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Ramchal's - Daat Tevunot
taught by Rav Avraham Brandwein
Be'ezrat Hashem, we are about to begin learning the book Daat Tevunot, by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, the Ramchal zecher tzadik libracha (may the memory of the tzadik be for blessing).(2)
As we shall see, Daat Tevunot is based on the thirteen fundamentals of faith as formulated by the Rambam in his Commentary to the Mishnah (Mesechet Sanhedrin, Perek Chelek).
Daat Tevunot is also known as Maamar HaVikuach (Discourse in the form of a Conversation or Dialectic). Although one of the meanings of the word Vikuach is "debate", this is not a debate at all. It is written in the form of questions and answers between the Soul (the Neshamah) and the Intellect (the Sechel). The Soul asks questions, and the Intellect answers.
[The book thus begins with the Soul saying: It is my yearning and my desire to make sense of a number of matters concerning which it is written, "Know today and bring [this knowledge] into your heart that Hashem is the Supreme Being in heaven above and on the earth below, there is no other," those principles of our faith, the knowledge of which a person is required to pursue to the utmost extent of his ability... (As we shall see, the Soul then goes on to enumerate the thirteen fundamentals of faith and singles out four of them that are particularly difficult for her to "bring into" her heart, meaning, internalize and fully understand.)]
Before we begin analyzing the text, however, let us note that it is interesting that the author chose the Soul to be the one that asks the questions. Why did he do this? Why does the Soul ask and the Intellect answer?
The answer to this is found in the Midrash (Bereshit Rabbah, Chapter Fourteen, as well as Devarim Rabbah, Chapter Two). The Midrash says: "The Soul (Nefesh) is called by five different names. They are: Nefesh, the lowest aspect of the soul; Ruach, the next higher;Neshamah, the next higher; and Chayah and Yechidah."
Nefesh can be translated Soul.
By stating that "the Nefesh is called by five different names," and that one of these is Neshamah, the Midrash is informing us that the Neshamah is one aspect of a larger entity called Nefesh. It is clear that, in order to understand what the Neshamah is, we must first understand what the Nefesh (of which it is a part) is.
We turn to the Torah. Describing the creation of Adam, the Torah writes (in Bereshit Chapter Two, Verse Seven), "And Elokim (God) formed Adam (Man) from the dust of the ground; He then breathed into his (Adam's) nostrils a Nishmat Chaim (a living soul or a breath of life), and Adam became a Nefesh Chayah (living soul)."
Nefesh Chayah. The truth is that we find the expression Nefesh Chayah describing animals as well, as in the first chapter of Bereshit, verse twenty, "Elokim (God) said: Let the waters [of the seas] be filled with swarms of Nefesh Chayah (living creatures)." Certainly there must be a difference between the Nefesh Chayah of an animal and that of Man.
The meaning of the word Nefesh in Hebrew is Ratzon, "Will" or "Desire." Many examples of this usage are found throughout the Tanach. One of them is Avraham Avinu's statement to the people of Chevron when he wished to purchase a burial plot for Sarah. "Avraharose, and he bowed down to the local people, the children of Chet. He spoke to them and said: Im Yesh Et Nafshechem Likbor Et Meti (if you really wish to help me bury my dead)..." (Bereshit Twenty-Three, Eight). Rashi adds: "Nafshechem means Retzonchem." Similarly, in the first book of Divre HaYamim (chapter twenty eight, verse nine), David HaMelech says to Shlomo, "And now,my son Shlomo, you must know the God of your father. Serve Him B'lev Shalem (with a perfect heart) U'be'nefesh Chafetza (and with a willing soul)." And again, Yeshaya HaNavi said (Chapter twenty six, verse eight), "Hashem, we have yearned for You. The desire of our soul (ta'avatnefesh) is for Your Name and Your Memory."
In all these cases we thus see that the concept of Nefesh is closely related to that of Ratzon (Will and Desire). This is because Nefesh is the foundation of man's existence.Not only the foundation of human existence, but of every living creature.
Still, it is clear that there must be a huge difference between animals and man. To understand this we can look into the first verse we mentioned, "And Elokim formed Adam from the dust of the ground; He then breathed into his nostrils a Nishmat Chaim, and Adam became a Nefesh Chayah." What is a Nishmat Chaim?
Neshamah has to do with Quality... the Value of something. It is related to the verb Sham, as in the expression, "Shamim et ha'karka," which means "we estimate the value of a piece of land," we give it a value.
