Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Rambam and me - why Rambam? לֹא-כֵן, עַבְדִּי מֹשֶׁה:

Why Rambam? What makes him so appealing to me as the greatest teacher of Judaism? He is difficult to understand, he based his philosophical writings on medieval philosophy and science which has since been discredited, he seems to be forcing meanings into Pessukim which make modern biblical scholars shudder when they read those interpretations, he seems to be elitist, he is not always politically correct and many more such criticisms that a modern man may enumerate. I am well aware of all these criticisms and still I find him to be the greatest thinker and teacher of Judaism of all times. Let me try to tell you what I see in him.

First when you read him a lot you start getting a picture of Judaism that is quite exhilarating. Rambam sees humankind as evolving from paganism with the societal, moral and ethical ills that were its consequence, to a utopian society where all men will be free and happy, able to spend their full time developing intellectually. Avraham Avinu started that process and it has continued since with his descendants at the vanguard.

He sees the Torah as a blueprint which is understood differently at each stage of human development. The practice of the Mitzvos does not change but the meaning behind each takes on different hues and shapes as our development changes. God’s transcendence and uniqueness is a constant but as we develop we understand it differently.
That is the famous statement of his in 2:25 –

We do not reject the Eternity of the Universe, because certain passages in Scripture confirm the Creation; for such passages are not more numerous than those in which God is represented as a corporeal being; nor is it impossible or difficult to find for them a suitable interpretation.”

Biblical criticism, high or low, would not faze him nor make a dent in his thought process. He would see it as irrelevant. That is his meaning in 2:40:

You will also find laws which, in all their rules, aim, as the law just mentioned, at the improvement of the material interests of the people: but, besides, tend to improve the state of the faith of man, to create first correct notions of God, and of angels, and to lead then the people, by instruction and education, to an accurate knowledge of the Universe: this education comes from God; these laws are divine.”

The Torah is divine because of its content. It is a tool given to humankind to use for its material and spiritual advancement. It teaches man to emulate God, to partake in creation and gives us tools how to arrive there. That in itself makes it divine.

Once you understand his approach, the way he handles science vis-à-vis religion starts to make sense. The Torah is teaching us not the sciences but how to relate to science as a religious person. He tells us to learn from the Rabbis and how they related the science of their days to the Torah. He does the same with the science of his times and shows how we can do the same with the science of our times. We have to be truthful and accept that science wins at the end of the day because that is the reality the Torah wants us to interpret from a religious standpoint.

He teaches us to be careful and accept that the metaphysical questions don’t have empirical answers. There is a clear delineation between the physical and the non physical and the barrier cannot be crossed by a physical person. It makes it clear that all the theories about how things function outside the physical are just that, theories and nothing more.

He teaches that Torah and Mitzvos are not a goal in themselves but a tool to be used in the search, apprehension and love of God. As he makes it clear in Moreh 3:54:

that the simple term hokmah, as a rule, denotes the highest aim of man, the knowledge of God; that those properties which man acquires, makes his peculiar treasure, and considers as his perfection, in reality are not perfection: and that the religious acts prescribed in the Law, I refer to the various kinds of worship and the moral principles which benefit all people in their social intercourse with each other, do not constitute the ultimate aim of man, nor can they be compared to it, for they are but preparations leading to it.”

And finally he gives practical meaning to this dedication to understanding God and the results of His actions. Man having come to a proper apprehension of God emulates Him and partakes in the world by giving back, loving-kindness, judgment and righteousness. Ethical behavior is no longer just a moral obligation but a religious act of bonding with God the Creator by copying Him. Rambam ends the Moreh with this idea:

Having acquired this knowledge he will then be determined always to seek loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness, and thus to imitate the ways of God.”

There is much more to say on this subject. I think that probably the most important aspect of Rambam’s teachings is that he is a teacher par excellence. He does not give you a finished product but opens up new ways of thinking and once having set you on a path, he lets you develop and understand things at your own pace and level.

