One chapter of a book certainly cannot address the complexity of the "spiritual realm." Ramchal gives a brief overview of certain fundamentals, some of which he will elaborate on in further chapters. We will offer some additional insight at this time and more later in the study.
Ramchal first addresses the physical world, noting that there are both terrestrial and celestial bodies. His words are similar to those of Pauls:
The physical world is that which is known to us. This is the world that is perceived through mans "natural" senses. The spiritual realm and what we know of transcends mans senses.
At this time we should review the Jewish tradition that views "existence" in terms of four "worlds."
These three worlds make up "creation" (everything following Genesis 1:1). Beyond creation (i.e., before Genesis 1:1) there is a purely divine world, one that is apart from concepts such as evil or separation. This world is called "Atzilut" having to do with "nearness." Tradition views the four worlds of existence as being present in Isaiah 45:7.
The entities described by Ramchal in this chapter exist in the three lower worlds. In addition to souls, angels and forces (archangels), he also distinguishes a separate category of beings called shedim (demons) which transverse the physical (Asiyyah) and "lower" spiritual realm (Yetzirah).
As Ramchal will point out, only man via his soul has the potential to realize all four worlds.
Physical and Spiritual Counterparts
One of the principles in the tradition of Hebraic Torah study is that of, "as above so below." (See notes on 1.5.2 below for more on "tradition.") The physical world of "animals, vegetables and minerals" is highly complex. As the physical mirrors "that which is above," we can appreciate how intricate these other "worlds" are.
These "worlds," and all that exists in them, are not exclusive of each other. As we will see, the archangels and spirits of the throne room are very "close to God." They have a direct relationship with those being we call angels, as well as with our souls. Angels and souls in turn each have their own type of connection to the physical realm. This idea is seen in the vision of Ezekiel, where he describes a "wheel within a wheel," indicative of one world (and its beings) "existing within the next."
Thus what happens "down here" can and does impact the spiritual worlds beyond us, potentially to the highest levels. Conversely that which is decreed from God above "makes its way down" to us in the physical realm sometimes via angels ("messengers") and sometimes more directly. An example of this is found in the book of Revelation with the three series of judgments, each emanating from a spiritual realm, yet impacting the physical earth.
Among the forces (archangels), angels and demons, there are various "types." Ramchal states that each type has its own laws and distinct nature. Hebraic tradition often speaks of spiritual entities in groups of ten, number symbolic of "fullness" in the spiritual realm.
For instance, in the world of Force/Archangels (Beriah) we have in a "descending" order:
Each of the names above is associated with the general function of that archangel.
Differentiation within the angelic world is seen in Scripture verses such as these:
In the angelic world (Yetzirah) there are "orders" of angels categorized as follows:
The above grouping may vary slightly within various lines in the Hebraic tradition. One of the sources in this tradition is the "Zohar," which is one of the primary texts in deeper level Torah study. The Zohar depicts the following:
Further, in the lowest spiritual realms there are considered to be ten orders of demons. Conversely, in the highest realm (Azilut) we find ten names of God. (i.e., Ehyeh, YHVH, Elohim, Yah, El, YHVH-Elohim, YHVH-Tzvaot, Elohim-Tzvaot, Shaddai, Adonai.)
Ramchal mentions "angels" as having the role of maintaining order and bringing about changes. This occurs according to their position between the world of forces (Beriah) and the physical world (Asiyyah). Thus, nothing we experience in the physical realm is completely "random." (See footnote 37 to this section.)
Tradition also teaches certain "rules" regarding the function of angels, including the following:
Ramchal concludes this section by briefly differentiating between human and animal souls. The idea of the soul in Hebraic tradition and language is not the same as found in the western/Christian world. For one, there are a number of different words for "soul" in the language of the Tenakh. The soul is in fact considered a "conglomerate," made up of multiple parts.
Generally speaking, there are considered to be five "levels" of the soul (each complex in its own right):
Of these, only the first three levels are generally considered as functioning/accessible in the present world. The above concepts will be expounded on in Part III of this study.
