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Da at Tevunot -- The Knowing Heart

Section 1, Chapter 18

1. Ramchal would have us understand, then, that there are ways we experience G-d -- and other ways we couldn’t ever experience Him. We don’t and won’t ever experience Him for example as He is in full, simply because neither we nor anyone or anything else could. And we don’t experience His full sovereignty … yet.

Yet we do experience Him in the give-and-take sort of way termed the reward and punishment system, where He draws close to us when we’re good and away from us when we’re wrongful (though it’s certainly not that obvious, and is much more nuanced than this statement would seem to make it).

An essential point about that to keep in mind, though, is that everything that happens to us here in the world is thus affected and colored by the reward and punishment system of interacting with Him; and so everything in our experience seems to be a Divine reaction to our goodness or wrongfulness [1].

That’s why (though Ramchal doesn’t address this at all) we could be accused sometimes of focusing too much on reward or punishment and of forgetting G-d’s fuller plans always lurking in the background. And it also speaks to others’ accusations that the Torah is too full of hell-fire and brimstone, and that it places too much emphasis on Divine retribution. It does indeed focus on those things (though certainly not exclusively or even a majority of the time), but simply because reward and punishment is the backdrop to the human experience as we’ve said, because reward and punishment allows for free will and for interactions with G-d.


Nonetheless, the motor driving things from here to there and advancing G- d’s ultimate aim here -- the soul thrust deep within the body that is this world and all its parts-- is the upcoming revelation of G-d’s Yichud [2]. For, indeed, everything is heading that way without exception, and despite appearances [3].

And so we’re presented with three components to factor into G-d’s interactions with us: the eventual revelation of His Yichud, the day to day ethics-based system of reward and punishment that has bearing on everything in our experience, and the interplay between the two. It follows then that we’d need to grasp the way G-d’s ultimate aim filters through the system of reward and punishment if we’re to truly understand things here in the world.

Never forget, though, that it’s G-d’ s will that steers all of the above and drives it. Nothing here, no matter how much affected by the exigencies of reward and punishment, functions on its own or supersedes His will. For in the end, every rule He established is ad hoc, each and every function is subservient to His rule.

After all isn't it said that, “The heavens were made by G-d’s word; by the breath of His mouth all their host (were made)” (Psalms 33:6); that “You, G-d, You are the only one. You made the heavens, the highest heavens and all their hosts, the earth and all that is upon it, the seas and all that is in them. You (alone) grant them all life” (Nehemiah 9:6); that we're to “Lift up (our) eyes on high and see who has created these!” (Isaiah 40:26); and that “It was I (G-d alone) who made the earth and created mankind on it; it was My hands that stretched out the heavens; I commanded all their host” (Isaiah 45:12).


In point of fact, not only is it true that what happens here happens purposefully -- it also comes about precisely the way it does despite the plethora of ways it could have. For not only is G-d not restricted in all the ways we’d noted, it’s also true that His choice of the makeup of the cosmos was also on purpose and is just one of an infinite number of possible cosmic makeups He might have opted for [4].

For, not only are the laws of nature one of His “inventions”, but the very fact that there’d be “nature” (i.e., proce ss, function, components, properties, etc.) at all is an idea of His that wasn’t at all mandatory!


[1] As R’ Friedlander lays out the dynamics in his note 99, G-d’s will to interact with us in full beneficence (which will only come about once His Yichud is revealed) has been waylaid and forced to take the circuitous route of the system of reward and punishment, since it’s the route that best serves G-d’s ultimate aim (as it allows for human free will).

It follows then that everything that occurs now between Him and us passes through the reward and punishment system. Our point is that everything in our experience thus seems to be tinged with either reward or punishment, since that is the “screen” through which everything in our experience must pass.

R’ Friedlander draws our attention to Clallam Rishonim 6, paragraph beginning harasheimu for the Kabbalistic underpinnings to this chapter. Also see R’ Goldblatt in notes 3, 6,9,10-11 to his comments as well as his notes 23-28 on pp. 476-467, and R’ Shriki’s note 42, where he cites Klach Pitchei Chochma 27.

[2] See R’ Friedlander’s note 100 as well as to the paragraph in Clallam Rishonim 6 cited in note 1 above.

[3] See Clallam Rishonim 6 paragraph beginning v’od yesh l’neshama.

[4] R’ Friedlander (iyyun 18) quotes Ramchal’s quite astonishing statement elsewhere that, in fact, even the sephirot -- the very building blocks of all cosmic reality, “are (only) one of the mechanisms that the Supreme Will wanted to present His laws though”, that their use is “not intrinsic to Him, but (rather) a mechanism that He willfully chose” among an infinite number of them. As such, nothing is other than as He wills it to (Klach Pitchei Chochma 25).

Rabbi Yaakov Feldman has translated and commented upon "The Gates of Repentance", "The Path of the Just", and "The Duties of the Heart" (Jason Aronson Publishers). His works are available in bookstores and in various locations on the Web.



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