Tag Archives: Jewish Thought

Part Three: On Da’at Tevunot (“Knowing the Reasons”)

Da’at Tevunot (“Knowing the Reasons”)


Imagine sitting knee to knee with someone very wise, with the chance to ask anything you’d like. Well, that’s the setting to Ramchal’s Da’at Tevunot [1], which functions as a dialogue between a seeker and a sage … actually between a soul and reason itself. (Ramchal wrote other books in a dialogue format, but Da’at Tevunot was the best of them by far.)

The soul asked reason to explain a few things about the most important themes in Jewish Thought, which have come to be known as “The Thirteen Principles of the Jewish Faith”. For as the soul put it, “While I certainly accept all of them as true without hesitation, some of them I accept indeed and understand as well, while others of them I simply accept on faith without really understanding them”. And he was hoping that reason would spell them out to him.

It’s important for our purposes here to know that Rambam (Rabbi Moshe Maimonides, 1135-1204) listed thirteen fundamental things about the Jewish religion we’d need to accept in order to claim to be believing Jews in all honesty: That G-d exists, is the only G-d, is wholly spiritual and incorporeal, is eternal, and that He alone should be worshipped; that He revealed His wishes to us through the prophets, and that Moses was the greatest among them; that G-d’s Torah was given on Mount Sinai and is absolute; that G-d is omniscient, and rewards all good deeds and punishes all wrongful ones; and that the Messiah will come and the dead will eventually be resurrected [2].

But as the soul explained, he needed to have G-d’s omniscience, reward and punishment, the coming of the Messiah and the resurrection of the dead explained to him, since he doesn’t quite understand them. And therein lays the premise of the book.

We’ll come back to that shortly, but let’s first touch on the response to Da’at Tevunot in the Jewish world and its modern publication.


Like all spectacular works of revelation, deep insight, and overarching truth, Da’at Tevunot seemed destined to be adored by those exposed to Jewish Thought and Kabbalah, and to go about unnoticed by others. And that indeed was what happened for the longest time.

Some of the greatest Jewish thinkers took to it right away, including but certainly not limited to the Maggid of Mezritch (the successor to the Ba’al Shem Tov) and The Gaon of Vilna (it should be said that though it would seem awkward to many to cite those great individuals side by side, but the fact that these “warring” giants both revered this work speaks to the greatness and universality of Ramchal); Rabbi Shmuel David Luzzatto (a distant cousin of the Ramchal, who was a great scholar in his own right), Rabbi Shlomo Eliyashav (1841-1925, known as The Leshem, in commemoration of his great series of Kabbalistic works), and others. But many learned Jews knew nothing of this vital work until Rabbi Chaim Friedlander (the mashgiach of the Ponevitzh Yeshiva, who was a student of Rabbi E. Dessler) offered it to the Jewish world in the 1980’s.

Rabbi Friedlander examined various manuscript versions of Da’at Tevunot in libraries and private collections throughout the world, and presented us with the most accurate edition to date. He then set the book in a more readable type, positioned whole sections of it as independent units, explained the difficulties, and elucidated many of the more elusive, erudite points.

He also connected Da’at Tevunot to certain shorter works of Ramchal’s (the Klallim) that were related to it on an arcane level. For Ramchal contended that the Ari’s works were to be read and understood symbolically rather than literally (see below for a discussion of this). So, Ramchal encapsulated the Ari’s thoughts in his Klallim (and elsewhere), and then “translated” the symbols into terms more easily grasped in Da’at Tevunot. (Let it be known that not everyone agreed with Ramchal’s approach to Ari’s writings or to the idea that he “translated” Ari’s symbols, but that’s beyond our scope here.)

Rabbi Friedlander connected the works in his edition, showed how one reflected the other, and thus allowed readers to follow both the esoteric and exoteric perspectives. (Rabbi Friedlander edited and made many more of Ramchal’s works readily available as well in his relatively short life, and we all owe him a great debt.)

