The Way of G-d
Section 1 - “The Fundamental Principles of Reality”
Chapter 1 - “G-d”
Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto offers that there are a number of things about
G-d Almighty each one of us needs to both know and believe.
He apparently combines the two, because Rambam (Maimonides) said in one
context that we're to know certain fundamentals of the faith including the
fact of G-d’s existence 1, and in another he said that we're to
believe them 2. It appears that Ramchal contends that we'd need
to do both at the same time.
So much for the more academic answer to the question of why both knowing and
believing are listed. We'd like to approach it differently now, and ask a
couple of questions based on the combination. First, what's the difference
between believing and knowing? And why, for our purposes, did Ramchal
The best way to define the difference between knowing and believing is to
imagine being without either. It seems that not believing is more personally
and existentially threatening, and more darkly dire than not knowing.
Because I'm convinced that if I don't know something, I can always learn it;
while if I don't believe it, I'm left somehow "stranded". And in fact, many
of our Sages have taught that belief is higher than knowledge 3.
But not knowing threatens, also. Knowing for example why something bad
happened to me seems to dampen the pain and lend solace while not knowing
seems to gnaw at my being and oppress me.
Apparently Ramchal's point is that we're to somehow or another so
internalize the truth of G-d's existence, so convince ourselves of His
living presence that both the dark, dread lack of faith in Him, and the
bleak, dulling lack of knowledge of G-d's ways in the world simply disappear.
But how do we ever do that?
This may help. Notice how Ramchal titled this work "The Way of G-d" in the
singular, rather than the ways? It seems he put it in the singular because a
major point of his throughout his writings is that all-in-all G-d has one
broad way or agenda, if you will (with many, many narrow paths or
side-agendas along the way leading up to it). He intends to allow the
universe to reach perfection in the end 4.
Eventually grasping that -- learning it and fully believing it in one’s
heart and soul -- will have us both know and believe. And in fact a great
part of the gift of this book will be its underscoring the fact of G-d's
ultimate agenda in light of His many side-agendas.
That having been said, what are we to believe and know about Him after all?
The first thing is that G-d's the first being; and that He existed before
anything or anyone else, and will continue to exist after everything and
everyone is gone 5.
But that's curious. If He's the first being, of course He existed before
anything or anyone else. What's Ramchal's point? What's the difference?
Perhaps we can explain G-d's being termed the “first being” this way.
Were we to somehow or another appear out of nowhere and come upon reality
for the first time, the first being we'd notice -- the most obvious and
preeminent Being -- would be G-d. Simply because we hadn't yet had a chance
to take His presence for granted, and hadn't yet been waylaid by all the
other things that have us overlook Him.
G-d will eventually prove to have existed before everything else, too. But
knowing that would come later, after we'd have withstood the alarm and stun
of catching sight of His presence in the first place.
Again, we're also told that He will continue to exist after everything and
everyone is gone. Why would we need to know that, too?
This seems to be the best way to illustrate and explain G-d's preceding and
succeeding everything and everyone. Imagine a grand concert full of roil and
thunder, high pitches, low pitches, gravitas and piccolo. And imagine it
beginning with a single, bold note that somehow or another threads its way
throughout the concert and appears again at the concert's end.
Wouldn't that single note prove to have defined the concert in retrospect
and to have given it its heft?
That's exactly Ramchal's point. G-d's ineffable presence defines reality and
gives it its heft. And that by being the first and last, He is the better
part of the whole.
His final point here is that G-d -- and G-d alone -- both created and
maintains everything 6.
Simply put, that comes to deny the power of anything or anyone else to truly
and utterly create out of the blue. And it comes to underscore the fact that
G-d not only created us, he also maintains our beings moment by moment.
Returning to our musical analogy, we’d add that G-d not only pressed His
lips (if you will) to the mouth of our beings to start
"playing" us (i.e., to animate us), He continues to, throughout the concert.
1. Yesodei HaTorah 1:1.
2. Sefer HaMitzvot, Positive Mitzvot 1 (some who are well-versed in the
classical Arabic in which this work was written indicate that the word used
here should also read “to know” rather than to believe, but that’s beside
the point for our purposes here since Ramchal did indeed use the word
3. See 1:1:2 below where it’s pointed out that the Jewish experience of
faith in G-d is actually based on knowledge of Him, in that it’s rooted in
His revelation of Himself to our ancestors at Mount Sinai rather than on a
vague, tenuous sense of His existence (but see our note there). That
combination would explain why Ramchal commends both at the same time.
As to which matters more, faith or knowledge, some say belief is more
important. That’s because we’re told that “the righteous lives by his faith”
(Habakkuk 2:4), that “Abraham believed in G-d” (Genesis 15:6) and that our
people are consequently to be depicted as “believers and the children of
believers” (Shabbat 97a) above all else.
Others say that we’re to build on that faith and to gain knowledge of G-d
since we’re told that one is to “know (and understand) the G-d of your
father” (1 Chronicles 28:9) and to “Lift up your eyes to the stars and see
(and understand) Who created them” (Isaiah 40:26).
Ramchal himself indicated elsewhere, though, that he favored knowledge over
pure faith (see Ma’amar HaIkkurim 1 which, interestingly enough, parallels
this statement in Derech Hashem but doesn’t cite belief; Klallim Mitoch
Sefer Milchamot Moshe 1; and the beginning of Da’at Tevunot).
4. Ramchal wrote that G-d created the universe so that there would beings to benefit from His generosity by virtue of the reward for their own correct choice of actions, and that they would ultimately perfect the universe with those choices (see beginning of Klallei Pitchei Chochma v’Da’at). He returned to those themes again and again (see for example Kinat Hashem Tzivaot p. 76, his comments to R’ Chaim Vitale’s Otzrot Chaim as found in Ginzei Ramchal p. 297, and Iggerot Pitchei Chochma v’Da’at p. 404 there). The “generosity” spoken of there refers to the eradication of all wrongdoing and the revelation of G-d’s presence (see Klach Pitchei Chochma 4) which is the ultimate reward for all goodness and the ultimate consequence of universal perfection. And see 1:2:1 below which spells this out very well.
5. See Ramchal’s Ma’amar HaIkkurim 1, Klallei Ma’amar HaChochma 1, and
Klallei Kinat Hashem Tzivakot 3, and Klallei Pitchei Chochma v’Da’at 6; also
see Breishit Rabbah 81:2, Yesodei HaTorah 1:10, and Emunot v’De’ot 2:10.
6. See Ramban to Exodus 20:2 where he addresses G-d as being both the G-d of
creation and of history (meaning to say that He maintains the universe so as
to be active in it); also see Sefer HaChinuch 25.
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.