Wednesday, May 20, 2020

A Scholar and a Playwright

As the epicenter of the Renaissance, Italy was filled with great centers of learning and creativity during the middle centuries of the last millennium. In one of these great centers of learning, Padua, Rabbi Moses Chaim Luzzato (RaMCHaL) was born in 1707.

In his early 20s, RaMCHaL gained notoriety for writing and teaching about Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism. Alas, he lived in the era just after the famous false Messiah, Shab'tai Tzvi (d.1676), who had built up and then destroyed the hopes for redemption of tens of thousands of Jews. Since Shab'tai Tzvi had also been a teacher of Kabbalah, RaMCHaL was suspected of Sabbatarianism by the leading Italian rabbis of the time.

Fearing excommunication, RaMCHaL toned down his teachings and eventually moved to Amsterdam. There, RaMCHaL wrote several books that are now considered masterpieces of Jewish thought. Derech Hashem, The Way of God, discusses the general basis of all existence, God's Divine Providence, prophecy, and religious observance. Mesillat Yesharim, The Path of the Just, his most famous work and a Jewish religious classic, is considered a masterpiece of ethical instruction, teaching how a person may perfect him/herself through a step-by-step process of overcoming the evil inclination.

RaMCHaL's work was greatly praised by the Vilna Gaon (Rabbi Eliyahu Kremer, 1720 - 1797), one of the greatest Jewish scholars of all time, who said that there was not one superfluous word in Mesillat Yesharim.

In 1743, RaMCHaL and his family settled in Israel. In 1746, when RaMCHaL was only 39, he and his entire family perished in a plague. RaMCHaL was a prolific author, writing numerous poems and at least three plays with secular motifs in addition to his insightful works of Jewish thought.

Today, the 26th of Iyar, is the anniversary of his death.

This Treat was originally posted on May 20, 2009.

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