Other Tines on the Fork

The hashkafic fork in the road that I’ve been referring to repeatedly has two approaches: sheleimus / temimus, the perfection of the self, and deveikus, cleaving to G-d. If you’d like, derekh Hashem as following the path G-d takes, and derekh Hashem as taking the path to G-d.Within Chassidus, one finds Chabad, acheiving deveikus through wisdom, insight and knowledge, and other forms of chassidus which focus more experientially. As Lubavitch calls them, Gachas chassidim. This is after the next three sefiros after Chabad: gevurah (strength and restraint), chessed (kindness and giving), and tife’eres (the splendor of their harmony.Within the sheleimus camp there are numerous approaches: Hirsch’s synthesis of Torah and derekh eretz, i.e. working within the world and advancing society in Torah ways, being a pefect Mensch-Israel; Mussar’s perfection of personality; the Yeshiva world’s perfection of mind through knowing G-d’s Torah, etc…

Other possibilities exist and similarly could have become movements.

The Ramchal’s position is a fusion of the two. In Derekh Hashem he writes that the ultimate reward is G-d Himself, and therefore man’s goal is one of deveikus. However, since G-d Himself is a Creator, to experience G-d Himself we need the experience of being creative beings, to earn our reward. Thus, Hashem created two worlds, this one in which we perfect ourselves, temimus, and the world to come in which we experience deveikus.

However, the Ramchal’s definition of temimus is entirely shaped by the fact that the point of that temimus is to be a being capable of as much deveikus as possible. Which is why he writes Mesilas Yesharim as structured around R’ Pinchas ben Ya’ir’s ladder to ru’ach haqodesh. His temimus is about a totally different set of midos than those in Cheshbon haNefesh or Orechos Tzadiqim. It’s a path that’s fully defined by both tines of the fork.

This might be why the Ramchal’s philosophy is so popular today, being most like the “default position” most Orthodox-from-birth Jews pick up in their childhood.

A fourth option is common in some Orthodox academic circles. Note that Hashem doesn’t enter into a beris with us as individuals; the covenant is between G-d and the Jewish people. Therefore the role of mitzvos is not personal wholeness or personal closeness to G-d, but our part within the role of the Jewish people in the world.

This approach has the advantage of only requiring that mitzvos make sense as norms, not for each individual to which they apply. Gender differences don’t have to fit every man and every woman, but can be explained in terms of the value to the Jewish People of having this standard, given propensities amongst men and women as a whole.

Last, if we look at the second mishnah in Avos, we find three pillars: Torah, Avodah and Gemillus Chassadim. Or, as the Maharal puts it (Derech haChaim ad loc): perfection of one’s relationship with oneself within the world that is our minds (Torah), perfection of our relationship with G-d within Shamayim (Avodah), and perfection of our relationship to others who we encounted in the physical world (Chessed).

The deveikus approach seems to say that one can make Avodah primary, and from that everything else will follow. The temimus approach makes Torah (as the Maharal explains it) primary, and a perfect self naturally will be one that serves Hashem and is generous to others. However, what about a chessed centered Judaism? It sounds to be Hillel’s message, when he says to the prospective convert that all of the Torah is “that which is disturbing to you, do not do to others — the rest is commentary.”

When I noted the lack of such a movement on Avodah, Rn Chana Luntz suggested that perhaps the Beis Yaakov movement is founded on this principle. It seems so.

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  1. March 26, 2007 – ז׳ בניסן תשס״ז

    […] [Note (2007): I would now categorize the Ramchal differently. He describes a pursuit of  temimus, but a tamim person is defined entirely in terms of closeness to G-d. See “Other Tines on the Fork“. I would consider his view a synthesis that was perhaps similar to that of Navardok Mussar, but not followed today.] On the other hand, equally well represented (for example, the opening of the Kuzari) presents man’s quest as “sheleimus ha’adam“, the completion of man. “Veheyei tamim“. Man’s goal is to strive for self-perfection. […]

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