Tuesday, December 22, 2009

חלום משה בנו יעקוב

During Chanukah I happened upon a cheap edition of a book I'd been looking for: an earlier, dialogue version of Luzzato's ethical opus, Messilat Yesharim. Many of his works were in dialogue form, but this particular work he later felt would work better in a condensed form, and as a monologue (which is all we've known about until a decade ago, when the earlier version was found in a Russian antiquities library). This event is what got me thinking recently of the Ramchal and his influence on later movements.

You see, as is evidenced in his preface (to both works), what the Ramchal would really like to see is people using the same energy, the same logic, the same hair-splitting analyses and the same studiousness not only in the study of the Talmud, but much more so in the study of ones own spiritual existence. That idea is not really mentioned later in the work, but it's the premise of everything he says; to have a regular "seder-iyyun" for "mussar".

What's funny is that while it's known that his works, and especially this work, deeply influenced Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, the founder of the "Mussar Movement" and the generations of thinkers and yeshivot that followed in his path, and even the main opposer of Chassidut when it first emerged, the Gaon of Vilnius, but it's less known that they, in a quieter way, influenced the founding of the Chassidic Movement as well. While Rabbi Yisrael ben Eliezer of Medzhybizh himself was a contemporary of Luzzato, it's difficult to pinpoint Luzzato's influence in his thought, though it is definitely there. One Chassidut in which the influence of Luzzato is still obvious today is, I think, Chassidut Chabad. Anybody in a Chabad Beit Midrash would tell you that an essential difference between them and their non-Chassidic counterparts is the stress and time they put into the study of "spirituality" and proper character training, which is essentially the wish of Luzzatto.

His Kabalah was a little more popular among some Chassidic thinkers. Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezeritch for example, commanded the printing of Luzzattos "Kalach Pitchei Chochmah", though some Rebbes (such as (the ninteenth century) Rabbi Menachem Mendel (Schneersohn) of Lyubavichi, frowned upon or prohibited it's study.

Luzzatto also affected other movements, such as the Zionist and the Reform: as H. N. Bialik was want to mention that "he was the father of the schools of thought of the 'Gra', the 'Besht', 'Ben Menahem' (Moses Mendelssohn) and in him lies the beginning of our own literary development (i.e. that of the "Maskilim"). It's also known that the writings of Rav Kook are based on a synthesis of the ideas of the Gra and the Ramchal. He once said "I feel like I'm a gilgul of Luzzatto".

It's always confused me that so many different groups affiliate with him. Which is really true to his ideology? Well, the reality is that most of his work was in kabbalah (something Graetz criticizes him for), so his true ideology is really quite steeped in mysticism, but he has another side, a "Nigla" side. An ethical side. And most of that side is revealed in both Messilat Yesharims....which is why I'm considering again writing on my blog dedicated to that book, but this time contrasting it with the dialogue version.

..I think the part of my brain that generates conclusions has been removed or something...

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