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Moses Hayyim Luzzatto

(1707 - 1746)

Moses Hayyim Luzzatto was a scholar and mystic of the 18th century. He was born in Padua, Italy into a distinguished Jewish family and spent his childhood studying Bible, Talmud, and Halakhah, as well as secular literature and classical language. His knowledge was impressive and he quickly earned a reputation as a scholar of rare ability. When Luzzatto was 20 years old, he joined a Kabbalistic group and immersed himself in mystical studies. In 1727 he claimed to hear a voice which he understood to be a "maggid," a divine messenger or power which reveals heavenly secrets to human beings; this was to be the first of many messages he would receive. Luzzatto shared these messages with those in his Kabbalistic circle, a group of young men who had come to Padua to study at the university.

Luzzatto described one of his revelations this way: "I fell into a trance. When I awoke, I heard a voice saying, 'I have descended in order to reveal the hidden secrets of the Holy King.' For a while I stood there trembling but then I took hold of myself. The voice did not cease from speaking and imparted a particular secret to me. At the same time on the second day I saw to it that I was alone in the room and the voice came again to impart a further secret to me. One day he revealed to me that he was a maggid sent from heaven, and he gave me certain yichudim (unifications) that I was to perform in order for him to come to me. I never saw him but heard his voice speaking in my mouth... Then Elijah came and imparted his own secrets to me. And he said that Metatron (the angel), the great prince, will come to me. From that time onward, I came to recognize each of my visitations. Souls whose identity I do not know are also revealed to me. I write down each day the new ideas each of them imparts to me."

Jekuthiel Gordon, a member of Luzzatto's Kabbalistic circle, wrote this account in a letter: 'There is here a holy man, my master and teacher, the holy lamp, the lamp of God, his honor Rabbi Moses Hayyim Luzzatto. For these past two and a half years a "maggid" has been revealed to him, a holy and tremendous angel who reveals wondrous mysteries to him... The angel speaks out of his mouth but we, his disciples, hear nothing. The angel begins to reveal to him great mysteries. Then my master orders Elijah to come to him and he comes to impart mysteries of his own. Sometimes Metatron, the great prince [and angel], also comes to him as well as the Faithful Shepherd [Moss], the patriarch Abraham, Rabbi Hamnuna the Elder, and That Old Man and sometimes King Messiah and Adam... To sum up, nothing is hidden from him. At first permission was only granted to reveal to him the mysteries of the Torah but now all things are revealed to him."

Luzzatto and his followers were concerned with issues of redemption and messianism. In fact, it seems that they believed that the process of redemption had begun in their day and they sought to promote its unfolding. As a group, Luzzatto and his followers formulated a "code" for the group which included laws dealing with methods of study, relationships between group members and Luzzatto, and a declaration of their purpose as a Kabbalistic group, to bring about the redemption of all Israel, not just the individual members of the group. They did not envision their activities and efforts as personal or private attempts at redemption or atonement, but rather intended their studies and activities to inaugurate the "tikkun" (restoration) of the Shechinah (Divine Presence) and Am Yisrael (the people Israel). Luzzatto believed himself to be a reincarnation of Moses and ascribed to himself the role of redeeming Israel. Another member of the group, Moses David Valle, seemed to have thought of himself as the Messiah, son of David, while yet another member took on the role of Serayah, who was to be the commander of Israel's army in the messianic era.

When word got out of Luzzatto's messages, the rabbis of Venice became alarmed, considering such mystical activities dangerous. They thought that Luzzatto and his followers might be a Shabbatean heretical group, one of many who followed the teachings of the false messiah, Shabbatai Tzvi. Luzzatto admitted to being influenced by the writings of Nathan of Gaza, Shabbatai Tzvi's "prophet." He claimed that the positive elements of Shabbatai Tzvi's teachings could be separated from the heretical elements, but few rabbinic authorities agreed with this opinion, since Shabbateanism was a powerful wave sweeping over the Jewish community. A bitter controversy ensued concerning the verity and propriety of Luzzatto's activities and claims. Some authorities in the Jewish community claimed that Luzzatto was not a proper recipient of such revelations, since he was young and unmarried. Tradition has long held that one ought to be married and over the age of 40 to engaged in mystical speculation. Luzzatto's house was searched and evidence that he engaged in magical practices was found. He was compelled to cease and desist from teaching Kabbalah and disclosing messages from the "maggid." However, Luzzatto continued to write about Kabbalah. His marriage, in 1731, was seen as symbolic of the union of the Shechinah and her divine husband. Despite his marriage, the controversy continued and, under pressure, Luzzatto left for Amsterdam in 1735, where he lived until 1734 writing about Kabbalah but not teaching mystical practices any longer.

In 1743 Luzzatto and his family traveled to Acco, where they settled. Luzzatto died along with his family, shortly thereafter in 1746 in a plague. He was 39 at the time of his death. He left several Kabbalistic writings ("Pitchei Chochmah" is a systematic theosophical explanation of Lurianic Kabbalah and "Zohar Tinyana," which exists today only in parts that are printed in other works, discusses redemption), as well as ethical treatises (most notably "Mesillat Yesharim: The Path of the Upright") and some poetry.

Sources: Rabbi A. Scheinerman's Homepage