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About the Ramhal


Ramhal are the initials of Rabbi Moshe Haim Luzzatto, who was born in the Ghetto of Padua in Italy in 1707. Son of Jacob Vita and Diamente Luzzatto, noble but modest and pious parents. Ramhal was placed in the Yeshiva, while other parents preferred the faculty of Medicine of the University of Padua. From an early age, he showed an exceptional talent for the study of Kabbalah, in a letter sent by his friend and student Rav Yekoutiel Gordon to Rabbi Mordekhai Yaffe of Vilna, we read:

“Ramhal was only fourteen, yet he already knew all the Kabbalah of the Ari Z'al by heart, and nobody knew about it, not even his parents.”

At the age of fifteen, he already had written his first book of Kabbalah. His Rav and teacher; Rabbi Isaiah Bassan, a well known Talmud scholar, and one of the most important Rabbis of Italy, wrote:

“I have communicated to him all the steps of the knowledge, and all my spiritual possessions were at his disposition; nothing was hidden to this genius thirsty for knowledge. He was searching my entire library to find some of the writings of Kabbalah that G-d had granted me, then he would cross the stream, tasting the "Etz Hayim". His mind would then enter the valleys of secrets, and began to love and delight in them… ”

At the age of seventeen, Ramhal denotes certain contradictions in the "Etz Hayim" , and composed his book "Leshone Limoudim", in which he stated the modern rules of gender, stylistics, rhetoric and versification, as a guide to the Hebrew writer. Ramhal demonstrated particular abilities in using metaphors and assonances, and he used this ability with great efficiency in his different dramatic writings. For this, Ramhal would be proclaimed "the father of modern Hebrew literature" .

Later, a Maggid revealed himself to the Ramhal. In a letter to Rav Benjamin Hacohen in December 1729, he wrote:

“While I was meditating on a Yihud I fell asleep, and when I woke up, I heard a voice saying: “I have come down to reveal hidden secrets of the Holy King.” I remained trembling for a moment, then took hold of myself, … the voice did not stop revealing mysterious things. The day after, at the same time, I took the precaution of being alone in my room, the voice manifested itself to reveal another secret, until the day that it revealed to me that it was a Maggid …. Three months later, he transmitted to me other Yihudim to do everyday, in order to merit the visit of Eliyahu Hanavi …. Then Eliyahu Hanavi came to reveal celestial secrets, and he later announced the coming of Mettat'ron – The great Prince of the angels….”

Under the dictation of the Maggid, Ramhal wrote thousands of pages and revealed magnificent secrets.
A mystical study group was formed around the Ramhal, its goal: the Tikun of the Shekhina and of all Israel, and the continual reading of the Zohar . The adherence to this group required conforming to the rules of purity and devotions written, and signed by the members.

Once the goals of this study group and the revelation of the Maggid became known, some Rabbis, and particularly the Rav Moshe Haggiz, started to make war against the Ramhal. For them, because of the rift created within the Jewish community by the pseudo-messianic movement of Shabbetai Tsevi , mysticism and Kabbalah were synonymous with threats, and endangerment for the community.

This war, or rather persecution, since the attacks were coming only from one side, is largely described in the correspondence between Ramhal and his Rav; Rabbi Bassan . One letter written by the Ramhal to Rav Bassan clearly demonstrates his peaceful spirit, being above such petty quarrels:

“Try by your wisdom, master, to refute their arguments ... For what purpose this quarrel … I do not want to create conflicts with anybody ... It is peace that we need ...”