Man becoming a Nishmat Chaim after receiving a Nefesh Chayah means that after God developed this special Nefesh which has the potential to desire and go after that which is positive, i.e. spiritual and Godly, this is precisely what distinguishes man from the beasts. Now Man can develop himself spiritually. This is the essential difference between him and all other lower creatures. Animals only possess a Nefesh Bahamit, an animal soul, which is the desire and the instinct to preserve their species and to protect themselves against anything that endangers their lives. All this is still within the bounds of nature; it involves no extramoral or spiritual evolution.
Spiritual quality is only found in Man, as we saw, "Elokim breathed into his nostrils a Nishmat Chaim (a Living Soul)," concering which the Zohar (3:123b) says, "He breathed from within Himself." This means that Hashem placed within Man the spiritual potential to develop himself and his will beyond his given nature, and direct it towards that which is Godly. The means to this end is the Torah and its commandments. With these, Man can elevate himself higher and higher to the point where that fundamental Will (Ratzon) to do good receives a higher Value and Importance. It then rises up from the level of Nefesh to that of Ruach, and then to Neshamah. That is, that same Nefesh now can develop itself to the point that it is onthe level of Neshamah, so that it is now considered Godly, a chelek eloka mima'al.
Now we can understand Rashi's comment on our verse, "And Man became a Nefesh Chayah." Rashi says: "Cattle and wild beasts are also called Nefesh Chayah (living Nefesh). However, that of Man is most alive and vital of all, for De'ah (the ability to reason) and Dibur (the ability to communicate in words) were added unto it." Onkelos, as well, translated Nefesh Chayah as Ruach MeMalela, which means literally "a speaking spirit," and refers again the Godly ability to contemplate and speak about that which is spiritual, and to elevate himself to the level of receiving spiritual De'ah (Knowledge), at which point the Nefesh growsand receives the higher quality of Neshamah.
Thus, the concept of Ratzon (Will) is also found on the level of Neshamah, for the simple reason that it is the same Nefesh that we began with, only now it is more evolved and has acquired a higher value. For now its Will and Desire is only for the spiritual and the Godly. We therefore call it Neshamah.
We can now understand why the Ramchal begins Daat Tevunot with the Neshamah saying:"It is my yearning and my desire to make sense of a number of matters..." This means that Man's Neshamah, his essential will and desire, wishes to elevate itself to that which is spiritual. Its basic questions therefore all involve how to elevate itself in the service of its Creator, to draw near to Hashem, to attach itself to God. It therefore says: My yearning and my desire... meaning that it feels an inner lack that impels it to grow, a dissatisfaction with standing still. It has a powerful desire to rise up higher and higher, to get closer and closer to its Source, to serve Hashem more and more perfectly... as we mentioned in connection with the concept of ta'avat nefesh. So, whereas the level of Nefesh involves the basic drive and desire of a person, we are now speaking of a spiritual desire or thirst. For by growing and developing itself, that same Nefesh reaches a higher stage of development and is now called Neshamah.
Again, the essence of the Neshamah is still the Nefesh-Ratzon. Why does it now have a new name, Neshamah? Because that soul is now directed to that which is spiritual. Its quality and value is now spiritual, Godly. So that when Hashem breathed a Nishmat Chaim into Man, He placed a spark of Godliness in him, a potential that Man could develop to its fullest, to the level of Neshamah.
Now we can understand the Midrash we quoted which states that the Nefesh is called by five names: Nefesh, Ruach, Neshamah, Chayah and Yechidah. All of these names represent the various stages of growth and spiritual development which the Nefesh must pass through on its way to perfection.
If you pay attention, you will notice that three of the five levels are mentioned here. First we have Nefesh Chayah, which Onkelos translates as Ruach Memalela, and we have Nishmat Chaim. Thus, Nefesh, Ruach and Neshamah.
Why aren't the last two levels mentioned? Chayah (Living Essence) and Yechidah (Unity). The Midrash does mention five levels. The Gemara (Berachot 10a) also teaches that the five times David HaMelech uses the expression Borchi Nafshi et Hashem (O my soul, bless Hashem), correspond to five aspects of the soul.(3)
Nevertheless, here in Bereshit and in other places, the two highest levels, Chayahand Yechidah, are not mentioned. For instance, in the morning prayers we begin by saying, Elokai, Neshamah She'natata bi Tehora Hee (O my God, the Soul You have given me is pure). Also, in Mishlei, the verse says, "Ner Hashem Nishmat Adam" (The soul of man is the candle of God). [Where, according to the Ari, the word Ner, which is spelled Nun-Resh, is made up of the initials of the words Nefesh and Ruach. So, again, we have Nefesh, Ruach, and Nishmat Adam, Neshamah, but not Chayah and Yechidah.) What is the reason for this? Why are Chayah and Yechidah not mentioned?
