Leshon limudim veDerech chochma

Last night, divine p.rovidence allowed me to find two books of the Ramchal that my heart had long desired but my hands could not reach.

At the Kollel Bobov, I see a light on the first floor. I look and I see shelves of books! Thousands of books !

In a moment, I am on the spot. A delicious scent of old books greets me ! I am in the same state as Duvid when he saw Bat Sheva for the first time (the text (II Samuel 11) says that she came out of her bath) !

A young chossid said he has to close because his wife is waiting for him. He says that the library is accessible only by appointment and it gives me a phone number. I leave the place backwards to still enjoy a few moments of this edenic vision.

And my eyes fall on books of the Ramchal ! I have just enough time to acquire two of them. I arrive at the Kollel. I have in my hands the Leshon Limoudim and Derech chochma. Burich shaïm kovoïd le oïlom vued !

It was at the age of seventeen that the Ramchal wrote the Leshon Limoudim , a treatise on rhetoric which, unlike its Latin counterparts, is not trying to teach eloquence to ambitious youngsters looking for prominent positions but to teach how to read prophetic books. (The Pirqe Avos teaches that it is better to be at the tail of the foxes that to be at the head of lions and Julius Caesar said that it is better to be first among the barbarians than second among the Romans.)

The book’s title comes from a pussik of Yeshaya (50,4) : ה’ נָתַן לִי לְשׁוֹן לִמּוּדִים, לָדַעַת לָעוּת אֶתיָעֵף (Hashem gave me the tongue of them that are taught, that I should know how to sustain with words him that is weary)

The Leshon limoudim teaches, among others, rules of versification and different types of metaphors classified by keys that come from the Kabbalah.

With the Leshon Limoudim the Ramchal continues the process of kasherisation of the Seven Liberal Arts (liberals because they are studied by love of knowledge and not for practical application). The Ramchal wrote about the Trivium (Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric) but not about the Quadrivium (Algebra, Geometry, Astronomy, Music).

The kasherisation of the Trivium started at the time of the Middle Ages with Yehuda Messer Leon Mantua (Messer means physician in the language of this time). He gave to his books very poetic titles :

– Livnat hasapir (The Pavement of sapphire) : Grammar

– Miklal Yoffi (The Perfection of beauty) : Logic

– Nofet Tsufim (Honeycomb’s flow) : Rhetoric

The titles of the last two books come from Tehilim. The first title comes from the vision of Moshe, Aharon, Nadav, Avihu and the seventy elders of Israel (Mishpatim 24, 10).

Messer Leon lived in the fifteenth century and he was inspired by scholasticism for logic and by Cicero and Quintilian for rhetoric. The wind of the Renaissance blows and everyone is passionate about recently rediscovered latin classics.

Latin and Italian sources of the Ramchal are more difficult to identify because he never cites foreign authors (a wise precaution because you can study his books today in the fiercest orthodox institutions). We know that he studied chol since his childhood with Rabbi Isaac Cantarini. Everything seems to indicate that the readings of the Ramchal were very eclectic.

The Derech chochmah was composed during the stay in Amsterdam. It is a dialogue that exposes the utility of the study of logic. The Ramchal writes that a yid must share its study into two parts : the traditional teachings and the “universal method of seeking truth” that is, of course, higayone : logic !

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