ז לֹא-כֵן, עַבְדִּי מֹשֶׁה: בְּכָל-בֵּיתִי, נֶאֱמָן הוּא.
7 My servant Moses is not so; he is trusted in all My house;

19 comments:

  1. I also respect the Rambam, but he is a lone voice in a vast ocean of Jewish literature. It seems more likely that he invented his own version of Judaism to fit his rationalist perspective.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Outstanding summary of Rambam's approach to Toarh and life. I take issue with just one point -

    He teaches us to be careful and accept that the metaphysical questions don’t have empirical answers. There is a clear delineation between the physical and the non physical and the barrier cannot be crossed by a physical person. It makes it clear that all the theories about how things function outside the physical are just that, theories and nothing more.

    I feel this is an inaccurate assessment of Rambam's metaphysics based on an over-simplification. Metaphysical principles can be empirically demonstrated; just as the shape, movment, and "fullness" of a glove indicates the presence of an unseen "hand" within the glove, the moving phenomena of the universe itself indicate the existence of metaphysics guiding the universe.

    Furthermore, the "uncrossable" conceptual barrier between the physical and the nonphysical is more of a Platonic, rather than Aristotelian, idea to which I strongly believe Rambam did not agree. It seems much more evident to me that Rambam saw the physical realm as one facet of the metaphysical realm, in that it was an accidental expression of the metaphysical essence.

    I apologize if any of this is unclear.

    the jewish freak:I also respect the Rambam, but he is a lone voice in a vast ocean of Jewish literature. It seems more likely that he invented his own version of Judaism to fit his rationalist perspective.

    The burden of proof lies with you to prove such a claim. Rambam is not a lone voice in a vast ocean of literature; he simply predates the Zoharic confusion that came after him and which later accounted for 90% of Jewish publications of the past few hundred years.

    ReplyDelete
  3. >It seems more likely that he invented his own version of Judaism to fit his rationalist perspective.

    This is an argument that is thrown out all the time and is nonsense. You did not read carefully where I said Rambam sees Judaism and humanity as an evloving system and the Torah eternal to address each step. We don't go in a linear fashion. Kabbalah was a major setback but Rambam let the cat out of the bag and slowly but surely his approach is taking hold.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Gil, your comment requires some thought. i will respond when I get home. If you want you can email me and we can have an offline discussion.

    ReplyDelete
  5. jewishskeptic5/24/2006 11:43 AM

    >"The Torah is divine because of its content. It is a tool given to humankind to use for its material and spiritual advancement. It teaches man to emulate God, to partake in creation and gives us tools how to arrive there. That in itself makes it divine."

    This is not the reason why the the Torah is divine according to the Rambam.Itis divine because:




    Rambam's Mishneh Torah


    « Previous Next »


    Perek 8
    הלכות יסודי התורה פרק שמיני

    א. משה רבינו לא האמינו בו ישראל מפני האותות שעשה שהמאמין על פי האותות יש בלבו דופי שאפשר שיעשה האות בלט וכשוף אלא כל האותות שעשה משה במדבר לפי הצורך עשאם לא להביא ראיה על הנבואה היה צריך להשקיע את המצריים קרע את הים והצלילן בתוכו צרכנו למזון הוריד לנו את המן צמאו בקע להן את האבן כפרו בו עדת קרח בלעה אותן הארץ וכן שאר כל האותות ובמה האמינו בו במעמד הר סיני שעינינו ראו ולא זר ואזנינו שמעו ולא אחר האש והקולות והלפידים והוא נגש אל הערפל והקול מדבר אליו ואנו שומעים משה משה לך אמור להן כך וכך וכן הוא אומר פנים בפנים דבר ה' עמכם ונאמר לא את אבותינו כרת ה' את הברית הזאת ומנין שמעמד הר סיני לבדו היא הראיה לנבואתו שהיא אמת שאין בו דופי שנאמר הנה אנכי בא אליך בעב הענן בעבור ישמע העם בדברי עמך וגם בך יאמינו לעולם מכלל שקודם דבר זה לא האמינו בו נאמנות שהיא עומדת לעולם אלא נאמנות שיש אחריה הרהור ומחשבה

    This comes first,before content.
    I suppose he would use Kuzzarie's proof.
    In an earlier comment of mine I gave you my thoughts about the Rambam.
    I will add that the God of the Rambam is not the God of the Torah,of a living God-זה אלי ואנוהו,ה' איש מלחמה
    & not some abstract Idea. He is also not the God of Chazal.
    The Rambam forced the Torah & Chazal in distorted way to mean what he wants them to mean.
    WHERE THERE IS A WILL THERE IS A WAY! He is not the first one or the last one.
    Anyway,if you havn't read yet, there is a penetrating essay by Achad Ha-am called שלטון השכל on the Rambam.It's worth reading.

