Ramchal’s final words on reward and punishment

Ramchal offers a fundamental statement at a number of junctures, which is that everything is heading toward one thing alone: “(universal) rectification … (and) universal perfection” (comments to Petach 69, also see Da’at Tevunot 47, 170 and elsewhere). That’s to say, everything is contributing toward the aforementioned revelation of God’s Yichud.

But he then raises the point that that seems “to contradict reward and punishment, and free will” (Da’at Tevunot 44). After all, if universal perfection is sure to come about, come what may, what then do our actions matter?

So he goes on to offer that there are various and many ways of bringing universal perfection about, many of which are unfathomable to us (Da’at Tevunot, 170), but that at bottom it will surely come about; in the meanwhile, though, the system of reward and punishment, which “is (God’s) overt form of governance”, does indeed play itself out in the world (Ibid.). In the end, though, “the governing system of (i.e., that will eventually bring about universal) rectification will eventuate”. But it will follow on the heels of “the ways of reward and punishment” (Ibid., and Da’at Tevunot 53), which functions in the meanwhile (Ibid., 56).

According to Ramchal, then, that’s to say that there are two systems at play at the very same time: the overt one of reward and punishment (i.e., of universal progression and regression, depending on our moral and spiritual standing), and the covert one of oncoming perfection (i.e., of universal progression, come what may). It’s nonetheless true that the two systems interact, as he’ll go on to explain later on in Klach Pitchei Chochma; so our moral and spiritual standings do matter.

Let’s return to the Sephirot now.

(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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