An important concept to derive from this chapter is the idea that what we know about the spiritual realm we know from tradition. What does this mean?
The pages of the Bible do not give us much detailed information about the worlds of spiritual forces, angels, demons, etc. From the opening story of Creation through the rest of the Torah, the prophets and the "New Testament," the spiritual realm, its inhabitants and powers are mentioned in a way that assumes a pre-existing knowledge.
Some instances of Scriptural reference to the spiritual realm include:
(An important example of tradition involves the idea of "The Messiah." Many Christian teachings speak of "Jesus fulfilling several hundred Messianic Prophecies of the Old Testament." The difficulty with this however, is that "The Messiah" is nowhere mentioned anywhere in the "Old Testament" (Tenakh). Jewish teachings about "The Messiah" come from Oral Tradition [and there is no one definitive opinion]. When the writers of the New Testament make messianic claims about Yeshua, they are expressing their view of an Oral Tradition of their day.)
There are other overt references besides the above list, as well as allusions to the spiritual realm. However, throughout Scripture, we are given little if any detailed explanation about these things. This is not saying that Scripture deems the spiritual realm and its inhabitants unimportant, as they are quite significant. However, the written Scriptures do not give us much information regarding the "who, what, why, where and how," of these things.
For the student of Scripture, this leads to an important question. Are we free to "invent" our own approach and answers to the questions regarding these matters or is there a tradition to guide us?
The Hebraic tradition (as Ramchal teaches) is grounded in an unbroken chain of transmission going back well before the time of Yeshua. This includes not only the "Oral Torah" given to Moses and developed since Sinai, but even other teachings that are said to go back to Abraham and some to Adam himself. (i.e., What was Enoch teaching everyone?)
The pages of the Talmud as well as the Dead Sea Scrolls show well-developed ideas concerning the spiritual realm from the period just prior to Yeshua. It is such a tradition that the authors and characters of both the Tenakh and the New Testament draw from.
As an advisory, many of the ideas presented by Ramchal (here and in subsequent chapters) as well as other we will mention (also from Judaism), will not correspond to those in the Christian tradition. When they differ, one must ask, from where does Christianity draw its ideas? For instance, there are churches today that not only have teachings about the dark side of the spiritual realm, but also how to come against it. (Delivering people from demons, etc.)
These Christian concepts and methods came about long after the early Messianic (Nazarene) communities were obliterated by the Romans. At times they differ greatly from what the Jews of Yeshuas time believed. As a simple example, many churches teach that demons are the "fallen angels." That is the "Christian Tradition" regarding this topic. As Ramchal states, demons and angels are very different types of entities. That is the Jewish tradition.
More on Tradition and the Oral Torah
Many people feel that the written Bible does not need an Oral Tradition to go along with it. After all, if its in writing, isnt that the best method to convey the information from generation to generation?
Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan speaks about this in his "Handbook of Jewish Thought" (Moznaim 1979):
Ramchal elaborates on the spiritual "forces" saying that these were the first things created. This idea parallels modern science regarding the physical universe, which teaches that there are four fundamental forces (i.e., gravity, electro-magnetism, the weak force and the strong force).
This is reflected in the creation account of Genesis. Many critics of the Bible point to inconsistencies with the first three books of Genesis. These are resolved when one understands how creation "unfolded" as follows:
Genesis chapter 1 is an account of creation at the level of these forces (Beriah). "Adam" at this point is a single "spiritual being" made up of both the male and female aspects of the image of God in which he was created. The "plants" and "animals" discussed in Genesis 1 also exist in this state. Note how Genesis 1:26-30 describes the creation of man, yet this seems to be repeated in Genesis 2:7. Further, Genesis 1:11-12 tells us that plant life "exists" yet in Genesis 2:4-5 we are given a summary statement that no vegetable matter was yet present, as God had not caused it to "rain upon the earth yet."
