As we’d indicated, the single thread that runs through the long course of history from beginning to end will prove to be the fact that G-d reigns over absolutely everything.
In point of fact, G-d’s sovereignty, know as His Yichud, is the only trait of His that we humans can fathom. For, while He is accessible to the heart and soul, and whereas we know a lot about Him from Torah, Tradition, and from logic, G-d Himself is utterly inaccessible to the mind.
So when reflecting on His perfection we might, for example, understand that G-d is wise, yet we nonetheless can’t fathom the actual makeup of His wisdom; and though we can certainly follow that He’s omniscient, we nonetheless can’t grasp His actual omniscience; and the like. As our sages put it, “You (G-d) are wise, but not with a discernable kind of wisdom. You understand, but not with a discernable kind of understanding” (Tikkunei Zohar, 2nd Introduction) 1.
In fact, we’re not only not able to fathom those other traits, we’re actually warned not to even try. As it’s said, “Do not search out what is too wondrous for you, and do not delve into what is hidden from you” (Chagigah13a), and “if your heart flees there …” i.e., to an idea that’s utterly beyond your mortal mind, then ”return to your place”, your own experience, instead (Sefer Yetzirah 1:8).
But while that’s true of abstract ideas about Him, nevertheless as the psalmist put it so effulgently, when one catches sight of G-d’s presence and sovereignty in the world he can “taste and see that G-d is good” (Psalm 34:8) — that He’s here in our world and holds sway over all of it.
But Ramchal’s point is that not only can we discern G-d’s utter sovereignty now to a degree, it’s also true that it will become perfectly clear to us in fact in the end.
As such we’re actually charged by the Torah again and again to detect G-d’s sovereignty and to internalize its veracity, to the point where it’s unquestionable to us 2. As it’s written, “Know this day and reflect upon it in your heart” again and again “that the L-rd He is G-d in heaven above and upon the earth below”, i.e., that He reigns supreme in all realms, and that “there is none else” who does (Deuteronomy 4:39). In point of fact, all of our people’s hopes and dreams as well as all the promises made to us about our ultimate redemption 3 hinge on G-d displaying His utter sovereignty — His Yichud — in the future.
We’ll discuss this all in more detail in the next few chapters; at this point, though, let’s just present the various verses that allude to this phenomenon.
G-d Himself expressed it in these terms: “I am He! There is no G-d with Me! I alone bring on death and bring on life; I alone wound and heal“(Deuteronomy 32:39); “I am He; before Me no ‘god’ was formed and after Me none shall be. I (alone) I am the L-rd, and aside from Me there is no savior” (Isaiah 43:10-11); “I am the first and I am the last; there is no G-d beside Me“(Isaiah 44:6); and “Know … that there is none beside Me. I am G-d, no one else. I form the light and create darkness; I make peace and create evil; I, G-d, do all these things“ (Isaiah 45:6-7) 4.
As the prophets Isaiah and Zechariah depicted it, “G-d alone will be exalted on that day“(Isaiah2:11) — the day He reveals His Yichud — when, “G-d will (prove to) be king over all the earth. And … G-d and His name”, i.e., G-d and His reputation as sovereign of the universe, “will be one and the same“(Zechariah 14:9). And as it’s said “Hear O Israel! G-d our L-rd is the L-rd (i.e., His reign is sovereign) (Deuteronomy 6:4).
The point of the matter is that G-d alone reigns supreme — and that while there are undoubtedly other entities with wills of their own, ourselves included, in fact, G-d alone will always have “the last word” so to speak; His Will will prove to reign supreme 5.
In the end, we’ll find that the whole slow, boundless, panoramic consideration of past, present and the promised future which we’ll be offered in this work will ultimately have us realize the fact of G-d’s Yichud.
And once we know that, we’ll be able to not only “know therefore this day” the truth of G-d’s absolute sovereignty in theory — we will have “reflect(ed) upon it in (our) heart”, and we’ll be able to realize on our own that “G-d alone is L-rd of Heaven above and of earth below — none other” (see Deuteronomy 4:39), despite the whirligig of earthly circumstances that seem to refute that.
1 That’s because those and other such Divine traits are rooted in abstract notions about Him and about G-d’s inner being, while G-d’s sovereignty — His overarching command of everything in the universe — will manifest itself in the universe in the end.
2 Understand that most of us simply don’t sense G-d’s utter sovereignty. Even people of faith who assume that G-d certainly reigns in this world don’t actually assume He reigns supremely. And that’s because they presume that He Himself is subject and subservient to a number of cosmic laws and limitations (which Ramchal will discuss later on), and that His sovereignty can be thwarted, but that’s not true.
3 This refers to the Messianic Era, the resurrection of the dead, the great day of judgment, and the World to Come.
4 Great Mussar masters like R’ Yisrael Salanter, and R’ Yosef Zundel his teacher would counsel us to repeat Torah verses that speak to a trait one would like to foster in himself much the way that we in modernity speak of affirming certain insights we’d like to internalize by repeating them over and over again to himself. In that same spirit it would certainly do us all well to recite these statements about G-d’s utter sovereignty to affirm its reality to ourselves.
5 But haven’t we been granted free will which presupposes that one can thwart G-d’s will, which would suggest that His will and reign are not sovereign? And aren’t there forces for evil and sin in the world that seem to foil His will — and His benevolence cited earlier on — too? Suffice it to say that this will all be discussed later on.
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.