Da’at Tevunot — The Knowing Heart

translated and commented by Rav Yaakov Feldman

1. I dare say that there’s nothing we seriously misconstrue as much as we do G-d. We’re either too naןve about Him (i.e., picturing Him sitting in Heaven with a long white beard on a throne and making quick ad hoc decisions about humankind and the cosmos), or we’re too sophisticated about Him (i.e., referring to Him esoterically and essentially meaninglessly as “The first cause”, “The greatest conceivable being existent” and the like). And we seriously — tragically — misunderstand His expectations of us. To my mind, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto’s Da’at Tevunot helps explain Him and His intentions to us as clearly as anyone could hope for.

For while there are quite a number of our holy books that I personally go to again and again when I need succor and insight, and which I draw upon when somehow feeling cornered in my being, the one I go to most often is Da’at Tevunot. What follows is something of a preamble to this seminal works of Jewish Thought based on my years of studying it again and again. (See our original introduction to Da’at Tevunot here. )

2. Anyone who has ever ventured into the writings of the master Kabbalist, Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534–1572, who is known as “the Ari”), can’t help but be struck by his inscrutable terminology and imagery.

The reader finds him or herself strolling about somehow in a universe (five universes in fact!) swollen with legions of whirling and still, descending and ascending, exploding and imploding bold and invisible things and non-things termed “worlds”, “spheres”, “faces”, “emanations”, “vessels”, “lights”, and “letters”. He’s also thrust in the middle of something that could only be termed the melding and severing of parts with the whole, and into instances of infinity and near infinity; and he’s faced with unexpected depictions of G-d Almighty’s will and much more 1. Could anyone not help but wonder what’s going on in all that?

Some of the Ari’s references have entered into everyday working Judaic vocabulary, but much of it eludes even the greatest Jewish scholars. In fact many who do use the terms on a more or less sophisticated level don’t really understand the underpinnings of the system well enough to saunter about it comfortably and methodically. In fact, so many works that go about elucidating the Ari’s universe don’t actually explain it so much as allow the various parts to all fit neatly and precisely within the system itself, without offering the big picture. Some great souls did indeed grasp the whole, though. They understood and were able to express what the Ari was talking about in plain-enough terms. For as the great “Gaon of Vilna” (Rabbi Eliyahu Ben Shlomo Zalman, 1720– 1797) and his disciples understood, the Ari’s imagery is utterly allegorical and was meant to depict the largely inexplicable through bold metaphor and imagery2 Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (1707–1746, known as “Ramchal”) also understood that. As he put it at one point, “The science of Kabbalah is only (meant) to (have one) understand how the Supreme Will governs, and (to explain) why G-d created all the various beings (found here), what He expects of them, what will come about at the end of the universal cycle, and how these worldly phenomena are to be explained” (Klach Pitchei Chochma 30).

So, Ramchal set out to articulate the Ari’s various points one by one in several of his works, but most especially, vividly, and successfully in Da’at Tevunot, the book that forms the basis of this work 3For rather than explain all the minutia of the Ari’s imagery there, what he set out to explain was G-d’s interactions with humankind while drawing on Ari’s revelations in lieu of his terminology.

3. Ramchal fashioned Da’at Tevunot in the form of an exchange between a Soul and Reason, and had the Soul ask Reason to explain some of the most important themes in Jewish Thought, known as “The Thirteen Fundamentals of the (Jewish) Faith” as elucidated by Rabbi Moshe Maimonides (1135-1204) 4.

But rather than ask for an explanation of all thirteen of them, the Soul only wanted clarification of a few of the more pressing ones that touch on our relationship to G-d, as we’ll see.

The truth of the matter is that while Ramchal did indeed explain these themes, he actually used them to explain some of the greatest and most vital themes of all: how we might know G-d’s ways and the ways He administers the cosmos, how to draw close to Him, why we were created, and how we might perfect ourselves. For, we’re instructed to “know the G-d of your father, and (to) serve Him with a whole heart and a willing mind” (1Chronicles 28:9), and Ramchal set out to facilitate that with this work.

But that actually ties in with what we cited above as well. All of the above is discussed in the Ari’s writings (as well as in the works of other great Jewish thinkers and kabbalists), but while the Ari explained all of that in his own way, Ramchal thought it necessary to explain it in ways the rest of us could more easily understand.

In point of fact the single greatest theme that Ramchal set out to explain here was G-d’s utter and all-encompassing Sovereignty (his Yichud in Hebrew), as we’ll soon see.

For we were taught that, “I am the L-rd and there is no other; besides Me there is no G-d … there is no one besides Me. I am the L-rd and there is no other” (Isaiah 45:5-7). Ramchal’s point will be that we can hasten the revelation of G-d’s Yichud if we choose to, and that in fact it would behoove us to do just that as believing Jews.

4. A note about the makeup of this work is called for, though. The truth of the matter is that the dialogue form that Ramchal used in Da’at Tevunot is no longer popular or easy to read. It’s too cumbersome and artificial for our tastes, since the questioner (the Soul) seems to act as a mere catalyst for the responder’s (Reason’s) answers and the statements seem too turgid and belabored.

So we’ve taken the liberty of laying out Ramchal’s statements in our own words in the chapters to follow; and we’ve have taken some excursions along the way that either touch upon things that are only mentioned in Da’at Tevunot cursorily which Ramchal went into in more detail elsewhere, or in order to offer our own insights. As such, this work serves as an adaptation of Da’at Tevunot.

1 Understand of course that the Ari didn’t originate the terms he used, as his revelations came after many centuries of other Kabbalists’ writings. The point is that he has come to be taken as the Kabbalist par excellence, and the one upon whose authority many others have based their own kabbalistic writings.
2 See Rabbi Chaim of Volzhin’s Nephesh HaChaim 3:7; see a letter written by Rabbi Avraham Simcha of Stislav cited in Da’at Tevunot – Sefer HaKlallim p. 236 (along with a discussion of Rabbi Chaim Vitale’s awareness of the issue); also see Rabbi Chaim Friedlander’s Iyyunim (#61) on p. 214 of his edition of Da’at Tevunot for a discussion of the parabolic nature of prophetic visions in general.
3 Da’at Tevunot was first printed in Warsaw, Poland in 1889 by the well known scholar and bibliophile, Rabbi Samuel Luria.
4 See Maimonides’ comments to the Mishna, Sanhedrin 10. We’ll expand upon this in Ramchal’s Introduction to follow.


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  1. Da’at Tevunot – The Knowing Heart
    Section 3, Chapter 22 (¶132 – 133)


    In order for all wrong and injustice to eventually be undone in the course of the great universal rectification, a number of enormous and towering “gears” had to be shifted in the heavens [1], depending on whether they’d been configured before Adam and Eve sinned or afterwards [2]. Here’s what happened in those two stages.

    Recall that G-d had set up a series of emanations in the heavens from the first to establish reality as we know it [3]. Before the sin of Adam and Eve, G-d had set up a series of emanations that would contain an equal measure of right and wrong throughout the cosmos, from nearly the very highest reaches downward [4]. It is just that all of their wrong elements were originally set-up to be undone through Adam and Eve’s actions. But the entire system of equal measures of right and wrong was itself undone as a consequence of their failings.


    G-d then instituted another system of emanations that would allow for us to undo Adam and Eve’s sin, and to eventually enable wrong and injustice to be completely undone forever. This second system was comprised of a series of higher and lower rungs.

    The idea was for wrong to go lower and lower along the continuum of rungs and to eventually settle on the bottom-most one, both so that we’d have access to wrong [5] and so that we’d be able to resist it [6]. That system was not to be undone the same way the previous one had been.

    It’s in that realm that we have our work cut out for us. For it’s there where we’re faced with opportunities for good and bad acts, for rectification or ruin. And it’s there that all wrong will be eventually undone in the end, according to G-d’s intentions for the world [7].

    [1] There are several Kabbalistic references to this chapter including Klallim Rishonim 18, R’ Goldblatt’s notes 2,5, and 11 as well as his note 59 on p. 484 of his edition, and R’ Shriki’s notes 95-96 (also see R’ Shriki’s thorough essay on wrong at the end of this section of his edition).

    In fact, we’re hard pressed to explain this arcane chapter other than from a Kabbalistic perspective, since Ramchal is speaking quite clearly about the core backbone elements of the universe that the Kabbalah addresses like Sephirot, Partzufim, and the like. But since Kabbalistic analysis isn’t our intention in this work we’ve settled upon the explanation we offer here which draws largely upon R’ Friedlander’s note 297 and our own conclusions based on Derech Hashem 1:3:8-10 and elsewhere.

    [2] See Ch’s 3:12-17 and the notes there to references to Adam and Eve’s (and the universe’s) change of status.

    [3] See 3:3-3:6.

    [4] Understand of course that the very highest reaches are pure G-dliness, where wrong and the like are utterly irrelevant. The “nearly very highest reaches” did contain some arcane and for all intents and purposes imperceptible but true traces of it. The differences could only be spelled out if we use the Kabbalistic terminology called for, though.

    [5] We’d need to have access to it if we were to have the freedom to chose wrong over right.

    [6] For, wrong would have been too compelling if it hadn’t settled on the lowest reaches of the emanations, and we wouldn’t be free enough in our will to resist it.

    [7] Thus, in response to the question of how G-d will undo wrong and injustice, it’s by allowing humankind to face it and vanquish it by our resistance to it. Should we fail, though, wrong will be undone anyway, but we will have not have earned the merit for having done it.

  2. Da’at Tevunot – The Knowing Heart

    Section 4, Chapter 1


    We’ve learned that all wrong and injustice — all pure evil, all cynical wrongdoing, all disregard for goodness and righteousness, all selfishness and hatefulness — will be undone in the end, and that G-d’s presence will eventually be conspicuous and oh-so right there. But what’s a human to do in the in the interim; and what sort of system will serve society for the meanwhile?

    Thus we learn that G-d established a system of justice after He’d set out the parameters of wrong and injustice. So it’s time now to lay out the details of that system and to explain the sorts of rewards and punishments that go along with it [1]. This second “tract”, if you will, is the realm in which we live out our moral and religious lives right now and that determines our destiny — for the meanwhile [2].


    Understand of course that G-d has no need for such a system Himself to be sure, and that He’s utterly unaffected by it. As it’s said, “If you sin, how does that affect him? … If you are righteous, what do you give Him?” (Job 35:6-7).

    He simply instituted a system that we would need, with notions of right and wrong as well as appropriate reward and punishment, and that would grant us insight into what would help or harm us spiritually. For though G-d doesn’t need us to do anything per se; He simply wants our input and loves it when we’re advanced [3].

    So G-d instituted the moral and spiritual system of right and wrong in which we struggle to better ourselves, our world, and our relationship to Him; where people occupy different spiritual planes, and where they’re exposed to various means of rectifying things and to all the other elements of that system.


    But all that obviously called for the setting-up of a series of complex essentials like appropriate reward and punishment and the like. After all, there’d need to be a way to determine which reward is to be granted for which particular good act and what punishment each wrongful act deserves; which realm each reward or punishment is to play itself out, which is to say in the here-and-now or in the Afterlife; how close to or far from G-d each act is to bring its perpetrator; how to undo harm; how to repent for one’s own wrongdoing, or the sort of misfortune that anyone who doesn’t repent would have to bear be rectified; etc. All of that would be needed as long as wrong and injustice reign.

    Nonetheless the point still remains that hidden within this system and moving at its own pace deep within and far in the background is the other system — the one that will eventually allow for G-d’s Yichud to hold full sway and to undo all wrong and injustice. The point is that we’d need to be aware of both of these fundamental systems if we’re to understand G-d’s plan for this universe.


    [1] For Kabbalistic references see R’ Friedlander’s notes 304 and 306; R’ Goldblatt’s notes 8 and 21, as well as note 60 on p. 485 of his edition and notes 2-3 on p. 268 there; and R’ Shriki’s note 98.

    [2] See 1:14-16 where we laid out G-d’s two modes of functioning in the world: openly and clandestinely. While those chapters focused on both modes by comparing and contrasting them, Ramchal is about to explicate the latter, when reward and punishment form the backdrop behind everything we experience before our eyes (as well as what lies deep in the background).

    [3] The Midrash raises the following point. “What does G-d care whether someone slaughters an animal on precisely the right spot on the neck rather than another before eating it? Will slaughtering it on one spot benefit Him while doing it on another one harm Him? Does G-d truly care whether someone eats a non-kosher animal or a kosher one?… (The point of the matter is that) mitzvot were given to purify G-d’s creatures (and not for His sake)” (Midrash Tanchuma, Parshat Shemini).

  3. Da’at Tevunot – The Knowing Heart

    Section 4, Chapter 2


    Let’s start to explore the details of reward and punishment. In general, the system is rooted in an originator, G-d Almighty, and ourselves as recipients. We will dwell on G-d’s role for some time (first in general and then more specifically), then touch on our own [1].


    G-d interacts with us in infinite numbers of ways, but in general He does so lovingly, firmly, or by a combination of the two. For even when He’s exacting in His expectations of us it’s still-and-all done with loving intentions, as we’re told that “the L-rd your G-d disciplines you as a man disciplines his son” (Deuteronomy 8:5). That’s to say that G-d does indeed chastise us at times, but with our own well-being in mind, and with the insight and deep love one would expect of a caring, worldly-wise parent — certainly without malice or vengeance.

    That sort of chastisement is meant to blunt any harm that would come our way had we not been forewarned and forestalled. And it’s always rooted in the recognition of what’s ultimately good for us and of our ultimate aim in life [2].

    G-d also knows of course when we simply can’t shoulder His expectations, and so He oftentimes withholds His chastisements in great mercy and sympathy.

    So we’d need to explore the full gamut of all that.


    [1] For Kabbalistic references see Klallim Rishonim 20-21, R’ Goldblatt’s note 9, and R’ Shriki’s notes 99-100.

    [2] Some are troubled in our day by the whole notion of G-d chastising us for our own good and of His always having our well-being in mind, given modern circumstances. There are no easy answers for that, but just know that a major component of Ramchal’s thinking is that everything will prove to have been for the ultimate good in the end even if we don’t understand at the time. For a full treatment of Ramchal’s discussions of this in nearly all of his works (Da’at Tevunot included), see R’ Yoseph Avivi’s Zohar Ramchal pp. 89-294.

    We’d also add this statement from Bachya Ibn Pakudah’s The Duties of the Heart, “If you would only realize … that your Creator … knows better than you ever could what is good for you and what is not, you would accept each favor bestowed and would have more and more heart-felt gratitude” (3:6).

  4. Da’at Tevunot – The Knowing Heart

    Section 4, Chapter 3


    The easiest way to understand how G-d metes out justice in the world is to compare it to the way any originator of one thing or another interacts with his product. In fact, Ramchal makes a point of underscoring just how symbolic the whole idea of being an “originator” is in the Tradition [1].