Da’at Tevunot was then translated into English by Rabbi Shraga Silverstein (who termed the work “The Knowing Heart” which, while inexact as a translation of the title, nonetheless served to transmit the main thoughts of the work), and several commentaries have been written to it aside from Rabbi Freidlander’s, including those of Rabbis Mordechai Shriki, Avraham Goldblatt, Yospeh Spinner, and Binyamin Effrati. As such, many who would never have had access to this masterpiece of Jewish Thought now do.


Though Da’at Tevunot does indeed expound upon the great themes of G-d’s omniscience, reward and punishment, the coming of the Messiah, and the resurrection of the dead as we’d said, it actually uses them to express some of Ramchal’s own greatest ideas. We’ll treat them one at a time, but in fact they come to G-d’s sovereignty, the role of evil and wrong in the world, the meaning of life, and G-d’s plans for the cosmos. Ramchal explained many other vital, overarching themes too in this work, but space will not allow us to delve into them as well. So we’ll concentrate on the ones just cited and present Ramchal’s ideas about them in our own words.

One of his major points is that we very often misconstrue the extent of G-d’s reach. Most of us who believe in Him — including many who have experienced honest and even profound apprehensions of His presence in the world — certainly accept the fact of His existence. But while we accept His presence in the Heavens or perhaps even on earth as well, few of us though accept the idea that He’s everywhere, throughout the cosmos. And that He’s not only present everywhere, but He’s also in command throughout the cosmos, too.

That’s to say that G-d not only created everything and sustains everything as well — He also holds ultimate and exclusive sway over everything! For G-d’s sovereignty and rule is absolute and can never, ever be thwarted. There is nothing that can get in His way, nothing that can challenge His intentions.

“Wait a minute!” you’re bound to say. “Didn’t He grant us the freedom to do what we will; and don’t many, many people use that to seemingly go against His will often enough?” — and you’d be right. So let’s use the opportunity to first explain Ramchal’s view on the next subject at hand, the role of evil and wrong in the world.

Only the most innocent and pure-hearted among us can say with aplomb that everything is for the good and as it should be. Yet we’re taught outright that “G-d is good to all and merciful unto all His handiwork” (Psalms 145:9) … so why don’t the rest of see that all around us? Ramchal would offer that we simply don’t know what we’re looking at when we catch sight of things, and that everything is indeed for the good. His explanation for the truth of the idea that everything is for the good is that bad and wrongfulness only serve as vehicles for the ultimate good (much the way fever serves to burn away infection, and surgery often carves out cancerous growths). His point is that wrong and misfortune — while certainly painful and daunting — serve as means to an end that are far greater than the pain involved.

Thus while we’re indeed free to do as we will, in the end nothing can ever truly go against G-d’s will, despite appearances; everything serves His purposes.

That brings us to the meaning of life and G-d’s ultimate plans for the cosmos, as Ramchal reveals them to us in this astounding work. At bottom, we’re taught here, what’s expected of us is to draw as close to G-d as we can by following His will. The irony however is that we’ll all manage to do that in the (ultimate) end — either directly, by adhering to His expectations for us, or by enduring the sort of remedial “surgery” we alluded to above. Our having arrived at that juncture will then enable us to experience G-d’s full, rich, and overarching omnipresence. And our having come to that point will serve to have been the fulfillment of G-d’s ultimate plans for the cosmos.

But let it be underscored that the single greatest theme that Ramchal set out to explain in Da’at Tevunot is G-d’s utter and all-encompassing Sovereignty (his Yichud in Hebrew).       For as we were taught G-d said, “I am the L-rd and there is no other; besides Me there is no G-d … there is no one besides Me. I am the L-rd and there is no other” (Isaiah 45:5-7). Ramchal also indicated that we can hasten the revelation of G-d’s Yichud if we choose.


There’s one other point to be made about this work. As we indicated above, like so many others of his books, Da’at Tevunot is deeply rooted in the works of the Ari (1534–1572). Anyone who has ever ventured into those writings can’t help but be struck by their inscrutable terminology and imagery.

