The Ramchal teaches in Derech Hashem that Hashem desires to give us only good, and that He creates this world in order to do so. Hashem designs this world and mankind in order to have a being that can be aware of Him and have a relationship with Him and derive pleasure from that relationship.
The Way of G-d
Part 1: The Fundamental Principles of Reality
We come upon a most astounding fact of Divine intent and human purpose here. Ramchal declares that it was G-d’s intent that the recipients of His goodness — that we — be personally responsible for His benevolence rather than just passive recipients of it!
That’s to say, we’re to earn it rather than inherit it or “get it in the mail” so to speak — to be proactive in our growth and ascent, initiators of our own spiritual well-being, and we’re to use our freely made decisions to do good things in order to earn G-d’s favor 1. Otherwise, Ramchal adds, G-d’s goodness would be flawed on some level, when we learned that G-d wanted to grant us perfect goodness 2.
He then goes on to point out that by indeed making use of our free will and playing an active role in our own growth, we thus achieve something of G-d’s perfection, and become closer to Him accordingly.
That is, we ourselves thus become free agents like Him. Now, there’s a whole order of difference between our free will and His, to be sure. Ours had to be implanted in us by G-d, while His is inherent. And we’re only free to make ethical and mitzvah-based choices (i.e., we can’t decide to fly for example, or disappear, etc.) which does indeed have a profound effect upon the course of things here and beyond, but it nonetheless doesn’t compare to G-d’s absolute freedom of choice.
Nonetheless the fact that only we humans and G-d are free agents — while angels, animals, vegetables, minerals, etc. are not — points to a unique kinship between G-d and ourselves. And it enables us to be holy and righteous, and to derive credit for having made the right choices.
G-d thus created a system of achieving either perfection or settling for flaws (by doing right or wrong things) 3; a being who’d be able to choose either option (i.e., ourselves); and a system to achieve perfection or accrue flaws (i.e., the mitzvah system thanks to which we achieve a degree of perfection by following through on the positive mitzvot or we accrue flaws by engaging in prohibitions). And He thus granted us the means to be free agents and thus emulate Him to a degree, and to attach onto His presence and fully enjoy His benevolence.
1 See Ramchal’s Da’at Tevunot 18, Klallei Pitchei Chochma v’Da’at 1, Kinat Hashem Tziva’ot, Klach Pitchei Chochma 4, and Adir Bamarom p. 393. Also see Emunot v’De’ot (introduction to Ch. 3); Zohar 2, 163b; Pardes 2:5:3, and Ari’s Likutei Torah, Ha’azinu, p. 28.
Our free will is to be discussed again in 1:2:4 and in some depth is the 3rd chapter of this section.
2 See 1:2:1 for G-d’s utter and perfect benevolence.
But, why would G-d’s benevolence be less-than-perfect if we weren’t free agents? While Ramchal doesn’t explain it here, he does in some of the other works cited in note 1. He says that if we were granted out-and-out charity we’d experience what’s termed “the bread of shame” (based on the statement in T.J. Orlah 1:3 that “One who eats something that isn’t his own i.e. that he himself didn’t earn is ashamed to look in his benefactor’s face”; also see Tosephot on Kiddushin 36b, Ritvah on Rosh Hashanah 9b, and R’ Yoseph Karo’s Magid Maisharim, Breishit, 14 Tevet).
The point is that we’re to proudly and justifiably earn our reward rather than receive it shamefacedly as charity. Otherwise G-d’s generosity would be malevolent to a degree rather than wholly benevolent.
Ramchal defines “shame” in Adir Bamarom p. 252 as the experience of perceiving something as either being above oneself or beneath him: see his remarks there.
3 This begins to explain why there’s wrong and injustice in the world. The subject of wrong comes up in very many places in Ramchal’s writings including but certainly not limited to Klach Pitchei Chochma 30, 33, 37, 44, 45, 47, 53, 63, 83, and 108; Da’at Tevunot 96-133; and below in 1:2:5, 1:3:6, 1:5:7-9, 3:2:8, 4:1:3, 4:4:1,9, and 4:9:1.
