10. No Conflicting Interests
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10. No Conflicting Interests

10. No Conflicting Interests

Though we cannot describe G-d, we can describe our perceptive experience.

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1:1:5 (part 2)
Section 1: Fundamentals of Existence
Chapter 1: The Creator
Point 5

It is likewise necessary to know that G-d is absolutely simple, having no parts to Him. At the same time, all types of perfection are present in Him, contained in His Being, without being separate parts of it.

[We can try to understand this by observing that] the human mind has many different faculties, each with its own area of activity. Thus, for example, memory is one domain, desire another, and imagination still another, and none of these faculties impinge on the other. Memory, for example, has its own domain, as does desire, and desire does not penetrate the domain of memory, nor does memory enter that of desire. The same is true of all the mind's faculties. [The human mind can therefore be said to have structure and is not simple.]

G-d, however, does not require a separate "domain" for each of these powers. In fact, He does possess these powers which, in man, are different from one another, for G-d, we can say, does "desire" and is "wise" and "capable," and is perfect is every conceivable way.

On the other hand, G-d is actually One, these phenomena being present in Him without being separate parts of Him, their being included in Him by virtue of His perfection. All types of perfection exist in G-d, not as phenomena which are separable from His absolute One-ness, and it is impossible that G-d not possess every perfection.

In our last class, we saw a basic paradox emerge in our attempt to understand the nature of infinite. On one hand, G-d's very definition is that of an infinite, unlimited being. That definition doesn't seem to leave room for the idea of G-d having tendencies and preferences, or for G-d to have certain characteristics and not others.

At the same time, if G-d made this world, He must have a desire. If He sustains this world at every moment and interacts with it, that would assume G-d has power, justice, mercy, etc. How do we resolve this paradox?

Let's look carefully at the Ramchal's wording: "...all types of perfection are present in Him, contained in His Being, without being separate parts of it." G-d has all characteristics of perfection, but in G-d, they are not separate forces.

Let's see if we can get to the essence of the Ramchal's idea. When we look at an object, are we really seeing it for what it is? If we look at a tennis ball, are we seeing the whole ball? Certainly not. All we're seeing is the half of it that's facing us, and even there, only the outer surface. Can you see a whole tennis ball at once? Impossible. By looking at it, do you know what's inside of it? No way. You might presume that it's filled with air, but maybe this one is full of cement. You can pick it up and see if it's much heavier than usual. You still don't know what inside it unless you split it open.

What about when you look at a person? Do you know them? Or do you only see their actions? Even when you see a person pick up a book to read it, do you know why? Are you aware of all the forces inside them – desire for knowledge, boredom, curiosity – motivating them to read the book?

In other words, we make evaluations of people and objects and say that we "know" them, based on surface impressions combined with logic and past experience. ("I assume that my neighbor has a belly button because every other human I've met has one"; "I think she's angry – most people who curse and kick things only do that when they're angry"). With G-d, the reason we say that He is wise is because we see the wisdom manifest in the intricacies of physics and Torah study. We say that G-d must be powerful because we see hurricanes and tornadoes.

Contrasting Powers

Additionally, the Ramchal contrasts G-d's powers with our powers. He explains that "the human mind has many different faculties, each with its own area of activity." Imagine Joe gets approached by his buddies at the end of his day at the office. They invite him out for an evening at the bar. Joe will probably feel some conflict. His desire encourages him to hang out and have a good time. But his memory reminds him of the hangover he got the last time he was out with them. His need to feel accepted counters that with the thought that "this time will be different." His intellect disagrees: "Who are you fooling. It's the same story every time and you know you're going to regret it in the morning."

In the five seconds that Joe has to make a decision, he'll respond to his friends with either 'yes' or 'no'. His action will be the result of a simple binary choice – to go or not to go – but it's actually a blend of a complex web of motivations pulling in many different directions. And regardless of the choice Joe makes, since he really does have these different drives and desires with him, there will be some level of lack, of compromise. If he goes out, he's going to feel guilty that he's wasting his time, caving in to social pressure, being irresponsible, etc. And if he chooses not to go, he'll be sitting at home knowing that his friends are out having a good time without him.

When it comes to G-d, the Ramchal says that G-d desires and is wise and capable, and is perfect is every conceivable way. On the other hand, "G-d is actually One, these phenomena being present in Him without being separate parts of Him." So for G-d, it's all a one-ness. There's no mediating among conflicting interests. There's no compromise.

This idea is difficult for us to grasp. In another one of the Ramchal's famous works, Daat Tevunot,1 he explains this idea in more depth.

So, in other words, it's not that G-d is actually wise. We ascribe wisdom to G-d, not because we know anything about G-d's essence, but rather because we are describing our experience of G-d.

To sum it up, as we know from all of our previous discussions on the nature of G-d's infinity, we can't actually know anything about G-d's essence. There's not a single word that can meaningfully describe anything about G-d at all. But we do know that we perceive and experience what G-d does. When we see a sun that has the power of a billion atom bombs, we appreciate G-d as powerful. "Power" is a description of our experience of G-d, not a description of G-d Himself.

Questions to Think About

  • What is the inherent difference between G-d having qualities (justice, power, love), and us having those qualities?
  • We can say that there's power in this world, and therefore G-d is powerful. Why can't we similarly say that since there's blue in this world, G-d must be blue?

  1. An English translation is called, The Knowing Heart (Feldheim Pub.)

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    10. No Conflicting Interests

Published: February 16, 2014


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