The reader finds him or herself strolling about somehow in a universe (five universes in fact!) swollen with legions of alternatively whirling and still, descending and ascending, exploding and imploding bold and invisible things and non-things termed “worlds”, “spheres”, “faces”, “emanations”, “vessels”, “lights”, and “letters”. He’s also thrust in the middle of something that could only be termed the melding and severing of parts with the whole, and into instances of infinity and near infinity; and he’s faced with unexpected depictions of G-d Almighty’s will and much more. Could anyone not help but wonder what’s going on in all that?

Some of the Ari’s references have entered into contemporary Jewish Thought, but much of it eludes even the greatest Jewish scholars. In fact many who do use the terms on a more or less sophisticated level don’t really understand the underpinnings of the system well enough to saunter about it comfortably and methodically. As a consequence, many works that go about elucidating the Ari’s universe don’t actually explain it so much as allow the various parts to all fit neatly and precisely within the system itself, without offering the big picture and without explaining what’s being said at bottom.

Some great souls did indeed grasp the whole, though. They understood and were able to express what the Ari was talking about in plain-enough terms. For as the Gaon of Vilna and his disciples understood, the Ari’s imagery is utterly allegorical and was meant to depict the largely inexplicable through bold metaphor and imagery [3].

Ramchal also understood that. As he put it at one point, “The science of Kabbalah is only (meant) to (have one) understand how the Supreme Will governs, and (to explain) why G-d created all the various beings, what He expects of them, what will come about at the end of the universal cycle, and how these worldly phenomena are to be explained” (Klach Pitchei Chochma 30).

So, he set out to articulate Ari’s various themes one by one in several of his works, but most especially, vividly, and successfully in Da’at Tevunot. For rather than explain all the minutia of the Ari’s imagery there, what he set out to explain was G-d’s interactions with humankind based on Ari’s revelations and in lieu of his terminology.

One final thing, touching on the makeup of this work. The truth of the matter is that the dialogue form that Ramchal used in Da’at Tevunot is no longer popular or easy to read. It’s too cumbersome and artificial for our tastes, since the questioner (the soul) seems to act as a mere catalyst for the responder’s (reason’s) answers and the give-and-take seems too turgid and belabored.

So we’ve taken the liberty of laying out Ramchal’s statements in our own words, largely; and we’ve taken some excursions along the way that either touch upon things that are only mentioned in Da’at Tevunot cursorily which Ramchal went into in more detail elsewhere, or in order to offer our own insights. As such, this work actually serves as an adaptation of Da’at Tevunot.

May the merits of the righteous Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto of blessed memory draw us all close to G-d Almighty!



[1]         Da’at Tevunot was first printed in Warsaw, Poland in 1889 by the well known scholar and bibliophile, Rabbi Shmuel Luria.

[2]         See his comments to Mishna Sanhedrin 10. We’ll expand upon this in Ramchal’s Introduction to follow.

[3]         See Nephesh HaChaim 3:7; see a letter written by Rabbi Avraham Simcha of Stislav cited in p. 236 of Rabbi Friedlander’s edition of Da’at Tevunot;  also see Rabbi Friedlander’s Iyyunim (#61) on p. 214 there for a discussion of the parabolic nature of prophetic visions in general.

Part Two: Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto’s Works

The class can be found here.


Part Two: Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto’s Works


Although he’s best known for Messilat Yesharim (“The Path of the Just”) and Derech Hashem (“The Way of G-d), Ramchal authored dozens and dozens of significant works in his short life. We’ll cite them now in chronological order (with thanks to R’ M. Shriki’s Ohr HaGanuz) and offer a thumbnail description of each.

Ramchal wrote a play at age 16 (in 1723) entitled Ma’aseh Shimshon (“The Story of Samson”) based on the life of the mighty Samson. At age 17 (1724) he wrote Lashon Limudim (“A Tongue for Teaching” [see Isaiah 50:4]) a text on the art of rhetoric, metaphor and style. At age 20 (1727) he wrote 150 chapters of an original book of psalms, as well as a poetic work entitled Migdal Oz (“A Tower of Strength”) with Kabbalistic references in the form of an allegory.

