Derech Hashem – The Way of G-d 2:3:12
It’s important to know that two sorts of things occur to us, overall: the things that function as “means” 1 and others that function as “ends” 2. Things function as “ends” when they’re brought on by one of the phenomena cited above in this chapter 3, and they’re “means” when they only occur to bring on something or another that you’ll experience 4.
This principle is best illustrated by the verse that reads, “I will thank you, G-d, for being angry with me” (Isaiah 12:1) 5. Our sages explained that it refers to those times when things that seemed to have been bad at first proved to be good in the end — as when, for example, your cow breaks its leg on the way somewhere yet you uncover a buried treasure there (see Breishit Rabbah 42:1), or when you missed your boat and find out that it sunk at sea (see Niddah 31a) 6.
And while all sorts of bad and good things could come about either for your sake or for someone else’s, nonetheless at bottom the point is that it’s G-d’s will that determines just whom it’s going to happen to and the circumstances under which they’ll come about, and for the ultimately very best of reasons 7.
1 To an end, but are themselves just seemingly incidental.
2 Unto themselves, and are thus purposeful.
3 That is, when they occur with the goal of testing our spiritual mettle.
4 That is, when they occur without a specific goal in mind.
But let’s dwell on a couple of things now, for nearly everything in this entry is confusing.
For one thing, why are the things brought on by the circumstances cited earlier on said to be ends unto themselves? Aren’t they in fact means to an end – to our achieving spiritual growth? (See 2:3:1 where it’s pointed out that we’re all placed in various circumstances to test our mettle.)
5 This verse doesn’t seem to bolster the points made above. Ramchal cites it elsewhere in his writings to allude to a specific idea which we’ll expand upon below, but why is it here?
6 This entire paragraph doesn’t seem to follow what’s been said until now. What are we to understand from it?
7 This paragraph is also off-kilter too, somehow. What’s its point?
Let’s try to explain all of this now, as Ramchal’s points here are erudite and not at all obvious.
Ramchal cites the verse from Isaiah — “I will thank you, G-d, for being angry with me” — in a number of his works (see for example Da’at Tevunot 118, 128 and 155, Clallim Rishonim 7, Iggerot Pitchei Chochma v’Da’at p. 404 and elsewhere) for a specific and important point. For while the verse clearly has Messianic implications in its context (especially in light of the chapter in Isaiah that precedes it), Ramchal understands it to also refer to that Post-Messianic Age — when G-d’s very presence and sovereignty will be manifest, and when all bad will be overturned to good.
As such, the verse should be understood to read as follows: “I will (eventually) thank you, G-d, for having been angry with me” in the past and having had bad things come my way. Because I’ll come to recognize that like my apparent bad fortune when my cow broke its leg, when I missed my boat — all of the bad I’ve gone through will prove to be fortunate in the end.
“And” — to quote from the final paragraph above — “while all sorts of bad (at-first) but (ultimately) good things could come about …, at bottom, … it’s G-d’s will that determines just whom it’s going to happen to and the circumstances under which they’ll come about… for the ultimately very best of reasons” – which is, to reveal His presence and turn all of bad into goodness. (See 2:3:1 for the idea that “G-d distributed these challenges among us all as a part of His plans for us”; and 2:3:4 where it’s said that “G-d brings all of this about … so as to ultimately benefit humankind”.)
For it will ultimately be proven then that nothing is incidental – everything is purposeful (see Adir Bamarom p. 248, Klach Pitchei Chochma 49 [in the comments]) and meant for the end we just indicated, even if we don’t experience that just yet.
Thus, the ultimate point here is that everything is part of G-d’s plan to have us and the universe at large reach perfection, to have everything resolve itself in the end, and for us to honestly say, “I thank you, G-d, for (once) being angry with me” (Isaiah 12:1).
(c) 2017 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman
Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Rabbi Feldman’s new annotated translation of Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag’s “Introduction to the Zohar” is available as “The Kabbalah of Self” on Kindle here. His annotated translation of Maimonides’ “Eight Chapters” is available here and his annotated translation of Rabbeinu Yonah’s “The Gates of Repentance” is available here.
He has also translated and commented upon “The Path of the Just” and “The Duties of the Heart” (Jason Aronson Publishers).