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Da'at Tevunot - The Knowing Heart

Section 3, Chapter 7

1.

We’ll need to take a couple of other things into consideration before we tie in what we’d said above to what’s to follow, though [1]. As Ramchal makes the point here, just because something is less than perfect doesn’t imply that it’s ipso facto wrongful or bad; for “something could be lacking (in one factor or other) and thus be imperfect and not categorically good, and yet not be bad” [2].

Even the angels are less-than-perfect beings as lofty as they are, since by definition no one other than G-d Almighty Himself is perfect [3]. They differ from each other by degrees, with some higher than others to a kind of subtle and uncanny degree we can’t fathom. Yet none of them are out-and-out wrongful or bad despite their relative blemished state. We’re taught, for example, that they never experience jealousy or hate, that they haven’t a yetzer harah, and that they never become ill or die -- which is to say that they never exhibit human failings or susceptibilities, and yet they’re not perfect.

2.

Then consider humankind. We’re less perfect than the angels, to be sure, and more disposed to moral and physical weakness; and some of us are indeed wrongful and even thoroughly wicked. Lesser earthly beings than us certainly have their blemishes and vulnerabilities, let alone their intellectual and spiritual restrictions, and they’re also capable of doing great harm. And then there are certain out-and-out toxic non-material entities like Angels of Destruction, Demons, Spirits of “The Other Side” [4] and the like that are exemplars of pure evil.

The important thing to realize for our purposes is that wrong and evil are products of a long downward spiral of imperfections, one after the other in succession. That’s to say that the more imperfection there is allowed to spiral down into the world step by step, the more wrong and evil there will be in the world [5].

3.

Understand, though, that there were no such things as imperfections or wrong before G-d fashioned the system of cause-and-effect and the like that define reality as we know it [6]. After all, G-d’s realm is utterly and gloriously beyond all that.

Once G-d consciously and purposefully set that system in place, though, it became possible for wrong and evil to exist, by virtue of the fact that non-perfection came to be possible. All is as it stands now as a consequence for the meanwhile, with all its ignominious imperfections [7].


Notes:

[1] That is, we’ll soon be tying in the issues of wrongfulness and injustice, and man being a composite of body and soul with G-d’s hiddeneness and revelation.

[2] He’ll make another point about this truism below, but many a student of Jewish Thought and of Mussar, and very many sincere souls who are driven to drawing close to G-d would do well to take this lesson to heart. That is, just because an individual is flawed doesn’t mean he’s tainted throughout. Each and every one of us is multifarious and incongruous; and most of us are simultaneously shameful and laudable depending on the angle from which we’re looked at.

For, taken too closely, a picture will invariably show wrinkles and splotches, taken too widely it will invariably show too few pocks and stitches. But taken head on at a just-so distance to allow for natural light and color, each portrait taken will be of a person outright whom the observer will love or not. Have mercy upon the poor photographer who must factor in so much, and the poor subject at hand who must smile in the hopes of looking good -- or at least good enough.

[3] Ramchal discusses the topic of angels (both the benevolent sort spoken of here, and the malevolent ones cited below below) in a number of his works: see Ginzei Ramchal pp. 27, 33, 35, 41, 131-132, 153, 277; Messilat Yesharim Ch. 6; Adir Bamarom pp. 111, 195, 260; and Derech Hashem 1:5:2,9, 3:1:6. [4] Evil emanates from “The Other Side” -- the “side” of reality that is “other” than G-dly and holy.

[5] That is, once “Pandora’s Box” which is chock full of all sorts of imperfections in a long row is opened, pure wrongfulness and evil will eventually manifest in the end. It’s analogous to a drinking habit: drink less-than-moderately again and again and you’ll eventually binge; drink moderately or not at all and you never will.

[6] See 1:15:1-2, 1:18:1-2, and 2:3:1-2 for discussions about certain systems that G-d has put into place in the world as it stands now.

[7] See R’ Friedlander’s notes 217-218 for Kabbalistic references, as well as R’ Goldblatt’s notes 4, 10-11 and his notes 45-47 on p. 482 of his edition. And see R’ Shriki’s note 74 (where he refers to ¶132 below, among other places elsewhere).


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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