A number of works were composed in 1729 when Ramchal was 22, some of which were directly dictated by the Maggid or at least inspired by his revelations. They include Zohar Kohelet (“The Zohar to the Book of Ecclesiastes”) which was 3000 hand-written pages long (!) but hasn’t been uncovered since; Shivim Tikkunim (“Seventy Tikkunim“), which parallels the seventy Tikkunei Zohar, but while the latter were 70 interpretations of the very first verse of Torah, Ramchal’s work interpreted the very last Torah verse); Zohar Tinyanah (“A Second Zohar”), which no longer exists; and Klallot HaIllan (“The Principle Elements of The Tree [of Life]”), a synopsis of the Ari’s basic work of Kabbalah, “The Tree of Life”, comprised of 10 pithy, Mishna-like chapters.

He composed quite a number of short discourses when he was 23 (in 1730) including Ma’amar Hashem (“A Discourse on G-d”); Ma’amar HaMerkava (“A Discourse on The Chariot”), which explicated Ramchal’s understanding of Ezekiel’s great mystical vision; Ma’amer Shem MemBet (“A Discourse on the 42 letter Name [of G-d]”); Ma’amar HaDin (“A Discourse on [Divine] Judgment”); Ma’amar HaChochma (“A Discourse on Wisdom”), that focuses on Rosh Hashanna, Yom Kippur, and Passover from a Kabbalistic perspective; Ma’amar HaGeulah (“A Discourse on The Redemption”), which is available at www.torah.org/learning/ramchal/archives.html; Ma’amar HaNevuah (“A Discourse on Prophecy”); Mishkanei 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”) whose contents are unknown but which is assumably a collection of Aggadic literature in the style of the classic work, Ain Yaakov (“The Well of Jacob”); Milchamot Hashem (“The Wars of G-d”), which defends Kabbalah against its distracters; and Kinnat Hashem Tzivakot (“An ardent [Defense] for The L-rd of Hosts”), which offers details about the redemption and the Messiah.

At age 24 (in 1731) he wrote a commentary to one of the most arcane corners of the Zohar known as Iddrah Rabbah (“The Great Threshing Room”) which has been come to known as Adir Bamarom (“[G-d is] Mighty on High” [see Psalms 93:4]); and Iggerot Pitchei Chochma v’Da’at (“Letters [to Serve] as an Opening to Wisdom and Knowledge”), meant to spell out and explain certain erudite principles of the Jewish faith according to the Kabbalah.

In 1732 he only wrote one work: Sefer Daniel (“The Book of Daniel”), an esoteric commentary to this Biblical work.

Ramchal wrote both Tiktu Tephilot (“515 Prayers”) that focused on prayers for the revelation of G-d’s sovereignty (which is the underlying theme in all of his writings to one extent or another); and Kitzur Kavvanot (“Abbreviated Intentions”) which allows the reader an overview of the Ari’s recorded prayer-intentions, in 1733 at age 26.

He was especially productive at age 27 (in 1734), having written Ma’amar HaVechuach (“A Discourse [that serves as] The Argument “) that pits a Kabbalist against a rationalist as each tries to defend his way of thinking (the Kabbalist wins, by the way); Klach Pitchei Chochma (“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; Areichat Klallot HaIllan (“A Dictionary of The Principle Elements to The Tree [of Life]”) the context of this is actually unknown but it could be assumed that the title is self- explanatory; Klallim (“Principle Elements”) a series of short and pithy presentations of the main principles of the Kabbalistic system said outright; Da’at Tevunot (“Knowing the Reasons”), a work that explains several of Maimonides’s 13 Principles of the Faith according to Kabbalah; Peirush al Midrash Rabbah (“A Commentary on Midrash Rabbah“) that isn’t Kabbalistic so much as symbolic; plus an additional 40 or so works which we’ve lost track of.

