1.4.1 Man's Makeup and Environment
Not everyone begins life (or goes through it) at the same level. People are a product of both their genetic makeup as well as their environment. This applies to the spiritual realm as well as the physical.
Environment can mean either positive or negative conditions. This not only influences how a person may develop, but also how God views them. For instance, two people who achieve the same result are not necessarily judged as having done equal (i.e., a dyslexic person who gets an "A" in English as opposed to a gifted reader.)
The Biblical figure Noah illustrates this point. The sages debate whether Noah would be considered righteous if he had lived at any other time, or if he was just the "best" of His wicked generation. (i.e., he would not have stood out as especially righteous in another generation such as that of Abraham):
Another teaching related to this idea concerns Esau and David. Both men had a very dominant Yetzer Hara ("evil inclination"). Scripture alludes to this when its states both were had a distinctive "ruddy" appearance:
Both men, because of their dominant Yetzer Hara, had a propensity towards violence:
Esau embodied a person living to the fullest of these "negative" characteristics. David, who should have been like Esau, instead exemplified one who channeled his Yetzer Hara to serving God. Midrash Rabbah expresses it in the following manner:
The "New Testament" also teaches the idea of levels of spiritual advantage. One of Yeshuas parables makes this point as follows:
Paul specifically cites the "environmental" advantage a Jew born and raised with the Torah has:
It should also be noted that with the advantage of Torah (and a better knowledge of Gods will) comes greater responsibility and accountability. Paul states that the Jews are not only "first in line" for reward, but also for punishment:
Yeshua taught in the same fashion regarding accountability:
1.4.2 The Dominance of the Physical
Ramchal begins this section by stating that when a person is born, the Yetzer Hara has dominance, meaning that their inclination is drawn toward the physical.
Due to the sin of Adam, the Yezter Hara, which was intended to be an "external force," became internalized and integrated into mans makeup. Mans new physical "condition" causes him to have a connection to evil ("tamey," pronounced tah-may), which draws him away from God. (Remember Adam and Eves first act was to hide themselves).
Though mankind, through Adam, has a propensity towards "sin," scripture shows that each individual is responsible for his sin only, and not that of anyone else (i.e. the sin of Adam):
The dominance of the Yetzer Hara is a "necessary evil," as man must take care of his physical needs in order to survive in the world. Young children exemplify the "self-centered, immediate-gratification-at-any-cost" nature of the Yetzer Hara. Yet without the Yetzer Hara children would not seek to have their needs met. Mans ultimate purpose, however, is to "bring God" into his daily activities, converting the Yetzer Hara to serve God and thus man becomes "fit to cleave to his Creator".
Ramchal states, "As he matures, his mind continues to gain influence depending on the individuals nature." This is accomplished through constraints placed on the Yetzer Hara, either through the Torah (Gods Revelation) or artificially through the system of the "physical world", which dimly reflects the True system.
The Evil Inclination is not itself sinful, it is how this force is directed which translates into sin or service to God. Man has the Yetzer Hara (the "sin nature") as a result of Adams fall, but as Scripture states from the beginning, God has also given him the ability to overcome and neutralize it:
The Yetzer Hara manifests itself in the physical "dimension" of existence. It is the Torah that frees mankind from this deficiency elevating him "above the physical" and allowing him to "rule over it."
Using David as an example again, he states about himself:
David is stating that since his nature is a material one, rooted in lust, he is susceptible to sin, and for this reason pleads for God not to be too exacting in judgement, but to remember his frailty. This material nature is certainly not a justification to allow sin, rather, it should motivate man to elevate himself and not remain in such a lowly state.
Ramchal states, "Even after an individual matures, however, the physical does not automatically relinquish its influence and stop inclining the individual toward its way. The only means by which one can overcome the physical is by growing in wisdom, becoming versed in it and living by it."
This idea is apparent in Davids life. He should have become like Esau, but instead became known by God as one who had "kept My commandments and who followed Me with all his heart, to do only what was right in My eyes." (I Kings 14:8)
Even David with his "colorful" past was considered by God to have done "only what is right in His eyes." Upon further examination it becomes apparent why God considered this to be so.
David is not boasting of himself in the above Psalm (or any of his other writings). Rather, he is praising God who gave him the Torah, through which he was able to overcome his "natural" tendencies.
As Ramchal states, "By fortifying ones self to follow his intellect, one can overcome his physical nature..."
God Himself makes clear that man has a role in this process:
Mans ability to learn from his environment is not unique, it is present in various degrees in all creatures. Man, however, has the ability of reason and other distinguishing attributes not present in other species. Ramchals use of the term, "intellect" does not refer to human intelligence only, but to wisdom that is Divinely imparted as well.