    Basing himself on Rambam’s insights, Ramchal points out that aside from their literal meanings, the terms “offshoots”, “products”, or “children” of an originator have all sorts of implications (see Guide for the Perplexed 1:7). They could refer to part of a natural process, as in “Before the mountains were ‘born’ … ” (Psalms 90:2); they could refer to part of a thought process, as in “he …’gives birth’ to lies” (Psalms 7:15); and the like.

    Indeed, the idea of “giving birth” to a lie, as in the last example, or to having any idea for that matter is especially illustrative of the point Ramchal wants to make here about G-d’s ways in the world. For, anyone who comes up with an idea that actually produces things is to be credited with everything that results from it. After all, it was he who “gave birth to” — all the latent results of his idea.

    But there’s a whole other layer of things to consider here. Because not only should the originator of the idea be credited with having brought all the effects to fruition, he’s also to be credited with having made it possible for the effects of his idea to become perfectly realized — to reach their full potential. And that too touches upon what Ramchal will eventually be driving at, as we’ll see. But first this other point.


    As Ramchal words it here, and as we’d learned before [2], “everything in existence is connected to everything else”, “they each derive from each other”, and “the lot of them are inexorably linked and form a single unit that depends on all of its parts to be whole” and fully-functional.

    It follows then that nothing is an isolated phenomenon and that everything has to be considered in its context — as well as by what preceded it and “gave birth” to it, and enables it to achieve its full potential, to use the reference points we made above.

    The point of the matter is that each time G-d interacts with the world we’re not only to consider that particular act but everything else connected to it as well, along with everything it could “give birth to”. Because G-d takes all that into account, as well as what might be “perfectly realized” as a result of it, when He acts.

    So, while a quite logical and anticipated effect of a particular action might come about in the course of G-d’s interactions, sometimes, and quite unexpectedly, something with deeper implications which is rooted in things beyond our understanding might pop up. And either one might lead to the perfect realization of this or that.

    Again, the point is that all of this touches upon some of the things that contribute to G-d’s administration of reward and punishment, and it will go a long way toward explaining Divine Justice in the face of apparent injustice.


    [1] See Klallim Rishonim 22 for this chapter’s Kabbalistic underpinnings as well as R’ Goldblatt’s note 13, and note 61 on p. 485 of his edition; and R’ Shriki’s notes 101-103 (which explain the next few chapters in this light).

    [2] As we wrote, “As Ramchal depicts it in the text, everything in this world functions like a particular piece of a great and mighty clock — from dials, to gears, to screws, to pendulums, etc., all connected, in contact with each other piece, and all functioning in tandem” (3:9:2). Also see 3:18.

  5. Da’at Tevunot – The Knowing Heart

    Section 4, Chapter 4 (¶142 [beg.])


    As things stand now, the world is based on a system of Divine Justice, which is to say, an arrangement of particular rewards and punishments for specific actions that’s rooted in G-d’s assessments [1]. Without it, the world would return to the state of primordial “formlessness and emptiness” (Genesis 1:2). In fact, Divine Justice is one of the underlying principles of reality as we know it and one of the hallmarks of G-d’s presence in this world.

    As such a lot has been said about that system in the Tradition. It’s affirmed for example that “G-d … has established His throne for judgment, and He judges the world with righteousness” (Psalms 9:8-9); that He’s “known for the judgment that He enacts” (Ibid. v. 17); that He “has established His throne for judgment and judges the world with righteousness” (Psalms 9:8-9); that He is “exalted through justice” (Isaiah 5:16); and that He “establishes the land through justice” (Proverbs 29:4).

    The point is that it would be beneath the Creator and harmful for the world if He were to somehow allow wrongdoers to hold sway and for the righteous to be subservient to them. And it’s only right that His justice reigns, and it’s manifest that the good should do well and the bad should do poorly. As it’s written, “The city rejoices when all goes well with the righteous, and there is joy when the wicked perish” (Proverbs 11:10). But as we all know, it doesn’t always work that way.

    Instead, the world seems to be over-covered by an ethical miasma, G-d seems to be “asleep”, and we anxiously await the moment when we’ll be able to say, “then G-d awoke as if He’d been asleep … and He smote His adversaries back” (Psalms 78:65-66). But as we’d been learning until now, there’s a reason for all that.


    For, had he wanted to, G-d could very well have created a fair and affable — a perfect — world in which only good reigned from the first. But if that were the case, there couldn’t be any wrongful or harmful things there whatsoever, only good and pure ones — as will be the case eventually, when the world will be awash in Divine benevolence and humankind will serve G-d routinely and as a matter of course [2]. So G-d allowed for wrongdoing.

    But had G-d simply waited for the wrongful to have their fill of sin and for the world to return to a state of “formlessness and emptiness” as a consequence, and then simply undid the wicked, that wouldn’t have been righteous or just either. In fact, it would be very cruel indeed on His part. Instead, G-d allows for wrongdoers, but He looks forward to their repentance and ultimate well-being.

    Indeed, G-d loves humanity and He allows for a process of ultimate perfection to work itself out … albeit slowly. Despite the wait, we’re assured that it will come about.


    It’s just a fact that G-d oftentimes lies hidden in the background, while wrong and injustice seem to triumph, and the world seems to spin lower and lower. The underlying point, though, is that G-d is fully aware of all that, otherwise the whole of it would all have been undone by now.

    But His intentions are benevolent, and He only has us suffer for the best of reasons, as we’d indicated [3], and He most assuredly wants the world to go on, even at its lowest reaches. For despite that, His will reigns supreme, and nothing can countervail His wishes even if wrong and evil seem to be in command (G-d forbid).

    Don’t misunderstand: it’s clear that evil does seem to hold sway, and that the wrongful are often rewarded (or are at least allowed to get away with their mayhem). But know that there is a Divine plan at play that’s rich in deep wisdom which we’ll be able to catch glimpses of from time to time as we focus in these next several chapters upon the way G-d governs this world.

    [1] See Klallim Rishonim 23 for the Kabbalistic references that apply to this and the next several chapters. Also see R’ Friedlander’s Iyyun 35, R’ Goldblatt’s note 6 (and note 62 on p. 485 of his edition), and R’ Shriki’s notes 104-106.

    [2] That is, we’ll serve Him that way rather than by conviction come upon after a struggle of faith and the subsequent decision that serving Him is the right thing to do when that wouldn’t be manifest. His point here is that the appropriateness of serving G-d will be manifest once the world will have reached perfection.

    [3] See 4:2 above.

  6. Da’at Tevunot – The Knowing Heart

    Section 4, Chapter 5 (¶142 [cont.])


    To be sure, G-d Almighty, whose will is absolute and who is aware of everything and its consequences, allowed for wrong and injustice just as much as for goodness and beneficence; they are all part of His plan. He likewise allowed for the triumph of right over wrong in society and within the human heart that enables wrongdoing to be withstood and overcome, and for justice and righteousness to exist [1].

    Indeed, had G-d allowed wrong and injustice to prevail so utterly that He would have come to despise humanity and this world, and to thus reject it outright, the world and its opportunities for possible excellence and justice would be undone. G-d would simply have destroyed it. And it would have been as if it had never been. That is, it would not simply be erased, if you will — indeed all “record” of it would be destroyed, and it would never have been. Instead, the world goes on, and G-d’s will is done.


    Fortunately, though, G-d will eventually interact with us on a whole other level. There will come a time when the world will have achieved perfection, as we’d indicated, when the entire order of things will be nothing like it is now. Wrong and injustice will simply not exist, the cruel need to injure will no longer sit deep in the human heart and soul, no one will either harm or be harmed.

    The world will be wholly and eternally rectified, and ready for this other order of governance. Since wrong and injustice would have ended, there will no longer be a need for the pursuit of justice. Everything will be mercy-, love- and compassion-based. Whatever holiness and goodness that is hidden-away now in the darkness of our world will be manifest then when “G-d’s Glory will be revealed” (Isaiah 40:5).


    The truth remains, though, that that’s not the case now. And it has occurred to nearly all of us that perhaps the world should be destroyed (G-d forbid) as it stands now; that it doesn’t deserve any of the great mercy G-d displays upon it now by allowing it to go on; that it should be judged honestly in light of its crimes, oppressions, and raw cruelties. Given the state of humanity and the ways of the world now, with so many “wild forest beasts” foraging about, as Ramchal terms them, perhaps that opinion is right; perhaps G-d shouldn’t continue to bestow His mercy on it by allowing it to go on in its cruel, cruel ways. But it does go on indeed, simply because G-d wills it to.

    In a way, though, G-d has all-but willed away the world even now; for the goodness and mercy that G-d bestows by allowing the universe its existence is still and all a very slim, shrill and attenuated fraction of His true mercy and loving-kindness. Would that we could enjoy the full flow of G-d’s tender mercies in our daily lives, and bask in His effulgent light. Instead, all we do is endure, though no one should take any of that for granted, to be sure. But the bare and thin kindness He allows the world, given its injustices and cruelties, is enough to allow for life as we know it and its own short-lived, cold breezes. And that’s enough to forestall the return to the state of “formlessness and emptiness” we’d alluded to earlier.

    Nonetheless, if we were to take a step back and catch sight of the various stages in which G-d has governed the universe in either a concealed or revealed manner we’d notice a distinct pattern, Ramchal points out. At bottom there are five stages in all, as we’ll see, from beginning to end.

    [1] Much of what is enunciated in this and the previous chapter has been spoken of before, and more than once at that. See note 4 to 3:5 above for an encapsulation of much of it.

    Ramchal’s purpose in these chapters, though, is to dramatize the human experience in the course of all these Divine machinations. His essential point herein — as it has been throughout this work — is to assure us all that G-d has His reasons for what He does, there is a Divine plan behind everything, the good will be rewarded, evil will be undone, and G-d will reveal His presence in the end.

    The truth be told, there are very few among us who don’t need to hear that again and again, so it’s our contention that while some readers might be put off by the repetition, a hungry inquisitive soul cannot help but delight in his “favorite dishes” being served again and again.

  7. Da’at Tevunot – The Knowing Heart

    Section 4, Chapter 6 (¶142 [conc.] 146 [middle])


    The first of the five major epochs of time is termed the “two thousand years of chaos” or lawlessness [1]. It’s epitomized by the period in cwhich we were enslaved in Egypt, since it’s the time when “G-d’s presence was (so) completely concealed from the world” that it seemed “as if He’d abandoned (it) and was neither observing or paying attention to humankind’s actions” as Ramchal portrays it [2]. Divine Justice just didn’t seem to hold sway in the world.

    But that wasn’t the case, for the truth of the matter is that we had to experience slavery for various reasons, so Divine justice did operate indeed then (though in more obscure ways) [3]. For at bottom G-d always indeed pays attention to and reflects upon His creatures “whom He loves dearly”, Ramchal assures us. It’s just that in the course of that first era G-d hid His presence most especially, withheld His full justice, and allowed for lawless chaos.


    Before we go on to lay out the other epochs of time, though, we’ll need to raise the following question: How could G-d be said to have exhibited Justice on any level then, given that His presence was hidden, thus ensuring that wrongdoing would come about [4]?

    But G-d could have reacted to wrongdoing of that level in two ways. He could have allowed it to get so completely out of hand that it would seem to have taken over the reins all together (G-d forbid), or He could have seen to it that while it would indeed go on, wrongdoing would still and all serve a good and purposeful end.

    Ramchal underscores the fact that G-d chose the latter. He allowed for injustice to go on, but He set things up so that it would eventually serve His ultimate goal of eventual perfection. He instituted a Torah-based system of recompense that would purge the human soul of sin in the meanwhile, yet eventually allow for full goodness.

    The point is that G-d’s hiding His presence in the course of the two thousand years of chaos didn’t ensure wrongdoing — it allowed for it to be sure, but it also allowed for recompense for it and for justice to eventually reign [5].

    Don’t consider G-d stern and stringent, though, for things could have functioned wholly otherwise. Anyone guilty of wrong and injustice could be utterly blotted out and obliterated rather than forced to suffer commensurately. But that would not fit into G-d’s plans for the rectified world.


    Just recall that despite His turning His back from it from time to time, G-d doesn’t at all abhor the world or ever wish for it to be undone. He may seem to “disappear”, to be sure, but He always steers the world in the direction of perfection.

    And know too that just as Jacob bewailed the loss of his beloved son Joseph who seemed gone forever (Genesis 37:34) when he needn’t have in fact, since Heaven was planning great things for Joseph and his people, so too is G-d readying our deliverance right now even as He allows for wrongdoing.

    [1] See Sanhedrin 97a for reference to this. Also see R’ Goldblatt’s note 45 here (as well as notes 62-63 on p. 485 of his edition) and R’ Shriki’s notes 1110-111 for Kabbalistic references.

    [2] That is, given that the descendants and Abraham, Isaac and Jacob couldn’t fulfill their ancestors’ mission to spread word of G-d’s oneness and omnipotence; and given that idols were fervently worshiped and a human being — Pharaoh — declared himself to be G-d, it seemed as if G-d had indeed deserted the world.

    There were periods of time within the 2000 year epoch when Divine Justice did certainly seem to be in place, as when Adam and Eve, Noah’s generation, and the generation of Tower of Babel were judged and made to account for their ways. But that was overshadowed by the terrible injustice of the centuries-long enslavement of the Jewish Nation.

    [3] We had to endure the tribulations of slavery to be ready enough to draw close to G-d and inherit His Torah much the way anyone on a vital mission has to be in shape, toughened, and weathered enough to handle the exigencies of the task ahead of him. (Also see the reference to Joseph’s ironic role in all that at the end of this chapter.) [4] That is, how could G-d have been said to have exhibited loving kindness and justice in that instance when we’ve learned that G-d’s hiding His presence is the very thing that brings on all wrong and injustice in the first place (see 3:3:2 and elsewhere)?

    [5] Which answers the question above of how could G-d be said to have exhibited Justice then, given that His presence was hidden, and wrongdoing was thus sure to come about as a consequence.

  8. Da’at Tevunot – The Knowing Heart

    Section 4, Chapter 7


    “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” Ramchal underscores.

    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 [1].


    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” [2].

    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 [3].

    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 [4].

    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 [5].

    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.

    [1] 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.

    [2] See 4:6:1 and its source as noted in the footnote there.

    [3] See those enunciated for example in Pirkei Avot 5:7.

    [4] 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.

    [5] 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 specific moment.

  9. Da’at Tevunot – The Knowing Heart

    Section 4, Chapter 8


    Like all other instances of justice, Divine Justice is either administered strictly, appropriately, or mercifully. The thing about it though is that there are different rules by which justice is meted out. And they depend on the case itself and its parties, and on other mitigating factors, too (some of which have to do with the case, and others of which have absolutely nothing to do with it but rather with other considerations which the people involved might know nothing about that must be taken into account, as when a judge factors-in character references, past actions, etc.)[1].

    In fact, it’s mitigating factors that show up the most when it comes to Divine Justice. After all, G-d has His own ways, plans, and expansive and profound intentions that go far beyond any of us, and they always factor into everything He does here on earth.

