|Ramchal: Da'at Tevunot I|
|Written by Rabbi Avraham Brandwein|
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. Ruach is Spirit. Neshamah is again Soul or Breath, Hashem's Breath. Chayah is Living Essence. Yechidah is Unique Essence or Unity.
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. "Avraham rose, 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'avat nefesh) is for Your Name and Your Memory."
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 extra moral or spiritual evolution.