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Da’at Tevunot -- The Knowing Heart

Section 1, Chapter 16

1. Contradictions are a dime a dozen in the human heart. As Walt Whitman once huffed, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict mysel f”. But a contradiction in a depiction of G-d can undo the cosmos, and a careful reader might have detected one so far in this work.

Ramchal seems to have implied that G-d’s eventual revelation of His Yichud -- His sovereignty -- will entail a revelation of His very Self [1]. But that can’t be, as we can never grasp G-d Himself [2]. Even the sort of utter rule and control over everything that His sovereignty entails, which will be revealed in the end, is distinct from G-d’s essence, since it has to do with His relationship with the cosmos rather than that essence.

For G-d Himself exists in a space-less, time-less "space" and "time" that's utterly devoid of definition and beyond conjecture, and whic h is ch ockfull of utter G-d and nothing else. Were we to dare try to portray that realm in the context of anything in our experience we’d gingerly liken it to something as abstract as the notion of having the idea for an idea, or to a memory we might have had once of having had a memory long ago. But that too is inadequate for our understanding of G-d’s context.

It’s just that G-d decided to function within the dimensions and paradigms that we function in rather than within His own unfathomable reality alone. So while His own full Self lies in the background and won’t ever be revealed (other than to Himself) we experience something of His presence here and now, and will know a far fuller flowering of it in the end [3].

2.

In fact, G-d could be said to have separated His Self and abilities from our experience by a couple of degrees [4]. Firstly, He only does things here that we can endure rather than what He’s fully capable of doing, and He thus holds Himself back from manifesting His natively full, blindingly rich benevolence simply because we couldn’t bear it.

And secondly, He also has not even manifested the degree of benevolence that we could and will bear -- for now. As while He could have created us from the beginning as perfect and as capable of basking in the light of His sovereignty as we could, He didn’t, for His own good reasons [5].

So G-d seems to lie far, far in the background and to be so removed from our experience, and the single facet of His Being that we will experience, His Yichud, has purposely been denied us up to now. Perhaps that explains the sense of terrible and chill distance from Him that we often feel, though maybe the promise and expectation of the revelation of His Yichud explains the sense we have of His presence. Recall, however, that we’re still and all able to attach unto His presence indeed, as Ramchal assures us in several places here and elsewhere [6].

3.

The point remains, though, that G-d didn’t want our state of imperfection to go on forever -- for there to always be the sort of sturm und drang, blessings and curses, and moral contentions that characterize our world now. Rather, He wanted perfection to flower forth from the midst of it all.

But let it never be forgotten or mistaken: our destined, relevant perfection cannot compare to G-d’s own inherent perfection whatsoever. As His perfection, “His utter simplicity” as Ramchal words it, “is utterly irrelevant to our experience” no matter how exalted that experience will be.

Notes:

[1]See for example the statement that “G-d calls upon us to perfect ourselves and the universe at large, and … the reward (for that) i n fact will be an experience of G-d Himself” (1:2:5). But see 1:3:2 where we warned that “[I]t’s vitally important to know that we cannot grasp G-d’s full and infinite being. That’s simply beyond us. What we can understand though (and will experience in the end) is a fragment of G-d’s being -- that aspect of Him that He displays in this world”, but that we “won’t be discussing G-d Himself” in this work, nor can we ever. And that speaks to Ramchal’s point in this chapter.

[2] See 1:12:2 and the sources cited in the footnotes there.

[3] See Clallam Rishonim 6, Klach Pitchei Chochma 28.

[4] See R’ Friedlander’s Iyyun15.

[5] See 1:10 for a fleshing out of the principles that all this entails.

[6] See notes 2 and 3 to 1:2, and note 2 to 1:11 for reference to this.


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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