In Genesis 2 we see the next level of creation come about, (Yetzirah/Formation) where Chavah (Eve) is now formed into a separate entity and animals are given distinct names. At this point however, Adam and Eve, as well as all animals and vegetables, do not yet exist in the physical state that we do today. This occurs with their banishment from Eden into the lowest world of creation, the physical realm, beginning in Genesis 3:24, where Adam will now have to "work" the (physical) land.
Thus we see that in a sense, the spiritual and physical realms are "images" of each other.
As Scripture begins with a "hidden" account of these three worlds of creation, it also closes with such. The book of Revelation depicts three sets of "seven judgments." These mirror the three worlds of creation, formation and physical. (See our online Revelation study for more details on this concept.)
Ramchal stresses the importance of mans free will exists as the exception to the rule that everything in the physical realm is caused by what is dictated by the higher forces.
This is reflected in the following teaching:
A critical concept brought forth here is the fact that our reality consists of both "deterministic" and "indeterministic" influences existing at the same time. Because man, via his soul, interacts with the spiritual realm particularly the "mixed realm" of Yetzirah (the world of angels) he is in a position to alter events, sometimes even drastically. God created every "point A" and "point B," but allows for much leeway in how we get from one to another.
There is an interesting teaching in Judaism on this issue, that being that "no negative prophecy has to come true." This is based on the idea that man has free will to repent or sin. A classic case is Ninevah. Jonah was told by God to tell the inhabitants of that city that they had been judged and would die. The divine message was not, "unless you repent" it was too late for that God had declared his judgment. Yet, the city did repent, and this judgment was nullified (for a while at least!)
We see the same with sciences teachings on the physical realm, which speaks of both "linear" and "random" events. In any situation, (from microbiology to world or cosmic events), if we have enough information, we can make an "educated guess" about how things will "play out." Yet because of this "random" factor (uncertainty principle), nothing is 100 percent certain.
As stated by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan:
Key here is the idea that man can influence the highest forces (in the very Throne Room of God) in a positive or negative fashion. As with the physical realm, the slightest such alteration at the "cause" can result in enormous changes with the "effect."
Sin of any type "energizes" the negative aspects of the spiritual realm. Ramchal points out that even words and thoughts have this capacity.
This mirrors Yeshuas teachings:
Our existence in multiple worlds and the impact sin can have helps us understand the deeper meaning of New Testament teachings such as this one:
Everything that occurs, what we consider both "good" and "bad" is "best for creation," as everything that "comes our way" in life, is arranged by God.
This is reflected in one of Pauls letters (compare to Talmud, Berachoth 33b above):
Ramchal hints at the complexity of "how divine providence works." This will be discussed in a future chapter.
Here we may entertain the idea of a "fifth dimension" of existence. We can understand our world of four dimensions. These include the three dimensions of space (up-down, north-south, east-west), as well as the fourth dimension of time. The fifth dimension extends beyond the physical however, and is a "moral" dimension. (i.e., holy versus unholy, clean versus unclean, etc.)
As Ramchal states, the fundamental Forces either exists in a state of "good" or otherwise. An example of these Forces existing in a negative state and the effect this has on the physical realm is seen in the book of Revelation. The "four horsemen" of Revelation chapter 6 are representative of these Forces. The effect they have on the earth (a negative one due to mans sin) is seen in the subsequent series of judgments as mentioned earlier. (See our online Revelation study for more on this.)
Ramchal states that the activity of the evil Forces is tied to the extent to which Gods light is concealed, which of course is determined by mankinds actions. When these Forces are made strong (through mans failure to repent) then the lower worlds of existence (angelic and physical) suffer the consequences.
Turning again to the harsh judgments (evil) found in the book of Revelation we see:
Ramchal describes some of the various results of evil. As we will see throughout this study, the multiple facets and commandments of the Torah are given to us to deal with the battle between good/evil on multiple levels of our existence. He closes by reiterating the specific role of angels as discussed above.
1. The Aryeh Kaplan Reader, Mesorah Publications Ltd., Brooklyn NY, 1985, p. 153.