While the concept of a messiah sent to miraculously reorganize civilization and bring peace is not in the Hebrew Bible, it began to be accepted by Jews around the fourth or third century BCE, and later by Christianity. There is no single view as to how the messianic age will occur or when, and many notions, along a wide spectrum of beliefs, have been developed, including the radical mystical proposal of Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (1707 in Padua –1746 in Acre, Israel), known by the Hebrew acronym Ramchal, an Italian rabbi and kabbalist. Luzzatto is more respected today, long after his death, than when he was alive. Rational thinkers reject his kabbalistic opinion about the messiah.
When Luzzatto was twenty years old, he began to claim that he heard the voice of a divine being, which he called a maggid, “one who communicates.” He said that the maggid revealed mystical secrets to him. He was not alone in making this claim. Joseph Karo, the author of the Shulchan Arukh, The Code of Jewish Law, also said that he spoke with a maggid.
Luzzatto described his encounter with the maggid. He wrote that before his first encounter, he fell into a trance, awoke, heard a voice saying, I came to you to reveal the hidden secrets of God. He revealed to me that he was a maggid sent from heaven, and he gave me certain incantations that I was to perform to cause him to come to me in the future. I never saw him but heard his voice. The prophet Elijah also came to me and told me secrets. I was also visited by the angel Metatron and souls whose identity I did not know. Every day, I write down the revelations each of them imparts to me.
Luzzatto also wrote his views about the messiah and how Jews can hasten his coming in books such as “Maamar Hageulah.” Unfortunately for Luzzatto, leading Italian rabbinical authorities were highly suspicious of him, thought that he might have non-traditional Jewish beliefs, and threatened to excommunicate him. They recalled that one hundred years earlier another young mystic, Shabbtai Tzvi (1626–1676), had claimed that he was the expected messiah, captured the attention of hundreds of thousands of Jews and caused devastating dissention. Tzvi taught that Jews must give up certain religious practices and ideas. He ended up recanting his teachings and converting to Islam. Luzzatto admitted that he agreed with some of Tzvi’s views, and the rabbis were therefore concerned that Luzzatto’s writings were dangerous and heretical.
Luzzatto accepted the views of the sixteenth century Lurianic Kabbalah that God is made up of ten parts, the lowest part being feminine. This part is called Malka and Shekhinah. He believed that the ten divine part became disassembled and if humans can help God reassemble, the reassembled God would bring the messiah. He married in 1731, and felt that his marriage was a symbolic of the union of the male and female parts of God. He believed that he was the reincarnation of the biblical Moses and felt that he was created, like Moses, to rescue the Jewish people.
In 1743, Luzzatto and his family traveled to Israel and lived there until he and his family died in 1746 in a plague, when he was 39.
Despite his radical views and his persecution during his lifetime, many Hasidim today consider him a saintly kabbalist and accept many of his kabbalistic notions. Many rabbinical yeshivot, schools, encourage their students to study his ethical treatise Mesillat Yesharim, “The Path of the Upright.”