Sunday, February 14, 2021

From Moses to Moses- The Legacy of the Rambam Part 2 The Mishneh Torah


From Moses to Moses- The Legacy of the Rambam Part 2 The Mishneh Torah

Follow this link for the recorded discussion

Feb 13 Lecture 2- An examination of selections from the Mishneh Torah:

Intro- Some more examples of his impact worldwide, in stamps. What better tribute than this, that so many countries around the world celebrated his 850 birthday. 

A Historic Aside-

In Yemen, the Rambam had been accepted as their authority when he issued his” Iggeret Teiman”( Epistle to Yemen).His words of encouragement when they suffered persecution under the Shiite rulers helped the community survive.

Centuries later, the Jewish community began to be influenced by the Kabbalists of Safed and started adopting Sefardic traditions of the Shulkhan Arukh . An ancestor of Ofra’s, MaHaritz-Rabbi Yihyeh Salish in the 1600’s reestablished the MIshneh Torah as authority for Yemenite Jews.

Then, in end of 1800’s, start of 1900’s, her uncle’s grandfather, Rabbi Yihyeh Kafih( Kapach), fought against Kabbalah and denounced the Zohar as a forgery, and reintroduced the primacy of the Rambam in Halakhah, together with the study of modern science in Jewish schools of his day. The battle was so bitter that Chief Rabbi Kook from Palestine/Israel had to intervene.( For accuracy sake, Palestine was the name given to the Jewish homeland in international accords after WWI! The Arab residents refused to accept any designation other than "Arab".)


1.  His unique establishing of faith as a Mitzvah

His first task was to create a definition of what Jews believe, presenting it as a principal of Halakha. A first- till then, Theology-Midrash- belief, was compiled separately form Halakha.

It is a brief tour de force of Aristotelian logic and science:

Note: Translation text taken from My comments in Bold Face.

1st Principle Chapter 1 Philosophical grounds of Judaism

The foundation of foundations and firmest pillar of all wisdom is, To know that there is a First Being, that He caused all beings to be, and that all beings from heaven and earth, and from between them, could not be save for the truth of His Own Being.

Thus, supposing that He is not, none else could have been called into existence.

Conversely, supposing all other beings, save He alone, non-existent, His Being alone remains; for, He does not cease to be because of their non-existence, as all beings are dependent upon Him, but He, blessed is He! is not dependent upon them nor upon a single one of them; therefore, the truth of His Being is incomparable to the truth of any other individual being.

This is as the prophet says: "But the Lord God is the true God" (Jer. 10.10); He alone is the Truth, and no other being possesses a truth similar to His Truth, even as the Torah says: "There is none other like unto Him" (Deut. 4.39), meaning, there is no other true being, besides Him, like unto Him.

This Being is the God of the universe, Lord of the whole earth, who guides the sphere with an infinite force, a force of perpetual motion; for the sphere revolves continuously, which would be impossible without some one causing it to revolve; and it is He, blessed is He! Who causes it to revolve without hand and without body.

Belief in God is a Mitzvah

To know this matter is a mandatory commandment, saying: "I am the Lord thy God" (Ex. 20,2); therefore, whosoever supposes that there is another god besides This One, (1) violates a prohibitive commandment, saying: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" (Ibid. –3), and is an atheist, denying the great principle upon which everything depends.

The logical necessity of one , incorporeal God

This God is One God; He is neither two nor more than two but One to whose Unity there is no comparison among the individual units in the universe; not like the unit of a genus which embraces many individual units, nor like the unit of a body which is divisible into parts and particles, but a Unit to Whose Unity no other unit in the universe is like. Supposing that there are many deities is equivalent to an admission that they are corporeal, because like individual beings do not differ save in chance traits characteristic of bodies and material things only. Thus supposing the Creator to be corporeal and material would force a conclusion that He is finite, for, it is impossible to imagine a body which does not end in dissolution; but our God, blessed is His Name! beholding that His power is infinite and uninterrupted, for lo, the universal sphere continues to revolve forever. His power is positively not a physical power. And, because He is Incorporeal, none of the chance traits, characteristic of bodies, so as to be divisible or an offshoot of another being, can be attributed to Him. Therefore, the impossibility for Him to be but One. And, the knowledge of this doctrine of Monotheism is a mandatory commandment, saying: "The Lord our God is One God" (Deut. 6.4).