Many Scriptures attest to this:
Man is presently a creature divided. His body (i.e., "the flesh" as Paul calls it) is in its true essence "inherently dark and course," causing it to be "impermeable" to the Divine light. Whereas his soul is "intrinsically pure and lofty," receptive to the Divine light (Revelation) that permeates the universe.
Its is mans physical nature that keeps him from being able to fully connect with God. Though the soul is "trapped" in a vehicle (the body) that is propelling it away from its Source of "Light and life," it makes every effort to "escape." Man can, through his sin and rebellion towards God, counteract this "compulsion" of the soul to climb towards God. Mans condition upon arrival in the "World to Come" (the "olam haba") is dependant upon his success/failure to overcome and lessen the dominance of the Yezter Hara in this world (the "olam hazeh").
It is for this reason that man must die in order to realize his true potential. In death, the soul separates from the body, and each of man's "parts" goes its own way. The soul goes back to unite with God (regaining the "power" that was lost while trapped in the body -- see pg. 57), and the body returns to dust (undergoing the "Chibut HaKever" -- the punishment of the grave). Ultimately, mans body and soul will reunite at the resurrection elevating man to an even "higher" level than he could achieve in his first life.
1.4.3 Man's Constant Involvement with the Physical
Ramchal reminds us that everything in our environment is filled with darkness due to the concealment of Gods "Light." Creation was intended to be a means by which man could obtain union with God. With the fall of man, the effort that should have been directed towards cultivating a relationship with his Creator now had to be directed towards worldly pursuits. This new physical existence restrains man from achieving his true purpose, that being spiritual enlightenment.
1.4.4 Using the Material for Spiritual Gain
As mentioned, the physical is regarded as "evil" and considered in its true essence to be "dark and coarse," because it is the polar opposite of Gods true nature. This condition exists only because Gods light is greatly concealed in the physical realm (darkness or "evil" is the absence of Gods Light). However, instead of disassociating himself from the physical, Gods intent is for man to use the physical to achieve enlightenment.
All of mans actions have a "spiritual" impact. Every aspect of mans life, from the most ordinary, everyday tasks, to the loftiest pursuits, have potential to either increase or decrease mans connection to God.
God has not relegated man to a monastic lifestyle, but desires, to a limited extent, for him to derive blessings and satisfaction from the physical world (Deuteronomy 12:7-18, 14:26, 16:11-14, etc.,)
Mans position in creation is unique and powerful. As Ramchal states, because man exists in the "lowliness" of the physical realm, he is in a position to transform darkness into light. Mankind alone has the ability to become "close" to God. It is very frailties and deficiencies that can obscure God, that place him in this position. Mans deficiencies are not present for God to condemn mankind, but that man may in fact become elevated to an even "higher" position than possible if mans faults were lacking.
Lastly, Ramchal states that God has set up "patterns" (positive commands for us to follow) and "restraints" (negative prohibitions), as our guide to obtain "closeness" to Him. As we will see, these patterns and restraints make up the commands of Torah.
1.4.5 The Torah
A consequence of the amount of evil increasing in the world is that "sin abounds." To help man "get back on the right track," God has intervened at several points in history, raising up righteous people, prophets and giving His Torah to Moses and Israel, at Mount Sinai. The Torah consists of both "positive" and "negative" commandments. (See sidebar.)
As Ramchal states, each of the individual commands of Torah is there for a specific purpose, effecting both the makeup of man as he begins and proceeds to "grow in wisdom." At one level are the "obvious" commands that most everyone can relate to (i.e., not committing murder). At the other are commands that don't seem to have a rationale to them, such as the kosher laws, or the laws of the red heifer. In between those "extremes" are many types of commands, each serving a specific purpose in God's plan for us.
No command of the Torah is superfluous; each one is "based on all the aspects of mans true nature." As we stated, mans nature is a divided one, consisting of the Yetzer Hara and the Yetzer Tov. The Torah, with its positive and negative commands, reflects this duality inherent in mankind. The commandments serve a twofold purpose, restraining and subjugating the Yetzer Hara, lessening its influence, and strengthening and increasing the power of the Yetzer Tov.
