Derech Hashem 1:4:2

The class itself can be found here.


As to our makeup, it’s characterized by the fact that we’re a mélange of two conflicting elements: a soul and a body [1]. The body and all of its physicality hold sway from birth on [2] until your mind — and hence, your soul [3] — comes into its own. But the body only gives way to the soul when you grow in wisdom [4] and learn how to keep your baser instincts in check.

For at bottom, sin and rank physicality reflect a sort of murkiness as opposed to the clarity of spirituality, and that murkiness is the polar opposite of what those who want to draw close to G-d [5] would crave.

The rub is that the soul has to experience that murkiness as long as it’s in the body and must suffer it until the soul overcomes it [6]. Given that the body and soul are to reunite in the end [7], it behooves the soul to eventually undo the body’s murkiness so that the two could ascend together as they must [8]. And so each one of us must engage in the struggle to have the soul hold sway over the body here, in life, so as to improve ourselves and achieve our true potential.


[1]       See 1:3:2.

[2]       That’s to say that one could quite naturally and understandably remain subservient to his body and its needs given the state we’re born into, were it not for the fact that we’re not just composed of a body, but of a body and a soul.

[3]       See 1:3:2.

[4]       I.e., in Torah-study (for service to G-d), Mussar (for character growth), and Kabbalah (for understanding G-d’s intentions for us).

[5]       This is another allusion to the fact that our goal is to draw close to G-d, as we’ll focus upon later in this chapter.

[6]       Thus, a soul is like a prince who’d been confined to a dungeon but who can free himself if he only rises above his environment with his mind.

[7]       In a bracketed note Ramchal reiterates that even though body and soul will indeed separate after death, that’s only a “temporary” situation, for ultimately they’ll be together forever. Though it seems counter intuitive to us, he’s reiterating the fact that death should be taken as something of an “illness” or “set-back” which, while “annoying” will pass in the end.

[8]       In a sense, body and soul are like two brothers united since birth and forever. The first-born brother — the body — is more athletic perhaps and worldly, while the second brother is more principled and intellectual. The point is that while the first-born will dominate throughout their childhood and “bully” his younger brother, the younger one will eventually dominate through his mind and somehow or another “save the day”.

In fact, this is like the situation of first-born Esau who is depicted as being “a cunning hunter, a man of the field” who first dominated, and his younger brother Jacob who was depicted as being “a pure man, dwelling in tents” (Genesis 25:27), who eventually held sway over the two. For as their mother was told when she bore them, “Two nations are in your womb, and two sorts of people will be separated from your bowels; one people will be stronger than the other; (yet) the elder will serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23). And while now isn’t the place to expand upon this, the whole story of the two brothers and the interactions between Jewish People and the Gentile Nations that they represent can be read as the playing-out of the interactions between the body and soul.

(c) 2014 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman


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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).

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