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Daat Tevunot -- The Knowing Heart

Section 2, Chapter 5

By Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

1.

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" [1]. 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 [2], 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 [3].

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)?

2.

Take heart! Ramchal says. For each one of us can both set things right and be set aright [4]. 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 into darkness”.

The truth be known, few people set their minds to transcendence in our day and age, Ramchal offers [5]. 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.

3.

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 way.

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 enlighte ned among us [6] 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.

________________________________________________________

Notes:

[1] See note 1 to 1:8, as well as 1:11, 1:14:3, etc.

[2] See note 7 to 1:14 above.

[3] 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.

[4] 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 rectify.

[5]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).

[6] 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.


 


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