Moses Chaim Luzzatto - biography
Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (Hebrew: משה חיים לוצאטו, also Moses Chaim, Moses Hayyim, also Luzzato) (1707-1746 (26 Iyar 5506)), also known by the Hebrew acronym RaMCHaL (or RaMHaL, רמח"ל), was a prominent Italian Jewish rabbi, kabbalist, and philosopher.
Born in Padua at night, he received classical Jewish and Italian educations, showing a predilection for literature at a very early age. He may have attended the University of Padua and certainly associated with a group of students there, known to dabble in mysticism and alchemy. With his vast knowledge in religious lore, the arts, and science, he quickly became the dominant figure in that group. His writings demonstrate mastery of the Tanakh, the Talmud, and the rabbinical commentaries and codes of Jewish law.
The turning point in Luzzatto's life came at the age of twenty, when he received direct instruction from a mystical being known as the maggid. While such stories were not unknown in kabbalistic circles, it was unheard of for someone of such a young age. His peers were enthralled by his written accounts of these "Divine lessons", but the leading Italian rabbinical authorities were highly suspicious and threatened to excommunicate him. Just one hundred years earlier another young mystic, Shabbatai Zevi (d.1676), had rocked the Jewish world by claiming to be the Messiah. Although, at one point, Zevi had convinced many European and Middle Eastern rabbis of his claim, the episode ended with him recanting and converting to Islam. The global Jewish community was still reeling from that, and the similarities between Luzzatto's writings and Zevi's were perceived as being particularly dangerous and heretical. These writings, only some of which have survived, are often misunderstood to describe a belief that the Ramchal and his followers were key figures in a messianic drama that was about to take place. He identified one of his followers as the Messiah son of David, but assumed for himself the role of Moses, claiming that he was that biblical figure's reincarnation.
After threats of excommunication and many arguments, Luzzatto finally came to an understanding with many of the Rabbanim, including his decision not to write the maggid's lessons or teach mysticism. In 1735, Luzzatto left Italy for Amsterdam, believing that in the more liberal environment there, he would be able to pursue his mystical interests. Passing through Germany, he appealed to the local rabbinical authorities to protect him from the threats of the Italian rabbis. They refused and forced him to sign a document stating that all the teachings of the maggid were false. Most of his writings were burned, though some did survive. From the Zoharic writings, the 70 Tikounim `Hadashim re-appeared in 1958 against all odds, in the Library of Oxford. "Arrangements" of thoughts, these Tikounim expose 70 different essential uses of the last verse of the `Houmash.
Taught word-by-word in Aramit by the maggid of the Ram`hal, they parallel the Tikouney haZohar of the Rashbi, which expose the 70 fundamental understandings of the first verse of the `Houmash.
When Luzzatto finally reached Amsterdam, he was able to pursue his studies of the kabbalah relatively unhindered. Earning a living as a diamond cutter, he continued writing but refused to teach. It was in this period that he wrote what is his magnum opus the Mesillat Yesharim (1740), essentially an ethical treatise but with certain mystical underpinnings. The book presents a step-by-step process by which every person can overcome the inclination to sin and reach a level of prophecy. Another prominent work, Derekh Hashem (The Way of God) is a philosophical text about God's purpose in Creation, justice, and ethics. The same concepts are discussed in a shorter book called Maamar HaIkarim (the English translation of this book is now available on the Web). Da`at Tevunoth also found its existence in the Dutch city as the missing link between rationality and Kabbalah, a dialogue between the intellect and the soul. On the other hand, Derekh Tevunoth introduces the logic which structures Talmudic debates as a means to understanding the world around us. One major rabbinic contemporary who praised Luzzatto's writing was Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna, the Vilna Gaon (1720 - 1797), who was considered to be the most authoritative Torah sage of the modern era as well as a great kabbalist himself. He was reputed to have said after reading the Mesillat Yesharim, that were Luzzatto still alive, that he would have walked from Vilna to learn at Luzzatto's feet; Vilna is not close to Italy, with an estimated distance of 2,050 km (1274 mi) separating the two. He stated that having read the work, the first eight chapters contained not a superfluous word. This is considered to be one of the highest praises that one sage can grant another. Luzzatto also wrote poetry and drama, most of it seeming secular on the surface, but many scholars have identified mystical undertones in this body of work as well). His writing is strongly influenced by the Jewish poets of Spain and by contemporary Italian authors.