    Ramchal compares that to our own makeup. He points out that while we’re all basically alike, we’re nonetheless each comprised of unique details. Not only is that so, but each detail might also has a particular quirk. So for example, while the great majority of us have two arms, our right arms don’t exactly match our left, and some parts of our left arm, let’s say, aren’t exactly in synch with the other parts of that very same arm.

    The point is that while we all deserve fair and equitable treatment, what’s fair to one of us is decidedly unfair to another, and what’s indeed fair on the surface of things to two different people in the regular course of things may prove to be unfair to one of them in a certain special situation. And G-d alone knows all of that and contends with it all in His administration of justice in the universe.

    At bottom, sometimes we perceive Him as judging a particular situation strictly, other times as mercifully, and other times as simply appropriately. But we’re really not privy to the details that factored into that so our experience of what’s going on may be askew.


    The problem lies in us, to be sure, and not in Him. For, while G-d is always just, we sometimes see that for ourselves, and other times not. Ramchal compares it, interestingly enough, to the differences between our experience of the Shabbat or the Holy Days, and our experience of regular weekdays. Let’s explain.

    As anyone who has experienced a full and meaningful Shabbat or Yom Tov knows very well, the day is often electric, warm, and decidedly distinct from regular weekdays. Why is that? Because, as Ramchal explains it, G-d allows His presence to manifest itself more openly in the course of each holy day, which is not the case on weekdays.

    For while we can indeed perceive G-d’s presence on weekdays (for example, during prayer and Torah study, and as a consequence of deep reflection), we’re less likely to perceive it then than we would on Shabbat or Yom Tov, since it’s we ourselves who would have to consciously work at it, whereas G-d’s presence is more patently manifest on those holy days and we wouldn’t have to concentrate upon it as much to recognize it.

    And so, just as G-d manifests His presence more so at certain times than at others, He likewise seems to manifest Divine Judgment more openly in certain instances than in others, simply because circumstances demand one degree of manifestation over another.

    Just understand that everything that happens to us — and in fact, everything we’re comprised of — is rooted in G-d’s governance and His intentions for the universe.


    Recall that the world as we experience it seems to be rooted in darkness and degradation (though it’s actually rooted in high Light and spiritual nobility, to be sure). Recall as well that everything in this world was created at G-d’s will and bidding. And so while we might certainly experience things as unjust and wrongful, we’re to know that things could very well have been openly fair and just from the first, but they weren’t set up that way at the outset for a specific reason. And that reason is rooted in wisdom and in our own ultimate needs. So, let’s delve into that mystery.


    [1] Let’s follow the flow of ideas here again. The two previous chapters had taken a side path and laid out the five epoch periods of G-d’s governance. We now return to certain themes laid out in this section’s earlier chapters touching on the makeup and workings of Divine Justice.

    And so this and the next few chapters will be returning to ideas offered above that G-d “instituted a system … of right and wrong as well as appropriate reward and punishment (which) would grant us insight into what would help or harm us spiritually” (4:1:2); that He “interacts with us in infinite numbers of ways, but in general He does so lovingly, firmly, or by a combination of the two” (4:2:2); that “each time G-d interacts with the world we’re not only to consider that particular act but everything else connected to it as well…. Because G-d takes all that into account … when He acts” (4:3:2); that “had he wanted to, G-d could very well have created a … world in which only good reigned from the first” (4:4:2), and more.

    See R’ Friedlander’s Iyyun #36 here for Kabbalistic references here, as well as R’ Shriki’s note 117, and R’ Goldblatt’s notes 3 and 11.

  10. Da’at Tevunot – The Knowing Heart

    Section 4, Chapter 9


    When G-d wants Divine Justice to function outright on a day to day basis, He has it play itself out within the system of reward and punishment that we fully expect. That’s when good people enjoy peace of mind, well-being, and some modicum of prosperity for having done all the right things, while bad people suffer the opposite for having done wrong again and again [1].

    Life itself seems “right”, “fair”, and “just” then, and few of us question G-d’s ways under those circumstances. The point is to be made, though, that when that system is in place humankind is clearly open to goodness or wrongfulness, and is responsible for its ethical decisions.

    That won’t be the case, though, when G-d eventually exhibits His overarching mercy and beneficence. We’d be utterly incapable of doing harm or suffering the consequences of them when that functions, because wrong and injustice will simply no longer exist [2]. We’ll be exalted beings then who will be “beyond” free will and incapable of wrong..

    Given these two different realities, it’s clear then that man’s ethical standing depends on our interactions with G-d’s presence. For, while we’re capable of lowliness when G-d’s presence is more hidden, we’re only capable of sure loftiness when His presence is manifest.


    Still and all, G-d seems to have laid a trap for us by placing us in this material world with all of its prospects for wrongdoing. But as we’d said several times, He did that to allow us the free will we’d need to draw close to Him of our own volition.

    In point of fact, the material world isn’t all darkness and risk. There are heaps and heaps of Divine Light strewn all about it, to be sure. And many, many things are a blend of light and dark with enough light in the mix to make all the difference. After all, there’s honestly motivated intellectual curiosity and stark wonder here, there’s Torah (which fosters a wholly other class of intellectual curiosity and wonder), instances of Divine Inspiration [3], and there are all sorts of phenomena here that are not altogether in keeping with materiality (including love).

    And so the world is a fulsome concoction of light and darkness, of the holy and the profane. The essential difference between them is the degree of G-d’s presence: the more electric and sure the experience of His presence and beneficence, the holier the event; and the less electric and sure, the more mundane.


    Interestingly enough what we derive from that is the notion that when G-d wants the world to function under a system of justice He subsumes His own actions to humankind’s, in a manner of speaking. For when we’re good He reacts one way, yet He reacts another way when we’re bad; as if it were we who were leading this dance and He were taking direction from us if one would dare say as much. When the time comes for G-d to allow His full mercy to rule and His presence to be manifest, though, His sovereignty will reign supreme and He won’t “need” to react to anything whatsoever, and everything will be fully sanctified.


    [1] Understand of course that this is a black and white portrayal; that most of us are both righteous and wrongful by degrees; and that bad things do indeed happen to the good and vice versa. The point is that when Divine Justice holds sway, each and every act of goodness is indeed rewarded and every act of wrong is recompensed for one way or another whether we know it or not.

    For Kabbalistic references see R’ Friedlander’s note 365 and R’ Shriki’s note 119.

    [2] It might seem unfair, too “liberal” of G-d to our minds for Him to manifest so much mercy that wrongdoing would go unpunished at that point. But the truth is that we ourselves will be of a whole other stripe and would consider that simply just.

    [3] Ramchal’s himself enjoyed a large measure of Divine Inspiration (aside from the sort that all gifted and especially astute students of Torah enjoy). As is widely know, a “Maggid” (an angelic presence) presented itself to Ramchal when he was a young man who solved many Torah mysteries for him, and guided his writings and thoughts.

  11. Da’at Tevunot – The Knowing Heart

    Section 4, Chapter 10


    Before G-d’s sovereignty will reign supreme (which will be the feature par excellence of the ultimate reality, as we’d said), it’s important to lay out the different ways G-d will have interacted with us from the first, which we’d cited above briefly.

    He grants us pure physicality, which tantalizes the eyes and flouts its wares day after day [1]. He also confers out-and-out spirituality to us, though it’s so rare. And He likewise allows us things that are a combination of the two, like the mostly though not purely spiritual things we referred to before, despite the calamitous materiality of the world [2].

    But understand that the latter sort isn’t at all like the truly holy, as the mostly-spiritual is very different. For, while the purely spiritual is capable of undoing the darkness it’s that effulgent, the mostly spiritual just can’t do that. And that’s because while the mostly spiritual is an offshoot of pure holiness, to be sure, it’s nevertheless only that and no more.


    For as we’d explained, the more abundant the presence of G-d is in a phenomenon, the greater the spirituality there, and the less abundant His presence, the less spiritual. So, when something is only mostly spiritual, only a limited amount of Divine presence was in it, which explains why it simply hasn’t the wherewithal to undo darkness. In any event, know that the allowance of pure materiality is just as much a miracle as that of pure spirituality and of the nearly-spiritual.

    It’s also important to know that, invariably, one of the three predominates over the others at any given moment (be it purely material, spiritual, or mostly-spiritual), sometimes more and other times less so, depending on circumstances and G-d’s will. And each has its own consequences and ramifications, which then send off a slew of their own consequences and ramifications — and all according to G-d’s will.


    Now, this switching-off between the spiritual, the profane, and the nearly-spiritual plays itself out most dramatically in specific time periods, like in the course of the Shabbat and the Holy Days as opposed to weekdays, for example. For, spirituality suffuses the Shabbat and the Holy Days and defines them, since G-d’s presence can best be sensed then; while weekdays are full of all sorts of mundane elements and themes simply because we can’t sense Him there all that much at those times [3].


    [1] Though materiality is lower in grade than spirituality it still and all helps it perform. See this classical representation of the necessary partnership of spirit and material, body and soul: “Antoninus once said to Rebbe: ‘The body and the soul can both escape judgment! Why, the body can say: ‘It was the soul who sinned! From the day it separated from me I lie still like a stone in the grave!’ And the soul can say: ‘It was the body who sinned! From the day I separated from it I speed through the air like a bird (so why did G-d join them together?)'”.

    Rebbe responded thusly: “To what can this situation be likened? To a human king who had a beautiful garden with fine figs in it. He set two guards over it, one blind and the other lame. Once, the lame guard said to the blind one: ‘I see fine figs in the garden! Come, give me a lift and together we’ll get them to eat!’ So, the lame guard rode on the back of the blind one, and they got the dates and ate them. Days later the owner of the garden came and said to them: ‘Where are those fine figs?’ The lame guard said: ‘Do I have feet to walk with (so how could I have taken it)?’ And the blind guard said to him: Do I have any eyes to see with (so how could I have taken it)?’ What did (the king) do? He lifted the lame guard onto the back of the blind one and judged them both as one. So too will the Holy One, blessed be He, bring the soul and place it in the body and judge them both as one” (Sanhedrin 91b).

    For Kabbalistic references to this chapter see R’ Friedlander’s Iyyun 38 on p. 153 of his edition, R’ Greenblatt’s note 28, and R’ Shriki’s note 120.

    [2] See 2:11, which referred to the five stages of universal and human development to which these three essential aspects allude.

    [3] The same is true of specific times of the day as well, though Ramchal doesn’t address that here. The times we set aside for prayer, contemplation, Torah-study, and the like act as islands of the Shabbat and Holy Days in the course of the weekday.

  12. Da’at Tevunot – The Knowing Heart

    Section 4, Chapter 11


    While the sky may change from blue to mauve, to gray, to black in the course of a single morning; and the air may change from cool to cold, to tepid, to warm in an hour; our spiritual status isn’t all that variable. Before we can get on with our discussion of Divine Justice we’d need to review a few points about that.

    For while each generation differs from the other, each person, each circumstance, each environment, etc., varies from each other, at bottom there’ll prove to have been only two over-arching human states before everything will change for good with the revelation of G-d’s sovereignty: our Pre- and Post-Tree-of-Knowledge states.

    As we said, things changed drastically when Adam and Eve sinned [1]. In fact, Ramchal says that our spirituality now is on par with Adam and Eve’s materiality before their sin, they were that angelic. Our task is to return to the Pre-Tree-of-Knowledge state, of course. But given that “the world will certainly arise from of its low state” in the end, as Ramchal asserts, and given that everything is thus heading in that direction, we are too.


    It’s also important to understand that things — and we — would need to be rebuilt and rectified from the bottom up. All sorts of radiance would need to pour downward from up above down there first, though only as much as the bottom could bear, until it would grow used to the new light and gladly accept it. The process will then continue onward and upward like that, step by tentative step.

    Knowing this, we can go ahead with our explanation of G-d’s system of justice and His love, and of His overall governance as well [2].


    [1] See 3:22 and the references cited in the notes there.

    [2] See 4:2:2, 4:4:2, and 4:6:1 for mention of G-d’s love.

  13. Da’at Tevunot – The Knowing Heart

    Section 4, Chapter 12

    G-d’s love for us — which is effulgent, wide, and (frankly) unfathomable — is still and all often tinged with a strict insistence on this or that. For like a parent who wants his child to be good, wise, and faultless, G-d would have us follow the goodly path He laid out for us, and thus rewards us when we follow suit and punishes us when we don’t (though of course He’d rather not have to punish us) [1].

    He’d also prefer that we follow a judicious, more temperate path of neither over-reach nor under-achievement (known as “The Golden Mean”). So along the very same lines, He often acts judiciously and kindly (a sort of “Golden Mean” of its own) toward us, though He’s inclined toward tolerance and acceptance.

    The point of the matter is that when He determines that we’re to be punished for one thing or another, that judgment is often tempered and toned down; and that He often gives way to His tender love for us despite us, for as it’s written “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion” (Exodus 33:19) — often whether he deserves it or not (see Berachot 20a, Rosh Hashanah 17b) [2].

    So we see that Divine Justice is meted out in one of three overarching ways: tolerantly (i.e., the way of chessed as it’s termed), intolerantly (i.e., the way of gevurah), or judiciously (i.e., the way of rachmanut).


    [1] See Klallim Rishonim 24 for the Kabbalistic backdrop to this chapter as well as R’ Friedlander’s Iyyun 40; R’ Greenblatt’s very important notes 4-7, 12, as well as his notes 66-70 on p. 485 of his edition; and R’ Shriki’s note 121.

    [2] See 4:2.

  14. Da’at Tevunot – The Knowing Heart

    Section 4, Chapter 13


    “Whoever could see from G-d’s perspective and could sense what He’s thinking when He administers His justice,” Ramchal boldly offers, “would know why He rules the way He does”. He doesn’t mean to say that no one does, since he quickly offers that G-d “reveals His secrets to His prophets” and sages, and that He does indeed “inform them about His administration of justice”. But Ramchal’s point is that the rest of us are simply not privy to any of that. So he goes on to fill us in on some of the details.

    As we’d said, Divine Justice is meted out either lovingly and tolerantly, or strictly and intolerantly (or judiciously, which is a combination of the two). And as we’d also said, G-d’s “natural bent”, if you will, is to judge us lovingly and tolerantly, but that’s often overturned by circumstances in the world.

    A point to keep in mind about that, though, is that’s not simply because things “need” to be that way, as G-d’s sovereignty is utter and complete, and He needn’t do anything. He just decides for that to be so, and it comes about. But let’s examine some of the details of the process.


    As “each and every thing is comprised of details, circumstances, and component parts”, that’s likewise true of Divine Justice, Ramchal remarks. So for example, when G-d’s strictness comes into play, each (earthly and heavenly) detail, circumstance, and component part is taken into consideration; and each is made to fit just-so into G-d’s intentions. We obviously can’t go into every detail involved, but we’ll do what we can to lay out the general rules.