Hashem creates us and the world in order to give us the ability to receive unflawed pleasure, the pleasure of being with Hashem without feeling Hashem is above us. How does Hashem do this? By giving us a microdot of free will that enables us to create by choosing our own identity – as made in His Image over our natural egoistic self-conscious orientation in a material and physical world.
Our egoistic identity is an outcome of developing within the material and physical world according to the natural laws and our experiences. Being mortal, our survival becomes associated with money, protection, safety, and more. We develop beliefs about these. Some of these beliefs, however, are embedded in our survival instincts and are false. Here is how that might happen:
Once a response becomes built into our survival mechanism, it is obviously going to contain a hurtful defensive action. If the fear of acting that out is great, the hurtful action is internalized. We might beat ourselves up for our mistakes, for example.
Remember, shame is a natural consequence of realizing Hashem is greater than we are. Being a created being means that we are built with shame when faced with Hashem’s greatness EXCEPT Hashem did not want that! So He gives us a way to inoculate ourselves from it – life!!
Hashem gives us the experience of life with a “starter” identity called an ego that feels like it is the real us. He does this so that we have real free will to recognize that all there is in the world is Hashem and what He has done for us, that all we have to do is recognize Him and ask and He will give us the feeling of connection with Him, the greatest pleasure a person can experience. What does it cost us? It costs us “our first born child,” namely our belief system from the material and physical world. How do we do it? We ask Hashem to please help us feel His love and mercy instead of what we naturally feel that is blocking the truth. How do we ask? We ask from a place of love for Hashem and awe in the design of how He has created the world and man (emunah). Without actually opening our hearts with sincere love for Hashem and awe in the design, the part of our soul that is made in Hashem’s image and that wants only to connect to Him is not included in our request. We want to ask from our tzelem elokim and from our natural pained experiential self. This is how we nullify the material and physical world (see Daas Tevunas by the Ramchal, https://torah.org/series/ramchal/). And when we do, when we open the love for Hashem and the awe for Hashem that is inherited from the akeida, from the sacrifice of Yitzchok by Avraham, emunah we receive as part of our tzelem elokim, that pinhole opening draws Hashem’s love and mercy into our hearts and together, the spark of our soul that became trapped in our survival instincts is able to flow back into its real expression of compassion, without the damaging false beliefs in which it was blocked from expressing its compassion, hijacked instead to animate the false belief. This is a way to circumcise our heart.
We are given free will (see Ramchal above) so that when we make the choice to connect to Hashem and ask to feel His love and mercy so that we may reveal His Love and mercy, actualizing our tzelem elokim as our identity, we are on a microcosmic scale reducing the reality of Hashem being above us. And for that effort of acting to be like Hashem, shame itself is no longer necessary when we are in His Presence, because we will have taken real action, made the effort with free willed choice, to be like Him. And this is how this world is a corridor to the next, how we make use of this lifetime to create an eternal identity for ourselves. We can make for ourselves a heart of flesh.
Thus it is incumbent upon us to try. We are in charge of effort. Success is up to Hashem. As long as we try, we are inoculating ourselves by nullifying the material and physical world and how it appears in favor of the abstract spiritual world. We are then enabled to draw His Compassion into this world and make our hearts and this world a place where He is revealed, through our speech and deeds.
I hope this is helpful. I hope this sinks in. I hope it helps us build emunah and gives us the impetus to cry out to Hashem and ask. Here is a document called the Best of the Best, a compilation of the most esteemed Rabbis from all the various Torah true communities over time.. litvish, sephardi, chassidic, kabbalistic, mussar, and more. The reason I share it is because the universal topic across ALL groups IS this topic of revealing tzelem elokim over the natural self.
Here is the link to the translations of the derech of Rabbi Asher Freund. Listening to these will concretize the ideas above, including how to do it.