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Da’at Tevunot -- The Knowing Heart

Section 1, Chapter 19

1.

We’re now at the end of this first section of Da’at Tevunot which has set out to explain Divine providence and are about to broach the wide-ranging and profound subject of the resurrection of the dead [1].

Ramchal decided to end this section with an explanation of a rather esoteric notion of G-d’s relationship with the world cited in various sources: the idea that while “G-d is the makom (literally, “place” or “locus”) of the universe, the universe itself isn’t G-d’s own makom” (Breishit Rabbah 68:9) [2]. We’d need to review some other things before we could understand this, though.

2.

Ramchal had made the point early on that only G-d’s existence is imperative [3], and that everything else exists only because He exists -- and because He wants it to, has arranged for it to, and because He continues to sustain its existence moment by moment. Thus, everything hinges upon G-d’s will.

And so we’re provided with a number of classical illustrations of the fact that G-d’s will is what upholds the universe’s very moorings. We’re told for example of G-d’s all-encompassing command over the great amorphous “upper waters” (Breishit Rabbah 4:3, Ta’anit 10A), of the colossal “support beams” that bear heaven and earth (Chagigah 12b) which are under His command, of His “outstretched arms” which the cosmos rest and depend on for stability (Ibid.), and of how G-d bears everything here below from up above (Yalkut Shimoni 1:964). What all that comes to illustrate then is just how overarching and all-encompassing G-d’s control is [4].

Knowing that, Ramchal avers, we can now understand the statement above that while “G-d is the makom of the universe, the universe itself isn’t G- d’s own makom”. For while the word makom literally means “place” or “locus” as we indicated, that clearly doesn’t explain the idea of G-d being the “makom of the universe”. For, G-d is non-material, and suggesting that He’s the “place” of the universe, i.e., it’s setting, flies in the face of that.

Indeed, in line with Ramchal’s explanation of it (based on the idea of how all-encompassing G-d’s being is in this world and that nothing else could exist without Him), we’d translate makom as “the reality behind”. And we’d explain the idea that while “G-d is the makom of the universe, the universe itself isn’t G-d’s own makom” to mean that while “G-d is the reality behind the universe, the universe itself isn’t the reality behind G-d”. For, indeed, it’s G-d’s existence and will alone that serves as and provides the reality behind everything since nothing could exist without Him [5].

It’s thus also clear that He had to have existed before anything could have, which certain thinkers have denied, claiming instead that both He and the univ erse always existed. But Ramchal points out that it’s absurd to say that the universe is immortal, since G-d willfully created everything, since His will has allowed and continues to allow for everything to exist, and given that nothing else could exist without His reality -- His makom status -- behind it.

3.

Then Ramchal adds the following. The psalmist wrote, “May G-d’s Glory endure forever; May He always be pleased with (or, by) His handiwork (i.e., His creations)” (Psalms 104:31). Doesn’t that seem to imply, though, that it’s His handiwork -- we -- who please Him, that somehow or another we’re able to see to it that His Glory endures forever, that He’s somehow or another better-off by our existence tha n He would have been without it, and that we somehow empower Him and improve His lot?

But of course that’s not so and the explanation is as follows. Being that G-d is “the reality behind” everything and nothing could experience reality without His own living reality, it stands to reason that the only explanation for why “G-d’s Glory endure(s) forever” and why He’s only “pleased with (or, by) His handiwork” is because He wanted there to be entities who could and would make that true, and who would function under the conditions that G-d created just for that end [6].

At bottom, it comes to this: G-d reigns supreme over everything, and everything is as nothing in His shadow.

4.

If we’ve succeeded in our attempts throughout this section, we’ve thus shown through Ramchal’s words that despite the fact that “things (do) oftentimes seem to just befall us, to land upon our roofs at night at random and to be beyond us”, that “the outer cosmos seems to pirouette prettily in the vast distance” apparently to no avail, and that “G-d’s attention seems to be otherwise riveted” [7], the truth of the matter is that G-d does indeed know the actions of mankind, He never turn His eyes from us, and He is always interacting with us.

Notes:

[1] As we defined it in section 3 of Ramchal’s introduction, “’Divine providence’ speaks to how we and G-d interact with each other” in this work, as opposed to how G-d provides for our lives and well being, as it’s usually understood. As we also pointed out in note 4 there, nonetheless, “Divine providence, reward and punis hment, the Moshiach, and the resurrection of the dead ... are actually not (Ramchal’s) main focus (in this work). The revelation of G-d’s overarching Sovereignty (His Yichud) is.” See there.

[2] See Klallim Rishonim 4 for Kabbalistic references, as well as R’ Goldblatt’s comments on p. 477 (note 28). Also see the beginning of R’ Shriki’s note 43 which speaks of this in terms of the tzimtzum, about which see Gate Three of R’ Chaim Volozhiner’s Nephesh HaChaim.

[3] That’s to say, His existence alone is indispensable. See 1:12:2 above and note 5 there for r eferences to this idea.

[4] This point also underscores the one made at the end of the last chapter that G-d alone determines each and every thing that factors into this universe.

[5] G-d is sometimes said to be “The Ground of Being”, meaning to imply that His existence underlies everything else’s. While that approaches the idea expressed here, it’s still something of a more material sense of the idea.

[6] See note 3 to Ch 1; also see R’ Friedlander’s Iyyun 19.

[7] See sect. 3 of Ramchal’s introduction.


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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