At age 29 (in 1736) he wrote Derech Hashem (“The Way of G-d”), a succinct laying-out of the fundamentals of the Jewish faith touching upon mankind’s obligations in this world and its relations to G-d, also available at www.torah.org/learning/ramchal/archives.html ; Ma’amar al HaAggadot (“A Discourse on Aggadah”) which is an explanation of how to understand Aggadic literature in a serious manner; and Ma’amar HaIkkurim (“A Discourse on the Fundamentals”) a short and succinct laying-out of the fundamentals of the Jewish religion like “The Way of G-d” that touches upon certain other themes, also at www.torah.org/learning/ramchal/archives.html.

Ramchal wrote Derech Chochma (“The Way of Wisdom”), which serves as a dialogue between a young person and a sage with the latter setting out a lifetime course of Torah study culminating in the study of Kabbalah, in 1737 at age 30; and Vichuach HaChocham v’HaChassid (“The Argument between The Sage and the Pious Man”) which is actually a first draft of Messilat Yesharim that only resurfaced recently, the following year at age 31.

Messilat Yesharim (“The Path of the Just”) itself, his most famous work that enables its readers to grow in piety step by step, was written when he was 33 (in 1740), as well as Sefer HaDikduk (“The Book of Grammar”; Sefer HaHigayon (“The Book of Logic”) that lays out the correct way to think and analyze; Ma’amar al HaDrasha (“A Discourse on Homilies”) that encourages the study of Kabbalah and Mussar; Sefer Hamalitza (“The Book of Style”) that offers the art of accurate writing and expression; and Derech Tevunot (“the Way of Understanding”) which explains the Talmudic way of thinking.

His last work (that we know of), was composed in 1743 at age 36. It’s entitled LaYesharim Tehilla (“Praise be to the Upright”) and its a poetical work.

And a trove of other poems, prayers, letters, and comments upon numerous Torah verses were written by him at various stages as well.


(c) 2015 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Feel free to contact me at feldman@torah.org


AT LONG LAST! Rabbi Feldman’s translation of Maimonides’ “Eight Chapters” is available here at a discount.

You can still purchase a copy of Rabbi Feldman’s translation of “The Gates of Repentance” here at a discount as well.

Rabbi Yaakov Feldman has also translated and commented upon “The Path of the Just” and “The Duties of the Heart” (Jason Aronson Publishers).

Rabbi Feldman also offers two free e-mail classes on www.torah.org entitled “Spiritual Excellence” and “Ramchal”.



Part One: Da’at Tevunot — The Life of Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto

We’ll be exploring Ramchal’s Da’at Tevunot (popularly but inaccurately translated as “The Knowing Heart” but better translated as “Knowing The Answers”) as offered at www.torah.org . Here’s our first installment.


The Life of Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto



There are certain lives that are inherently captivating, and Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto’s was certainly that. Born in Paduah, Italy in 1707 to wealthy parents, he took to literature and Torah studies early on. In fact, that early interest in literature served his writing style well throughout his life, and his Torah studies formed the basis of his literary output.

He obviously mastered all of Tanach, Talmud, and all sorts of rabbinical commentaries and halachic codes, as one can see by his profuse and authoritative quotations from traditional sources throughout his writings. And he clearly acquired a profound command of Kabbalah since he was known to have memorized all the writings of the Ari when he was 14.

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (known as Ramchal) was a student of one of the greatest rabbis and kabbalists in Italy at the time, Rabbi Yeshaya Bassan, from early on to age 15 when Rabbi Bassan left Paduah to fill his father-in-law’s rabbinical position. Rabbi Bassan’s father-in-law was the great Kabbalist Rabbi Binyamin HaKohen, who was himself a student of the famous Kabbalist, Rabbi Moshe Zacuto. So Ramchal’s teachings clearly followed the path of a well known kabbalistic tradition. Ramchal himself had a couple of profound meetings with Rabbi HaKohen at the end of the latter’s life in which he discussed his own Kabbalistic insights. We’ll cite one of Ramchal’s revealing letters to the elder kabbalist shortly.

