Daat Tevunot -- The Knowing Heart
Section 2, Chapter 5
By Rabbi Yaakov Feldman
Let's delve now into the partnership of body-and-soul that we are, and see
how our two parts collaborate (or don’t). And in the process we'll soon
find ourselves touching upon a couple of themes we'd spoken of before: G-
d's concealing and revealing His "countenance" . First off, though,
let's explore the essential difference between body and soul (other than
the fact that the body is tangible and visible, while the soul is not) and
see where we can affect that.
Ramchal reiterates the point that the body is less exalted than the soul
in that while the soul “basks in a lot of light and enjoys a great deal of
emanation” from above , the body doesn’t. And he proclaims that what
enables something to either enjoy that light and emanation or not is
whether G-d is revealing (i.e., shining) His countenance on it or not--
that is, on whether G-d is favoring or disapproving of it.
The soul, he declares, enjoys that light and emanation because it engages
in holiness, and the body et al doesn’t because it busies itself in more
mundane and earthy things. But that's not meant to demean the body en toto
(since the soul can't accomplish its mission without it, as we said);
instead it's meant to address the relative intrinsic value of each .
It becomes clear then that the more so
mething tends toward the holy, noble, and immortal, the more of G-d’s
favor it enjoys, and the further it tends toward the base, ignoble, and
mundane, the less G-d favors it. In fact, the real and palpable tension
between these two tendencies is what defines the interplay between our two
parts, body and soul.
It seems then that we’re doomed. After all, other than in our finer, more
lofty moments, we’re surely more attracted to the base, ignoble, and
mundane than to its opposite (though by degrees). Are we fated then to
dwell evermore in cold, dark shadows far away from Him (G-d forbid)?
Take heart! Ramchal says. For each one of us can both set things right and
be set aright . We can always reorder our priorities and set our sights
higher than our physical circumstances and indulgences; we can “transcend
our yetzer harah, abandon our inane ways, and allow the soul to subdue the
body and purify it” as he puts it. But if we “continue to follow what our
eyes perceive and to pursue the ways of our fleshy heart”, then rather
than being purified, we’ll suffer “the terrible … failure of being thrust
The truth be known, few people set their minds to transcendence in our day
and age, Ramchal offers . Instead, most of us “wander here and there,
resting neither day nor night”, and for what? So as 0to eat and drink and
to do all sorts of empty, short-lived things”, and all in a world
of “chaos and night” in which we’re “here today yet buried tomorrow”. What
a degradation that is, he adjures. What we should be striving for is the
ability to “be aware of G-d’s Glory”, since that was what we were created
and were granted the intellectual means to do.
He then offers a plausible explanation for this terribly human moral
tragedy: the fact that the body is a product of the hiddenness of G-d, an
agent of Divine disregard if you will which just naturally dwells in all
that’s dark and dank, very unlike the soul. (So the body could hardly know
better, he implies).
He then offers another, more psychological reason why we don’t set our
sights higher, which is based on the following principle. “Your thoughts
and desires vary according to your mind’s boundaries”, Ramchal says. That
means to say that your thoughts and desires will only be broad and mature
if your mind is, while they’ll be narrow and small if your mind is that
That’s why young kids who “can’t appreciate knowledge and want no part of
it” tend to “run out of school” as soon as it lets out and hurry to play
childish games, he offers as an illustration. And that’s why the more
ned among us  pursue wisdom.
Ramchal reiterates, though, that all a person has to do to win in the end
is to reverse his course and head towards the light, by broadening and
deepening the boundaries of his mind, and then G-d will indeed allow him
to bask in that light . He terms that process the act of “allowing the
soul to rule” over the body and of having it steer the course for the two.
Once we engage in that, G-d assures us, He will “pour out (His) spirit
upon all flesh” and we’ll bask in His light to such a degree that
our “sons and daughters will prophesy, (our) elders will dream dreams, and
(our) young will see visions” (Joel 3:1). In fact, there have been whole
generations that have enjoyed a range of degrees of such illumination,
including Moshe’s generation, David’s, Solomon’s, and others, depending on
their deeds and the quality of their character.
In fact, he makes the point, the whole course of human history -- as well
as the course of our own inner history and progress -- can be defined by
the alternating degrees that G-d reveals and conceals His countenance from
each one of us. The implication is of course that we can affect that
ourselves, and that it thus behooves us to do good and allow for G-d’s
countenance to shimmer inside and out.
 See note 1 to 1:8, as well as 1:11, 1:14:3, etc.
 See note 7 to 1:14 above.
 The point is that the soul's inherent "brightness" is a product of G-d
displaying His abundant light (and goodness), while the body's
relative "darkness" is a product of G-d's withholding it. That’s to say
that just as sunlight reflects best off of bright and shiny things and
worse off of dark and dull things, G-d's Presence manifests itself more
clearly in the soul than in the body. But again, that's not to belittle
the body, since there are indeed times when it's important for there not
to be sunlight.
 As Ramchal terms it in the original Hebrew, we’re both a mitakein and
a nitakein. The root term here is the well known Kabbalistic term tikkun,
which refers to making things right on a cosmic and mystical level. He‘s
alluding to the broken state of our own and the world’s spiritual station
which we alone have the power, wherewithal, and the authority -- to
Ramchal was castigating his own generation, but who could claim with
any conviction that our own times are any better in this respect? In point
of fact, Ramchal himself says later on in the text the each succeeding
generation seems to do worse in this than earlier ones.
Some modern Mussar teachers have wondered how Ramchal, who has come to be
known as a master Kabbalist and as a foremost explicator=2
0of the Ari’s writings, could have written a major Mussar text like “The
Path of the Just” which (to their minds) seems to out of his area of
expertise. But as this chapter underscores, Ramchal had always taken an
interest in the sort of moral betterment that exemplifies “The Path of the
Just” (which was written after Da’at Tevunot).
 Pun intended -- i.e., those who bask in G-d’s vivid countenance.
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.