1. It’s hard coming upon the secrets of the universe. You have to unpack
one bag after another, lay their contents out next to each other, then
compare and contrast them all until the whole picture comes through.
That’s exactly what we’re cautioned about here, since we’re going to be
exposed to some of life’s deepest mysteries in the course of this work
by degrees. So we’ll all need to have patience as we follow “the
bouncing ball” as it goes from point to point. Let this serve as a word
We'll start off with what we hope to learn over-all in Da’at Tevunot,
and what Ramchal will offer in response to the question about the four
principles of our faith discussed in the introductory chapters, and go
on from there. As Reason puts it, we hope to uncover man’s makeup,
what’s incumbent upon him in this world, and the aim of his life
1. So we’ll clearly be touching upon some core human -- and
several specifically Jewish -- issues, and we’ll need to proceed step by
2. As Reason puts it, “The primary principle upon which the entire
edifice stands” -- bottom line -- is the fact that G-d wants us to
perfect ourselves and to perfect all of creation along with us
2. Understand of course that we’re referring to perfecting
ourselves spiritually 3 -- that is, achieving the greatest
and most exalted degree of humanity possible and elevating the world
along with us, while drawing both ourselves and all of creation close to
G-d in the process 4.
But there’s another element to our having to perfect ourselves (rather
than be perfected externally, as we'll soon see). For by doing it on our
own we’ll be rewarded for our efforts (which will foster a whole other
level of perfection that we couldn’t come to if we didn’t do it on our
own), and we’ll have earned perfection rather than just enjoyed it as a
gift outright (which would sully the effect, as we’ll also see).
But why would G-d have wanted us to perfect ourselves? asks the Soul. In
order to understand that, we’re told, we’d first have to know why G-d
wanted to create the universe in the first place (another very, very
weighty question!), as we now will.
3.As best as we can determine -- because we’re neither as wise nor as
knowledgeable as we like to think we are, nor are we as privy to G-d’s
plans as we’d like to be -- it comes to this.
G-d is characterized as “The Benevolent Being” par excellence
5. And given that it’s simply the way of one such as He to do
good things, G-d thus set out to create entities to do good for, i.e.,
ourselves and the world at large. But in order for His goodness to be as
beneficial as it could be, He needed to contend with one very human
foible: the fact that we seem to need to do things on our own rather
than accept handouts, given that “one who eats what’s not his own is
ashamed to look (his benefactor) in the face” (Jerusalem Talmud, Orlah
1:3). That means to say that we find it hard to just take things
His point is that if G-d didn’t make allowances for that, we’d be held
back from achieving perfection, and His ultimate plan would thus have
been thwarted; so He did indeed allow for it and has us strive for our
own perfection rather than granting it to us outright 7
1. "Man's makeup" refers to the fact that we're ironically and
so notably comprised of both a body and a soul, "what's incumbent upon
him in this world" refers to our moral and spiritual obligation to have
our soul govern our body, and "the aim of his life" refers to the
ominous notion that we were created to attach onto G-d's presence. All
of this will be discussed in the course of the book.
Ramchal offered in his introduction to Klach Pitchei Chochma that the
best way to fight the yetzer hara, in fact, is to dwell on fundamental
questions like this. Apparently because doing so keeps one on course and
it reminds him of what his life's about and how to direct one's energies
and proclivities. Sadly, our generation doesn't dwell on these sorts of
questions and we suffer deeply in our hearts and souls as a consequence.
2. As Ramchal put it elsewhere, “If we master ourselves, cleave
onto our Creator, and make use of the world's things to help us in our
Divine service, both we and the world with us will be elevated”
(Messilat Yesharim Ch. 1). Also see Derech Hashem 1:4:6-7, Iggerot
Pitchei Chochma v’Da’at 18, Adir Bamarom p. 37, Ramchal’s own
introduction to Ma’amar Havikuach, and Sefer Kitzur Hakavanot p. 1.
3. See Derech Hashem 1:2:2.
4. From the first let it be said that this is a daunting and
stunning thought that should both humble and bolster us -- humble us
because it lays an enormous responsibility on our shoulders, and bolster
us because it indicates that G-d apparently knows we’re capable of
5. See Derech Hashem 1:2:1, Klach Pitchei Chochma 3, 92, and
Adir Bamarom p. 393.
6. This is the element within us that what would have sullied the
effect of our being perfected externally we cited above.
See Tosephot in Kiddushin 36b, “Kol Mitzvah”; Maggid Maisharim
(Breishit, “Ohr Layom Shabbat 14 Tevet”); HaRav m’Fano’s Yonat Elim
(beginning); and Orchot Tzaddikim, Sha’ar Habusha for this concept. Also
see Klach Pitchei Chochma 4.
7. In short, G-d is benevolent to be sure, but He shapes His
benevolence to the needs of human nature: we cannot easily accept
"charity" outright so He tempers His kindness with some hesitance and
allows us to "earn" it.
Without getting into too much detail, this is an illustration of the
Kabbalistic notion of Tzimtzum -- of G-d having had to limit His full
presence with the creation of the universe in order to accommodate its
nature and needs.
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.