Ch. 4: "Man’s Standing in This World, and The Specific Ways Available to Him"
Despite the fact that we’re bound to materiality from the first and our
souls are so stifled, nonetheless on some arcane level 1 G-d
arranged things in such a way that we’d be elevated in the end anyway. In
fact, the very problem will prove to offer the solution< sup>2 and our
physicality itself will enable us to turn darkness to light and the shadows
of death into beams of light 3.
For when we function within the parameters that G-d established for us when
it comes to physicality 4 and we have the right intentions
5, the physical things we do allow for perfection and enable us
to be elevated. Those parameters take into account our state of being and
are just what’s needed to allow us to draw close to G-d and to bask in His
presence in this physical world and beyond. As such, when we use our
physicality within those parameters we garner what you need to ascend and
avoid what keeps us back from drawing close to G-d.
In fact, if it weren't for the aforementioned decree of death 6,
our souls would instantly become empowered and our physicality would be
weakened, and we’d be purified enough to indeed draw close to G-d when we
acted within those parameters. But since that decree is in place in fact,
the soul itself is purified on the spot to be sure (on an inchoate level),
but the body is made only more potentially pure -- until the time when both
will indeed achieve perfection in tandem.
1. The Hebrew term for this level translates as “the depths of the
guidance (of) His wisdom”. Ramchal uses it and similar expressions in 1:5:6
and 2:3:1 and elsewhere below, as well as in Da’at Tevunot (11, 44, 48, 52,
etc.), and in various other works. It refers to the Kabbalistic concept of
Reisha d’La Ityada (“the unfathomable beginning”), which is the source of
all inscrutable Divine decisions and reckonings. See Klallim Rishonim 34,
Da’at Tevunot 168-170, Klach Pitchei Chochma 78-88, etc.
2. Ramchal’s term is, “man’s lowliness will (itself) prove to be his
greatness (in the end)”. See Klach Pitchei Chochma 49, and also see Zohar
1, 245b as well as Emunot v’De’ot 6:4 and Pardes Rimonim 31:5.
Let’s try to illustrate that excellent principle with an analogy. Suppose
there was once an utterly ignoble soul who’d somehow hit bottom. He became a
drunk and a derelict perhaps, as well as brash, mean, wayward, and wanton.
Suppose after a time he came to realize what he’d done to himself, turned
himself around, worked hard and invested wisely, and became a mentsch (a
fine, upstanding individual). Let’s even imagine that he became a selfless
and ardent philanthropist after a time, and an advocate for all sorts of
good causes. Then suppose there was another individual then who’d been born
into a good family, had a sterling upbringing, was educated in the best of
schools, and eventually inherited a great deal of wealth. Then imagine that
they both advocated for and contributed toward the same noble causes.
The first individual would certainly be lauded more than the second one for
his benevolence. Everyone would speak in awe of how someone like him, who’d
once been such a cur and a dog, had turned himself around so and become so
good. Everything good he did would be tripled in value in everyone’s eyes as
a consequence, while the self-same acts done by the second person would
simply be admired, and no more. (“After all,” people would reason, “we’d
only expect as much from him”.)
Indeed, the first person’s initial lowliness would itself prove to be his
greatness in the end.
This is the logic behind our having been thrust into a world that seems to
foil our soul’s dream of closeness to G-d. For by transcending our
limitations and using the very same environment in which we could easily
fail as a base for succeeding we will have met the greatest challenge of
all, and our lowliness will have indeed proven to be our greatness in the
It’s important to realize, by the way, that we’re contrasting mankind with
supernatural beings like angels with this point. For, while we have to
contend with conflicting urges and inclinations and we’re always threatened
with defeat, they don’t have to. Angels can’t help but do good and holy
things -- that’s all they’re “programmed” to do. As such, any goodness and
holiness they bring into the world is only to be expected (like the acts of
the second person we cited above), while any goodness and holiness we might
bring into the world is a triumph of the human spirit and a personal victory
(like the acts of the first person).
3. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those
who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, light shone upon them” (Isaiah
9:1). See Ch. 26 of Messilat Yesharim for illustrations of overturning
physicality to spirituality.
4. See 2:6:1-5 for a different discussion of these parameters.
5. Which is primarily to draw close to G-d but could also be to act
selflessly and lovingly. But see Ramchal’s Sefer HaHigayon 5 which speaks of
two people doing the same thing which could wind up being either
reprehensible of laudatory depending on each one’s original intentions.
6. See 1:3:9.
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.