Ch 3 – Use of science of his day ( Ptolemaic universe)

The celestial spheres are called heaven,1Hagigah, 12b. G. firmament, habitation and nebula, and there are nine such spheres; the sphere nearest to us is the Moon; the second above it is the sphere wherein is set the star Mercury; in the third sphere above it is Venus; in the fourth sphere is the Sun; in the fifth sphere is Mars; in the sixth sphere is the star Jupiter; in the seventh is Saturn; in the eighth sphere are set all the stars which are seen in the firmament; the ninth sphere is the sphere which traverses daily from east to west, and encompasses and encircles all. And, what you see all stars as if they all are in one sphere, although they are set one above the other, is because the spheres are pure and transparent as glass or sapphire, therefore the stars which are in the eighth sphere, seem to be beneath the first sphere….

Among all the visible stars there are some small stars than one of which the earth is bigger, and some large stars each of which is bigger than the earth manifold. The earth is bigger than the moon about forty times, and the sun is bigger than the earth one hundred and seventy times; consequently, the moon is approximately 1/6800 part of the sun. Among the stars there is no star bigger than the sun and none smaller than the star in the second sphere.

Pythagorean component ( song of the heavenly bodies)

All of the stars and spheres are beings, endowed with a soul, intelligence and understanding; they continue a purposeful life and are conscious of the existence of Him Who spoke and the universe sprang forth. Each and every one, according to his greatness and degree, extol and glorify the Creator as do the angels; and to the extent that they recognize the Holy One, blessed is He! they also know their own selves and the angels above them. But the intelligence of the stars and spheres is lesser than the intelligence of the angels, but greater than the intelligence of man.

Ch 4 The 4 elements ( taken frםm the Greeks)

Chapter 4

These four elements, namely: fire, air, water and earth [modern terms: heat/light energy/gas/liquid/solid], are the elements of all the creatures beneath the expanse; all that be whether of man, beast, fowl, creeping thing, fish, vegetation, minerals, precious stones, pearls, structural stones, mountains and glaciers, the body of each and every one is the joint issue of these four elements. Consequently all bodies beneath the expanse, save only these four elements, are joint issue of matter and form; and the body of each is the joint issue of these four elements; but each of these four elements is not the composite of aught else save of body and form only.

They operate out of natural law, not out of some intellect:

It is the nature of fire and air to go upwards, from the center of the earth upwards towards the expanse; and it is the nature of water and earth to direct their movements beneath the expanse toward its center, . . . is not due to their intelligence and not to their desire, but to a rule fixed in them, and to nature which was engendered in them. . .. And because they are elements for all bodies beneath the expanse, it is found that each and every body, whether of man, beasts, animal, fowl and fish, or whether of plant, mineral and stone, its unformed matter is a fusion of fire, air, water and earth.


He continues on to discussion of human behavior, individual and social, medicine and psychology and the freedom of the individual to make choices of good or evil. He emphasizes the need to attain “ the middle path,{ golden mean, shvil hazahav).

Human Disposition, Ch 2

To the physically sick the bitter tastes sweet, and the sweet bitter. Of among the sick there may be one who craves and desires food which is unfit for consumption, for instance, dirt and coal, and despises good food such as bread and meat, according to the seriousness of the disease. Even so are people whose souls are sick; they desire and love the evil tendencies, and hate the good way, and are lazy to follow it, for it becomes a very heavy load upon them, in proportion to their ailment. Even so does Isaiah speak of such people: "Woe unto those that say of the evil it is good, and of the good it is evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter" (Is. 5.20). Respecting their like it is said: "Who leave the path of uprightness, to walk in the ways of darkness" (Prov. 2.13). And what is the corrective measure for the soul-sick? Let them go to the wise who are doctors of the souls and they will heal their disease with tendencies wherein they will instruct them until they will bring them back to the right way. And they that are conscious of their evil tendencies and do not go to the wise to be cured by them, concerning them Solomon said: "Wisdom and instruction fools alone despise" (Prov. 1.7).


Behavioral conditioning- before BF Skinner, before Benjamin Franklin.

And how may their cure be? He who is of a hot temperament should be taught to demean himself this wise: If he be smitten and cursed, he must not feel the insult at all. and follow this way a long time until anger will be completely rooted out from his heart. And he who was arrogant should accustom himself to a life of extreme self-abasement by occupying the lowermost seat of everybody, and dress in such rags which shame those that wear them, and do such in like matters until the haughtiness of his heart will be rooted out of him, when he will return to the middle-way, which is the good way. But when he will return to the middle-way he should follow it throughout his lifetime. And this line he should follow in all the rest of his tendencies; if he had distanced himself to the extreme point of one he should remove himself to the extreme end of the other and follow it up a long time until he may return to the good way, which is the middle-standard in each and every tendency.