1.4.6 Living According to the Torah
The purpose of Torah is to keep us in the "direction" of God. As King David wrote:
Paul expressed this eloquently in his Romans letter:
Through obedience to Gods "Plan" (the Torah) man begins to fulfill his true purpose, that being "cleaving" to his Creator. The power of the Yezter Hara is greatly diminished and the veil of the physical world begins to dissolve, allowing for an even greater measure of "Divine Light". Though we must await the resurrection to "reap" the true rewards of our efforts in this life, man can still, to some extent, reflect the level of "excellency" which he has obtained.
Yeshua reflects this idea when He states:
Ramchal's comment that man must, "manage all his affairs only for the sake of attaining this goal, having no desire for anything else," mirrors the teaching of Yeshua in His parables:
1.4.7 Ways of Serving God
Ramchal notes that although there are specific ways and times to serve God, according to the commands of Torah, there are also ways of serving Him in our "day to day" routines. In fact, this is the essence of the Torah as taught at its deepest levels -- to "bring God" into even the mundane things of life is considered the ultimate accomplishment of man, and brings tikkun (repair) to the world.
Ramchal states, "Mans use of the world for his own needs, however, should also be circumscribed by the limits imposed by Gods will and not include anything forbidden by God." The commands are not meant to merely protect the physical wellbeing of man, but to also guard his spiritual wellbeing. This is reflected in the kosher laws (that is, foods that are permitted and forbidden as well how they are to be prepared).
The physical protection that these laws afford is secondary, upon further examination its becomes clear that this issue is more than just food, it concerns ones Spiritual sensitivity and the "health" of ones soul.
Ramchal makes specific mention here of taking care of one's body so that it is in proper shape to perform the commandments in order to elevate his soul. Again, this shows the interrelationship between soul and body in Judaism, as compared to other teachings that cast the body into a solely evil or empty role.
Another teaching that shows how the physical actions of the body can impact the spiritual is found in the "New Testament":
1.4.8 Love and Fear of God
The concepts of "love" and "fear" of God are associated with the positive and negative commands of the Torah. Simply put, the negative commands, associated with "fear of God," are given to "remove evil," and the positive commands, associated with "love of God," are to "add good."
As the bad must usually be removed before good can be added, Scripture teaches that Proverbs 9:10 - The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.
Ramchal teaches that humility is a key attribute in strengthening one's love and fear of God (and thus performing Teshuvah.) Moses' close relationship with God was largely due to this characteristic:
"Godly humility" and human ideas on humility are not quite the same. After all, it was Moses himself who wrote that he was the most humble man on earth! How could a "humble" man make such a statement about himself? Godly humility has to do with coming to a true understanding of your role in Gods plan and acting accordingly, whether that be in a position of leadership or simple servitude. The truly humble person recognizes his strengths and weaknesses relative to himself, to others, and to God. He entertains no false notions about his place in the scheme of things.
Speaking of Moses, God says:
The Talmud says of Moses level of perception:
Ramchal states, "The love and fear of God ... enlighten the physical darkness in man, cause his soul to radiate in all its brightness, and thus elevate him step by step until he attains a state of closeness to God." Moses exemplifies these characteristics, and at the moment when he was the closest to God (at Mount Sinai) Scripture states of him:
1.4.9 The Power of Torah
Study of Torah is considered the most important of the three steps of Teshuvah (see sidebar) as without an understanding of Who God is, one cannot be as effective in their prayer or deeds.
Study of Torah always results in a desired result, as God tells us:
Ramchal mentions that the use of "commentaries" is effective in achieving better understanding. Those who feel that they have no need of the opinions of learned individuals who came before them should consider the story of the "Ethiopian eunuch" from the New Testament. This was a well-off and highly educated man, as he not only could read the Scriptures (in Hebrew or Aramaic), but also had his own copy, something very rare.
This man possessed the humility and intelligence to ask for a "commentary" from a learned source, in order that he might better understand the (Hebraic) context of the Scriptures:
1.4.10 The Power of Torah
Ramchal makes clear that God does not withhold His good. Further, the amount of evil that exists in the world is caused by, and is proportional to, mankind's failure to repent and live according to God's ways. When enough of the world turns from God, evil runs rampant, as was seen in the generation of the Flood and as prophesied for the end of days in the book of Revelation and other Hebrew texts.
Each person thus has the potential to effect how much of God's blessings (Divine Light) descend from the heavenlies to the earth, and how much is restricted. A person may act as a Tzaddik (righteous one) and increase the flow of blessings, or he may choose to sin and "shut up" the heavenlies.
1.4.11 The Purpose of the Commandments
Ramchal closes by making a general statement on the true purpose of the commandments ... to lead us away from sin and toward God, (i.e., being "conformed to His image.) As he mentions, the details of all this will be discussed later in Derech Hashem.