The Maharal writes in Chapter One of Netzach Yisrael:

Chapter 1 כאשר הדבר הטוב נודע מהפכו ידיעה אמיתית, וכן כל הדברים נקנה הידיעה בהם מן ההפך, כי מן מראה השחור יכול לדעת מראה הלבן שהוא הפכו, וכן כל ההפכים, מן האחד נקנה הידיעה בהפך שלו. ומוסכם הוא כי 'ידיעת ההפכים הוא אחד'. When a good thing is known from its opposite, that is true knowledge. The knowledge of all things is acquired from their opposite. It is from the appearance of black that one can gain knowledge of the appearance of white. And similarly with all opposites. From one is acquired the knowledge of its opposite. It is widely accepted that "the knowledge of opposites is all one thing".

The Ramchal disagrees in Daas Tevunos siman 38:

דרך משל, בגדר החכמה אין שייך הסכלות, ... בדרך החסידות אין שייך הרע, כי גדרו הוא - לעשות טוב עם הכל Meaning, by way of example, within the boundary of wisdom, foolishness is not relevant... In the path of piousness, evil is not relevant, because its boundary is - to do good with all.

ואל תטעי לומר שגם לתת ביאור לחכמה צריך להראות הסכלות, וכן לבאר החסידות צריך להראות האכזריות, כי אין הפך ניכר אלא מהפכו; כי צריך להבין שכל מעלות הטוב אין לנו להבינם אלא מעלות הטוב לפי מה שהוא טוב, ושלילת ההיפך של המעלות ההם אינם בכלל גדר המעלות ההם הטובות And don't err in saying that also in order to give explanation to wisdom you need to show foolishness, and similarly in order to explain piousness you need to show cruelty, for one cannot recognize an opposite except from its opposite; for we need to understand that all characteristics of good cannot be understood except in their characteristic of good according to that which makes them good, and the negation of the opposite of these characteristics is not in the boundaries of these good characteristics.

How does the Ramchal feel about the concept of "left"? Can one really define it without considering "right?" And is there a way to reconcile these opposing Ramchal/Maharal views?


2 Answers 2


The Ramchal and Maharal are speaking to the same point but from different perspectives. From our Human perspective, we can only perceive or understand something truly by virtue of its opposite. Being that God isn't limited like us Humans, from his perspective things are true essentially by virtue of their existence alone, not in contrast to their opposites. This is stated clearly by Chazal themselves in the Midrash Temurah (chapter 2):

״וכל מה שברא, בתמורה בראו: אילולי מות - לא היה חיים, ואילולי חיים - לא היה מות, ואילולי שלום - לא היה רע, ואילולי רע - לא היה שלום...אלא ברא עניים ועשירים שיהיו ניכרים זה מזה וברא חכמים וטיפשים כדי להבדיל זה מזה...אם אין צדיק - אין רשע, אמר רשע לצדיק: מבקש אתה להחזיק לי טובה? לולי שאני רשע מאין היית ניכר? אילו היו כל בני אדם צדיקים לא היה לך יתרון. הרי שיש לכל תמורה, חוץ מדבר אחד - להודיע לכל באי עולם ברמז שהוא [הקב״ה] אחד ואין לו שני... כך אין להקב״ה אחר, אחד שאין לו אחר.״

“And everything that [God] created was created with an opposite: were it not for death - there would be no life, and were it not for life - there would be no death, and were it not for peace - there would be no evil, and were it not for evil - there would be no peace...Rather [God] created the poor and the rich so that they should be recognizable one from the other and he created the wise and the dumb in order to distinguish one from the other...If there is no righteous individual - then there is no wicked individual, the wicked says to the righteous; you wish to hold me in favor? Were it not for me - from where would you be recognized? Were it that all mankind is righteous - you would be no advantage (i.e. you would be no different). Behold there is an opposite for everything, except for one thing - to inform the people of the world through allusion that he [God] is one and has no second (i.e. has no opposite)...There is no other to God, [he] is one that has no other (i.e. second)."

The Ramchal there in Daas Tevunos is speaking of God's characteristics as they relate to his omnipresence/singularity, and as Rav Spinner and Rav Goldblatt explain in their commentary the notion of "for one cannot recognize an opposite except from its opposite" is true from our perspective in how we recognize or identify God's characteristics, but is inaccurate when defining them in-and-of-themselves from the perspective of God's singularity. In other words, to say that any one of God's characteristics - say wisdom - is defined, i.e. only true, by virtue of foolishness is incorrect, as that limits God's characteristics to finite Human logic, for God's characteristics in essence partake of his singularity, just as he is one because he is one - and not because there is another, so too his characteristics are true because they are true inherently - and not because of their opposite.

This is again, from the perspective of God, and thus impossible for us to truly understand, as it states (Yeshayahu, 55,8-9); ״כִּ֣י לֹ֤א מַחְשְׁבוֹתַי֙ מַחְשְׁב֣וֹתֵיכֶ֔ם וְלֹ֥א דַרְכֵיכֶ֖ם דְּרָכָ֑י נְאֻ֖ם ה׳. כִּֽי־גָבְה֥וּ שָׁמַ֖יִם מֵאָ֑רֶץ כֵּ֣ן גָּבְה֤וּ דְרָכַי֙ מִדַּרְכֵיכֶ֔ם וּמַחְשְׁבֹתַ֖י מִמַּחְשְׁבֹתֵיכֶֽם״. Or as the Tikkunei Zohar writes (17a); ״אנת הוא חד ולא בחושבן״. Put differently, the Rambam famously writes (Yesodei Hatorah, 2;10) ״הוּא הַיּוֹדֵעַ וְהוּא הַיָּדוּעַ וְהוּא הַדֵּעָה עַצְמָהּ הַכּל אֶחָד. וְדָבָר זֶה אֵין כֹּחַ בַּפֶּה לְאָמְרוֹ וְלֹא בָּאֹזֶן לְשָׁמְעוֹ וְלֹא בְּלֵב הָאָדָם לְהַכִּירוֹ עַל בֻּרְיוֹ.״.

Think about it this way, we understand what true Goodness is by virtue of its contrast to true Evil. As the Ramchal himself teaches (Klach Pischei Chochmah; 3) even Evil, in truth, stems from Goodness itself, thus Goodness is good inherently, not because of Evil. The deep secret of how Evil is rooted in Goodness is something which is only truly understood from God's perspective.


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Rav Mordechai Goldblatt in his commentary on Daas Tevonos explains that the Ramchal is not repudiating the notion of recognizing cosmic things via their opposites. While it is true that the opposite of A (B) may sharpen and underscore an understanding of A, B is not an element of A. I may need darkness to better recognize light, but light at its existential core has nothing to do with darkness. The Maharal thus might be discussing the process of sharpening, enhancing, and deepening our understanding of a thing, but not the existential description of it - whereas the Ramchal speaks in terms of pure, existential descriptions/definitions - if so, there is no debate.

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