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Da’at Tevunot -- The Knowing Heart

Section 1, Chapter 5

1. There are five theologically-calamitous mistakes we make that prevent us from accepting just how unmitigated and absolute G-d’s sovereignty is [1]. The first of them (which seems rather laudatory and respectful at that, at first blush) is to think that G-d is “far too exalted”, much too “removed from the world to concern Himself with it” in Ramchal’s words.

After all, those who think this way reason, He’s G-d! Why should He care about petty and ultimately inconsequential things like this world and us? In Ramchal’s worlds, they think that He has left us under the control of “the stars, constellations, and their celestial counterparts, which then oversee the (workings of the) world”. That in fact was the viewpoint of the earliest idolaters, who then worshipped the stars and constellations, which they considered G-d’s lofty agents on earth [2]. But that’s fallacious because G-d is utterly unaffected by distance, either of rank or of space; G-d’s reach transcends all that. For what he said of His Torah is certainly true of Himself. As He put it, “It is not up in heaven … nor is it beyond the sea … No, the matter is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart” (Deuteronomy 30:11-14).

Mistaken as they were, those who were of that opinion did nonetheless acknowledge G-d’s Being and even worshipped Him -- albeit in a backhanded sort of way [3].

2. The second mistake some make is to reason that since, as we’re taught, G-d is perfect, whole, and utterly benevolent, and yet there’s evil and wrongdoing in this world -- then there had to have been two deities: one for the good and another for the bad [4].

The truth be known, that error is either based on our inability to fathom how a good G-d could allow for evil to manifest itself so often, or at all; or on our failure to appreciate when an instance of bad might actually prove to be good. The seeming contradiction and confusion in all that is so alien to some poor souls that they lapse into heresy or spiritual mayhem in the face of it, G-d forbid.

But there are a couple of points to make about that at this juncture (while a lot more will be said later on). First, that evil serves a purpose in this world -- and a rather high, telling, and central one at that, ironically (as we’ll discover). And second, that while the incongruity of a single source for both good and evil can’t be denied, nonetheless a person of faith understands that the One G-d is indeed the source of everything; and that His single Will manifests itself in many different ways, much the way a single ray of sunlight can express itself as many different hues as=2 0it passes through a prism [5].

3. The third mistake people have made -- and continue to make to this day, perhaps even more so than in the past -- is to assume that the “laws of nature” (as well as the constraints of “destiny” and of “happenstance”) are indefatigable facts of life not to be denied, and that even G-d is beholden to them. And they also believe that the sooner a person acknowledges those “rules” and starts to play by them, the better off he is and the longer he denies them the more likely he is to fail.

But that would suggest that these “laws” existed before G-d Himself did, since they rather than He would be the very underpinnings of everything in the world. Yet that’s absurd, for by definition G-d never didn’t exist, so nothing could ever have preceded Him; and since He’s the Creator, He created those forces, too, and is thus beyond and above them.

It also follows, then, that since He is in fact beyond and above them (and everything else, as well), th at these rules aren’t immutable. And rather than being “laws” of nature and facts of life, they’re actually only some of the multifarious, mutable means G-d uses to govern this world; that is, that like everything else, they too are beholden to Him, the Absolute Sovereign [6].

4. The fourth fundamental mistake some make about G-d is to believe that His deeds are sometimes subordinate to man’s actions. They assert as an example the notion that while G-d had once chosen the Jewish Nation in fact to carry out His mission in this world, He no longer favors us since we continue to sin and stray, and that He was thus “forced” to abandon us, G-d forbid, as a consequence of those actions.

First off, let’s quote G-d’s own words about the fixed and abiding nature of our people’s relationship to Him. “I will never give My glory to another (nation) “(Isaiah 48:11), since He has established a covenant between Himself and us that’s to last forever [7]. And that as a consequence of that covenant He9 9ll expunge many of the things we do against Him, we’re assured.

“I, I myself, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake, and will not remember your sins“ (Isaiah 43:25), G-d said at one point; “I will remove the iniquity of that country (Israel) in one day“ (Zechariah 3:9), He said at another; and He once assured us that “In those days and in that time... the iniquity of Israel will be searched out, and there will (be found to) be none; and the sins of Judah (will be searched out, too) and not be found. For, I will pardon those whom I leave as a remnant“(Jeremiah 50:20).

That’s to say that His covenant with us is eternal and beyond others’ expectations [8]. And that G-d is unaffected by and above our or anyone else’s deeds, as well as any system He Himself set up to determine worth and merit. For as He put it, “I will be gracious to whomever I will be gracious -- even though he may not be worthy of it”. And “I will show mercy upon whomever I will show mercy, even though he may not deserve it“(Berachot 7A).

5. And the fifth mistake made is to assume that though He is the Creator of each and every thing, we can still-and-all do things to get around His wishes or affect His deeds. Mistakenly believing that G-d must be vulnerable in some realm or another, and that they could subject Him to their manipulation and cunning, they would for example try to manipulate the sort of supernatural forces that G-d is thought to acquiesce to.

But they too are wrong. For G-d alone is G-d, and the Absolute Sovereign. Nothing can thwart Him. He alone reigns supreme; nothing exists save for the fact that He wills it to; and He oversees everything. He Himself enacted all laws and ordinances, and they’re thus beholden to Him, rather than He to them.