    In short, G-d takes each matter into consideration when administering His justice [1]. After all, some things need to occur, others should, and many others simply can occur; while some other things mustn’t occur, others shouldn’t, and others could occur. At bottom we’re to know that all of that goes into the mix, as well as their consequences.

    Then all the details, circumstances, and component parts we’d spoken of must begin to play their parts after a judgment is rendered. Each is indeed set into motion by G-d’s will, and each is factored into the next phenomenon.


    All those factors feed into the administration of Divine Justice. (The great preponderance of it is frankly beyond our ken, since we’re not privy to the details and know nothing of what needed to be factored-it behind the scenes). And the results often play themselves out with a great rush of wind and a roar of the sea.

    Some things ascend, others descend, and yet others move laterally or not at all. And all at its own pace. But it’s all heading in a single direction: the fulfillment of G-d’s ultimate goal for the universe.

    Just rest assured that behind the “screen”, if you will, lies the very best, most exacting and most judicial blend of leniency and strictness called for under each circumstance.


    [1] See Klallim Rishonim 24 (near the end) for the Kabbalistic themes referred to here, as well as R’ Goldblatt’s notes 6-7, 10-14, and his notes 71-73 on p. 486 of his edition; and R’ Shriki’s notes 124-125.

  15. Da’at Tevunot – The Knowing Heart

    Section 4, Chapter 14

    1. Ramchal almost gives it away here. He says that “those sages who understand the process of G-d’s governance” of the cosmos know something that few others do. They know that G-d has “decreed that there be various (Divine) attributes connected in many and various ways to each other, which the acts (of governance) automatically result from”. That is, that there are Forces acting in the cosmic background that bring about changes here. The rest of us simply don’t know that, is his implication; and he just about says (and this is one of the very few places in Da’at Tevunot where he does), that all of this touches upon ideas enunciated in Kabbalah.

    As we’d indicated all along, our task isn’t to offer that but to explain Da’at Tevunot in terms that the rest us can grasp. So we’ll continue to do that here, with this one exception. Ramchal insists on reiterating that whenever G-d interacts with the world, He doesn’t do so Himself in His full Glory, because His Being is unfathomable, as we’d indicated [1]. So He interacts by means of certain “control switches” if you will, which the Kabbalists refer to as the Sephirot [2]. They are the “(Divine) attributes connected in many and various ways to each other” referred to above.

    In any event, let’s recall that the subject under discussion is Divine Justice. And Ramchal is explaining how G-d administers it through these “control switches”.

    2. His point here is that G-d’s “switches” are all interconnected like chain-links; and they all join in the most intricately and perfectly balanced of ways to accomplish the specific judicial task at hand. Some of them interact linearly, with some acting as the cause of others or products of others still; some interact laterally, affecting each other in turn and by degrees like partners; and others seem to “feed into” or to be “fed by” one another, and the like.

    He offers a down-to-earth illustration of this. He compares it to someone trying to grasp something. The first thing he’d do would be to try to form a picture of it in his mind. But that wouldn’t be enough, as he’d simply be left with a picture of it and nothing else. He’d have to dwell on the idea by taking it apart in his mind element by element, considering and reconsidering the points made, and then reconnecting the parts until he finally grasped the whole thing.

    The same is true of spiritual phenomena, he offers. The “control switches” also need to act as causes and effects to each other the way an image in the mind “causes” the mind to then be affected in such a way that it breaks down the other factors into their various component-parts, to be rejoined piece by piece, with one “feeding” into another or being “fed by” it, and the like. The other point is that just as the mental process is very, very subtle, the spiritual process is too, and even much more so. [3]

    3. In short, as Ramchal encapsulates this section here, the point of the matter is that G-d brought various “control switches” about that are related to each other quantitatively and qualitatively, and all so as to bring about His desired outcomes from beginning to end.

    Some of the interactions between them depend upon our behavior, since they’re reward and punishment based, and thus they allow for wrongfulness. Others of the interactions, though, don’t depend on our deeds and are all meant to bring about the revelation of G-d’s utter sovereignty and the undoing of all wrongfulness we’d referred to several times before.

    The ones that depend on our deeds react to us tolerantly, intolerantly, or judiciously depending of course on the moral quality and quantity of our own actions. Needless to say, there are many and various admixtures of the three that play themselves out instance to instance. And in order to grasp the various processes you’d need to understand the makeup of these “control switches” and the full range of their interactions [4].

    But we’d need to understand our own input even more so, if we’re ever to draw from this information in ways that would benefit our spiritual station, which is the whole point of course. We’ll turn to that in the following section.

    [1] See 1:3:2 above and elsewhere.

    [2] See note 1 to 1:12.

    [3} See R’ Friedlander’s notes 394-395, 397, 399-400 for reference to the Kabbalistic themes alluded to here. For other Kabbalistic references made in this chapter see R’ Goldblatt’s note 10 to the text, and his note 74 on p. 486 of his edition; and see R’ Shriki’s notes 126-127.

    [4] His implication, which is clearer in the original and elsewhere in his writings, is that one is indeed to study Kabbalah.

  16. Da’at Tevunot – The Knowing Heart
    Section 5, Chapter 1

    1. We’d learned about G-d’s interactions with us in great detail in the last section; let’s now delve into our interactions with Him, and see how each affects our common relations [1].

    The most fundamental way that G-d interacts with us is by granting us life, of course. Each moment we’re alive we thus interact with Him on that level at least. Of course that tie isn’t unbound once we die; a different sort of interaction occurs then. But that’s beside our point here.

    What needs to be said actually is that G-d has not only granted us life — He has granted us existence itself, be it before life, in the course of it, or after it. Our very being, not only our lives, is only true because He wills it.

    That’s to say that when a person is born, he’s placed “on record” of sorts: He can never have not have been born, and we fervently believe that he will never cease to have existed after his demise. There’s no undoing of that reality. Had that person not been granted reality though, he’d be on no record whatsoever, if you will.

    It is not simply that all record of his having existed would be lost or undone; there would simply be none.

    Understand as well that the very universe and all of reality also only exists because G-d wants it to as well.

    Ramchal offers us a well-known analogy to that. “For just as the soul keeps the body alive and without it the body would surely be undone” he offers, “G-d’s interactions likewise keep everything ‘alive’, and without them the universe would be undone”. And he adds that that’s why G-d has been termed “The Soul of all souls”.

    That’s to say that G-d’s interactions are the very “engine” and force behind material, spiritual, earthly, heavenly, and other interactions. As we’d put it today, G-d is “behind everything”.

    2. But don’t misunderstand. G-d isn’t “behind” each and every act that occurs throughout the cosmos as if to suggest that He’s the direct cause of everything, because He isn’t. G-d allows for everything, since He alone granted it existence and allows it continued existence. But humankind (along with other elements of creation) also holds sway in the course of things, and we too are responsible for many actions.

    That’s to say that having the freedom to act whichever way we see fit (within our purview; after all we can’t just decide to fly or to disappear, etc.) we too are “behind” many things … though to a less ultimate degree than G-d is. And thus we of our own volition can ascend or descend ethically and spiritually.

    We’ll explore the implications of all that in the chapters to follow.


    [1] See Klallim Rishonim 25 for this chapter’s Kabbalistic references as well as R’ Friedlander’s Iyyun 41; R’ Goldblatt’s notes 2-5, 7 and note 75 on p. 486 of his edition; and R’ Shriki’s notes 128-129.

  17. Da’at Tevunot – The Knowing Heart
    Section 5, Chapter 2 (¶158 [cont.])

    1. We humans are the one element of creation that has the potential for stupendous personal growth and greatness… as well as for clawing lowliness and degradation, the truth be told. As we’re taught, “If you (humankind) are meritorious, the angels will say ‘You come before everything else in creation!’ If (on the other hand) you’re ignoble, the angels will say ‘(Even) the mosquito comes before you!” (Vayikra Rabbah 14:1). For, while wildlife and animals could never rebel against G-d and His values, humankind certainly can [1]. And conversely, we have the wherewithal to cling onto G-d’s Presence and to be pious.

    And our people have the greatest potential of the lot, thanks to our having been granted the Torah. But we also have the terrible potential to fall to the ground and debase ourselves, too. That’s why the Jewish Nation has been likened to both “the stars of the sky” (Genesis 26:4) and “the dust of the earth” (Genesis 13:16), given that we have it within us to either soar heavenward or to fall to the ground (see Megilah 15a).

    That’s because like the rest of humanity, we too have been granted the highest promise, yet we have also been granted the catastrophic resources to lapse (as Adam and Eve did) — but to eventually raise ourselves upwards and to assume our rightful high station.

    2. If you’ll recall, Ramchal had underscored a number of times that the goal par excellence that all of history and all of the movements of the heavens are set to achieve is the revelation of G-d’s supreme sovereignty — that supernal era when all wrong and injustice will be overturned to right and justice [2]. But that could obviously only come about with the introduction of wrong, and with its being overturned eventually.

    Given that, Ramchal offers a profound insight here. As he words it, it’s “the yetzer harah itself” that allows for wrongdoing, and it also — ironically — “allows for its own (eventual) rectification”. After all, without it, we couldn’t do wrong, and couldn’t ultimately do right by undoing the wrong we’d have done with the proddings of the yetzer harah. And so it’s the yetzer harah’s own “(initial) ruination that will prove to be its (eventual) rectification”, as Ramchal puts it, for the yetzer harah’s ruinous makeup will have played a role in the great upsurge of goodness and holiness that will come about in the end.

    3. That having been said it’s nonetheless true that while essentially great, mankind is still and all like the moon that waxes and wanes, and needs the sun for its illumination. For we need to cling onto G-d’s presence to shine and reach our full potential in much the same way.

    There’s just one last point for now regarding our people’s spiritual sustenance, and that’s the following. Ramchal assures us that G-d’s beneficence is directed toward our people most especially; as we have been charged with G-d’s own Torah and thus know how to draw close to Him through it. Thus a lot of that Divine beneficence is directed toward enabling us to cling onto Him indeed — if we take advantage of the opportunity.

    [1] See 1:8:3 (and note 6 there), 1:11(and various notes there), and elsewhere in this work for lengthy discussions about the free will that enables us to make either choice.

    See Klallim Rishonim 26-27 for the Kabbalistic references contained in this chapter; R’ Goldblatt’s notes 20, 22 as well as his note 77 on pp. 486-487 of his edition; and R’ Shriki’s notes 130 and 131 (the latter of which is most enlightening with reference to the subject discussed in the note below).

    [2] See the first note to 1:5 above and elsewhere for discussions about G-d’s sovereignty. The notion of all bad and evil being transformed to goodness in the end is a major theme in Ramchal’s more esoteric writings to be sure, but it’s only cited in Da’at Tevunot at this point (though see 3:6:1 above and elsewhere here for discussions of the undoing of wrong, which is a separate though an obviously related issue).

    We won’t delve into the profound notion of the transformation of wrong to right here simply because Ramchal doesn’t, for one thing, but also because of the depth and breadth of its implications which raise a number of serious issues that wouldn’t abide with just a few remarks.

  18. Da’at Tevunot – The Knowing Heart

    Section 5, Chapter 3 (¶158 [cont.])

    1. “You need to be aware of a major principle about man’s Divine service”, Ramchal cautions, and it’s this. “Each and every person and thing depends upon G-d and His emanations”, so no one is his own master or in total control of his actions, given that G-d grants us all the wherewithal and ability to do anything through those emanations. There’s just one thing that sets humans apart from other created beings and grants us some modicum of independence, though, which is our aforementioned free will. For, as our sages put it, “everything is in the hands of Heaven except the fear of Heaven” (Berachot 33b).

    That means to say that while each and everything in this world is under G-d’s direct control, our reactions to everything on the other hand (termed our “fear of Heaven” to allude to our emotional response to things) are our own and no one else’s. We can react as well and wholesomely or as poorly and noxiously as we care to; that’s up to us alone.

    So while we’re just as dependant on G-d’s emanations as everyone else, we humans do have this one thing over the rest: we’re utterly free enough to make our own moral and spiritual decisions as to how to react to whatever happens to us or around us, and to establish our own stature. But that’s not always true.

    In fact, before we entered this world, when we were pure souls, we too were utterly dependent upon G-d’s dictates and could do nothing on our own. As only an embodied soul — a human being with the full flower of human potential for good or evil — can make his or her own moral and spiritual choices [1]. In its pristine state, the soul hasn’t any independent will and is utterly dependent upon G-d’s own will.

    2. That goes far to explain of course the great merit due the righteous — those who willingly and independently chose good over evil, and reached their full human potential on their own. They’re considered G-d’s “partners” in the work of bettering and eventually perfecting the world. They deserve a lot, and receive it indeed.

    Now, even though the rest of the Jewish Nation isn’t out-and-out righteous, still and all, each one us is righteous to some degree or another and the whole of our people is righteous in the aggregate. That’s why Ramchal refers to us as G-d’s “intimates”, for we too have a share in the ultimate perfection of the world. And we thus enjoy certain privileges that even pure souls do not.

    For while pure souls can be said to cling to G-d in their pristine state as a “privilege” of their naturally high station and are therefore a little “embarrassed”, if you will, by their nature, given that they themselves hadn’t done anything to deserve that high rank [2], we flesh-and blood humans, who have to earn that closeness, needn’t feel embarrassed by the largess granted us since it would have been earned.

    3. Ramchal offers that there’s a very appropriate analogy to the difference between ourselves and pure souls given the above found in the Zohar (1, 5a). It speaks there of some who function as G-d’s more humble servants and others who function as His close servants and intimates. The former call out to the King when they’re in need to be sure, and He answers their requests — but back-handedly, if you will. When the latter, closer servants call out to the King, though, He turns right around to listen to them earnestly and “chats” with them about their needs before fulfilling them.

    The same is true of us. When we’re close to G-d, He faces us in close contact in return, if you will, because we purposefully turn to Him in prayer, in service, and in acts of charity, and because we cling onto His presence in love.

    When we aren’t on that plane though — or before we are, in preparation for it — we’re still “nourished” by G-d through His emanations, much the way pure souls are before they come into this world to earn their merits. But like those souls, we too aren’t spoken to head-on, if you will, by G-d, as we’re not yet deserving of that. It’s only when we will have reached our full human spiritual potential by taking hold of our free will to draw close to Him that we will attach onto His full presence in love.

    Thus we see that there are two ways that both pure souls and humans experience G-d and interact with Him: either head-on or back-handedly.

    [1] See note 6 to 1:8 as well as 1:10:2, 1:11 and elsewhere above for the temporary nature of our free will.

    For Kabbalistic references see Klallim Rishonim 28 as well as R’ Goldblatt’s notes 1, 10, and 17 and his notes 77-80 on pp. 487-488 of his edition, and see R’ Shriki’s seminal note 132 (on free will in a Kabbalistic light).

    [2] See 1:1:3 and note 5 there for a fuller discussion of this element.