His code continues with the usual Halakhah studied in his day- Shabbat, holidays, kashrut, male-female relationships. But he is preparing a constitution for the future-therefore, he expounds extensively on civil and criminal law, on sacrifices and purity for the Temple, to be rebuilt.

He finally, looks to the end of days, and the restoration of a Jewish polity in the land of Israel:

The Laws of Kings ( A philosopher-king, as Plato would have thought of it).

Chapter 11

The King Messiah will arise and re-establish the monarchy of David as it was in former times. He will build the Sanctuary and gather in the dispersed of Israel. ..These matters are explicit in the Torah and include everything said by all the Prophets.

Now, if a king should arise from the House of David who is versed in Torah and engages in Commandments, as did David his forefather, in accordance with both the Written and the Oral Torahs, and he enjoins all of Israel to follow in its ways and encourages them to repair its breaches, and he fights the Wars of G-d128I.e. he defends Israel., then he may be presumed to be the Messiah. If he succeeds in his efforts and defeats the enemies around and builds the Sanctuary in its proper place and gathers the dispersed of Israel, he is definitely the Messiah.

But, if he does not succeed in these matters or is killed, we will know that he was not the one Torah has promised. He is (merely to be considered) like all the (other) exemplary and qualified kings of the House of David who have died. G-d set him up only to try the masses, as it says, “And some of the wise will stumble, to refine among them and to purify and to make white, even to the time of the end, for it is yet for the time appointed” (Daniel 11:35).


Christianity and Islam prepare the path for the spread of faith. Keep in mind that the Crusades are being waged between Moslem and Christian over control of Jerusalem. Also, the Rambam has suffered persecution under Moslem fanatics and he surely knew of the suffering of the Jewish communities in the Europe that were in the path of the Christian mobs on their way to the Holy Land :

. And all the doings of Jesus the Nazarene and that of that Ishmaelite131I.e. Mohammed.. who came after him are nothing but to pave the way for the King Messiah and prepare the entire world to worship G-d together, as it says, “For then132When they will realize that their Messiahs were false will they abandon them and turn to G-d’s true Messiah. I will turn to the peoples a pure language, that they may all call upon the Name of the Lord, to serve Him with one consent” (Zephania 3:9).

How is this so? The world is now already filled with matters of the Messiah and matters of the Torah and matters of the Commandments. Knowledge of these matters have spread to the distant islands and to the many nations of those with uncircumcised hearts.

But when the true King Messiah will rise and succeed, and he will be lifted up and raised aloft, they all will immediately return and will know that their fathers left them an erroneous legacy, and their fathers and prophets led them astray.


It should not occur to you that the King Messiah must bring wondrous signs or perform marvels or invent new things or revive the dead or anything like what the fools say. . . .. So, the essence of the matter is like this: The Laws and the Statutes of the Torah never change. We may not add to them nor detract from them.

Now, that which is said in Isaiah, “And the wolf will live with the sheep and the leopard shall lie down with the kid” (Isaiah 11:6) is a parable and riddle. The substance of the matter is that Israel will dwell in safety with the wicked of the world who are compared to wolves and tigers, as it says, “a wolf of the deserts spoil them, a leopard watches over their cities” (Jeremiah 5:6). But, they will all return to the true religion and they will not steal and not destroy. Rather, they will eat of the permissible foods comfortably136I.e. in peace. like Israel, as it says, “and the lion will eat straw as does the ox” (Isaiah 11:7). And so similar matters written about the Messiah are parables. In the days of the King Messiah everyone will understand these parables and to what these matters were compared and to what was hinted.

Our Sages have said that there is no difference between This World and the Days of the Messiah except (our) subservience to the kingdoms of the world alone.


Chapter 12

The true purpose of the world

The Sages and the Prophets did not long for the days of the Messiah because they wanted to rule the world or because they wanted to have dominion over the non-Jews or because they wanted the nations to exalt them or because they wanted to eat, drink and be merry. Rather, they desired this so that they would have time for Torah and its Wisdom. And there would be no one who would oppress them or force them to be idle (from Torah). This, in order that they may merit the World to Come, as we have explained regarding the Laws of Repentance.

At that time there will be no famines and no wars, no envy and no competition. For the Good will be very pervasive148Or, inspiring, affecting, influencing.. All the delicacies will be as readily available as is dust. The world will only be engaged in knowing G- Then, there will be very wise. They will then achieve knowledge of the Creator to as high a degree as humanly possible, as it says, “For the Earth shall be filled of knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9).
Blessed be Hashem who helped me.


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