There will indeed be times when G-d chooses to accede to manE2s deeds, but He needn’t do that if He chooses not to. And He’s likewise above even supernatural laws. After all, He Himself set it all in place and granted it its capabilities. He instituted everything and can correspondingly change and undo anything. For He alone is all-powerful [9].


Notes:

[1] Doubtlessly meaning to underscore the importance of the idea -- which he says in the text is the cardinal and over-arching truism of the Jewish Faith-- Ramchal elaborates here on verses that depict G-d’s sovereignty. We didn’t cite them above because they seem redundant in this sort of a treatment, but we’ll quote them here. We’re thus told that “G-d is the L-rd...” which is to say, the Absolute Sovereign, “... in Heaven above and on the earth below”, i.e., in orbits we experience and in orbits we cannot; “... there is no other”, i.e., that’s true of Him, and Him alone (Deuteronomy 4:39). “Behold, I am He...” the Torah quotes G-d as declaring, meaning to say that G-d alone is the Absolute Sovereign, “there is no god with Me...” i.e., He shares sovereignty with nothing and no one else. And the Torah underscores the point with the Divine affirmation that, “I (alone) bring on death and I bring to life; I wound and=2 0I heal” (Deuteronomy 32:39), thus asserting the profundity and finality of G- d’s determinations (which was already cited in 1:4:2). We’re taught that G- d is “unchangeable; (so) who could turn Him around?”, which is to say that He cannot be dissuaded from doing anything He’s determined to do. And it’s said that “He does what He wants“ (Job 23:13), for after all, “Who'd (dare) say to Him, ‘What are You doing?’“ (Job 9:12). In short we’re to understand that G-d’s rule is absolute and supreme. Nothing and no one could ever thwart Him.

See Ramchal’s statement elsewhere that everything we do should somehow disclose G-d’s Sovereignty, and that the eventual full and outright disclosure of it will only come about when we believe in it wholeheartedly (Klach Pitchei Chochma 49).

[2] See Rambam’s Hilchot Avodah Zarah 1:1-2, which depicts the downward spin from the recognition of G-d’s exalted place in the universe to out- and-out idolatry.

[3] Some20today start off with something of the same premise but go elsewhere with it. “Since G-d is so lofty and transcendent” they contend, “He apparently left us to our own devices”. What they mean to suggest is either that we’re now on our own in the universe, masters of our own fate, and accountable to no one; or worse yet, that G-d is an aloof Master of the Universe who wouldn’t deign to concern Himself with this world. But both approaches are wrong. The first because it limits G- d’s reach and doesn’t factor in His ability (and wish) to interface with this world and ourselves in an imminent, near-at-hand sort of way. And the second is wrong because it limits His concerns for and faith in us, whom He created to fulfill His ultimate purpose (see 1:1:2 above).

[4] Ramchal is referring to Zoroastrianism which thrived in Talmudic times and threatened Jewish beliefs, since it maintained that a pair of co-equal spirits called Ahura Mazda (the beneficent “Wise Lord”) and Angra Mainyu (the malevolent “Evil Spirit”) competed with each other for control of the universe (see Sanhedrin 39A).

[5] See Rambam’s illustration of how one thing can do and produce a number of different, even conflicting things. He points out that fire c an melt some things, solidify others, as well as cook, burn, whiten, and blacken yet others. Someone not knowing the nature of fire would think that six different things were at work: one that melts, another that solidifies, etc., but of course that’s not so; for fire alone is the instigator of all those effects (Moreh Nevuchim 1:53).

[6] R’ Shriki cites others of Ramchal’s works (in his note 15) to explain natural phenomena and the laws of nature from a Kabbalistic perspective. Ramchal speaks of the short-sightedness we suffer from being material beings, in that we’re not aware that things are not as they appear to be -- even to the most advanced tools, even when accessed by the best minds. For we’re taught that G-d wanted to keep certain things from mankind, so he gave us our five senses (as well as all the modern instruments that merely extend upon these senses, albeit to astounding qualitative and quantitative degrees) with which to experience the world. For our souls themselves experience things on a very different level and aren’t beholden to those senses; they “see things for what they are, not for what they’re presented as being by our senses” (Adir Bamarom, p. 458).

Elsewhere Ramchal likens nature to multi-hued panels placed over a window that allow the pure and otherwise unadulterated sunlight to pass through them only after having been “colored ” by them (Adir Bamarom, vol. 2, Ma’amar Yichud HaYirah p. 150); or to material embodiments of spiritual principles which we respond to more than we do the spiritual originals (ibid., p. 158).

[7] Also see Genesis 17:1-2, 7; Isaiah 54:10 and 59:21; 1 Chronicles 16:15- 17; and elsewhere.

It’s important to point out, though, that that’s not to deny the consequences that any single one of us would have to suffer for our having broken our end of the bargain and sinning. For, despite the covenant between G-d Almighty and our people, the truth of the matter is that transactions are transactions indeed every bit as much as merits are merits; everyone must answer for his or her own deeds.

[8] Ramchal is addressing the fact that the early Church Fathers contended that while G-d had indeed once chosen the Jewish Nation, He’d subsequently abandoned us, G-d forbid. Ramchal’s point is that their supposition is that G-d’s decisions can be swayed by man’s actions, but that’s absurd, since not only has G-d made an eternal pact with our people, but He also can’t be moved to “c hange His mind” one way or the other since He is the Supreme Sovereign who is answerable to no one (see R’ Friedlander’s note 23).

[9] See Derech Hashem 3:2 where Ramchal discusses Theurgy (the performance of miracles with supernatural assistance).


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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