  19. Da’at Tevunot – The Knowing Heart

    Section 5, Chapter 4

    1. There is a big difference between doing good because you sense that it is somehow important to, and doing it because you were ordered to. However, there is a psychological difference and a spiritual one; and while the first can sometimes be a bit devious, the second can be highly empowering as we will soon see.

    Ramchal points out that our ability to act on our own free will (which, if you will recall is the subject at hand) was first established at Mount Sinai when we were granted the Torah, and when all the factors subject to free will — mitzvot and their opposite, sins — were set into place [1].

    However, as we alluded to above, our sages pressed the point that there is a difference between “someone who is commanded to fulfill a commandment and does, and one who is not but fulfills it anyway”(Avodah Zara 3a). On a psychological level, one who fulfills it without having to is carefree about it, feels good about himself for being so altruistic, and he is gladdened by the fact that he’s his “own person”. The person who is commanded to fulfill it, on the other hand, feels pressure to do it and do it well and, the truth be told, he sometimes feels pressed upon and “under the gun”, since he may not be personally motivated.

    2. Something wholly otherwise comes into play here on a spiritual level, though, as Ramchal reveals. For one who is indeed commanded to fulfill a commandment and does is somehow granted an inchoate and mystical wherewithal to better the world thanks to that mitzvah, whereas someone who simply decides to do the very same act who’s somehow “unqualified” to do it or has not been appointed to from Above doesn’t manage to accomplish much in the process on a deep level (other than some possible harm, that is).

    Consider the example of a Kohen who had been commanded to fulfill specific and highly significant mitzvot in the Holy Temple. His having done that was for the betterment of the world and it benefitted his own spiritual standing. A non-Kohen who would step in on his own to do that very same act would do terrible harm both to himself and to the world.

    Even if a Kohen was in fact fulfilling a Kohen-specific mitzvah as he should, but he was not wearing the necessary vestments, he too would be doing harm (since the vestments were essential elements of the mitzvah, and by not wearing them he’d be fulfilling a mitzvah that he — since he wasn’t ready for it — wasn’t commanded to).

    The point of the matter is that each element of the world and every aspect of the mitzvot is an element of God’s will that something come about in the universe.. And thanks to that our people have been granted the unfathomable wherewithal to affect all sorts of changes in heaven and earth, to grow closer to G-d in love and to cling onto His presence, and to bring on the ultimate perfection through our free will.


    [1] For Kabbalistic references see Klallim Rishonim 30; and R’ Goldblatt’s notes 1-2 in the text, and his note 82 on pp. 488-489 to his edition.

  20. Da’at Tevunot – The Knowing Heart

    Section 5, Chapter 5

    1. What sets the truly righteous — the tzaddikim — apart from the rest of us is that they consistently use their free will to its best end. They face the same moral and spiritual challenges we each do and they elect to do what’s right, no matter how difficult, while we often don’t. We can undo our poor choices, to be sure, and become righteous ourselves, but unless we do that as consistently as they, we aren’t righteous. We can be good, kind, accepting, and more but we wouldn’t be truly righteous until we also prevail over those challenges.

    Now, the great near-Divine benefit and distinction the tzaddikim enjoy is the fact that they act as G-d’s “partners in rectifying the world”, as Ramchal puts it (see Shir HaShirim Rabbah 5:2). As such, they play a vital role in activating the various phenomena that will eventually have G-d bring about the perfection of all things. But that calls for some explanation [1].

    2. That means to say that with their righteous deeds the tzaddikim are able to activate the various phenomena here on earth that allow for G-d’s great blessings to emanate from Heaven that will set off the great redemption and the perfection of all things.

    As each mitzvah they fulfill and each possible sin they thwart plays another small role in the process. And though the process is a slow, step by step, calculated series of strides, the whole of it moves inexorably onward and will continue to until it achieves its goal. That’s so because each step fosters a response from G-d, the other “Partner” in the process, if you will.

    Recall, though, that the whole process has been on-going since Adam and Eve erred in the Garden of Eden. Thus the tzaddikim are charged with first bringing the world back to the stage it had been had Adam and Eve not sinned (which is a laborious task to be sure), and then they’re charged with catching up, so to speak, which means to say with bringing the world to the stage it would have been in had Adam and Eve not sinned in the first place (as we’d explained before) [2].

    Nevertheless, once all of that is accomplished the world will have been perfected, our people will be fully redeemed, and G-d’s sovereignty will be manifest — all thanks to the on-going selfless efforts of the tzaddikim and of G-d’s own will working in tandem.

    [1] What’s interesting is the fact that Ramchal attributes this ability to the tzaddikim alone at this point of the chapter, while he attributes it to the entire Jewish Nation by the end of the chapter. That either implies that each and every Jew has the wherewithal to be a tzaddik (see Maimonides’ Hilchot Teshuvah 5:2 for that very point); that we each play a role in the redemptive actions of the tzaddikim (since, for example, they can’t engage in full tephilla without a minyan which wouldn’t necessarily be comprised of other tzaddikim; they can only be generous to the poor if and when there are poor, who wouldn’t necessarily be tzaddikim, etc.); or it underscores the idea that since “All of Israel has a place in The World to Come” (Sanhedrin 10:1) then all of us are tzaddikim at bottom and that we need only decide to draw upon our inborn righteousness and it will manifest itself.

    For this chapter’s Kabbalistic references see Klallim Rishonim 29; R’ Friedlander’s supplementary comments on p. 172 of his edition; R’ Shriki’s notes 134-135; and R’ Goldblatt’s notes 9-10, 13 as well as note 82 in his edition.

    [2] See 3:14 and 4:11 for example.

  21. Da’at Tevunot – The Knowing Heart

    Section 5, Chapter 6

    1. But there are other phenomena at work here aside from the tireless efforts of the righteous. After all, everything in this world hinges on G-d’s verbal directives and on His bestowing His favors upon the world or withholding them, which affects our relationship to Him. So everything can and should play a part in elevating the world [1].

    Now while it’s certainly true, as Ramchal reminds us, that G-d’s “celestial Glory dwells everywhere, and animates everything”, which we learn from the verse that affirms the fact that “the whole world is full of the Glory of G-d” (Isaiah 6:3), it’s likewise true that our sins set us apart from His Glory. Happily, though, the opposite is also true: our merits draw us closer to G-d’s Glory. For G-d dwells in our midst most manifestly when we do good things and are righteous. So our moral and spiritual status certainly affects the world’s standing, too.

    2. There’s a concept associated with this, though, that gives us pause. Ramchal points out that G-d Himself is benefitted — is “elevated and exalted”, as he puts it — when He dwells among us “lower ones”; for, we’re taught that, “everything that G-d created in the world was created for the sake of His Glory” (Yoma 38a). So we’re charged with affecting His Glory positively.

    It follows then that our being in exile, when we cannot serve Him as we might and when the Holy Temple doesn’t function, somehow “diminishes” G-d’s Glory so to speak. And it also follows that His Glory will be elevated when we’re to be redeemed and we’ll be charged to “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has shone upon you” (Isaiah 60:1). Thus we see that our national standing likewise affects the world’s standing.

    Other factors contribute to all of this, too, including the actions of the angels. For, we’re taught that G-d wanted to accomplish things in this world through “middlemen”, if you will — His angels. So He tied His presence in this world to their actions as well. They function as His emissaries to us and to this world en toto. G-d’s Glory rests upon them as well to be sure, and is attached to them. The point is that their actions factor into all this as well.

    3. But not only do people and the angels play a role in all of this, specific locations and spiritual realms do, too. For though the whole world is full of G-d’s Glory as we’d said, it’s most especially manifest in a specific, albeit lofty realm — the realm that sits deep in the human heart in which those who want to cling onto His presence go to seek Him out.

    And while there are very many and various stations to this realm, the loftiest of them was the one in which one can indeed attach himself to G-d’s presence: the Holy Temple. As it was the physical paradigm of the inner realm we spoke of, with rooms, corridors, and courtyards that corresponded to those heart-based realms one would need to enter in order to experience closeness to G-d.

    We’re likewise taught there’s a “heavenly Holy Temple”, and it’s there that the highest order of angels sing G-d’s praises and thus elevate the world as a consequence, and it lies in the deepest reaches of our hearts and beyond. But even the more prosaic things play a role in the elevation of the world and G-d’s Glory as we’ll see.

    [1] For Kabbalistic references to this chapter see Klallim Rishonim 33, R’ Friedlander’s Iyyunim 49- 51, his notes 429, 433; R’ Goldblatt’s notes 5 and 12 as well as his note 83 on p. 489 of his edition; and R’ Shriki’s notes 137-139.

  22. Da’at Tevunot – The Knowing Heart

    Section 5, Chapter 7

    Ramchal reiterates the point here, though, that everything can play a role in elevating the world in potential, in stirring and sanctifying G-d’s Glory in the process, and in drawing us close to His presence [1].

    That possibility was best illustrated by the role the High Priest (Kohen HaGadol) played in the ancient Holy Temple, especially when it came to the daily Tamid offering. For, offering it entailed sacrificing all of the animal’s blood and body-parts (see Numbers 28:2), along with all the various vegetable, mineral, and human elements inherent to all the sacrifices (i.e., the flour, the salt, and the intentions the one who offers the sacrifice has in mind). So, by doing all that the High Priest was able to dedicate all of those various elements to G-d, as we’re expected to do in our daily lives.

    That ability set the High Priests apart from the rest of the priests (cohanim), in fact. As Ramchal puts it, the High priests were able to “set out to connect all of creation to its Creator, and they knew just what they needed to accomplish this”. Thus, everything they did in the process was dedicated to fulfilling the needs “of deep mysteries, and to perfecting all of creation by (enabling it to) cling unto its Creator” on a very arcane — and ironically, a very mundane — level.

    Still and all, we too are to sanctify each and everything we do in much the same way, and to thus draw close to G-d through the everyday things we come into contact with, and to underscore G-d’s assertion that His presence “fill(s) heaven and earth” (Jeremiah 23:24). For, we’re taught that G-d desires a dwelling-place in the lower worlds (Midrash Rabbah), so we’re each expected to welcome Him into it and to thus sanctify everyday things to Him by “introducing” them to Him.

    Now, that’s not to deny the unique actions of the righteous, who play yet another role in this whole phenomenon as we’ll see, though.

    [1] For Kabbalistic references in this chapter see Klallim Rishonim 33, R’ Goldblatt’s note 22, and R’ Shriki’s notes 140-141.

  23. Da’at Tevunot – The Knowing Heart

    Section 5, Chapter 8

    1. The righteous play a specific and a more potent role in all of that, though [1].. Thanks to their deeply-felt prayers, their recitation of certain arcane Divine names, their concentrations on the upper realms that play a role in all of this, and more, the righteous can manage to make the “complete perfection of creation” possible, as Ramchal enunciates it. For, “each and every day they allow for new (acts of) rectification” to come about that only they can allow for, which then enable the great “emanations of blessings” to come our way.

    Now, as we’ve cited before a number of times, Ramchal affirms that all the world’s imperfections are a consequence of G-d’s perfection and utter sovereignty being hidden from our eyes. And as we’ve also learned, the truth is that once all of that will be revealed, “the world will be entirely perfect”, as he puts it here, and everything that “prevents created beings from drawing close to G-d” will be undone.

    The role that the righteous play in setting off this final phenomenon is this one: they “provoke” it with their specific input and help foster the revelation of G-d’s great sovereignty, and thus “add a degree of rectification throughout creation” in the process.

    For given that “there’s no act of Divine service (i.e., a mitzvah) that doesn’t contribute to the world’s perfection” and to the eventual “revelation of G-d’s sovereignty” which then enables us mere mortals to cling onto G-d’s presence, that’s especially true of the mitzvahs that the righteous fulfill. As such, their deeds are more capable of allowing for G-d’s great blessings to rain upon us.

    2. Ramchal now begins to touch upon a very esoteric and mystical principle which addresses our true inner relationship to G-d. As he explains it, our ability to cling onto G-d’s presence is rooted in the fact that our souls are a “portion” of Him, if you will; and so like all “portions that cling unto their whole”, i.e., like all parts of a whole that fit naturally into the whole that they’re a part of, we quite naturally “fit”, so to speak, within G-d’s being..

    Indeed, we’re taught that “His people are a portion of G-d” (Deuteronomy 32:9), and that we’re so intrinsically close to G-d that it’s perfectly proper for us to call out amorously, “May He kiss me with the kisses of His lips” (Song of Songs 1:2). It’s this inherent intimacy that fosters the great raining down of “a flow of holiness”, a “flow of G-dliness, spirit, and … of blessing” when we fulfill our mitzvahs, and that enables us to succeed in this otherwise unholy world.

    3. Our attaching onto His presence in love in fact brings about an extra degree of love in Him for us, and for our service to Him, seeing that our mitzvahs help bring about the great universal perfection we spoke of above. In point of fact, that’s the inner function of all of G-d’s mitzvahs, Ramchal adds: they help bring about worldly perfection. And our engaging in them allows for a free flow of blessings in the world which then redoubles back onto us [2].

    Aside from that, though, there are other, more arcane functions at play in each and every mitzvah we fulfill which “anyone who can delve into them can uncover” and such a person can also experience “the goodly ‘taste’” that lies deep within “each and every one of them”.

    [1] For Kabbalistic references in this chapter see Klallim Rishonim 31 and 33 (at end); R’ Goldblatt’s notes 2, 5-6, and 10-11 as well as notes 84-85 on pp. 489-490 of his edition; and R’ Shriki’s note 142.

    [2] See 5:4:2 above.

  24. Da’at Tevunot – The Knowing Heart

    Section 5, Chapter 9

    1. King Solomon said it best: “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). Ramchal would add, though, that the same principle also holds true for everything in heaven; for just as everyone is said to have his or her day in the sun, every system in heaven has its day, too, as we’ll explain.

    What Ramchal will do in this chapter is conclude section five, which discusses our interactions with G-d and what results from them; and how that ties in with reward and punishment, which is actually the section’s overarching theme [1]. (After all, everything we do as we interact with Him and others has its consequences, and every consequence brings on a judgment call on G-d’s part.)

    2. Ramchal starts out by reiterating a vital point made earlier that our people enjoy a special relationship with G-d. As he puts it here, we’re “rooted in holiness”, “linked to G-d’s being”, central to the human drama, and eminently important — even the lowliest of us. For, as our sages put it, “even when one of them sins he’s (still and all) a Jew” (Sanhedrin 44a) [2].

    Yet our work-a-day relationship with G-d — the here and now of our give and take with Him — isn’t based on that stunning reality that lies deep within. We have to respond to the good and bad things we do just as anyone else, and we too are to be judged in this world accordingly. As this world is rooted in justice and order.

    In a similar way, each and every week has its special day, the Shabbat, along with its other simple weekdays. The Shabbat is unique because it’s the day that G-d set up to function as the storehouse of the entire week’s spiritual nourishment. Yet despite the spiritual luster of the Shabbat and the central role it plays, the world’s events are most especially carried out in the course of the rest of the week, when we’re more active.

