As everyone knows, there are average people, bright ones, and then there
are truly brilliant individuals. Bright people understand things well
enough, intuit things fairly well too, and they can grasp new and even
complex thoughts reasonably quickly. Brilliant people, though, understand
deeply, intuit on an uncanny level, and they can fully grasp wholly new
and intricate thoughts. And we’re duly enamored of brilliant people.
It’s also known that there are fairly “scattered”, inattentive people;
focused ones; and then there are truly alert, attuned individuals. Focused
people are not only bright and rigorous enough in their thinking, they’re
also fixed onto a specific goal; and while they spend a good part of their
time in achieving it, they also tend to concentrate on other, lesser goals
which draw them away from their major one. Truly and fully attuned
individuals, on the other hand, hone in on their primary goal and dovetail
everything else they do into achieving it, until they actually and
triumphantly realize that goal. But they’re rare, and sometimes their
goals are far from lofty.
And then there are truly rare brilliant and attuned individuals with
laudable goals. The truth of the matter is that while many of us are
bright to one degree or another and focused to a point, we’re far-and-away
not focused enough on ultimate goals. In fact, most of us couldn’t even
enunciate ultimate goals. But we get ahead of ourselves.
Ramchal addressed the gist of this in his Introduction and indicated that
a person couldn’t help but notice that there are a lot of “intelligent,
enlightened, aware, and informed people” out there. And they seem
to “expend a great deal of their energies on reflection upon and
examination of” all sorts of things. Some concentrate on “the minutia of
the various sciences, and upon subtle scholarship”, and “concern
themselves with questions of cosmogony or physical science”. Others
concentrate upon “astronomy or mathematics” or the arts. And some
individuals focus upon “the learning of the holy Torah” and
either “involve themselves in the give-and-take of Talmudic argumentation
(pilpul), in homiletics (drush), or in the deciding of practical law
The implication he’ll soon make, though, is that while they’re all
concentrating on one thing or another, they’re all nonetheless somehow
missing the point. None of them appear to be attuned to what matters most
of all, no matter how brilliant and focused they are.
For as Ramchal put it elsewhere, what’s required of each one us is to
delve into the depths of things (Vichuach HaChacham v’haChasssid), and to
realize that our goal is to draw as close to G-d as we can (Derech
Chochma) rather than to accrue knowledge per se, or brilliance and
attentiveness unto itself.
Indeed, as he put it in this Introduction, “few of (us) concentrate”
unfalteringly on what matters most (and here’s where he lays it all out):
on “honing our Divine service, loving and revering G-d, clinging unto
Him”, and on achieving piety. And we have consequently paid a great price
for our distractions from this most vital goal.
And in fact, the great and ominous notion that each one of us is bidden to
achieve spiritual excellence by serving G-d in high love and deep
reverence, by clinging onto His presence, and by practicing out-and-out
piety will prove to be the essential message of The Path of the Just.