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Da'at Tevunot - The Knowing Heart

Section 2, Chapter 11

1.

There will be four less exalted epochs of human development all-and-all than the highest one we saw in the last chapter. And as we’ll see, the lower the stage of development, the greater the body’s assertions of itself and the more profound the soul’s retreat into the background, notch by notch.

So, again, the highest of the five stages is the one we’ll experience in the World to Come. We’ll have bodies then, as we’d asserted, but they’ll only just be there, mute and thin for all intents and purposes [1]. And we’ll experience none of the things associated with having a full and dominant body as we do now [2].

2.

The first step downward from there will involve the body et al being more conspicuous and in control than above, but only on a broad, sweeping level. It certainly wouldn’t play a detailed role in our lives (as it does now, for instance). Interestingly, Ramchal compares the experience of the body at this lower stage to that of “someone who’s grief-stricken and unhappy” in some sort of “vague sense and for no a specific reason”. That’s to say that the experience of the body and self then would be rather vague and hazy like the memory of something uncomfortable in the past that somehow whispers in the distance.

The next step downward would involve the body holding some more sway indeed, but still not as much as we now experience; and so on downward by degrees.

Finally, there’s our current situation, in which the body and its needs dominate every one of our thoughts, actions, and concerns while the soul is like a “stranger in the land”, as Ramchal terms it, that “needs to follow the ways of the body”, which is native to the land. The opposite will be the case in the World to Come, we’re assured; the soul will be the native then who will be well at home and very much in control of things, while the body will be the stranger.

In fact there had been a couple of historical precedents for a point in time when the soul reigned and the body hardly mattered, as when Moses when up to Mount Sinai to receive the Torah from G-d and neither ate nor drank for forty days (Baba Metzia 86a) [3].

In fact, of course, the body could be a means of drawing closer to G-d and not at all a spiritual detriment. For each one of us is advised to “acknowledge (G-d) in all your ways” (Proverbs 3:6) -- to find a way to draw close to His presence in the here and now, no matter what we happen to be doing.

After all, “we need to eat and to drink, and we can’t do without it”, as Ramchal points out, so seeing that we can eat and drink and the like in either a profane or a holy way, it would behoove us to do it the holy way. Thus we’re specifically enjoined to eat and drink, and the like, on the Shabbat on Holydays for the sake of the day and with G-d in mind then too, not only when we pray to Him and serve Him in other seemingly more sacred ways [4].

3.

Finally, it’s also important to underscore the fact that each of the above variations will be a direct result of a change in G-d’s interactions with the cosmos [5]. For while G-d’s presence is most hidden now, when the body et al dominates, it will manifest itself more and more as we approach the highest epoch when His presence will be only minimally hidden [6].


Notes:

[1] See 2:10:1.

[2] See note 3 to 2:2 about the full makeup of the “body” and note 5 to2:10 about the implications of that. The point remains, then, that the entire “self” will change in character in relation to the relative strength of either body or soul.

[3] Though Ramchal doesn’t cite them, we could learn the same from the experiences of Elijah (2 Kings 2:1–11, though see Sukkah 5a) and Enoch, who soared heavenward while alive and in bodily form (See Ramak’s Pardes Rimmonim 24:13).

[4]See Berachot 63a, Avot d’Rebbi Natan 17:7, Hilchot De’ot 3:2-3.

[5] Or in our awareness of G-d’s presence. For the more aware we are of Him, the more the soul holds sway and the less body et al matters.

[6] See R’ Shriki’s comments on pp. 106-107 of his edition where he compares Ramchal’s understanding of all this to Rambam’s, Ramban’s, and the Ari’s.

And also see his reference to Ramchal’s Adir Bamarom pp. 406-407 for an even more esoteric analysis. (This last reference would speak -- albeit esoterically -- to the curious idea that G-d’s presence could be “minimally hidden”, which seems absurd by that point.)


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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