statement that “In the World to Come there will be neither eating nor drinking, nor procreation or business transactions, nor envy or hatred or rivalry; but the righteous will sit enthroned (there) with crowns on their heads, enjoying the luster of the Divine presence” (Berachot 17a). And it can be derived from the fact that like all things that yearn to return to their source, the soul likewise yearns to return its source, G-d Himself, and that achieving that would be perfection [5].

Nonetheless as long as we don’t yet cleave onto G-d’s presence and grasp His being we’re imperfect, and the fact remains that we were indeed created to achieve that and have been charged by G-d to set out to do it [6]. But there are a couple of other things we’d need to understand now that are rather mystifying before we can go forward.

3.

First off, it’s clear that G-d could have created us and the universe as utterly perfect to begin with, so why didn’t He? In fact we’d have expected Him to have, given His omnipotence [7]. The answer, we’re taught, lies in the fact that rather than create worlds and things in accordance with His own needs and abilities, G-d created them to fit ours.

As such, G-d could be said to have purposefully “held Himself back”, if you will; to have stifled His infinite ability to create perfectly when He formed the universe and ourselves. So, He didn’t create us as perfect to begin with simply because He deemed it necessary for us to perfect ourselves (and the universe with us) by ourselves. And that was so that we’d be able to achieve His goal that we be self-actualized [8].

Another legitimate question we could then ask is this: Given that we’re indeed imperfect, what then can we draw upon to perfect ourselves [9]? We’ll have to wait till we can answer that one, though [10].

Footnotes:

[1]         These themes will be expanded on later on in the book.

[2]         See Derech Hashem 1:2:3 and Messilat Yesharim Ch. 1.

[3]         There are thus two aspects to this: first “attaching oneself onto G-d’s holy presence” itself which is followed by the experience of “delighting in the act of grasping His glory without any of the impediments”. But the latter aspect would seem to suggest a certain detachment from G-d — a stepping back in order to fully assess on one’s own his grasp of His glory — while the suggestion has always been that we’d enjoy an eternal attachment.

It seems the implication is that one would first enjoy the utterly unfathomable state of adhesion on to G-d’s very being due him, but then he’d pull back to realize that it was he himself who was experiencing that as his reward for all of his efforts and service to G-d, and that he’d then adhere once again ad infinitum.

[4]         Much the way a four year old couldn’t be expected to fathom being forty.

After all, how could a mortal being subject to the exigencies of space and time ever fathom being attached on to and experiencing G-d Himself?

[5]         That’s to say that the perfection we’re capable of achieving is the state in which we’d dwell and delight in G-d’s lustrous presence joyfully as we soar above all human concerns, don regal “crowns”, and realize our dream of returning to G-d.

The idea that all things naturally yearn to return to their “source” is classical. It was used for example by the ancients to explain why fire flickers upward — to return to the source of fire in the heavens, etc.

While that concept no longer rings true to those of us with a scientific background, the basic notion behind it is still valid on a human level and helps to explain many things, including why children cling to their mothers, why individuals tend to stay close to their people or are drawn to others from their hometown or alma mater, why our minds and imaginations often draw upon archetypical ideas and longings, why people often regress into childhood patterns when they grow old, and most significantly (as Ramchal indicates) why we would want to draw close to G-d.

This model is in fact found in many Kabalistic works, including but certainly not limited to Leshem Shevo v’Achlamah which states that “the goal of everything is to return to its Exalted Source” (Chelek HaBiurim 1, p. 83), and that “a lower light always longs to rise upward and to attach itself up above, so as to garner more and more light and blessings from the Infinite Light on high” (Ibid. 2, p. 14).

[6]         Thus to answer the questions raised at the top as to what’s imperfect about us that needs to be rectified — it’s our disconnection from G-d; the consequences of that are our sinfulness as well as our toxic sense of purposelessness; and the consequences of our actually perfecting ourselves would be the sort of unalloyed joy that comes upon the soul when it realizes its full potential.

[7]         That is, would Almighty G-d have been expected to do anything less than perfectly? It follows that His having created an imperfect world was on purpose. And we can extrapolate from there that everything G-d does is purposeful and premeditated, which is an axiom of faith and trust in G-d’s being and actions.

[8]         This too refers to the Kabbalistic concept of Tzimtzum (see note 7 to 1:1 above).

[9]         This won’t be fully explained until Section Two below.

[10]      So, to sum up the last chapter and this one, we learn that G-d calls upon us to perfect ourselves and the universe at large, and that we’re to be richly rewarded for doing that; that the reward in fact will be an experience of G-d Himself, which we sorely lack now; that G-d purposely fashioned us and the entire universe to accommodate our mission; and that there’s something within us that allows for so bold and otherworldly a phenomenon.

(c) 2016 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Feel free to contact me at feldman@torah.org

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