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Part Two: His Works

Although he's best known for Messilat Yesharim ("The Path of the Just") and Derech Hashem ("The Way of G-d), Ramchal authored dozens and dozens of significant works in his short life. We'll cite them now in chronological order (with thanks to R' M. Shriki's Ohr HaGanuz) and offer a thumbnail description of each.

Ramchal wrote a play at age 16 (in 1723) entitled Ma'aseh Shimshon ("The Story of Samson") based on the life of the mighty Samson. At age 17 (1724) he wrote Lashon Limudim ("A Tongue for Teaching" [see Isaiah 50:4]) a text on the art of rhetoric, metaphor and style. At age 20 (1727) he wrote 150 chapters of an original book of psalms, as well as a poetic work entitled Migdal Oz ("A Tower of Strength") with Kabbalistic references in the form of an allegory.

A number of works were composed in 1729 when Ramchal was 22, some of which were directly dictated by the Maggid or at least inspired by his revelations. They include Zohar Kohelet ("The Zohar to the Book of Ecclesiastes") which was 3000 hand-written pages long (!) but hasn't been uncovered since; Shivim Tikikunim ("Seventy Tikkunim"), which parallels the seventy Tikkunei Zohar, but while the latter were 70 interpretations of the very first verse of Torah, Ramchal's work interpreted the very last Torah verse); Zohar Tinyanah ("A Second Zohar"), which no longer exists; and Klallot Haillan ("The Principle Elements of The Tree [of Life]"), a synopsis of the Ari's basic work of Kabbalah, "The Tree of Life", comprised of 10 pithy, Mishna-like chapters.

He composed quite a number of short discourses when he was 23 (in 1730) including Ma'amar Hashem ("A Discourse on G-d"); Ma'amar HaMerkava ("A Discourse on The Chariot"), which explicated Ramchal's understanding of Ezekiel's great mystical vision; Ma'amer Shem Mem-Bet ("A Discourse on the 42 letter Name [of G-d]"); Ma'amar HaDin ("A Discourse on [Divine] Judgment"); Ma'amar HaChochma ("A Discourse on Wisdom"), that focuses on Rosh Hashanna, Yom Kippur, and Passover from a Kabbalistic perspective; Ma'amar HaGeulah ("A Discourse on The Redemption"), which is available at www.torah.org/learning/ramchal/archives.html; Ma'amar HaNevuah ("A Discourse on Prophecy"); Mishkanei Elyon ("Exalted Towers"), a Kabbalistic understanding of the Holy Temple with a depiction of the third Temple's dimensions; Ain Yisrael ("The Well of Israel") whose contents are unknown but which is assumably a collection of Aggadic literature in the style of the classic work, Ain Yaakov ("The Well of Jacob"); Milchamot Hashem ("The Wars of G-d"), which defends Kabbalah against its distracters; and Kinnaot Hashem Tzivakot ("Ardent [Defenses] for The L-rd of Hosts"), which offers details about the redemption and the Messiah.

At age 24 (in 1731) he wrote a commentary to one of the most arcane corners of the Zohar known as Iddrah Rabbah ("The Great Threshing Room", reflecting where it was revealed) which has been come to known as Adir Bamarom ("[G-d is] Mighty on High" [see Psalms 93:4]); and Iggrot Pitchei Chochma v'Da'at ("Letters [to Serve] as an Opening to Wisdom and Knowledge"), meant to spell out and explain certain erudite principles of the Jewish faith according to the Kabbalah.

In 1732 he only wrote one work: Sefer Daniel ("The Book of Daniel"), an esoteric commentary to this Biblical work.

Ramchal wrote both Tiktu Tephilot ("515 Prayers") that focused on prayers for the revelation of G-d's sovereignty (which is the underlying theme in all of his writings to one extent or another); and Kitzur Kavvanot ("Abbreviated Intentions") which allows the reader an overview of the Ari's recorded prayer-intentions, in 1733 at age 26.

He was especially productive at age 27 (in 1734), having written Ma'amar HaVechuach ("A Discourse [that serves as] The Argument ") that pits a Kabbalist against a rationalist as each tries to defend his way of thinking (the Kabbalist wins, by the way); Klach Pitchei Chochma ("138 Openings to Wisdom") one of Ramchal's most important works in that it lays out his thinking about the symbolic nature of the Ari's writings and Ramchal's own explanations of those symbols; Areichat Klallot HaEilan ("A Dictionary of The Principle Elements to The Tree [of Life]") the context of this is actually unknown but it could be assumed that the title is self- explanatory; Klallim ("Principle Elements") a series of short and pithy presentations of the main principles of the Kabbalistic system said outright; Da'at Tevunot ("Knowing the Reasons"), a work that explains several of Maimonides's 13 Principles of the Faith according to Kabbalah; Peirush al Midrash Rabbah ("A Commentary on Midrash Rabbah") that isn't Kabbalistic so much as symbolic; plus an additional 40 or so works which we've lost track of.

At age 29 (in 1736) he wrote Derech Hashem ("The Way of G-d"), a succinct laying-out of the fundamentals of the Jewish faith touching upon mankind's obligations in this world and its relations to G-d, which is also available at www.torah.org/learning/ramchal/archives.html ; Ma'amar al HaAggadot ("A Discourse on Aggadah") which is an explanation of how to understand Aggadic literature in a serious manner; and Ma'amar HaIkkurim ("A Discourse on the Fundamentals") a short and succinct laying-out of the fundamentals of the Jewish religion like "The Way of G-d" that touches upon certain other themes, which is in-process now at www.torah.org/learning/ramchal/archives.html.

Ramchal wrote Derech Chochma ("The Way of Wisdom"), which serves as a dialogue between a young person and a sage with the latter setting out a lifetime course of Torah study culminating in the study of Kabbalah, in 1737 at age 30; and Vichuach HaChocham V'HaChassid ("The Argument between The Sage and the Pious Man") which is actually a first draft of Messilat Yesharim that only resurfaced recently, the following year at age 31.

Messilat Yesharim ("The Path of the Just"), his most famous work that enables its readers to grow in piety step by step, was written when he was 33 (in 1740), as well as Sefer HaDikduk ("The Book of Grammar"; Sefer HaHigayon ("The Book of Logic") that lays out the correct way to think and analyze; Ma'amar al HaDrasha ("A Discourse on Homilies") that encourages the study of Kabbalah and Mussar; Sefer Hamalitza ("The Book of Style") that offers the art of accurate writing and expression; and Derech Tevunot ("the Way of Understanding") which explains the Talmudic way of thinking.

His last work (that we know of), was composed in 1743 at age 36. It's entitled LaYesharim Tehilla ("Praise be to the Upright") and its a poetical work.

A trove of other poems, prayers, letters, and comments upon numerous Torah verses were written by him at various stages as well.


Text Copyright 2007 by Rabbi Yaakov Feldman and Torah.org.


 






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