“Each and every created being”, Ramchal reveals, “is a representative of one
of G-d’s esoteric means of governing the universe” and “reflects upon it”.
That’s to say that everything here alludes to something in heaven that
controls what happens down here. Hence, observe anything closely, the
implication is, and you’ll grasp something about G-d’s ways in the world.
And humankind itself most especially “reflects G-d’s governing principles”
It follows then that each of the five essential epochs of time in which G-d
governs the universe referred to in the previous chapter has its parallel in
the human situation. Here’s a layout of all five .
Given that there’s no more lawless and chaotic period of life than the
months we spend as fetuses in the womb -- simply because there are no rules
there (other than the laws of nature) and no planned or purposeful action on
our part -- that time of life is analogous to the world’s first epoch of
time, the “two thousand years of chaos” .
The world’s second epoch of time was much less chaotic. And while the first
was exemplified by the time we were enslaved in Egypt, the second was
represented by the period of time after we’d received G-d’s Torah and thus
had a code of action and a life’s goal to strive for (though we would only
have begun to). So it’s analogous to our younger years when we “grow little
by little, but still aren’t mature” people yet either physically or
mentally, even if we’re already 12 and 13 years old and mature enough to
observe the Torah.
The third is represented by the epoch of time in which G-d’s reign was more
manifest in Israel -- when the Holy Temple stood in place, and open and
well-chronicled miracles took place all the time .
Understand though that while G-d’s governance was more clearly in place
then, our understanding of it then needed to be tangible and visible, as we
weren’t spiritually mature enough to have it otherwise, and because had
there not been open miracles then hence our faith would have faltered. So
that was clearly not the great instance of manifest holiness many would like
to think; that will come later on .
Ramchal doesn’t enunciate it here, but that epoch is clearly analogous to
young-adulthood, when sight and hearing are sharp and clear, and when what’s
manifest is most trusted.
The fourth epoch will be characterized by a much fuller, riper sense of
spiritual insight into G-d’s governance in this world. We wouldn’t need to
depend on open miracles, as we would have come to understand G-d’s more
subtle ways in this world. The prophet alluded to that period of time as one
in which “the earth will be as full of the knowledge of G-d (i.e., of His
governance) as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9), “when G-d (will
manifestly) return to Zion, which they will see with their own eyes” (Ibid.
52:8) much the way we saw with our own eyes when “G-d spoke to (us) face to
face out of the fire on the mountain (i.e., Mount Sinai)” (Deuteronomy 5:4).
It’s analogous to middle age, when one’s self will have deepened, and one’s
brow will have been rutted again and again by series of realizations about
G-d’s ways. It’s the experience of the Messianic Age.
The fifth and ultimate epoch, in the course of which “more and more
revelations” and insights will occur to us, as Ramchal depicts it, would be
the pinnacle. It’s analogous to full maturity, when the soul is sated with
insight, no longer distracted by temporary goals, and knows the ways of the
world in full. This will be the experience of The World to Come, in the
course of which G-d’s sovereignty will be revealed in full..
At bottom, his points here are that while G-d’s governance has and will
continue to be more and more manifest in the course of history, it will be
fully manifest and obvious in the end. And that we’re now in mid-process and
can only note G-d’s governance -- as well as His justice -- to a degree .
It’s also important to understand that while G-d could certainly have
brought the whole process about in one fell swoop, just as He could have had
us been born mature, He chose not to do either. That’s because it’s to our
advantage to catch sight of the sweep of history as well as the course of a
lifetime from a broad perspective so as to grow from the experience and
appreciate its playing out.
 In order to understand the flow of thought here refer to 4:1:1 where we
indicated that to that point “we’ve learned that all wrong and injustice …
will be undone in the end” but that in the interim G-d had “established a
system of justice” and that we’d need to “lay out the details of that
system”, and that’s what we’re beginning to do now. See note 2 there also.
See Ramchal’s discussion of these eras in Derech Hashem 2:8:4. For this
chapter’s Kabbalistic references see R’ Goldblatt’s notes 9, 13 (as well as
note 64 on p. 485 of his edition), and R’ Shriki’s notes 114-115.
 See 4:6:1 and its source as noted in the footnote there.
 See those enunciated for example in Pirkei Avot 5:7.
 Many wonder why we don’t see open miracles in our times on the
assumption that such things would surely solidify our faith, but that’s
clearly not Ramchal’s assumption. One might say that he almost sees such
things as accommodations to the needs of lesser souls in need of material
confirmation of what should sit well in their hearts instead.
 Understand of course that a person can experience each or some of these
“epochs of time” each and every day by degrees, either in or out of
sequence, depending on his or her spiritual station in general or at that
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.