Ramchal’s Reasons for Studying Kabbalah

Ramchal offers this as an introduction to Petach 1 as well as to Klach Petach Chochma itself which explains why we’re to study Kabbalah. As he suggests, we ourselves derive a lot from the study of Kabbalah.

After all, it “explains how everything created and fashioned in the universe emanated from the Supreme Will” step by step, rather than out of sheer nothingness and at random. It “shows how everything is governed the right way by the One God, blessed be He, so as to ultimately bring all of creation to (a state of) utter perfection”. That’s to say that by studying Kabbalah we’ll catch sight of and follow God’s overarching presence and sovereignty in the cosmos as His intentions work themselves out in the course of history towards a glorious end. (What will allow us to do that, by the way, is the fact that “all the details of this science [i.e., Kabbalah] serve as a laying-out of all the laws and processes [involved] in [God’s] governance” of the universe.)

At bottom, though, Kabbalah “comes to exhibit the truth of (the Jewish) Faith”, which is to say that what Kabbalah does better than anything else is explain in detail the metaphysical processes lying behind what we’re to do as Jews, what we mean when we affirm that there’s only one God, and why we’re to cling fast on to God’s Presence as we’re implored to again and again [1].

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Notes:

[1] As Ramchal worded it at a certain point, “People neither know nor understand G-d’s actual actions or (the idea and the ramifications of the fact) that He actually governs the universe. Instead, they attribute everything to nature, or to the stars and constellations” (Introduction to Ma’amar HaVichuach p. 19).

Elsewhere Ramchal explains that the kabbalistic system serves three distinct functions over-all: it illustrates how the various names and depictions of God’s traits offered in the Torah and elsewhere apply (which he terms Kabbalah’s most “superficial” function); it demonstrates the fact that God will eventually exhibit His abiding beneficence, which will then lead to the undoing of all wrongdoing and to the ultimate reward of the righteous (which will be discussed in the 2nd petach); and lastly (what Ramchal terms its most significant role) Kabbalah reveals God’s Yichud and ever-presence, and shows just how everything will return to its Source (end of Iggrot Pitchei Chochma v’Da’at). This last, decidedly recondite, point — which could perhaps be termed The Great Implosion — is part of “the truth of the [Jewish] faith” cited above, which Ramchal contends few of us understand. We’ll return to this idea.

An unknown student of Ramchal cited some other cogent reasons to study Kabbalah based on Ramchal’s teachings, in a work known as Klallim Mitoch Sefer Milchemet Moshe (found on pp. 349- 365 of R’ Friedlander’s edition of Da’at Tevunot – Sefer HaKlallim).

One more cogent point is made about the role of Kabbalah at the end of the second petach, where we’re told that the Kabbalistic system will illustrate just how “everything comes only from God” and how “His … will to be beneficent will endure forever and nothing else”. See Ramchal’s Klallei Milchamot Moshe, his Choker u’Mekubal, as well as petach 12 and 30 below for further discussions of this.

One of Ramchal’s points here is that Kabbalah is in fact a chochma — a science, with the implication that it calls for independent thought and analysis, agreeing with HaYashar m’Kandia’s important work entitled Novlot Chochma among other early sources. That disagrees though with R’ R.M. Ibn Gabai’s Shomer Emunim along with others who say it’s a Kabbalah — literally a tradition, implying that independent thought and analysis is anathema to it.

It’s important to know that some latter-day Kabbalists disagreed with Ramchal’s assessment of the role of Kabbalah, including the Hassidic Master, Rabbi Meshulam Feivish of Zhebariza, the author of Yosher Divrei Emmet; and Rabbi Shlomo Eliyashuv, the author of Leshem Shevo v’Achlamah (Sefer HaDeah p. 57).

But see Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Charlop’s Mai Marom Ch. 8 note 17 (cited by Rabbi S. Debliztky in his approbation to Rabbi Mordechai Shriki’s Derech Chochmat haEmet) where he explains Ramchal’s intentions.

(c) 2010 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Feel free to contact me at feldman@torah.org

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