    And while G-d certainly blesses us as a consequence of the Shabbat, His chosen day, He nonetheless most especially blesses us for the acts of kindness, selflessness, and charity we can only do during the week.

    At bottom the point is that while there is a spiritual realm that matters very, very much and lends cadence and nuance to the day-to-day, it’s what we do when we’re carrying out our material works in this world that we’re judged for; and no one should depend on his or her spiritual core to get by, as we must all answer for our actions.

    3. We’re to also understand that G-d Almighty, who is holy Himself, has emanated all sorts of holiness in the world, from minimal levels of it to deeply and unfathomably high levels (which are still and all far removed from His own degree of it). And a lot of that is affected by our interactions with Him and with those holy phenomena.

    Along with holiness G-d also allows for a lot of repair and betterment in this world that sorely needs them, and they too are affected by our actions and by the degree of closeness to G-d we achieve accordingly. And that’s especially where our people and our Divine service come in, since we have it within us to foster a lot of holiness and betterment by our service.

    Indeed, our living in the world and serving G-d at one and the same time is the most important thing we humans are capable of in the end. While a lot of that was accomplished in very esoteric ways when the Holy Temple stood and the Kohanim were able to facilitate the process there and then [3], the principle still stands.

    The point of the matter is that we have it within us to do wonderful, vital, and heroic things in this world — or the opposite. And we’re each judged accordingly, given that everything we do touches on our relationship with G-d and either nudges the great and holy future along or forestalls it (G-d forbid).

    Hearkening back to what we said at the beginning of this chapter, though, as we’ll see, while this system is the one that lies deep in the functions of this world, there’s another system that factors irrespective of this which we’d cited earlier but which will delve into most especially in the next section.

    [1] For Kabbalistic references in this chapter see Klallim Rishonim 32, R’ Friedlander’s notes 447-450 and his Iyyun 55-56, R’ Goldblatt’s note 6, and R’ Shriki’s notes 145, 147.

    [2] See 5:2:1, 3, 5:3:2 and 5:8:2 for this.

    [3] See 5:7.

  25. Da’at Tevunot – The Knowing Heart
    Section 6, Chapter 1

    1. Ramchal is about to tread upon what many refer to as the “third-rail” of religious thought: explanations for why the righteous might suffer while the wrongful might prosper [1]. Even Moses was denied a full explanation of this phenomenon and was told to do his best to accept its reality [2].

    Admitting that “there are limits to how much we can understand” when it comes to this (and so much else), Ramchal nonetheless asserts that we’re still and all to search out the answer, and he counsels us that “not understanding shouldn’t confound our faith” in G-d’s beneficence and love, and “shouldn’t confuse us”. Furthermore, he asserts, we don’t need to understand this to grow in our service to G-d, but it certainly helps.

    Overall we’d offer that his responses to this conundrum are very cogent and fit well into his understanding of G-d’s intentions for the world, and they provide us with a “big picture” explanation of things.

    2. The first thing we’d need to do when exploring this topic is to reiterate the fact that G-d has indeed established a system of reward and punishment which does truly function as a system of moral checks and balances. And secondarily, that for the most part the righteous are in fact rewarded and the wrongful are punished. But there are obviously exceptions to that.

    But his point is that those exceptions are rooted in a phenomenon which Ramchal refers to as G-d’s “unfathomable guidance” (i.e., His hidden plans for the universe). For while G-d has the world act one way on the surface, He covertly plans and arranges things to come out as He wants them to in the end, even if things seem to go off-kilter in the process [3].

    For as Ramchal indicated a number of times in this work and elsewhere, G-d’s ultimate aim is for goodness to hold full sway and for all wrong and injustice to be undone, but that will only occur once His sovereignty is to be revealed. It’s just that right and wrong, justice and injustice and all the moral confusion that goes with that have to fully function beforehand.

    The point, though, is that there are indeed instances of injustice now, as when righteous people suffer and wrongful people flourish. But that’s a temporary and purposeful albeit sad reality that will eventually come undone. Said another way, it comes to this: wrongfulness and injustice are necessary by-products of the need for G-d’s sovereignty to be hidden away and to then be revealed; we don’t realize that, so we’re often confounded by outcomes we don’t understand.



    [1] This is commonly known as the conundrum of why “bad things happen to good people”. But that seems to be a somewhat simplistic, albeit more approachable, perspective on the issue; after all, why shouldn’t bad things happen to good people? Don’t bad things happen to everyone in fact, given that we live in an imperfect world? The real dilemma is why the truly righteous, who are said to enjoy G-d’s favor and shelter, suffer despite that. The subject is termed “Theodicy” among philosophers, and responses to it are said to be means of “justifying G-d’s ways to man”, to cite the poet John Milton.

    For Kabbalistic references in this chapter (and much of the next) see Klallim Rishonim 34.

    [2] See Menachot 29b and Berachot 7a.

    [3] Thus, G-d could be said to be working off of two agendas at the same time, if you will: His immediate and more overt one of maintaining “law and order”, and His ultimate and covert one of proving His sovereignty which transcends all human notions of law and order.

  26. Da’at Tevunot – The Knowing Heart
    Section 6, Chapter 2

    1. Aside from knowing that wrong and injustice must exist in the grand scheme of things even though they won’t prevail in the end, it’s also vitally important to know that if wrong did in fact prevail then G-d’s presence would be further concealed from us (G-d forbid) [1].

    We’d been warned about that a number of times in fact. It’s said that there might be a time when, as G-d put it, wrongdoers will, “seek Me but they will not find Me” (Proverbs 1:25) since He’d be so hidden away; and when wrongdoers will foolishly say “Who sees us and who knows us?” (Isaiah 29:16) because G-d’s presence will have receded further into the background. But that will never come about in fact.

    Underlying this idea is the fact that G-d’s presence is hidden from us by degrees all the time in this imperfect world, to be sure. But once we will have yearned long enough for Him, and once everything would have been rectified, He will manifest His presence.

    Understand, though, that this implies once again that the system of reward and punishment, justice and injustice, and right and wrong is overridden at this stage over-all by the greater need to allow for wrong and injustice so that it can ultimately be undone, as that will lead to the ultimate revelation of G-d’s full and manifest sovereignty.

    2. The reality behind that often hurts, though; for there are times indeed when the righteous must suffer the disgrace and humiliation of having to bear with (seeming) injustice and (truly) underserved hardship. But as Ramchal underscores, that’s only because the situation demands it at the time. True justice will prevail in the end, to be sure, but not until then, sorry to say.

    For, as things stand now “the wrongful do prevail, and the hour mocks the righteous”, as Ramchal terms it. As the prophet Amos pointed out there are times when, “the prudent must keep … silent, for it is (simply) a time of evil” (Amos 5:13) and nothing can be done about it for the meanwhile. After all, didn’t our sages underscore the fact that audacity and all sorts of infamies will prevail in the pre-Messianic Era (Sotah 49a)?

    3. The point of the matter once again is this, in Ramchal’s own words: “since G-d (ultimately) wants to govern the world as He will when His sovereignty is to be revealed and when we’ll be able to discern the light within the darkness and see wrongdoing turned to goodness, He needs to allow wrongdoing to hold sway (for the meanwhile), to overlook the merits of the righteous”, and to seemingly be unfair and unjust. But that’s the short-term plan alone, for ultimately G-d’s sovereignty — as well as His fairness — will indeed be manifest, the righteous will indeed be lauded as they should, and universal perfection will have been achieved.

    We could legitimately ask, though, why it is that some righteous people do reap the rewards of their righteousness here in this world, despite all that. There seems then to be another factor at work as well, but just what is it?


    [1] For Kabbalistic references in this chapter see R’ Shriki’s notes 155-156.

  27. Da’at Tevunot – The Knowing Heart: Section 6, Chapter 3

    1. There is another factor at work that explains why some righteous people reap the rewards of their righteousness here in this world while others who are just as righteous don’t. In fact, this factor explains many of the great mysteries in the human experience and it’s termed Mazal (which is erroneously translated as “luck” or “fortune”). Let’s touch on a number of things beforehand, though, before we go on to explain it [1].

    Ramchal has made the point already about the place of wrong and injustice a number of times but it bears repetition: in his own words, just as “G-d Himself has granted wrongfulness its character and allotted it the boundaries He wanted it to have,” he explains, “G-d Himself will likewise bring about things that will undo it” in the end, make no mistake about it. It’s just that the whole process needs to follow the rules He set up for it.

    What are those rules? We are not privy to many of them, sadly. For G-d alone “knows the roots of (i.e., the root causes behind) everything He wants to do, the reasons behind His decrees that are hidden from us”, while all we know are the outcomes of those decisions. Some of what we do know, though, is based on the idea that some things are meant to experience “an overt abundance” of Divine beneficence, while others need to experience “a covert and limited” degree of it to fulfill their roles here. And all of that factors into what we experience in the world

    2. There’s another fundamental truism that touches on all this that we’d do well to bear in mind: that “nothing comes about that’s (clearly) good or (apparently) bad that doesn’t in fact bring about some (clearly) visible good and beneficial effect in the world” in the end, Ramchal underscores. After all, haven’t we been taught that “Whatever Heaven brings about is for the good” (Berachot 60a)?

    The point is that there are many ways that sort of goodness can come about, and that on one very deep level, “none of it depends on (human) input or on (one’s personal) merits”, Ramchal adds, “but rather on the sum and substance of the world”, which G-d alone fully understands in fact and can satisfy. But what we do know is that some situations call for abundance and others not [2].


    [1] For Kabbalistic references in this chapter see R’ Friedlander’s note 462; R’ Shriki’s notes 157, 159-160; and R’ Goldblatt’s notes 4 as well as note 86 on p. 490 of his edition.

    [2] Ramchal offers an esoteric reference to the waxing and waning of the moon which occurs for various natural and supernatural reasons, which itself hearkens to our people’s ultimate fate (given that the Jewish Nation is often likened to the moon [see Sanhedrin 42a]), but that’s beyond the present treatment and the subject at hand.

  28. Da’at Tevunot – The Knowing Heart
    Section 6, Chapter 4

    1. But let us never forget, as Ramchal words it so elegantly, that G-d assigned “the rectification of creation” to “all the souls He’d created to serve Him”, to be sure. But the fact remains that we’ll each only do that in ways that G-d alone “knows is appropriate to (our) individual makeup and raison d’être”.

    That’s to say that each of us has been created by G-d to serve Him in his or her own way, and each will certainly play a part in the great refurbishing and restoration. But we’ll often do it in ways we ourselves cannot fathom or even imagine no matter how well we know ourselves. But that opaqueness is easy enough to understand, given that our actions are often rooted in “a very, very clandestine phenomenon” which even the prophets couldn’t fully ken: the Mazal factor we’d spoken of last time.

    Few indeed know about the workings and conditions of Mazal itself; and all we can discern in fact are its consequences upon our lives. Yet it factors into our life’s mission despite that to a very great degree.

    2. At bottom, though, it comes to this: it’s simply a fact of life that for one hidden and fundamental reason or another some of us enjoy an abundance of Divine beneficence, while others suffer a very limited amount of it in order to fulfill our missions in this world. It often has nothing to do with what we did or didn’t do, or our ethical makeup: it’s simply an esoteric factor in each person’s life which is rooted in the ultimate rectification of creation.

    For, the truth be known, “while one person rectifies this (worldly) factor, another rectifies that (one) in his own way”, as Ramchal underscores. And a lot goes into that that’s simply beyond us.

    That being so, it is still and all true that each righteous person will indeed get his just rewards in the end, based on his righteous deeds and experiences in this world irrespective of the above. It is just that while one’s station and experience of the World to Come will indeed be rooted in his righteousness or lack of it, his this-world experience often times will not. Suffice it to say that there’s a lot more to be said about the latter point.


    [1] For Kabbalistic references in this chapter see R’ Shriki’s note 161.

  29. Da’at Tevunot – The Knowing Heart: Section 6, Chapter 5

    1. Ramchal reiterates the point that no righteous act will go unrewarded — in the World to Come. But there’s no denying the fact that some of them will not be rewarded in the here-and-now, given that there are two “accounts” kept, if you will: a “Mazal account” and a “reward and punishment account”. Let’s clarify that some more [1].

    The “reward and punishment account” is the one in which “measure for measure” is the overarching rule (see Sanhedrin 90a, Sotah 8b, Breishit Rabbah 9:11, etc.), which indicates that everything I do — good or bad — will be reimbursed on one level or another, and oftentimes manifestly. The more mysterious and often inexplicable or even incongruous “Mazal account”, on the other hand, seems to have no abiding rules and sometimes gives the impression of being arbitrary.

    But the point of the matter is that the “Mazal account” also follows rules — more clandestine ones to be sure which demand more of the faithful, and which sometimes call for what’s termed “blind faith” (which comes down to faith rooted in deep trust, hope, and an abiding confidence in G-d’s wisdom) — but it follows rules nevertheless.

    2. Now, that last point suggests something else, we’d propose: the fact that not seeing their goodness and benevolence rewarded in the here-and-now, and necessarily having to fall back on their own deep-set faith in the truth of reward and punishment, deserves — and it earns — even greater reward.

    According to Ramchal it also suggests that their being called upon to endure such a challenge and their ultimately succeeding at it is largely what differentiates the righteous from the rest of us who often cannot bear the test.

    For indeed it sometimes seems that the sardonic statement that there is “one and the same occurrence for the righteous as for the wrongful, for the good and the pure, as well as for the unclean” (Ecclesiastes 9:2) is all too true. So the faith that the righteous demonstrate in the face of appearances only bolsters their convictions and intensifies their righteousness.

    After all, who, other than the truly righteous, can easily-enough carry on in a world where he or she often can’t determine “the rules of the game”, if you will, given that sometimes “The reward and punishment account” factors in, and other times the “Mazal account” does?

    3. What we’re each to draw upon, though, is the surety that G-d can be trusted to bring about what’s best in the end, with that end in sight, and in love. And we’re to do our best to live out His “dream” for us in this world in the ways He encourages us to.

    And we’re to rest assured that the good will be rewarded (and the wrong will be penalized) in The World to Come. It’s just that there are moments — even whole generations — that demand more mysterious and arcane phenomena to flourish. But we’re here assured that those events, too, are for the good, and are only the necessary preparations for the ultimate revelation of G-d’s sovereignty.


    [1] For Kabbalistic references in this chapter see R Friedlander’s notes 473-474, and R’ Shriki’s notes 163, 165.

  30. Da’at Tevunot – The Knowing Heart
    Section 6, Chapter 6

    1. Understand, as Ramchal makes the point, that the idea of there being two “accounts” maintained in Heaven, a transcendent and often unreadable “Mazal account” and a more tangible and explicable “reward and punishment account”, was largely unknown in the past, and by even some of the greatest souls [1]. We’re told that even Moshe himself wondered how things could often be so puzzling, and how the righteous might suffer ignobly and the wrongful could go along unscathed (see Berachot 7a) [2]. So our “not getting it” shouldn’t surprise anyone.

