What Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto’s The Way of G-d is in its original
form is a laying out cold and clear, layer by layer, the very most
fundamental cosmic principles of the universe, and the most exhilaratingly
profound and mystical things expected of us as a consequence of them.
For as he put it in his introduction, what he set out to do was to
simply “lay out the general principles of the Jewish Faith” as “revealed by
G-d’s prophets and taught in His Torah” in an orderly, clear, and
unambiguous way, which he did by first setting out the general principles of
the faith, then expanding outward from there, step by step.
He assured us that ... somehow ... all the “secrets (of the faith)
will then be within our grasp” and that all we’ll need to do to realize them
then would be to study his work carefully and earnestly.
He ends his introduction by wishing us, his “brother (and sister,
fellow) seekers of G-d” good fortune, and prays that G-d grant us the “eyes
to see and ears to hear the wonders of His Torah”, which he then sets out to
Who’d dare make such a claim -- and manage to fulfill it? Only
someone of the caliber of Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (whom we’ll be referring to
as Ramchal, which is a Hebrew acronym of his name), who was a major
Kabbalist, philosopher, and moralist.
Ramchal was born in Padua, Italy into a well known and
distinguished Italian-Jewish family in 1707, and was quickly recognized as
an illuy (genius) since he became adept at Biblical, Rabbinic, and
Kabbalistic literature at an early age (in fact, we’re told that he’d
memorized all the writings of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria by the age of 14!), as
well as at the science and literature of his time.
In response to an unwarranted polemic raised against him in a
highly-charged anti-Kabbalah era (hot on the heels of false-messiah
Shabbatai Tzvi’s heresies), Ramchal eventually settled in Amsterdam where he
wrote and published his most famous work, The Path of the Just
(“Messilat Yesharim”) as well as The Way of G-d (“Derech Hashem”)
among many others. He and his family settled in Israel afterwards and
all died there in consequence of a plague in 1746.
The original work is divided into four main sections which all
delve into some very, very weighty and esoteric notions. And the four are
subdivided into numerous sections.
The chapters that make up the first section, “The Fundamental
Principles of Reality”, are entitled “G-d”, “The Purpose of Creation”,
“Humankind”, “Human Responsibility”, and “The Spiritual Realm”
The second section is entitled “Divine Providence”, and it’s
chapters are “Divine Providence, in General”, “Humankind in This World”,
“Personal Providence”, “Israel and The Other Nations”, “How Divine
Providence Works”, “The System Behind Divine Providence”, “The Influence of
the Stars”, and “The Details of Divine Providence”.
The third section is entitled “The Soul, Inspiration, Prophecy,
and the Supernatural”, and its chapters are “The Soul and Its Influence”,
“Theurgy”, “Inspiration and Prophecy”, “The Prophetic Experience”, and
“Moses as a Prophet”.
And the fourth section is entitled “Divine Service”, and its
chapters are “Serving G-d in General”, “Torah Study” “The Love and Fear of
G-d”, “Sh’ma Yisroel and Its Blessings”, “Prayer”, “The Sequence of the
Day”, “Intermittent Observances”, “Seasonal Mitzvot”, and “Incidental
Observances and Blessings”.
Now, there’s a world to be said about this layout, but suffice it
to say that it goes from discussions of G-d’s Being and what that implies
(“The Fundamental Principles of Reality”), to the ways G-d interacts with us
in the world (“Divine Providence”), to the mechanisms within us and the
universe that allow us to interact with Him (“The Soul, Inspiration,
Prophecy, and the Supernatural”), to how we’re to do that (“Divine Service”).
The present work itself is a paraphrase of and a stealth running
commentary to the original The Way of G-d rather than a new translation of
it, and it oftentimes takes liberties with its contents (and its
well, which we veer from once in a while) for the sake of the modern reader.
That’s both because my beloved teacher, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (of
blessed memory), already provided a masterful translation which I wouldn’t
dare argue with; and also because I realized that an adaptation would allow
me to explain Ramchal’s thoughts as we’d go along, rather than quote,
explain, quote again, etc., and muddle things in the process.
Rabbi Yaakov Feldman has translated and commented upon "The Gates of Repentance", "The Path of the Just", and "The Duties of the Heart" (Jason
Aronson Publishers). His works are available in bookstores and in various
locations on the Web.