Whither Shavu’ot?

In My Library

Dead at 39 in 1745, victimized by an outbreak of plague in the land of Israel, Rabbi Chaim Moshe Luzzatto nonetheless left behind an extraordinary legacy. A brilliant thinker and Kabbalist, he is now closely associated with the study of mussar (Jewish ethics of the everyday) as a spiritual founder. In Padua, Italy, where he was born, he was recognized as a child prodigy who is reputed to have mastered the entire Talmud before the age of 14. But it was his original thinking and systemization of Judaism (in some forty books, only a few of which have remained) that earned him kudos and also made him suspect. That someone so young would have so much to say forced him to leave for Amsterdam and then Israel. While his masterwork is Mesillat Yesharim (Path of the Just), the one that focuses on his thinking about God and the Jewish tradition is Derekh Hashem (The Way of God), now available in Hebrew with the English translation of Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan on the facing pages. The book is available in several sizes, including a small travel size. The beauty of Luzzatto’s style is that one can read his book in small segments or straight through. The language is not hard, but the ideas require some thoughtful reflection. Luzzatto, some may be pleased to hear, championed a theory of re-incarnation. Most interesting is that in his presentation of all the Jewish holidays that he terms “periodic observances” (in contrast to daily and occasional observances) and their respective meaning, he omits Shavu’ot altogether! Perhaps it is because he already gave space to discussing the centrality of the Torah celebrated on Shavu’ot. Even so, it is an interesting omission and worthy of discussion around the holiday table.


Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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