    That’s because G-d “hid the higher form or governance” based on Mazal “from His created beings” until later (i.e., with the printing of the Zohar and the revelations of the Ari and his greatest disciples). So when the ancient prophets spoke about one thing or another in the realm of Divine Justice and the like, they only addressed what they themselves saw in the Heavens without being privy to the full picture.

    2. But we’re also to understand that “even those times that G-d wants to govern the world within the Mazal system, He still and all has things come about in such a way that … it would fall within the reward and punishment system, too”. For “whatever must happen, will happen”, under one or both systems.

    That implies a number of things, though: that a lot of what happens in the world is largely inexplicable and ironic; that a lot is a blend of apparent right and wrong, or fair and unfair; that a lot of what happens to us seems to be garbed in a mixed-message, if you will, from Heaven; and more.

    3. Summing up the matter Ramchal reiterates that at bottom, “(G-d’s) governance is in truth rooted in the (eventual) perfection of all of creation.” It is the main point of creation which everything else is a mere supporting detail of; as absolutely everything acts to move the universe along in that direction. It’s just that there are various inscrutable rules involved in this process, to be sure, along the way.

    And while reward and punishment certainly factors in to a very great degree, still and all the Mazal system is the ultimate mitigating factor, though the two do work in conjunction.


    [1] For Kabbalistic references in this chapter see R’ Friedlander’s note 479, and R’ Shriki’s notes 167 and 167*.

    [2] The idea that there were things associated with Jewish Thought that Moshe wasn’t privy to is highly controversial. After all, didn’t Rambam say that the Moshiach will draw his ultimate knowledge from Moshe’s Torah (implying that Moshe was in possession of the ultimate revelations), yet the Zohar declares that R’ Shimon Bar Yochai (who came later than Moshe) was aware of things that Moshe wasn’t.

    The notion of ongoing revelation — of there having been revelations subsequent to the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai — that’s implicit in the latter idea is a point of heated debate among Torah sages until this very day. Suffice it to say that Ramchal himself clearly implied that the Kabbalistic authors and insights that he drew upon were examples of revelations that Moshe and other earlier sages were not exposed to.

  31. Da’at Tevunot – The Knowing Heart
    Section 6, Chapter 7

    1. We’re to always recall that “G-d considers humankind’s actions as they are” at the time and in their particular content, Ramchal points out. But we’re also to realize that “He judges those actions for their consequences”, which is to say, in light of the effects they have on the people and things in their contexts. For everything must be considered in terms of the makeup and function of the entire universe.

    The other thing to realize is that nothing whatsoever is ever overlooked or forgotten; nothing escapes G-d’s purview, and everything matters somehow or somewhere and to one degree or another.

    Now, while you might argue that when something that had once been bad has been set right, that there’d be no need to pay attention to its inglorious past — or that once something that had been good has become bad that there’d be no need to pay attention to its original goodness — but that’s not true: nothing is forgotten, Ramchal asserts.

    That’s not only so because everything matters, as we said, but also because the consequences of things that went from being bad to good are utterly different from the consequences of things that went from being good to being bad, just as the consequences of things that went from being good to bad twice in a row, and on and on, are unique to themselves. The point of the matter is that everything is to be judged in the light of its own full and rich past, present, and future, as well as in light of the universe’s past, present, and future.

    2. We’re just to always recall that “on the great Day of Judgment,” after the Moshiach will have come and the dead would have already been resurrected, “G-d will remove the cloth (that hides the truth of things) from before everyone’s eyes, and (everyone will then be able to see) everything that occurred from creation to that very day”. And as a consequence, Ramchal declares, everyone will be able to discern “the justice behind G-d’s decisions about each and every thing, large and small”, and we’ll all be able to ken the reward that will granted to the righteous which had been due them. And the righteous will then receive it.

    [1] For Kabbalistic references in this chapter see Klallim Rishonim 34 (end); R’ Friedlander’s Iyyun 59; and R’ Shriki’s extensive note 169.

  32. Da’at Tevunot – The Knowing Heart: Section 6, Chapter 8

    1. Like the stars, each and every moment alternately shines and dims, shines and dims. Each moment matters, has its needs, makes its demands, gets its due, offers its help, and then steps aside for the next one. And again like the stars, each moment is fed by forces higher, wider, and deeper than it, and subsequently feeds phenomena lower, thinner, and shallower than it.

    Not only is that so, but we find in fact that each moment is affected by a star (or a swatch of them) which is itself affected by the moment itself, after which the moment passes on its influence to another one, and so one down the line. This is the thrust of the theory of Astrology in the context of the passage of time, which will be stressed later on here. Astrology, the study of the influence of the celestial upon the terrestrial, is an ancient art which, while having passed from favor in the modern world, was nonetheless once perceived as the system par excellence of gaining insight into reality.

    2. Many of our greatest sages discussed the reality upon which Astrology might be based and its efficacy, and we’ll offer some insights now into their thinking before we explore Ramchal’s own. We do this because Astrology is about to be cited in Da’at Tevunot and we wanted to lay out the various Torah perspectives on it since it’s usually and often automatically pooh-poohed and written off by most of us — either justifiably or not, as we’ll see.

    First off, let it be noted that Astrology is never cited in the five books of the Torah, a fact that simply cannot be denied and that undoes its truth in the eyes of many. But gravity doesn’t figure in the Torah either, nor do other things of that order which while fundamental to reality have no bearing on the Torah’s concerns. But it is cited several times in the other books of Tanach where its practitioners are scoffed at (see Isaiah 47:13 and Jeremiah 10:2) or where its simply cited as a fact of life (see Daniel 2:2, 4, 5, 10; 4:14; 5:7, 11).

    The Talmud and later works often cited it and sometimes sided with it, while other times rejected it. On the one hand, Avraham and we, his descendants, are said to be above the subjection to the stars (see Breishit Rabbah 44:12), while on the other hand we’re told that the blessing bestowed on Avraham in Genesis 24:1 is to be interpreted as the gift of Astrology (see Tosefta to Kiddushin 5:17). And there are positive views of it cited in other places (see Shabbat 119a, Kohelet Rabbah 173, etc.).

    The great Sa’adia Gaon wrote a commentary to Sefer Yetzirah based on Astrological principles, and Ibn Ezra wrote about it extensively, as did Yehudah HaLevi. But the mighty Rambam was famously against it on all levels, which clinched it for many. The Zohar and the Kabbalists accepted Astrology as a truism, and so did Ramchal, as we’ll now see.

    3. The first thing to note is that when he discussed it at length in Derech Hashem, Ramchal spoke of it in terms of one of the systems that G-d uses to govern the world, thus indicating from the very first that G-d alone is behind everything even when He uses various phenomena to help carry out His wishes. And he spoke of the stars and constellations as “having influence over” the world, as acting as “pipelines” of G-d’s light rather than as controlling things., and as being limited in scope and not capable of revealing very many element s of reality (2:7:1-4).

    In any event he’ll soon cite Astrology as a means of understanding many things about G-d’s interaction with the world, which is our concern here.

  33. Da’at Tevunot – The Knowing Heart: Section 6, Chapter 9

    (¶ 172 – 174 [beg.])

    1. We’d now need to explain something else essential to God’s interactions with us that’s beyond the reward-and-punishment paradigm and Mazal [1].

    For while both of those are tailored to one’s own makeup and ultimate needs, there are other, this-worldly and universal forces that follow a course of their own. They’re rooted in the needs of the moment at hand, and they have to do with the aforementioned astrological influences.

    2. We’re taught that the stars and constellations act as particular and special conduits of G-d’s interactions with the world, and that they function in that capacity in relation to each other and to everything here below. But it’s important to know a couple of things about them for our purposes.

    First, that each star and constellation influences a particular person, place, or thing, and that each of the latter is influenced by one star or constellation alone at any one point. Yet, each star and constellation also has its own specific moment, hour, day, or era to “shine” (if you’ll pardon the pun) — a point at which it matters most especially in the grand scheme.

    Understand, of course, that there’s a significant difference between the two. For, when a particular star or constellation interacts with someone or something specific, that’s so because there’s an intrinsic and singular relationship between star and object, and because the heavenly body has a particular hold over it. When a particular star or constellation has a special task of its own, on the other hand, then it holds sway over everything in broad strokes.

    As we’ll see, all this goes to explain G-d’s interactions with us in general.

    [1] For this and the next chapter’s Kabbalistic references see Klallim Rishonim 35, R’ Friedlander’s note 488, and R’ Shriki’s note 174.

  34. Da’at Tevunot – The Knowing Heart: Section 6, Chapter 10 (¶ 174 [end])

    1. “G-d has brought about very many means of affecting His created beings”, Ramchal adds at the end of this section. And among those means of affecting us are many that are “specific to each one of them, depending on his makeup”.

    That’s to say, G-d interacts with the universe in very many ways, moment by moment. We’ve learned, though, that sometimes those interactions are actually reactions — G-d’s responses to our interactions with Him; and that at other times they’re not interactions with us at all but rather products of G-d’s own plans that are wholly independent of us and our actions.

    The bottom line, though, is that G-d does interact with the universe and us, and that each Divine act is suited to our individuality.

    2. It is likewise true, Ramchal continues, that there is one “overarching rule” at play when it comes to this: that all His interactions “function within the realm of time”, and that “every day (in fact, every moment) a different (category of) interactions holds sway”. That goes a long way to explain the unique tone and temper of the Shabbat and the Holy Days as opposed to other times, for example; the uniqueness of morning as opposed to afternoon and nighttime prayer services; etc.

    We need to understand as well, though, that while an overall and distinctive mode of interaction holds sway at each one of those special moments, that’s not to say that each one of us is affected the same way at those times. Because each moment is not only tailored to its own need, but to the specific needs of everyone there at the time.

    And lastly, we’re to know that these principles have been in place throughout our lives as well as through the course of history.

  35. Da’at Tevunot – The Knowing Heart
    Section 7, Chapter 1

    We’ve finally arrived at the very last section of Da’at Tevunot, which explains prophecy. It seems to be something of an addendum to the work, though, rather than an expansion on it. In fact, the Soul, which poses all the questions in this work, if you’ll recall from Ramchal’s Introduction (as opposed to Reason, which responds to it), seems to indicate that. It said, “There’s one more thing I want to you ask about, which isn’t perhaps as lengthy as the others” or might not be as challenging or as important to know about as they, but it’s something that calls for explanation nonetheless — the whole idea of prophecy.

    For as we pointed out in that Introduction, the Soul said there that he wanted clarification about some things about the Jewish Faith, for “while there are (certainly several) specific matters of the Faith that we’re to hold by if we’re to be true to our Torah’s ideals … yet still and all, some of them are straightforward enough, while others simply aren’t”. So he asked for help when it came to them specifically.

    What he wanted to have discussed were Divine providence, reward and punishment, the coming of the Messiah, and the resurrection of the dead; and that in fact comprised all of what we’ve included until now.

    There were certain other things that the Soul felt he didn’t quite need clarity on, like “the fact of G-d’s existence as well as His oneness, eternality, non-physical makeup; the idea that everything that exists derived out of sheer nothingness; the reality of prophecy and the uniqueness of Moses’ prophecy (the subject at hand), and the ideas that the Torah we now have is from G-d Himself, eternal, and is the very one revealed to us at Mount Sinai”.

    While he’d apparently found them easy enough to grasp then, he somehow changed his mind at this point, since he asked for some elucidation about prophecy, too.

    Now, that’s not to belittle the wonder and profundity of the idea that G-d Almighty communes with some select souls and reveals His wishes and intentions to them. The very idea of it is (Heaven and) earth-shattering. But the point at hand is that prophecy isn’t fundamentally important for our own understanding of G-d’s interactions with the world and of what’s expected of us accordingly, which comprises the main thrust in this work [1].

    That having been said, Ramchal then goes on to grant us a lot of insight into prophecy here, as we’ll see.

    [1] See R’ Shriki’s introduction to this section.

  36. Da’at Tevunot – The Knowing Heart
    Section 7, Chapter 2

    1. “Prophecy”, Ramchal declares, “is the knowledge and comprehension of G-d’s Glory that He grants prophets”, i.e., it is the clearest and deepest understanding of G-d’s ways in the world that a human being could ever hope to achieve [1].

    But let’s make it clear that prophecy grants one a profound understanding of G-d’s interactions with the world, to be sure — but not an understanding of His very being, as that’s simply unfathomable to even the greatest of prophets.

    In a way we’re being told that while the prophets were privy to G-d’s actions, mechanisms, demands, preferences, and expectations; to His displays of satisfaction or dissatisfaction which is to say, to His manifestations of mercy, judgments, and of life, well-being, as well as all the other traits attributed to Him — still and all no prophets were privy to G-d’s “heart”, if you will, or to His private “ruminations”, which are out of bounds. In other words, they could “see” Him at “work” if you will, but never at “home”.

    2. That’s not to deny that they could actually envision G-d’s complex and variegated influences upon the world and the principles upon which they’re based, for they could. And it’s also not meant to deny the fact that they could grasp the past, along with all of its implications, as well as the future with all its promises based on that. They could grasp all that, too.

    After all, they were acutely aware of all the forces at play all along, and by thus focusing upon them they could ken how those forces played themselves out in the course of time, broadly and deeply, within and without. Thus their reach was vast and profound, and was grounded in G-d’s intentions for the universe. But He Himself was beyond their ken.

    [1] For kabbalistic references to this and the next few chapters see Klallim Rishonim 36.

  37. Da’at Tevunot – The Knowing Heart
    Section 7, Chapter 3

    1. Just what did the prophets see and know? As one of them put it, G-d “spoke to the prophets, (and also) gave them many visions and related parables through them” (Hosea 12:11), in the course of dreams and while they were awake. That’s to say that the prophets were granted visions that served as images, metaphors, similes, symbols, or representations of G-d’s ways in the world. The exception to that was the prophecy of Moses, the greatest prophet of all, to whom G-d spoke “mouth to mouth; in a vision (of the literal truth) and not in riddles” (Numbers 12:8).

    But the visions that the prophets had weren’t the products of rigorous intellectual insights or of profound reckoning. Their insights came to them from up above rather than from deep within. And they understood that what was granted them was a sure and doubtless revelation rather than something that could be argued with or countered. For not only did they receive figures of speech that would express what they needed to say to the people, they were also granted sure insight into its meaning and significance, and into the fact that it was something that G-d Himself wanted to pass along.

    2. Understand, though, that the prophets were privy to different sorts of images overall: those that depicted various aspects of G-d’s “personality” in the world, if you will; and those that depicted His actions.

    There would be times, for example, when G-d wanted to express His beneficence and mercy to a prophet, so He’d seem to appear as a kindly elder (see Daniel 6:9); and other times He wanted to express His might against those who seem to thwart His wishes, so He’d appear as a warrior (see Mechilta, Yitro 20:2; also see Chagiga 14a for both examples).

