Ma’amar HaVichuach is written in the form of a discussion of the merits of Kabbalah-study between a Kabbalist and a philosopher. Not surprisingly given that Ramchal is the book’s author, the Kabbalist wins the argument and offers several cogent justifications for studying it in the process.
His rationale is that we need to study it in order to see the truth of things. For, “people … think that the world merely follows the laws of nature”, he posits, “which they can discern with their own eyes” (p. 30) or with the appropriate tools. But that’s not so, as at Mount Sinai “God showed people all of existence” in a great burst of revelation, and He let them know “what existence is (actually) based on” — the fact “that He alone reigns, and that no one (and nothing) else does” (Ibid.).
The Kabbalist goes on to expand on the revelation that occurred there and which continued in the course of our travels in the desert on the way to The Land of Israel, and he then contrasts that with the progressive lessening of revelation and insight since in the course of our long exile. He then offers that we can capture a large part of that series of revelation by studying Kabbalah, which offers insights into the truth of things about God and the world that other studies simply do not. And he ties that in with his vision of humankind’s role in this world, which is to better things and “to rectify himself and his environment”, which is to say, the entire universe along the way (p. 35). In other words, by studying Kabbalah we regain the primal wisdom we’d once enjoyed, and we can apply that knowledge to our charge in life.
He then makes the argument that this vision of things has been lost to us, though, and that the study of Kabbalah, which was to have been a solution to all things vital and existential, has proven to be a roadblock. But that’s not because of any fault in the subject itself so much as because those few who do study it only enjoy an “awareness of the names of concepts we’d need to remember” if we’re to study it seriously, and because their rote studies are “like an index to (various) books (one would need to know)… that isn’t (rooted in) knowledge so much as … (in the) recitation of texts” (p. 36), arcane terms, and vague notions of Divinity.
Ramchal’s sees his task in Ma’amar HaVichuach then as providing the reader with those same concepts while explaining what they’re all about, which is the whole point.
(c) 2012 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman
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Rabbi Yaakov Feldman has also translated and commented upon “The Path of the Just” and “The Duties of the Heart” (Jason Aronson Publishers).