Frustrated by his inability to teach kabbalah, Luzzatto left Amsterdam for the Holy Land in 1743, settling in Acre. Three years later, he and his family died in a plague. It was only a century later that Luzzato was rediscovered by the Mussar Movement, which adopted his ethical works. It was the great Torah ethicist, Rabbi Yisrael Salanter (1810 - 1883) who placed the Messilat Yesharim at the heart of the Mussar (ethics) curriculum of the major Yeshivot of Eastern Europe.
The Hebrew writers of the Haskalah, the Jewish expression of the Enlightenment, adopted twisted versions of his secular writings and deemed him the founder of modern Hebrew literature. His cousin, the poet Ephraim Luzzatto (1729-1792), also exerted genuine influence on the first stirrings of modern Hebrew poetry.
Though it is accepted by scholars that his tomb is in Kafr Yasif, his burial place is traditionally said to be near the Talmudic sage Rabbi Akiva in Tiberias, northern Israel. Luzzato's original synagogue in Akko was razed by the city's Bedouin ruler Daher el-Omar in 1758, who built a mosque on top of it. In its place, the Jews of Akko received a small building north of the mosque which still functions as a synagogue and bears the name of the Ramchal.
these are some of the other books that RaMChaL wrote:
- Ma'aseh Shimshon ("The Story of Samson")
- Lashon Limudim ("A Tongue for Teaching")
- Migdal Oz ("A Tower of Strength") with Kabbalistic references in the form of an allegory
- Zohar Kohelet ("The Zohar to the Book of Ecclesiastes")
- Shivim Tikikunim ("Seventy Tikkunim") which parallels the seventy Tikkunei Zohar
- Zohar Tinyanah ("A Second Zohar") no longer exists
- Klallot Haillan or Klalut Hailan ("The Principle Elements of The Tree [of Life]") a synopsis of the ARI's basic work of Kabbalah
- Ma'amar Hashem ("A Discourse on G-d")
- Ma'amar HaMerkava ("A Discourse on The Chariot")
- Ma'amer Shem Mem-Bet ("A Discourse on the 42 letter Name [of G-d]")
- Ma'amar HaDin ("A Discourse on [Divine] Judgment")
- Ma'amar HaChochma or Maamar Ha'hokhma ("A Discourse on Wisdom") focuses on Rosh *Hashanna, Yom Kippur, and Passover from a Kabbalistic perspective
- Ma'amar HaGeulah ("A Discourse on The Redemption" or "The Great Redemption")
- Ma'amar HaNevuah ("A Discourse on Prophecy")
- Mishkanei Elyon or Mishkane 'Elyon ("Exalted Towers") a Kabbalistic understanding of the Holy Temple with a depiction of the third Temple's dimensions
- Ain Yisrael ("The Well of Israel")
- Ain Yaakov ("The Well of Jacob")
- Milchamot Hashem ("The Wars of G-d") which defends Kabbalah against its distracters
- Kinnaot Hashem Tzivakot or Kinat H' Tsevaot ("Ardent [Defenses] for The L-rd of Hosts") offers details about the redemption and the Messiah.
- Adir Bamarom ("[G-d is] Mighty on High") a commentary on the Iddrah Rabbah ("The Great Threshing Room") section of the Zohar
- Iggrot Pitchei Chochma v'Da'at or Klale Pit'he 'Hokhma Veda'at ("Letters [to Serve] as an Opening to Wisdom and Knowledge") spells out and explains certain erudite principles of the Jewish faith according to the Kabbalah
- Sefer Daniel ("The Book of Daniel"), an esoteric commentary to this Biblical work
Tiktu Tephilot ("515 Prayers") focuses on prayers for the revelation of G-d's sovereignty
- Kitzur Kavvanot ("Abbreviated Intentions") allows the reader an overview of the ARI's recorded prayer-intentions
- Ma'amar HaVechuach ("A Discourse [that serves as] The Argument ") pits a Kabbalist against a rationalist as each tries to defend his way of thinking
- Klach Pitchei Chochma or Kala'h Pitkhe 'Hokhma ("138 Openings to Wisdom") one of Ramchal's most important works in that it lays out his thinking about the symbolic nature of the Ari's writings and Ramchal's own explanations of those symbols