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Da’at Tevunot -- The Knowing Heart

Section 1, Chapter 1

1. It’s hard coming upon the secrets of the universe. You have to unpack one bag after another; lay their contents next to each other, then compare and contrast them all until the whole picture comes through. And that’s exactly what we’re cautioned about here, since we’re going to be exposed to some of life’s deepe st mysteries in the course of this book, as Ramchal indicates. 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 of warning.

Let’s start off with what we hope to learn over-all in Da’at Tevunot 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 meaning of life. We’ll obviously be touching upon some core human -- and several specifically Jewish -- issues, so we’ll need to proceed step by step.

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 [1]. Understand of course that we’re referring to perfecting ourselves spiritually -- 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. 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 it should bolster us because it indicates that G-d apparently knows we’re capable of realizing it. But there’s another element to our having to perfect ourselves (rather than be perfected externally).

For by doing it on our own we’ll be rewarded for our efforts20(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 enjoyed it as a gift outright (which would sully the effect, as we’ll soon see).

But why would G-d have wanted that to be so? asks the Soul. In order to know that, we’re told, we’d first have to learn why G-d wanted to create the universe in the first place, and so we now will.

3. As best as we can determine -- because we’re neither as wise or 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 [2].

G-d is characterized as “The Benevolent Being” par excellence. And given that it’s simply the way of one such as He to do good things [3], G-d thus set out to create entities to do good for -- all of us [4].

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 [5]. (This is the element within us that what would have sullied the effect of our being perfected externally we cited above.)

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.

[1] 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).

In fact, Ramchal offers this argument over and over again in his works. See for example Derech Hashem 1:4:6-7, Iggrot Pitchei Chochma v’Da’at 18, Adir Bamarom p. 37, his introduction to Ma’amar Havikuach, Sefer Kitzur Hakavanot p. 1, etc.

[2] We simply cannot fathom G-d Himself, nor can we grasp His thoughts or intentions. So when we say that we’re about to explain why G-d wanted to create the world, what we mean to say is that we’ll explain what we can grasp about G-d wants, and what has been revealed to us through prophecy and Divine inspiration (see Friedlander p. 4 iyyun 2).

[3]As the above note points out, we’re not speaking of G-d Himself when we indicate that it’s “simply the way< SPAN style="FONT- FAMILY: 'Cambria','serif'; mso-ascii-theme-font: major-latin; mso-hansi- theme-font: major-latin; mso-bidi-font-family: Arial">” of G-d to do this or that, as if He were compelled to do anything. Again we’re referring to our understanding of how He took it upon Himself to act within creation (Friedlander ibid., as well as p. 49 iyyun 18, and p. 51, iyyun 19; also see Shriki p.12, note 6*).

[4] As Ramchal said, “Man was created to delight in G-d and enjoy the radiance of His Divine presence” (Messilat Yesharim Ch. 1); also see Derech Hashem 1:2.

But Ramchal elsewhere pointed to three reasons for the world having been created (Iggrot Pitchei Chochma v’Da’at ), and while one of them is indeed so that G-d could bestow favors upon others, but another is to reveal His Yichud, as we indicated in note 4 to Ramchal’s Introduction. So, see R’ Shriki’s discussion of the discrepancy on pp.11-12, note 6 to his edition.

[5]As R’ Friedlander points out (p. 5 iyyun 4), this fundamental axiom cited in the Jerusalem Talmud and=2 0is quoted by Tosephot in Kiddushin 36b, “Kawl Mitzvah”. It’s referred to in R’ Yoseph Karo’s Maggid Maisharim (Breishit, “Ohr Layom Shabbat 14 Tevet”); also see HaRav m’Fano’s Yonat Elim (beginning) and Orchot Tzaddikim’s Sha’ar HaBusha.

Also see R’ Shriki’s note 7* on pp. 13-14 where he raises the question as to why G-d couldn’t just undo this anomaly.

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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