Tachlis and then some

(We’re going to be doing some cutting and pasting here. repeating a couple of points, reordering a bit, and adding on things to make our point. YF)

As we’d said earlier on, Ramchal declared that we’re to study Kabbalah because it “explains how everything created and fashioned in the universe emanated from the Supreme Will”; because it “shows how everything is governed the right way by the One God, blessed be He, so as to ultimately bring all of creation to (a state of) utter perfection”; because “all the details of this science [i.e., Kabbalah] serve as a laying-out of all the laws and processes [involved] in [God’s] governance” of the universe; and most especially because Kabbalah “comes to exhibit the truth of (the Jewish) Faith”. In other words, as Ramchal understands it, Kabbalah explains and illustrates tachlis — the point of it all — as nothing else can.

Now, there are many who study Kabbalah for all the wrong reasons accordingly. They assume Ari is depicting a metaphysical transcendent reality that’s to be studied assiduously like a super-cosmic map and floor-plan, and that if one “loses his way” if you will along the galactic crossways he’ll do tremendous damage and suffer more harm to himself than any good he could possibly do with his studies.

The truth be known, on one level those individuals can’t be blamed because, as Ramchal put it, because “Ari hardly explained himself, since he didn’t want to express his thoughts (openly) in writing”. So they couldn’t know what he was setting out to explain.

But as a consequence of Ari’s hesitance, “his readers took his words literally and (understood them) on a superficial level” as we explained, and thus demeaned his message. But that’s not right Ramchal said — it didn’t “at all” befit “a subject of study” of this caliber. And as a result of that misapprehension of things all that those students were left with, for all intents and purposes, were “names and themes that one would have to memorize”, which Ramchal describes as being tantamount to “a table of contents”. As such, the rest of us we’re left “without an understanding of the intentions or meaning” of those terms (Introduction to Ma’amar HaVichuach).

So what Ramchal set out to do, he wrote in a letter, was to “eradicate the mistaken notion that there are (for example) lights that (literally) turn into ‘circles’ or ‘lines’ as some believe”, which “the ear simply cannot accept”. And he took it upon himself to “spell out the referent in each metaphor found in Ari’s writings” (Iggerot Ramchal 50). That’s to say, he set out to explain just what Ari meant by his symbols.

Let’s tie this all in now to the makeup and “appearance” of the Sephirot.

At bottom, Ramchal contends that life and the universe at large is extraordinarily confusing and seemingly inexplicable, and that that fact alone often throws us and challenges our faith. Is there a plan, we wonder; is God in control; do we have meaning; does what we do matter in the end, etc.?

As he himself worded it, “all the enormous and incongruous events in the world seem to contradict God’s governance of the world, God forbid, given that we can’t determine where everything is heading, what God wants of us, where He’s leading us, and what will result from it all” (Da’at Tevunot 7).

So, we need to know, and we need a system that will explain it. That system, Ramchal declares, is Kabbalah. We’re to study it “in order to understand (God’s) governance, … (and to know) why He created all the various creatures, what He wants from them, what will come at the end of all the events of the universe, and how all these bizarre events are to be explained” (comments to Petach 90).

His point there is that we can determine all that by understanding the interplay of the Sephirot and the various Worlds which is the gist of the Kabbalistic system. Those Sephirot and Worlds aren’t abstract notions flitting about in the deepest reaches of outer-space or in the secret-most corners of pre-creation. They function in the here and now, and are to be utilized for distinct purposes.

After all, isn’t it written, “You have been shown (all sorts of wonders) in order to know that God is the Lord; there is no other beside Him” (Deuteronomy 4:35)? Are we to imagine that the process has stopped, God forbid? Of course it has not. Ramchal’s contention is that it continues in our day indeed — thanks to the study of Kabbalah which rests largely on the teachings of those prophets and great souls who could “read” the Sephirot and their interactions, and to relate God’s ways to us accordingly.

To use Ramchal’s own words, so the Sephirot … were allowed to be “envisioned” prophetically (Petach 5) because God wanted them to be known of and for His governance to be “readable”, if you will; which is to say, He wanted us to understand what would be taking place in the governing process through that attribute at that time (Petach 6).

That’s to say, thanks to those who can “read” the Sephirot — who know the import of each metaphoric statement Ari offered in his great and piercing revelations — we know about life’s meaning, what’s being played out in the cosmos, who its most important “actors” are, and most importantly we now have insight into tachlis.

(c) 2011 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Feel free to contact me at feldman@torah.org

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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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