We can understand this, however, based on the Ari's teaching (in Etz Chaim) that exalted levels of Chayah and Yechidah surround us and illuminate us from above. They are therefore called Makifim, Envelopments. That is, unlike Nefesh, Ruach and Neshamah, which are internalized, Chayah and Yechidah are so exalted that we cannot internalize them and they therefore remain outside of us.
To understand this a little bit better we can add that Nefesh, Ruach and Neshamah correspond to three major centers in the body. Nefesh corresponds to the Liver (Kaved in Hebrew), or in other words, the Liver is the mishkan (the main dwelling place) of the Nefesh.The mishkan of the Ruach is the Heart (the Lev), and the mishkan of the Neshamah is the Brain (Moach).
As known, it is in the liver that new blood cells are generated. It is for this reason that the Torah always associates the Nefesh with the blood, as in Vayikra (Chapter seventeen, verses eleven and fourteen), "The Nefesh of the flesh is in the blood," and "The blood of every living creature is associated with its Nefesh."
As we have seen, the foundation of every living creature is the will, the will and desire to grow and develop and preserve its life and the life of its species. This is the level of the Nefesh in the Kaved (Liver).
Next comes the Ruach in the Lev (Heart). Here the heart stimulates the blood to circulate to every part of the body. The heart is thus also a powerful expression of the will. This is seen in the verse, "Do not go astray after your hearts," from which we see that theheart is the seat of very powerful desires.
Above the liver and the heart we have the Brain, the Moach, or the power of thought. It is with the Mind that we must oversee and regulate our various desires. For the Brain is the mishkan of the Neshamah...
Now, paying attention to the initials of the three words Moach, Lev, and Kaved, we see that Moach begins with Mem, Lev begins with Lamed, and Kaved begins with Khaf.Mem-Lamed-Khaf. This spells Melech. A Melech is a King. This teaches us that the person who masters his thoughts, his desires and his appetites is called Melech, King.
And, as we saw, Chayah and Yechidah are not mentioned here because they are Makifim, the Surrounding Levels of the Soul. We therefore usually speak about Nefesh, Ruach and Neshamah. The highest level at which a person attains complete internal mastery is the level of Neshamah.
One last point before we begin our text. We asked at the beginning why the author chose to have the Neshamah asking the questions and the Sechel (Intellect) answering? We then saw that Man's Neshamah, his essential will and desire, is to elevate herself to that which is spiritual. Her basic questions therefore all involve how to elevate herself in the service ofher Creator. Now we can understand the place of the Sechel in answering the Neshamah'squestions.
As we read on in the Hebrew text, we see that the Sechel always addresses the Neshamah as a female. Throughout Daat Tevunot the Neshamah is depicted as a female, while the Sechel, the Intellect, is male. Why is this?
In Hebrew, Female is Nekevah. Nekevah is related to Nekev, an opening, a hollow, a cavity. An empty space naturally desires to be filled. This is exactly the reason for depicting the Neshamah as female. The Neshamah feels her own lack, and searches constantly for a way to fill this lack, to become whole. Without a sense of lack, we would never move, we would have no will. It is the lack that arouses the will to become more than we are, to be whole. In our context, we are being told that the Neshamah arouses a person to pay attention to his or her own lack. A person who hears his Soul asking questions will never be able to stay in one place.
He will be impelled to grow, to rise up higher and higher.
Now let us begin analyzing our text.
The Neshamah says: It is my yearning and my desire to make sense of a number of matters concerning which it is written, "Know today and bring [this knowledge] into your heart that Havayah Hu HaElokim - Hashem is the Supreme Being in heaven above and on the earth below,there is no other," those principles of our faith, the knowledge of which a person is required to pursue to the utmost of his ability...
The verse states, "Know today and bring [this knowledge] into your heart." First of all, the Neshamah desires to know. VeYadaata. Daat. As we shall see, the Neshamah desires to know Hashem's ways, the ways of Hashgachah (Divine Providence), how Hashem governs His world.
After knowing, comes VeHashevota El Levavecha, "bringing this knowing into the heart." This means, of course, that we want our knowing to be more than an intellectual knowing. Rather, it should be an inner knowing, a knowing that penetrates to our very senses, to the point that a person should himself become a Godly being - sensing and feeling Hashem's Hashgachah (Providence) and the deep inner level of the commandments, knowing their inner intentions and using them to rise up higher and higher.
The essence of this knowing is called "Havayah Hu HaElokim." There are two Divine Names here. Havayah points to Hashem's attribute of Mercy, how Hashem runs His world with compassion and mercy.
