ramhdr.gif (24480 bytes)

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):

Talmud, Sanhedrin 108a - These are the generations of Noah: Noah was a just man, and perfect in his generations. R. Johanan said: In his generations, but not in other generations.

Zohar, Bereshith, 68a - Said R. Judah: ‘Although Noah was a righteous man, he was not so pious that God should think fit to save the world for his sake.

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:

Genesis 25:25 - And the first came out red. He was like a hairy garment all over; so they called his name Esau.

I Samuel 16:12 - So he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, with bright eyes, and good-looking. And the LORD said, "Arise, anoint him; for this is the one!"

Both men, because of their dominant Yetzer Hara, had a propensity towards violence:

Zohar, Bereshith, 137b - Now we are told that Esau "came forth ruddy", a colour emblematic of severity (i.e., judgment or harshness).

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:

Midrash Rabbah - Genesis LXIII:8 - And when Samuel saw that David was ruddy, as it is written, And he sent, and brought him in. Now he was ruddy (I Sam. XVI, 12), he was smitten with fear, thinking he too might be a murderer. But the Holy One, blessed be He, reassured him that he was withal of beautiful eyes (ib.) [which meant], Esau slew by his own impulse, whereas he [David] would slay only on the sentence of the court.

The "New Testament" also teaches the idea of levels of spiritual advantage. One of Yeshua’s parables makes this point as follows:

Matthew 25:14-29 - "For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey. Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. And likewise he who had received two gained two more also. But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord's money. After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them. "So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, "Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.' His lord said to him, "Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.' He also who had received two talents came and said, "Lord, you delivered to me two talents; look, I have gained two more talents besides them.' His lord said to him, "Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.' "Then he who had received the one talent came and said, "Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.' "But his lord answered and said to him, "You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents. "For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.

Paul specifically cites the "environmental" advantage a Jew born and raised with the Torah has:

Romans 3:1-2 - What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision? Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God.

It should also be noted that with the advantage of Torah (and a better knowledge of God’s will) comes greater responsibility and accountability. Paul states that the Jews are not only "first in line" for reward, but also for punishment:

Romans 2:8-10 - But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the gentile; But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the gentile.

Yeshua taught in the same fashion regarding accountability:

Luke 12:48 - And that servant, which knew his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.

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 man’s makeup. Man’s new physical "condition" causes him to have a connection to evil ("tamey," pronounced tah-may), which draws him away from God. (Remember Adam and Eve’s 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):

Ezekiel 18:1-4, 20 - The word of the LORD came to me again, saying, "What do you mean when you use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying: "The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge'? "As I live," says the Lord GOD, "you shall no longer use this proverb in Israel. "Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine; the soul who sins shall die. ... The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.

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. Man’s 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 individual’s nature." This is accomplished through constraints placed on the Yetzer Hara, either through the Torah (God’s 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:

Genesis 4:6-7 - So the LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over 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:

Psalm 51:5(7) - Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.

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 David’s 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 states:

Psalm 119:97-104 - Oh, how I love Your law [torah]! It is my meditation all the day. You, through Your commandments, make me wiser than my enemies; for they are ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients, because I keep Your precepts. I have restrained my feet from every evil way, that I may keep Your word. I have not departed from Your judgments, for You Yourself have taught me. How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through Your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.

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 one’s self to follow his intellect, one can overcome his physical nature..."

God Himself makes clear that man has a role in this process:

Isaiah 1:18 - "Come now, and let us reason together," Says the LORD, "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool.

Man’s 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. Ramchal’s 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:

Deuteronomy 4:4-5 - "Surely I have taught you statutes and judgments, just as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should act according to them in the land which you go to possess. Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, "Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.'

Psalms 19:7-8 - The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes;

Proverbs 3:13-18 - Happy is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gains understanding; for her proceeds are better than the profits of silver, and her gain than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies, and all the things you may desire cannot compare with her. Length of days is in her right hand, in her left hand riches and honor. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her, and happy are all who retain her.

Proverbs 4:5-9 - Get wisdom! Get understanding! Do not forget, nor turn away from the words of my mouth. Do not forsake her, and she will preserve you; Love her, and she will keep you. Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding. Exalt her, and she will promote you; She will bring you honor, when you embrace her. She will place on your head an ornament of grace; A crown of glory she will deliver to you."

Proverbs 9:10-12 - "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. For by me your days will be multiplied, and years of life will be added to you. If you are wise, you are wise for yourself, and if you scoff, you will bear it alone."

I Corinthians 3:18-20 - Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, "He catches the wise in their own craftiness"; and again, "The LORD knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile." Therefore let no one boast in men.

Ephesians 5:15-17 - See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

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 man’s 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. Man’s 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, man’s 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 God’s "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 God’s true nature. This condition exists only because God’s light is greatly concealed in the physical realm (darkness or "evil" is the absence of God’s Light). However, instead of disassociating himself from the physical, God’s intent is for man to use the physical to achieve enlightenment.

All of man’s actions have a "spiritual" impact. Every aspect of man’s life, from the most ordinary, everyday tasks, to the loftiest pursuits, have potential to either increase or decrease man’s 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.,)

Man’s 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. Man’s 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 man’s 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 man’s true nature." As we stated, man’s 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:

Psalm 119:105 - Your Torah is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.

Paul expressed this eloquently in his Romans letter:

Romans 7:12 - Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.

Through obedience to God’s "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:

John 14:14-17 - I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.

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:

Matthew 13:44-46 - "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

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, "Man’s use of the world for his own needs, however, should also be circumscribed by the limits imposed by God’s 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 one’s Spiritual sensitivity and the "health" of one’s soul.

Leviticus 11:43-45 - You shall not make yourselves abominable with any creeping thing that creeps; nor shall you make yourselves unclean with them, lest you be defiled by them. For I am the LORD your God. You shall therefore consecrate yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy. Neither shall you defile yourselves with any creeping thing that creeps on the earth. For I am the LORD who brings you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.

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 Corinthians 6:19 - Flee fornication. Every sin that a man does is without the body; but he that commits fornication sins against his own body. What? Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which you have of God, and you are not your own?

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:

Numbers 12:3 - Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.

"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 God’s 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:

Exodus 12:8 - I speak with him face to face, even plainly, and not in dark sayings; and he sees the form of the LORD.

The Talmud says of Moses’ level of perception:

Yevamoth 49b - All the prophets looked into a dim glass, but Moses looked through a clear glass.

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:

Exodus 34: 29 - Now it was so, when Moses came down from Mount Sinai (and the two tablets of the Testimony were in Moses' hand when he came down from the mountain), that Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone while he talked with 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:

Isaiah 55:11 - So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.

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:

Acts 8:30-31 - So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, "Do you understand what you are reading?" And he said, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him.

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.

Torah.org commentary | Judaism 101 Sidebars | Expanded Footnotes | Discussion Board

Lesson Archives Index | Judaism 101 Home Page