Da'at Tevunot - The Knowing Heart
Section 3, Chapter 4
Let’s digress a bit now and talk about time -- about “before” and “after”,
as well as about “nothing” and “something”, and about “reality” and
We’re conditioned to think that there has never been a time when there
wasn’t “time” and that there’ll never be a time without it, as if time were
a set and fundamental element of reality. Speaking of the latter, we’re also
conditioned to think of “reality” as we know it as a fundamental element of
the cosmos, and that without that “reality” there’d simply be no existence
or life (either as we know it or beyond it). And it’s also true to say that
everything we know of (and most of what we don’t know of) is “something” and
certainly not “nothing”, otherwise it wouldn’t be. But none of that’s true,
as we’re about to learn.
The truth is that everything but everything had to have been created by G-d,
hence nothing -- not even things as seemingly fundamental as the air we
breathe, which is also up for grabs -- is indispensable. Oh, they’re
indispensable as far as we’re concerned, but not indispensable in G-d’s
reckoning. “Time” was created fresh , each instance of “something” was
created anew out of the essential no-thing that preceded it, and “reality”
as we know it was, too .
They all could have come about, to be sure, since G-d certainly had the
wherewithal to create them. But they didn’t have to exist; it’s not like
they were just waiting in the wings, if you will, lingering in the
background and anxious to fulfill their potential while knowing all along
that they would. Time, reality, and everything else in the here-and-now
could have always been un-created, forever subsumed in the vast and terrible
Some have misunderstood that last point, though. They actually believed that
whatever exists in the world somehow waited to exist beforehand in a realm
they’d perhaps term “the (invisible and inchoate) world of potentiality”
. As a consequence they likewise believed that reality and the cosmos
always existed, without G-d having created all that. But that’s obviously
not what the Jewish Tradition teaches.
In short, not only do we firmly believe that “In the beginning, G-d created
the Heavens and the Earth” (Genesis 1:1) out of the no-thing state that
preceded it; we also believe that the no-thing state is G-d’s own, and that
it’s inexplicable as a consequence . It’s inexplicable for the most part
because not only is there no-thing there, there’s also no “before” and
“after” there, and “reality” as we know it is actually a form of
“non-reality” there which we simply cannot fathom.
And there’s certainly not anything like a state of “potentiality” in which
things are waiting to be brought to “actualization”, which is actually
Ramchal’s main point here.
Rather, G-d purposefully and specifically created the phenomena of
potentiality and actualization when He created the universe altogether.
Potentiality was created with the very first of the Ten Utterances, “In the
beginning …” , and all instances of actualization flowed forth from
there, by means of the emanations that G-d instituted that we cited in the
 Let’s not forget that the subject at hand, despite the sidetracks we’d
been taking along the way, is the whys and wherefores of wrong and injustice
(see 3:1). We discussed the emanations G-d uses to manage the cosmos (3:2),
we learned about the role of G-d’s will in those emanations (3:3), and we’re
about to discuss the rather abstruse subject of “potentiality” versus
“actualization” in this chapter and to reflect upon whether they’re
intrinsic parts of the universe or not.
The latter is brought up mainly because believing that potentiality and
actualization were intrinsic parts of the universe would deny that G-d
created the universe ex nihilo (since the phenomena of potentiality and
actualization would have been part of the universe’s hard-wiring rather than
add-ons just as everything else was), and the Tradition adamantly asserts
the truth of creation ex nihilo (as we discussed in section 2 of Ramchal’s
We’ll touch on other things seemingly tangential to the issue of the place
of wrong and injustice soon after this chapter, too. Ramchal does tie this
chapter in with the idea of G-d’s emanations at the very end of the chapter,
though, as we’ll see.
All that seeming obfuscation is unavoidable, we’re afraid. For as we’d said
very early on, one has to keep his “eye on the ball” when studying Da’at
Tevunot (see 1:1:1), as so much is discussed in depth that is of such
importance that a lot of groundwork has to be laid in order to understand
the truths revealed. That’s all the more so true of the ancient concern
known as “Theodicy”, the place of wrong and injustice in a good and loving
G-d’s universe. We’ll try to tie all the loose ends together further on in
Much of what’s touched on in this chapter will be discussed in ¶ 194 later
on; also see 1:19:2 above. See Moreh Nevuchim 2:18, as pointed out in R’
Shriki’s note 69. That note also has Kabbalistic references, for which also
see R’ Goldblatt’s notes 4-6 here, and his very thorough notes 39-43 on pp.
479-482 of his edition.
 First off, notice that the sun and the moon which we use to reckon day
and night were created on the fourth day (see Genesis 1: 16-18), proving
that days 1 - 3 were not actual time-bound days but were simply termed
“days” so that we could relate to and follow the sequence that was presented
in the creation story. The point is that “days” and “time” weren’t part of
the fabric of reality but were instead created outright by G-d; and that
so-called time only exists (better said, it only functions) for our sakes.
Others (aside from Albert Einstein, of course) spoke of the relativity and
hence “wobbliness” and non-essentiality of time. Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler
pointed out in his Michtav Ma’Eliyahu (vol. 2, p. 150) that “man’s
impressions of time are relative to his sensations”, and they’re thus not
stand-alone real and absolute. And so for example he points out that “a
‘year’ in a child’s life seems to him to be far longer-lasting than the one
we know of, since everything is new to him”, and he packs more into the year
while experiencing it as being far fuller than we do.
 Pre-creation no-thing and actual reality -- G-d’s realm, if you will --
is far beyond our ken, as we’d pointed out before.
 Plato and the Neo-Platonists, for example, spoke of “The world of Ideas”
within which ideal potential forms existed in the abstract, waiting to serve
as ideal models to their earthly phenomena. And Aristotle’s referred to a
realm of pure potentiality.
 We tried to depict the G-dly realm that preceded the creation of all
things as non-material as possible and so we termed it “no-thing”. We didn’t
want to refer to it as “nothing” per se, as that would seem to label G-d
“nothing”, Heaven forefend.
 Which we’re taught was an Utterance unto itself rather than just the
introductory phrase for “G-d created the heavens and the Earth” (see Rosh
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.