2.13. Manipulating Spiritual Forces

Sources refer to the Ramchal's Derech Hashem.


In section 5, we discussed how all creations are rooted in spiritual forces; this includes evil, which emanates from evil forces. We have likewise discussed how everything that exists physically is a reflection of a spiritual counterpart. Everything physical is therefore tethered to a spiritual force, with the physical and spiritual components remaining properly positioned in their respective realms, with the spiritual influencing the physical according to their nature. [III, 2.1]

God also arranged, however, that the spiritual forces can act upon the physical in another way, aside from through their natural connections. They can bypass these regular channels and affect physical things directly, circumventing normal physical laws. God granted man the ability to manipulate the world in this fashion, just as he can through natural laws, though each fashion has its own inherent limitations. For example, cutting requires a blade, climbing requires a ladder, and squeezing requires compression. Similarly, manipulating things by way of spiritual forces has necessary rules and procedures. [III, 2.2]

As we have discussed, a person is composed of a physical component – the body – and a spiritual component – the soul. The soul, as we have noted, is bound to the body. Since a person is physically limited by his body, the soul is likewise constrained. God enabled a person to free himself at least partially from these limitations by following the laws of the spiritual plane rather than the physical. This enables a person to attain a degree of enlightenment he would not normally be able to achieve, elevating both the physical and spiritual aspects in the process. [III, 2.3] God therefore programmed an “override” into the laws of nature that would remove the barriers of the physical world that separate a person from the spiritual. By elevating himself above the physical, a person would be able to commune with the spiritual forces even while bound in his physical body.

It should be noted that the limitations imposed by the physical realm cannot be completely disregarded; God only enabled an “override” for certain aspects. Even the things that can be overridden can only be done so under very precise circumstances. [III, 2.4]

Before proceeding, it must be noted that everything, both physical and spiritual, originates from God. He reveals His presence to everything in existence to influence His creations according to their natures. God reveals Himself to His highest-ranking angels in a way appropriate to them. These angels transmit God’s light to those beneath them, and from there to the next rank, et cetera, all the way down the line.

God also assigned Himself Names that His creations could use to draw themselves closer to Him. In particular, He chose the Tetragrammaton (YHVH) as the Name to reflect His glory, saying “This is My Name forever” (Exodus 3:15). He likewise assigned other Names to reflect the other ways through which He interfaces with creation. God arranged that uttering these Names would endow a person with certain Divine influence, as we see in Exodus 20:20, “In every place where I cause My Name to be mentioned, I will come to you and bless you.” When a particular Name is used to call upon God, it taps into the kind of interaction reflected by that Name, each of which has its own unique influence.

God also decreed that uttering such Names is only efficacious under very specific conditions. In other circumstances, doing so would have no effect whatsoever.

Under the proper conditions, however, uttering these Names overrides the limitations imposed by the rules of nature. A person can thereby connect with spiritual forces and acquire enlightenment beyond what is possible through physical means alone. Divine inspiration and prophecy are examples of this phenomenon. [III, 2.5]

Manipulating spiritual forces, as has been noted, requires very specific circumstances, and the level of the person doing the manipulating also makes a difference. It logically follows that results may vary, with some cases accomplishing a great departure from the normal physical process and other cases varying only a little. [III, 2.6]

There is another method of spiritual manipulation that God has arranged. Every angel has an assigned sphere of influence. They do not do the same thing all the time; rather, they vary the degree of their activities as appropriate to keep the universe running. However, the angels also have the ability to exert greater influence than necessary for merely maintaining reality. When called upon, they can “overachieve” in the form of miracles performed as God may desire. When the appropriate Names are uttered over the angels controlling different aspects of the universe, these angels gain additional power in their sphere of influence. As with the first form of spiritual manipulation, this process cannot be used arbitrarily and success is not automatic.

The first form of spiritual manipulation can only be performed by someone who is already close to God; the closer one is, the more effective his efforts will be. The second form, involving angels, does not require the same proximity to God; the Names themselves are the tools, which anyone can utilize under the proper conditions.

It must be pointed out that is not appropriate for the average person to attempt to utilize these forces. The mishna in Avos (1:12) says that a person passes away for using “the crown” for his own benefit (understood by the Ramchal here to refer to powers that should be reserved for God alone). Even one who is already close to God, and thereby fit to manipulate these forces, must only do so for the sanctification of God’s Name and not for personal reasons. If one has improper motivations, he may find his efforts successful but he will be punished for his efforts. Finally, even if one utilizes these forces under the narrowly-defined parameters, God still reserves the ability to veto one’s attempts as He sees fit. [III, 2.7]

Spiritual forces are not necessarily good. God has decreed that the world contain both good and evil, and everything evil in the physical world has its counterpart in the spiritual world. In one way, good has the upper hand: it emanates from God, in Whom no evil is found. [III, 2.8] Just as a human might manipulate the good spiritual forces (which originate from God), one might manipulate the forces of evil (which do not). This is sorcery, which the Torah prohibits. God may permit such forces to work but they are weak when compared to the positive forces that emanate from God. For example, the Talmud (Sanhedrin 67b) tells us that Rabbi Chanina was immune to sorcery because of his merits. [III, 2.9]