For years on the ten days between Rosh Ha’Shanah and Yom Kippur, I read Moshe Chayyim Luzzatos’ classic ethical treatise, Path of the Just (Mesilat Ha’Yesharim). This year I picked up the Hebrew-English edition of The Way of God (Derekh Ha’Shem) (translated by Aryeh Kaplan). It’s often the case that one comes to books at the precise moment one needs them. I’m working now on a chapter relating to bodies in relation to the image of God (tzelem Elohim), and trying to make sense of what I’m finding in Talmud with help from affect theory, “vital materialism,” and material feminisms. An eighteenth century text far removed from the life-world of the Talmud, The Way of God proved nonetheless to be very much to the point in relation to the larger topos. Unlike the main body of the Zohar (guf ha’Zohar), whose main intentions are “theosophical” (as per Scholem), the focus for Luzzato is “anthroposophical,” not on God, but on the human being as a life-construct, as an amalgam of matter and spirit. A peculiar figure in the history of Jewish ideas, Luzzato was close up and flush at the border between kabbalah and heresy .
As it turns out, “Anthroposophy” is the term also used by Rudolph Steiner after he broke with Theosophy, i.e. Annie Besant and The Theosophical Society. To be sure, like the relation between “Theosophy” and theosophy, there is much to distinguish anthroposophy from Anthroposophy as a distinct movement in the late nineteenth-early twentieth century European history of ideas. At the same time there are basic orientations that justify the use of the term as defining Luzzato’s thought. These would be a focus on the human person, spiritual perception based on the amalgamating of spirit, soul, and body, stages of human existence and reincarnation. Defined by Nathan Bailey (1742) (whose dates would locate him historically close to Luzzatto), anthroposophy would mean “the knowledge of the nature of man” (Wikipedia).
With Luzzato, we start with the question, “what is the human person?” The picture is of a composite creature, a soul enmeshed and circumscribed in body, destined for death and resurrections as precondition to perfection. The body is enmeshed in nature, but stands out as free actant. What we have is the person in relation to world in relation to God.
The beginning point is perception, which Luzzatto understands in terms of tziurim, patterns, systems, and order of parts in relation to the whole, causes and effect, the particular and the general and universal (p.23). Perhaps reflecting Italian neoclassicism, the world is neat and ordered like a classical garden (p.21), including the human mind (p.33) the world and the cycle of stars, (p.147, 161), and God’s providence in relation to this myriad cosmic construct (pp.127, 117, 145). As part of this patterning, there is a strong inclination towards limits and boundaries. Everything is interconnected and therefore limited as part of the system, with even God subjecting himself to the rule of his [sic] own order (pp.167, 155).
The human creature forms the privileged and complex center in this gradated universe. In this more complicated metaphysical picture, the human person is not just an amalgam of “body” and “soul.” Rather the human person is composed of gradated levels of corporeal matter or body, and two souls, an animal soul and a divine soul. (Luzzatto uses the same Hebrew word, nefesh, when writing about the divine soul in “man” as a whole. Neshama would be that part of the divine soul in the person that has some connection with the spiritual [ha’ruchanim], but has minimal influence on human consciousness, just slight stirrings [hitorrorut] and nothing more, except during sleep).
About the divine soul in the human person, “We can actually say that there are a number of souls.” Itself composite and composed of separable parts, the divine soul in the human person is circumscribed by the body and separated from its supernal roots. The animal soul and the divine soul in the human person are both distinct (gradated) and bound up with each other and with the body by way of its “most ethereal part of the blood” (which the translator follows Isaac Luria to mean the “life of the physical brain” or neural impulses) (pp.179, 347n.3).
Grasped obscurely via reason, this kind of knowledge when secured through prophetic revelation turns the human person inside out. Under the influence of divine fluxus, the empirical senses no longer operate and mental capacities no longer function independently (p.209). The revelation is referred to as “copies of images” (he’atakei ha’tziur) and “information” (yidiot). As for Moses, without a trace of dullness, the image he imaged (ha tziur ha mitztayer) was “a picture of God” as the “visualization of speech” (mareh dibbur), “vision conceived from the power of speech” (p.233).
No longer simply human, the end point for Luzzatto is perfection. Every physical thing has a spiritual counterpart in supernal roots. The perfection of the human condition is the perfection of the human body, illumination and closeness to God through action in the world, cleaving to God understood as the ultimate grasping of the divine perfection, radiant perfection and bestowing it on others, and theurgic power to suspend the very laws of nature, the rectification (tikkun) and elevation of material nature (pp.41, 55ff, 65, 59, 55, 57, 187, 191). To attain these ends, the human person must die in its current form, separating soul from body and from dark nature in order to purify the soul in the soul world before entering into the future world to purify the body. With matter ultimately rendered with such dazzling brilliance, the human person becomes what we might today call “post-human,” meaning “he [sic] leaves behind the border-fence of human being” (p.57; translation altered)
Much of what follows is fairly standard modelling the anthroposophical metaphysics is a a not terribly original discussion of mitzvot, whose purpose we are given to see as cultivating closesness to God, the nullification of evil, particularly in relation to gross matter, and the rectification of Creation and spiritual damage. What might throw this part of Luzzato’s discourse is to understand the mitzvot as a kind of system or imaging technology. At one point, he sounds like Kafka, when he describes the system of Creation as resembling a human government containing courts of justice and deliberating bodies and various tribunals with their own rules and procedures, spiritual beings operating at particular systems and levels.