To Rabbi Moshe Haggiz Ramhal wrote:

“To the illustrious wise … his name is among the greats... son of righteous … how come you, a sage – like an angel of G-d, have gone to war without trying to delve into the problem; to declare war against someone you have never met or seen … No, it is not a good thing. In any case, let us stop this quarrel … let us not give to the Satan room to dance between us…”

For five years, the period of persecution is extended, we see Ramhal trying to defend himself and respond to accusations, particularly those of the Rabbinical Court of Hamburg, whose chief was Rabbi Ezekiel Katzenellenbogen . Yet, what was he really blamed for? Nothing specifically, except perhaps to have written on the subject of Kabbalah, to have mentioned the Messiah, and to have revealed his communications with the Maggid. Yet never, and in none of his writings, did the Ramhal allude to himself as the Messiah, or any type of savior. In one of his letters to the Rabbis of Livourne, he wrote:

“Miracles I do not do, to predict the future also not. In reality, many people gather around me to study Torah. Afterwards, I write books, as permitted by the Lord ... Even the magicians of Pharaoh made miracles in front of Moses ... And to my humble opinion, it is not the right way to verify the contents of a wisdom.”

Despite this very clear declaration, and on the insistence of the Rabbi M. Haggiz, Ramhal agrees in 1730 to sign a document stating that he officially retracted his writings, and agreed that:

“The duty of every Jew is to obey the orders of the Rabbis, even if they say that the right hand is the left, and the left hand is the right, and to stop writing in the language of the Zohar on Kabbalah, in the name of the Maggid or other holy Souls; so as not to provoke quarrels in the midst of the wise of Israel”

Following this undertaking, Ramhal sent all his Kabbalistic writings prior to 1730 to Rabbi Bassan, who sealed them in a case and forwarded them to Rabbi Moshe Alprun in Padoua.

From 1730 to 1734, Ramhal wrote more than 40 works on Kabbalah, but not in the name of the Maggid, out of respect for his agreement, but rather in a subtle and rational language.

In 1735 at the age of 28, and after years of harassment, he left Italy and settled in Holland.
Passing by Frankfurt, Ramhal encountered the Dayan Rabbi Ya'acov Papiroch, who commended him to leave, and forced him to sign another agreement preventing him from writing on Kabbalah or studying its works with anyone. Nevertheless, he retained the right to study the works of the Ari Z'al from the age of 40, which unfortunately he never reached .

It was only in 1736, following the death of his teacher Rabbi Bassan, the serious illness of Rabbi Haggiz and the burial of the trunk containing the manuscripts, that things began to calm.

In Amsterdam, a period of relative tranquility lasted until 1743, there, Ramhal is appointed Rosh Yeshiva and writes his best-known book, and one of the most studied in Yeshivot to this day: Messilat Yesharim (The Path of the Just ), a masterpiece of ethics, not moralizing. He also published two other important works: Da'at Tevunot (The Knowing Heart ), and Derech Hashem (The Way of G-d ).

In 1743, Ramhal fulfilled his dream of settling in Eretz Israel, for as our sages say: "Living in Eretz Israel, is a commandment encompassing all of the Torah." Very few details are known about his life there, except that he lived in the city of Akko, near Tiberias. Yet his stay in Israel lasted only a short period, as he died along with his family during a plague in 1746, at the age of 39.

One question raised, is whether Ramhal wrote any books in Eretz Israel. None are known to date, but it is hard to believe that after being persecuted for his Kabbalistic writings, that he would have refrained from doing so, now that he had finaly found his freedom.

Like many great geniuses, Ramhal was recognized as such only after his death. The Gaon of Vilna declared that if Ramhal was still alive, he would have traveled to Italy on foot to learn from his wisdom. About Messilat Yesharim, he said:

“This book is witness to the greatness of its author, and his extraordinary vision of the human potential for elevation…”

The Maggid of Mezritch said:

“His generation did not merit this great man…. Many among our people, through lack of knowledge, have uttered on this saintly man calumny that was not justified.”

It is a pity that some Rabbis of his generation mistook him as an impostor, and prevented him from bequeathing to the people of Israel other magnificent works.

We should pray for our generation to merit the revealing of all his writings, and particularly of the "Zohar Tiniana" , which was buried along with his other writings, by the Rabbis of Frankfurt. Amen.

By Rabbi Raphael Afilalo

The Kabbalah of the Ari Z'al, according to the Ramhal