I Owe the Ramchal an Apology

I Owe the Ramchal an Apology
One of my teacher, Rabbi Nivin’s, most important modules is on the Ramchal’s, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato’s, “Ecstasy Principle” meaning that the ultimate way to experience true joy in this world is by struggling through our life challenges and struggles and taking what Rabbi Nivin calls “Your next step in Serving Hashem,” meaning (to quote, lehavdil, the Frozen soundtrack) by doing “The next right thing.”
For example, let’s say someone has a chronic illness which causes her a lot of discomfort. You would think this would be the opposite of pleasure, right? But according to the Ramchal, if this woman manages to be like Hashem by taking her next steps in serving Hashem (i.e., takes her medicines, goes to her doctors’ appointments, gets enough rest) then this uncomfortable disease could be her source of greatest pleasure in life.
This concept has been hard for me to swallow. And it’s been especially hard since I couldn’t understand how the Ramchal, whom I assumed had spent his life immersed in the ethereal realms of Torah study fitting a Torah scholar of his calibre and renown, would know anything about dealing with the type of challenging challenges and disappointing disappointments I face in my life.
And then today I went to the Ramchal Synagogue in Acco. And I learned about the incredibly challenging life story of Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato.
Here’s what I learned, as told by Wikipedia: “The turning point in Rabbi Luzzatto’s life came at the age of twenty, when he claimed to have received direct instruction from an angel (known as a maggid). While stories of such encounters with celestial entities were not unknown in kabbalistic circles, it was unheard of for someone of such a young age. His peers were enthralled by his written accounts of these “Divine lessons”, but the leading Italian rabbinical authorities were highly suspicious and threatened to excommunicate him.
“Just decades earlier another young mystic, Sabbatai Zevi (1626–1676), had rocked the Jewish world by claiming to be the Messiah. Although, at one point, Zevi had convinced many European and Middle Eastern rabbis of his claim, the episode ended with him recanting and converting to Islam. The global Jewish community was still reeling from that, and the similarities between Luzzatto’s writings and Zevi’s were perceived as being particularly dangerous and heretical…
“After threats of excommunication and many arguments, Luzzatto finally came to an understanding with the leading Italian rabbis, including his decision not to write the maggid’s lessons or teach mysticism and hand over all his writings to his mentor Yeshayahu Basan. In 1735, Luzzatto left Italy for Amsterdam, believing that in the more liberal environment there, he would be able to pursue his mystical interests. Passing through Germany, he appealed to the local rabbinical authorities to protect him from the threats of the Italian rabbis. They refused and forced him to sign a document stating that all the teachings of the maggid were false…
“In one letter, Rabbi Moshe Hagiz, Luzzato’s staunchest opponent, calls Luzzato a wretched renegade who betrayed his religion, and lost his portion in the world to come, calling and urging for the burning of all his writings. Basan was forced to hand over Luzzato’s writings to Poppers which he subsequently buried deep in the ground and burnt some of the writings he deemed heretical
“When Luzzatto finally reached Amsterdam, he was able to pursue his Kabbalah studies relatively unhindered. 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 the Mesillat Yesharim (1740). Another prominent work, Derekh Hashem (The Way of God) is a concise work on the core theology of Judaism.
“One major rabbinic contemporary who praised Luzzatto’s writing was Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna, the Vilna Gaon (1720–1797), who was considered to be the most authoritative Torah sage of the modern era as well as a great kabbalist himself. He was reputed to have said after reading the Mesillat Yesharim, that were Luzzatto still alive, he would have walked from Vilna to learn at Luzzatto’s feet. He stated that having read the work, the first ten chapters contained not a superfluous word.
“Frustrated by his inability to teach Kabbalah, Luzzatto left Amsterdam for the Holy Land in 1743, settling in Acre. Three years later, he and his [wife and only child] died in a plague.”
Today, almost 3 centuries after his death at the age of 39, there isn’t a corner of the Orthodox world where the Ramchal’s works aren’t studied; they are centerpieces of globally-accepted Jewish thought and philosophy.
But during the Ramchal’s short life, he seems to have faced almost non-stop controversy and struggle. Seeing the dead-end, narrow (and at least today) run-down street he lived on during his years in Acco and suffered his final illness brought home the sadness of the life he lived. Forbidden to teach or write about Jewish mysticism, his ultimate inspiration and passion.
If, among all this horrible suffering, the Ramchal was able to find joy, ecstasy even, by taking his next step in serving Hashem, then I believe it can be done. And I believe that, dealing with the relatively microscopic challenges I face in my life, I can at least try to do it to.

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