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Da’at Tevunot -- The Knowing Heart

Section 2, Chapter 9


“The soul is certainly linked to the body” Ramchal reminds us, and it assuredly “wends its way through it, so the two can act in tandem and do what they do” as a team. But he then raises the tantalizing question as to whether there’s a point at which we can catch sight of both body and soul in action.

He assures us that there is one. And that we can see it for ourselves if we’re sure to be very careful to reflect “deeply and exactingly on the ‘edifice’ that is man”. That’s to say that we can catch sight of body and soul together once we understand the following truism.

The structure and makeup of heaven and earth is much like the structure and makeup of humankind, as the two are analogous to each other on various levels [1]. So by reflecting deeply and sensitively on the structure and makeup of humankind (on man’s entire “edifice”, inside and out) we can come to understand something about the interplay of body and soul, and we’ll also come to catch sight of some of the interactions between G-d and the world.


The point at which body and soul can be seen working in tandem is the human face [2]. After all, we can clearly determine if a person is alive or dead by the pallor of his face, or whether he’s ill or well by the hue and tone of his face, and we could even be said to “read” a person’s thoughts on his face thanks to its affect, color, and configuration. For, the very physical human face is capable of reflecting the soul to the eye that’s sensitive enough to read it.

Understand of course that it’s neither the soul nor the body themselves that we’re catching sight of in the expressions of the face so much as their “interface” (if you’ll pardon the pun). Ramchal’s point is that this phenomenon goes a long way to explain a number of things about G-d’s interactions with the world (since He is the “soul” to the world’s “body”).


As we all know, G-d is non-physical, so we could never hope depict Him. Yet our sages said at various points that there were instances in which G-d presented himself in the minds of His prophets as a young warrior set for war, or as an old and compassionate sage at rest (Chagigah 14a) for instance [3].

Ramchal says that the phenomenon of G-d “appearing” one way in one instance and another in another one is an example of the ways various prophets perceiv ed of G-d’s hiddenness or openness (as well as the effect either would have on the world).

In other words, if a prophet envisioned G-d’s “face” as bright and shiny in a vision, he’d understand that G-d was pleased with His people and was openly drawing closer to them then; whereas if he envisioned G-d’s “face” as dark and murky the prophet would then understand that G-d was unhappy with His people and was hiding from them.

So, just as a sensitive individual can catch sight of another’s soul by the effect it has on that peson’s face, a prophet could likewise “catch sight” G-d’s intentions and feelings by th e effect it has on His “face” in a vision.


[1] Man is said to be an olam katan, a miniature version -- a microcosm -- of the entire universe. Each element of the universe is said to correspond to an element of man and vice versa. See Avot d’Rebbi Natan (31, 92), Chovot Halevovot (2:4) and elsewhere for illustrations.

[2] In fact, Ramchal says it’s actually the “the glow emitted by the face”, meaning to=2 0say the tint and subtle light emitted by the face when we express ourselves, that indicates the connection between body and soul.

The ancient mystical study of the human face and its tell-tale signs termed “physiognomy” (which is not actually the subject under discussion) is discussed at length in that section of the Zohar known as Raza d’Razin at 2:70a–75a, as well as in Zohar Chadash 56c–60a. The Ari was especially able to read souls through marks on a person’s forehead.

For Kabbalistic references contained in this chapter see R’ Shriki’s note 55 with reference to Klach Pitchei Chochma 31-32 and Biurim l’Sefer O tzrot Chaim (along with warnings about possible misperceptions and mis-readings of G-d’s intentions, which we can clearly apply to our mis-readings of others’ thoughts and feelings).

[3] That is, there were instances in which G-d openly expressed His thoughts and feelings onto the palette of His presence (i.e., “face”).

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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