    Examples of images that speak to His actions in the world — which were often arcane and perplexing — include Jeremiah’s almond-staff (Jeremiah 1:11) and the boiling pot (Ibid. v. 13), Jacob’s ladder (Genesis 28:12), Ezekiel’s scroll (Ezekiel 3:1), Zachariah’s measuring basket (Zachariah 5:6) as well as his golden Menorah-lamp (Ibid. 4:2), etc. The import and underlying message behind these sorts of images weren’t obvious to the prophet at first any more than they were to the others who experienced it, but G-d soon clarified them [2].

    [1] For kabbalistic references to this chapter see R’ Shriki’s note 179

    [2] See Derech Hashem 3:4: 1-2 as well as chapter 7 of Rambam’s Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah for a discussion of all this.

  38. Da’at Tevunot – The Knowing Heart
    Section 7, Chapter 4

    1. Few things rankle the human heart more than contradictions, truth be known. And while most of us have learned to accept ambiguity and “fuzziness” by the time we become adults, we’d actually much prefer that our reality be neat, clean, and smooth. But it’s very often not, and that’s especially true of messages from Heaven. For, as we pointed out already, only Moses received blunt and straightforward responses from G-d while the other prophets simply didn’t.

    In fact, as Ramchal points out, their visions were sometimes “polar-opposites” of each other, “at one and the same the same moment”. And so G-d would seem to appear angry, mild-mannered, jovial, and more at any particular moment to a prophet (see Soferim 16:2; Yalkut Shimoni, Yitro 286; JT Nedarim 3:2; and BT Rosh Hashanah 27a for other examples) or others such things.

    2. How can that be? It’s because their visions weren’t of “the things themselves”, Ramchal explains, but were specifically “prophetic visions” — figurative rather than literal images of what was going on — that depended on G-d’s designs at the time. The point is that those visions need not have fallen under any “law” of reality or of nature whatsoever — including those of the sort of logic and consistency we’re used to.

    For, at bottom, each vision was meant to express something about G-d’s otherwise inscrutable ways in the world. And if that called for contradiction or the like, well, then so be it. But don’t think it ends there: there are other daunting things about the prophets’ insights, as we’ll see [1].

    [1] For kabbalistic references to this chapter see R’ Friedlander’s note 502 and R’ Shriki’s note 181*.

  39. Da’at Tevunot – The Knowing Heart:
    Section 7, Chapter 5

    1. This whole issue is puzzling, for as any astute reader could point out, we’ve been taught that no one “saw an image of any sort on the day that G-d spoke” on Mount Sinai (Deuteronomy 4:15). So how could anyone — even a prophet — claim to be subject to visions?

    In fact, there are a couple of other contradictions when it comes to this. Didn’t we already cite the verse that indicated that G-d spoke to Moses “face to face” and that he saw “G-d as He is” (Numbers 12:8) which would confirm the idea of visions? Along the same lines, didn’t Ezekiel report in the course of his great and terrifying vision of the heavens that “on this throne high above was a figure whose appearance resembled a man” (Ezekiel 1:26)?

    Yet weren’t we told, “to whom (or, what) then can you liken Me … says the Holy One” (Isaiah 40:25), as well as “with whom (or, what), then, will you compare G-d? To what image will you liken him?” (Isaiah 40:18), which would then deny the idea of seeing things that represent G-d’s presence?

    What, then, did the prophets envision, and what did they derive from what they were allowed to see?

    2. You certainly couldn’t say that G-d had the prophets sin by seeing things they weren’t permitted to; what G-d did to the prophet, according to Ramchal, was to “make him wise, and to set him upon the truth”. That is, G-d saw to it that each prophet would “grasp the truth” of what he was actually observing — and that he would know the limitations of his visions.

    For, as we explained already, prophetic insight was unlike any other sort of insight in the natural world. As the prophet fully understood the unquestionable deep intent behind everything he was privileged to see.

    And he knew for a fact and without question that it was G-d Himself or one of His appointed angels who was revealing something to him; that he was being granted important information; and, most importantly for our purposes, that the prophet wasn’t to stare head-on upon what he was being allowed to see — either literally or figuratively.

    That’s to say, not only wasn’t he allowed to peer upon what he was seeing, he also wasn’t allowed to ruminate upon it too long in his mind. For what he was privy to was a prophetic glimpse into the truth of things put symbolically that had the power to reveal something that needed to be known, but could easily be misunderstood.

    And the prophet was also made to know that he wasn’t seeing G-d Himself, which is simply impossible, but rather that he was being granted a quick, short-lived image that G-d wanted him to see just then that represented His will and intentions for humankind {1}.


    [1] For kabbalistic references to this chapter see R’ Shriki’s note 182 and R’ Goldblatt’s note 87 on p. 490 of his edition.

  40. Da’at Tevunot – The Knowing Heart
    Section 7, Chapter 6

    1. But make no mistake about it: those prophetic visions weren’t what we’d term “figments of the imagination” or any sort of curious visual ruminations, and they certainly weren’t hallucinations! Prophets weren’t shamans, wizards, or what’s termed “intuitives”: they were especially righteous, gifted, holy and specifically-chosen rare individuals who were trained by elder prophets when the prophets were young, and were granted manifestly G-d-given skills (see Hilchot Yesodei Ha-Torah Ch. 7).

    As such, they knew very well that they were seeing “fresh manifestations” of “G-d’s Glory” that was “brought about just for them”, as Ramchal put it, that would enable them to “comprehend a revelation of G-d’s presence”. That is, they knew their visions were granted by G-d Himself of His own intentions and concerns, and they never doubted its veracity.

    2. Ramchal then offers a very home-spun analogy so that we might understand their revelations and how convinced they were of its authenticity. We’re asked to imagine “seeing your friend through a glass window” — someone you know well. Even though “your friend himself would be behind a glass” and you wouldn’t be seeing him straight-on, “you’d nonetheless be certain that you’d be seeing that friend” since you wouldn’t confuse him for anyone else.

    And in fact, “even if you were to imagine that the glass were to be transformed somehow”, that is, even if it was somehow misshapen or colored-over, “so that your friend behind it would appear different than he was” as a result — still and all, “you’d undoubtedly know that it was your friend himself whom you were looking at” behind the glass, since you were so familiar with him. And you’d quickly realize that while his image was being affected by the glass, he was still himself.

    So, too, when a prophet would see an image of G-d before his eyes, Ramchal concludes, he would know for certain that it was G-d Himself hidden behind that image, since G-d was so familiar to the prophet. And even though He would appear behind a “glass” — an impediment in the form of an inner, and striking image that G-d had formed within him — the prophet would know that it would still be Him right there and then.

  41. Da’at Tevunot – The Knowing Heart:
    Section 7, Chapter 7

    1. Though Moses also saw images and likewise knew that they weren’t of G-d Himself like the other prophets, his level of prophecy was still and all of an entirely different and more sublime order than theirs. We’d cited this before, but Ramchal is most explicit about it here.

    The other prophets “weren’t able to fully look upon the images they saw”, they could only glance at it or scan it quickly, and never in depth, as he indicates. That’s because they were looking as if from “behind a wall” or through “several lenses”. As such, their visions “lacked clarity”. But Moses’ vision was far, far clearer.

    As some sages put it, “while the other prophets saw (what they did) through nine lenses, Moses saw through one”; and as others said, “while the other prophets saw (what they did) through stained lenses, Moses saw through a clear glass” (Vayikra Rabbah 1:14). It’s as if the other prophets saw something after having rubbed their eyes hard in wonderment, which smudged the image, while Moses saw what he did after having stared in stark amazement which only slightly compromised the image.

    Those other prophets couldn’t quite make out what they were looking at and couldn’t quite grasp it thoroughly. As such, even their understandings of its import were affected. One really couldn’t have expected otherwise, though, as Ramchal makes the point, since”the images they were granted were only meant to express general notions” rather than specific injunctions or the like. (Compare, for example, Ezekiel’s inexact warnings about the idol-worshipping that was going on in his time with Moses’ specific prohibitions against idol-worshipping, and the like.) So they had a somewhat vague idea of what they were being told.

    Moses, on the other hand, had a clear, crisp understanding — “as clear as any created entity could have”. And he thus attained the very highest degree of communication from G-d.

    2. Here’s another way Ramchal proposes we look at it. We’re not suggesting that the prophets merely saw things with their eyes (which would mean, of course, that their visions would be affected by their being long- or short-sighted, and that would be what would set one against the other).

    They experienced “spiritual visions”, as Ramchal terms it, that didn’t depend on either their own physical conditions or on their surroundings. And since each of them was unique, each prophet had a unique spiritual vantage point from which to see.

    Now, a spiritual vision would allow one to “see into” all sorts of things he wouldn’t ordinarily be able to. “One could ‘see’ what lies inside a barrel”, for example, “or see through a wall” thanks to prophetic vision, which he could never do otherwise, Ramchal remarks. That explains the variations of their visions, and how one of them was able to “see” the image of a lion or an eagle when there wasn’t one actually there at the time (see Ezekiel 10:14). The point is that if the other prophets were able to see such wondrous things thanks to their spiritual visions despite their limited scope, one could only imagine the depth of perception that Moses’ images and messages entailed!

  42. Da’at Tevunot – The Knowing Heart:
    Section 7, Chapter 8

    1. An obvious question that needs to be asked is what exactly was the point of prophets being shown images: why didn’t G-d simply tell His prophets right out what He wanted them to pass along to the Jewish Nation?

    On one level it comes to this, Ramchal says: “G-d wanted to reveal (things) to people in human terms” — that is, in ways that would be understood by all, not just the most sophisticated of us, and in ways that would touch us emotionally. And since “people would (best) ‘see’ (i.e., understand) the celestial influences and G-d’s (generous) ways by means of the images” that the prophets told them about, He granted them just those sorts of depictions since they would exemplify the message being sent.

    That’s to say, if G-d would have had His prophets simply report that He loves us and is bounteously generous, the best of us would accept that at face value and be moved to change. But most of us simply don’t function that way. We need to be stunned into action, and are thus best moved by dramatic images (which artists, writers, and advertisers know only too well). So we’d be far more affected by being told about a fountain or a wellspring in Heaven that would gush forth fresh water, for example, than by a statement of Divine love and effulgence.

    So G-d “translated” His “influences and ways into mundane images that stand for and symbolize” His ways, since that’s what would work best. But that’s just one explanation.

    2.Ramchal says it’s also true that “the very way that G-d chose to ‘translate’ His influences into mundane terms affects our very existence” and makeup, and he offers examples of that. G-d chose to grant us actual eyes so as to have us understand that G-d observes us. That explains why the Torah often speaks of G-d’s eyes (as in, “And Noah found favor in the eyes of the L-rd” [Genesis 6:8], “His eyes are on the ways of mortals; He sees their every step” [Job 34:21], etc.).

    And along the same lines, G-d saw to it that our eyes would be comprised of different shades and hues — to illustrate the subtly various ways He governs us (as such, the whites of our eyes represent G-d’s graciousness, the dark represents His judgment, and the more colorful band represents the more nuanced combinations of graciousness and judgment).

    “The same is true of the content and quality of all things in this world, as well as of their taking one form under one circumstance and another in another” he adds, “they’re all beholden upon G-d’s decisions to ‘translate’ transcendent matters into mundane phenomena”.

    As such, “this principle is a major source of human reality” and helps to explain, for example, why we’re comprised of left, right, and center aspects; why we stand on two feet, have doubled limbs and organs for the most part; and it goes a long way toward explaining everything else about our physical makeup (to say nothing of our spiritual makeup). It’s all there to express cosmic truths [1].

    (So, rather than the opinion that the sages drew examples from our physiology to explain Heaven, the truth of the matter, it’s now clear, is that our physiology explains things about Heaven.)


    [1] For Kabbalistic references to this chapter see R’ Friedlander’s Iyunnim 60, R’ Shriki’s note 183, and R’ Goldblatt’s note 44.

  43. Da’at Tevunot – The Knowing Heart
    Section 7, Chapter 9

    1. “The prophets saw various grades of light … ascending or descending,” Ramchal continues, “moving along or standing still,” and the like, much as we’d see physical phenomena moving about in our realm. But it must be understood that theirs was a supernatural rather than an ordinary vision. And the overarching point is that they were able to “discern and conceive of G-d’s provisions for and management of” the universe based on the makeup of those visions.

    “So, for example,” Ramchal went on to illustrate, when the prophets saw “a circular, encompassing image — one without (discernible) left or right sides, or top and bottom”, that represented the way G-d interacts with the world in general and in broad terms. But when they saw “a linear image” with various dimensions and subdivisions, unlike the more amorphous image above, that represented G-d’s specific interactions with the world based on a person or nation’s spiritual standing, place and time, etc. But let’s explain.

    2. G-d has two different ways of interacting with the universe: either in broad terms or in quite specific and tailored-to terms. That’s to say that He oversees and interacts with creation in total in general, and lays out broad rules, over-all goals with general expectations and universal concerns. In those instances G-d sees to it that the universe as a whole moves along like a mighty ocean, with all the order, roar, and rush inherent to it and with a rhythm of its own, but with no specific concern for details.

    In other instances He concerns Himself with each and every detail as if dipping a finger in a small bowl of soup and accounting for the way each ingredient moves the other and is itself moved, changed, and reconstituted in the process. This latter style depicts the way G-d interacts with humankind most especially, when He takes our moral or immoral interactions with each other into account with a keen and discerning eye for details.

    3. That principle explains a lot. So for example when G-d wanted to illustrate to His prophets His great capacity to affect “and interact with all of creation in an all-encompassing manner — in a way that affects everyone and everything equally, and with no one overlooked or unaccounted for,” Ramchal explains, “He has it appear as if a light from His Being surrounds all of creation much the way the sky over-covers everything”, alluded to by the statement that “spread out above the heads of the Chayot angels was what looked like an expanse, sparkling like ice, and awesome” (Ezekiel 1:22).

    When He wanted to illustrate His function as a judge, “He had Himself appear as a king sitting in judgment upon a throne, with charity on His right side and judgment on His left”. When He wanted to illustrate to His prophets “the variety of His capacity to contend with the world, layer upon layer,” that was illustrated by the Talmudic dictum “What does the earth stand upon? Upon the foundations. And what do the foundations stand upon? Upon the waters…. And all of them stand upon G-d’s arms (i.e., shoulders)” (Chagiga 12b), as if G-d stood at the core of it all, bearing it all.

    When He wants to illustrate how everything unfolds in an orderly and planned manner, step by step, “He has a ladder appear with rungs leading down to the world”. When He wants to illustrate how certain individuals “are closer to Him while others are more distant from Him” in relative order, He’d produce the image of “levels lying within other levels, like inner or outer chambers, or like one piece of clothing covering another”, and the like. All of this was to allow His prophets and their listeners to understand G-d’s ways in the world [1].



    [1] For Kabbalistic references see R’ Friedlander’s notes 511 and 513; R’ Shriki’s notes 184; and R’ Goldblatt’s note 7.

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