The second Name is Elokim, the gematria of which is the same as the word Teva (Nature) (Eighty Six). Nature contains many hidden levels. Veils. We do not always see clearly how Hashem runs and supervises the world. We do not see how the righteous are rewarded with good and the wicked are punished...
For this reason, when the Neshamah attains this level where it understands thateven the natural course of things is directed by Havayah, this is called knowing that Havayahis Elokim. This is called the Yichud (the Unification) of Havayah Elokim, this deeper knowing that the very laws of nature are given existence and constantly supervised by Shem Havayah,Hashem, the Supreme Being...
So the Neshamah says: I know that this involves "principles of our faith, the knowledge of which a person is required to pursue to the utmost of his ability..."
The Zohar (Zohar Chadash) explains the verse in Shir HaShirim, (Chapter One, verse Eight), "If you do not know, O most beautiful of women, go out and follow the footsteps of the flock, and pasture your kids beside the tents of the shepherds." The Zohar describes a situation where a Neshamah goes up to Heaven after a person passes away from this world. If this person did not learn anything during its sojourn on Earth, she is told, "If you do not know, O most beautiful of women, go out," meaning, she is told to leave and go back down to Earth in order to know Hashem's ways. The Neshamah asks, "From whom shall I learn?" The answer is then given, "Follow the footsteps of the flock," that is, from those very people who are not considered great. She is told: Learn Hashem's ways from those simple people called Hashem's sheep...
In order to understand what it means that the Neshamah is a chelek eloka mima'al, a portion from Hashem on high, we turn to a verse in Iyov (Chapter Thirty One, verse Two). Iyov asks: "U'meh chelek eloka mima'al - What is a portion from Hashem on high? VeNachalat Shadai Mimeromim - And what is an inheritance of the Almighty from above?"
According to this verse, the Neshamah is a portion, a part, a segment of Hashem.This is very difficult to understand. The mashal (analogy) here is that the Neshamah is being likened to a stone. In the same way that a stone is hewn from a mountain, he Neshamah is "detached" from Godliness. But there are two difficulties here. First, it is more or less understood that Elokut (Godliness) cannot be broken up into parts. Second, a stone is hewn from a mountain by means of a pick. That is, at first a stone is one with and included in the mountain, and now that it is detached. It is detached and split apart. With what? With a pick.This is the mashal (the analogy). But what does the pick represent in reality? What is the nimshal (the meaning) behind this?
It is known that space and time do not exist in the spiritual dimension.(4) Space and time are qualities that characterize the physical world. In the physical world, a rock that was originally part of a mountain can be hewn and detached and moved away in space. What possible analogy could exist in the spiritual world for such an act? How could something which is part of Elokut (Godliness) be detached from Elokut and moved away?
The explanation is as follows: We saw that the essence of the Neshamah is Ratzon (Will). When Hashem created the world, He did so with the intention of bestowing good on His creations. He wanted them to become capable of receiving His goodness and of taking pleasure in His Light (which is a Spiritual Light). In order to do this, He created them with, He planted within them, the Will to receive, the desire to have pleasure, to go after and attain that which is pleasurable.
Now, this will to receive is presently detached from Elokut. Why? Because when you speak of Hashem, it is understood that, if there is one thing He doesn't have,it is the will to receive, the need to attain anything. Certainly, the desire to attain pleasure would indicate a lack of some kind, while Hashem, who is the Ultimate Perfection, lacks nothing. It is therefore impossible to say that He has any will to receive, to attain anything that He does not already have. And this certainly includes the desire to attain a certain pleasure.
More than this, what in the world could add to His Perfection? We know that He is Perfect in every way.
Therefore, the essence of that which is created - and in Hebrew, created is Nivrah, from the word Bara, to be created from nothing - the essence of that which is created is something that does not exist in Elokut - and this is precisely the will to receive that is planted deeply in every creature. In other words, in every created being there is a certain degree of lack which must be filled by something else external to itself. This, as we have seen, is exactly what the Nefesh and the Neshamah are all about. For the essence of the Nefeshand Neshamah is the desire to receive, and when we are speaking of a holy Neshamah, this means that its desire is to receive more and more holiness and sanctity [kedushah]. This desire is the "pick" we mentioned in our mashal that distinguishes the Neshamah from Elokut and makes it something separate and new, something from nothing.
We can now understand why the Neshamah is called chelek eloka mima'al, a portion from Hashem on high.
© Copyright 5756, Rabbi Avraham Brandwein, Jerusalem.
Translation by Avraham Sutton.