At age 17 Ramchal joined a small, clandestine group of pietists known as “Mevakshei Hashem” (Seekers of G-d). Among the things they demanded of their members, aside from devout and altruistic allegiance to Torah study and mitzvah observance, was that each member commit himself to a set and inviolable study-schedule that was solely dedicated to the well-being of the Jewish Nation and to “Tikkun HaShechina” (the rectification of the Divine Presence in the world). The entire group most especially concentrated on an around-the-clock study of the Zohar, with each member taking his turn, and the next in line starting his course of study some 15 minutes before the previous ended his (as the one following him started his study session 15 minutes beforehand) to ensure a sure flow of study. Ramchal received semicha (i.e., he was formally ordained) at age 19, while yet a member of Mevakshei Hashem.


The phenomenon that most especially defined his life was the series of times that a Maggid (a Heavenly Agent) appeared to him and provided him with direct instruction, starting at age 20. While the experience itself was personally uplifting and enlightening, and allowed Ramchal the sort of profound insights that affected his works (and even provided the very wording in several instances), it also lead to the great and terrible polemic that plagued him for years and nearly closed off his works from us.

Here’s a quote from remarks that a student of Ramchal’s, Rabbi Yekutiel Gordon, made in a letter about some of these appearances to a leading Italian rabbi, when Ramchal was 22.

“There is a young man here, tender in years, (who) is a holy man: my master and teacher … Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto. For these past two and a half years a Maggid has appeared to him … who reveals wondrous mysteries to him …. With the approval of the Holy One, blessed be He and His Shechina, the Maggid ordered him to compose a Book of the Zohar, called in Heaven ‘The Second Zohar’ ….

“This is what happens (when the Maggid, referred to here as “the angel”, appears). The angel speaks out of Ramchal’s mouth but we, his disciples, hear nothing. The angel begins to uncover great mysteries to him. Then my master orders Elijah to come to him, and he comes to uncover mysteries of his own. Sometimes, Metatron, the great (heavenly) prince, also comes to him, as well as ‘The Faithful Shepherd’ (i.e., Moses), our forefather Abraham, Rabbi Hamnuna the Elder, … the Messiah, and Adam ….

“To sum up, nothing is hidden from him. At first permission was only granted (from Heaven) to reveal to him the mysteries of the Torah, but now all sorts of things are revealed to him. But no one outside our circle knows of it …. As he has demonstrated to all, no one before him has had this kind of merit since the time of Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai (the author of the Zohar).”

Ramchal himself spoke of the revelations, among other things about himself, in one of his letters to Rabbi Binyamin HaKohen, whom we’d cited above.

“The L-rd who is righteous and who searches all hearts is my witness in Heaven and my testimony on high as to why I have kept (my revelations) secret from your honor …. But now that the matter is public knowledge … I am very pleased to hear that you know of it … (and) I am especially glad to know that your honor, in his goodness and integrity, accepts it as true and reliable ….

“G-d-fearing people come to me every day to hear the new things that G-d tells me. Many young men who had once walked in the vain ways of young people have now, thank G-d, … returned to G-d, and come to me to receive Tikkunim (rectifications) for their (past) deeds.

“At this time G-d … wished to reveal a new light (to the world) in the category of the Zohar …. He chose me for this in His mercy. If you were to ask me about the kind of preparations (I engage in to deserve this), what could I say? The truth is that it has come about through G-d’s love alone and has little to do with my preparations for it. Nonetheless, it is also true that I have been zealous for years about reciting Yichudim (mystical recitations of particular Divine Names). I perform a different Yichud nearly every fifteen minutes, and I do this even now, thank G-d …. And the Creator now uses me as the instrument for the fulfillment of His purpose.”

He then went into further detail as follows:

“On the first of Sivan in the year 5487 (1727), as I was reciting a certain Yichud, I fell into a trance. When I awoke, I heard a voice saying: ‘I have descended in order to reveal the hidden secrets of the Holy King’. For a while I stood there trembling, but I soon took hold of myself. The voice kept on speaking and revealed a particular secret to me.

