Rabbi Moshe Cordevero (the 'Ramak') of Safed
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1. His Life and Works
by Rabbi Moshe Miller
Among the great luminaries of Kabbalah, Rabbi Moshe Cordovero holds a
particularly important place as one of the most prolific and systematic
exponents of the teachings of the Zohar as well as the writings of almost
all the early Kabbalists.
Moshe Cordovero - or Ramak (an acronym taken from the first
letters of his title and name - Rabbi Moshe Cordovero),
as he is commonly known - was born in (the precise year of his birth is
not known) 5282 (1522 CE) to a distinguished family of Spanish descent,
apparently originally from the town of Cordova. Although it is not certain
that Ramak himself was born in Safed, he spent most of his life in that
holy city, the home of Kabbala.
In the revealed aspects of Torah - the Talmud and associated works -
Ramak was a student of the renowned Rabbi Yosef Caro (circa 4258-5335
/ 1488-1575), author of Shulchan Aruch. The latter highly praised
the acumen and vast knowledge of his young student. His greatness in Talmudic
law is further confirmed by the fact that at the tender age of eighteen,
Ramak was ordained by Rabbi Yaakov BeRav. Of the four men accorded semichah
(rabbinic ordination) by Rabbi Yaakov - the others were Rabbi Yosef Caro,
Rabbi Moshe of Trani, and Rabbi Moshe Galanti - Ramak was by far the youngest.
According to the testimony of Rabbi Menachem Azariah deFano, Ramak served
in Safed as a Talmud teacher and legal authority.
At age twenty, Ramak became a student of his brother-in-law, Rabbi Shlomo
HaLevi Alkabetz (author of the Lecha Dodi hymn), in the esoteric
aspect of Torah - the Kabbala. Despite Ramak's formidable achievements
in Talmud, he states that until he began learning Kabbala, he was as if
asleep and pursuing idle thoughts (Pardes Rimonim, Intro.)
Ramak became one of the leading Kabbalists in Safed. He acted as spokesman
for the group of Kabbalists headed by Rabbi Alkabetz, and he wrote several
treatises explaining the fallacies of philosophy. In addition, he exhorted
Torah students everywhere to study Kabbala.
Ramak led an ascetic life, part of it in self-imposed exile. These exiles
are detailed in his Sefer Gerushin (Venice, 1543). Through such
self-purification and penances, Ramak became worthy of the revelation
of Eliyahu (Shem HaGedolim).
Among Ramak's most famous students were Rabbi Eliyahu DaVidas, author
of Reishit Chochma; Rabbi Chaim Vital, later a student of the renowned
Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (the Arizal); Rabbi Avraham Galanti, author
of Yerech Yakar on the Zohar; Rabbi Eliezer Azikri, author of Sefer
Chareidim; and Rabbi Menachem Azariah DeFano (Maharam MiPano), author
of many works including Asarah Maamarot, Kanfei Yonah, and Responsa
of Maharam MiPano. Rabbi Menachem Azaria DeFano was one of Europe's leading
Kabbalists, and he taught from Ramak's Pardes Rimonim regularly.
Similarly, Rabbi Yeshayahu Hurwitz, author of Shnei Luchot HaBrit
(Shelah), considered himself a student of Ramak and quoted extensively
form his works. In the last year of Ramak's life, the Arizal came to Safed.
He too studies under Ramak, whom he refers to as "our teacher."
At the young age of forty-eight, Rabbi Moshe Cordovero passed away in
Safed on 23rd of Tammuz, 5330 (1570). In his eulogy, the Arizal declared
that Rabbi Moshe was so pure and saintly that his death could only be
attributed to the sin of Adam. According to the Arizal's testimony, the
bier bearing Ramak to his burial place in Safed was preceded by a pillar
Ramak wrote prolifically. Among his works are:
Pardes Rimonim: The most renowned of Ramak's writings,
the Pardes systematizes and expounds the entire spectrum of Kabbalistic
thought until his time, resolving many apparent contradictions and hundreds
of long-unanswered questions.
Or Yakar: A monumental commentary on the Zohar, this work
explains numerous passages from Zohar, Tikunei Zohar; Zohar Chadash
and other kabbalistic classics.
Or Ne'erav: An introduction to Kabbala.
Shiur Komah: A treatise dealing with the structure of the worlds
and the sefirot.
Eilima Rabbati: A systematic and highly explanatory approach
to the Or Ein Sof and the sefirot as well as other kabbalistic
themes. The book begins with a polemic against those "who distance
themselves from learning Kabbala."
Tomer Devorah: A treatise integrating ethical exhortation with
kabbalistic teachings concerning the thirteen attributes of mercy found
in Micah, and a kabbalistic explication of the concept of Imitatio Dei.
Buy a translation of Tomer Devorah and other books
by ancient masters of Kabbalah at the Kabbala