“At the same time on the second day I made sure to be alone in the room, and the voice reappeared to reveal another secret to me. One day he revealed to me that he was a Maggid sent from Heaven and he gave me certain Yichuddim that I was to recite in order for him to appear again.

“I never saw him but I did hear his voice as it spoke though my own mouth. He then allowed me to ask him questions. After about 3 months he revealed to me the Yichuddim I would have to recite to be worthy of having Elijah reveal himself to me. He then charged me to compose a work on Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) on the basis of the mystical meaning of its verses that he had revealed to me, and Elijah came and imparted his own secrets to me. (The Maggid) said that Metatron, the great (heavenly) prince, would be coming to me and that I would know that it is he because of what Elijah had said. From then on I came to recognize each of my visitors. Souls whose identity I know are also revealed to me. Each day I write down the new ideas each of them imparts to me. All these things happen while I lie prostrate, with my face to the ground, and I see the holy souls in human form as in a dream.”


Word of these revelations came to the Rabbinic leaders of the time, and while many of them were effulgent in their praise of the young Kabbalist, some others (of great prominence) were flabbergasted by the idea of so young a person being privy to such revelations, and they did all they could to stifle him.

As dumbfounding as the thought of denying Ramchal’s brilliance and the level of his revelations appear to us now, it was rooted in something quite rational. For only some 100 years before the false messiah Shabbatai Tzvi (d.1676) had wreaked havoc throughout the Jewish world, and nearly undid the foundations of the Faith, G-d forbid. The entire Jewish community was still reeling from that in Ramchal’s time, and beyond. The whole matter is a subject unto itself, but suffice it to say that the leaders of Ramchal’s generation were rightly leery about a new false messiah and any more subsequent threats to our people.

Some rather unkind things were said about Ramchal, though his defenders did laud his trustworthiness as well as his piety. A great deal of Ramchal’s correspondences from the time and afterwards have survived and it’s thus evident that despite and throughout it all, he defended his experiences stoutly while maintaining his lofty perch. In any event, threatened with excommunication, Ramchal swore not to transmit the Maggid’s revelations or teach Kabbalah.

He left Italy for Amsterdam In 1735, and while passing through Germany he appealed to the rabbinical authorities there to advocate for him to the Italian rabbis. They refused and instead forced him to sign a statement denouncing his own experiences. Most of his writings were burned, though some did survive.

He was able to pursue his studies of kabbalah relatively unhindered while in Amsterdam, and was accepted as a great man there. Earning a living as a diamond cutter, he continued writing but refused to teach. It was in this period that he wrote his magnum opus Messilat Yesharim (“The Path of the Just”), as well as Derech Hashem (“The Way of G-d”), Da’at Tevunot (“Knowing the Reasons”), and more.

A major rabbinic near-contemporary who praised Ramchal’s writing was Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna, the Vilna Gaon (1720-1797), the most authoritative Torah sage of the time as well as a great kabbalist. He was reported to have said after reading “The Path of the Just”, that were Ramchal still alive, he (the Gaon) would have walked from Vilna to learn at his feet. The Holy Maggid of Mezritch (Dov Bair, the successor to the Baal Shem Tov) also praised the “Chassid of Paduah” and his works to the Chassidim. And to this day Ramchal is praised from all corners of the Jewish world as a great mystic, moralist, teacher, tzaddik, and writer.

He left Amsterdam for Israel in 1743 and settled in Acco. Three years later, he and his family died tragically in a plague, and he was buried near Rabbi Akiva in Tiberias.

May the memory of the righteous be a blessing for us all!

(c) 2015 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Feel free to contact me at feldman@torah.org


AT LONG LAST! Rabbi Feldman’s translation of Maimonides’ “Eight Chapters” is available here at a discount.

You can still purchase a copy of Rabbi Feldman’s translation of “The Gates of Repentance” here at a discount as well.

Rabbi Yaakov Feldman has also translated and commented upon “The Path of the Just” and “The Duties of the Heart” (Jason Aronson Publishers).

Rabbi Feldman also offers two free e-mail classes on www.torah.org entitled “Spiritual Excellence” and “Ramchal”.