    ReplyDelete
  6. JS, i read about it but never read it. Do you have it? If yes could you email it to me? If it is large send it to david@ihwusa.com . Todah,

    Re your comment I know that Halacha in yesodei hatorah and i understand differently than you do. rambam addresses Hasem ish milchama etc... leshitato. I will post on both issues.On the Rambam in Yesodei Hatorah I wrote an article around it for Hakirah two years ago. You can find at http://hakirah.org/Vol%201%20Guttman.pdf

    I understand rambam does not fit your concept of what God should be. That is why he sees Judaism/humanity as evolving. He in fact argues that originally it was better because of prophecy but with time it changed and he is bringing it back to its original. I believe he knew he was claiming legitimacy a posteriori. But if you read him carefully he ultimately sees it as evolving towards a goal.

    ReplyDelete
  7. jewishskeptic5/24/2006 3:18 PM

    >"JS, i read about it but never read it. Do you have it? If yes could you email it to me? If it is large send it to david@ihwusa.com . Todah,"

    Well, you can find it on the site
    פרויקט בן יהודה
    I think if you type in English
    "project ben yehudah"it will also work
    Go to Achad Ha-am,it's no.79
    It's a great site for Heb. Lit. All in Hebrew. It's mostly secular but it does have the poetry of the Ibn Ezras, Immanuel Ha-romi,Yehudah Halevi,etc. it even has the complete text of Mesillat Yesharim!
    Check it out & let me know.

    ReplyDelete
  8. jewishskeptic5/24/2006 4:58 PM

    >"I feel this is an inaccurate assessment of Rambam's metaphysics based on an over-simplification. Metaphysical principles can be empirically demonstrated; just as the shape, movment, and "fullness" of a glove indicates the presence of an unseen "hand" within the glove, the moving phenomena of the universe itself indicate the existence of metaphysics guiding the universe."

    This is divrei hevel,sheer nonesense.
    "Metaphysical principlescan can be empirically demonstrated"
    you must be the first one to ever claim such an absurdity.

    ReplyDelete
  9. To jewishskeptic:

    First of all the there were many people who had the Rambam's Hashkafa such as his son, the Radak, Meiri and the whole camp that had the same Hashkafa as the Rambam. Even the so called "anti-maimonists" were rationalists but could not explain certain things the way the Rambam's camp viewd them due to the science of their day. Just look at how the Ramban and others complement the Rambam and speak of his greatness eventhough they disagreed with some or many of his ideas. Its assur to denigrate a great Rabbi. The Rambam did not force his own meanings into Chazal. He brought proofs from Scripture and through rational argument. Im tired of some people who speak bad about the Rambam. It is probably because they feel insecure about their own beliefs especially when the Rambam disproves so many of peoples false beliefs which they forbiddenly hold on to.

    ReplyDelete
  10. JS thanks for the reference to the site it is great

    ReplyDelete
  11. Gil:

    >Metaphysical principles can be empirically demonstrated; just as the shape, movment, and "fullness" of a glove indicates the presence of an unseen "hand" within the glove, the moving phenomena of the universe itself indicate the existence of metaphysics guiding the universe.

    You are describing the traces Rambam talks about in 1:54 but even there he tells Moshe the ultimate information that man can know and that is only Achorav which is not enough as he explains in yesodei hatorah 1;10
    והודיעו ברוך הוא מה שלא ידע אדם לפניו ולא יידע לאחריו, עד שהשיג מאמיתת הימצאו דבר שנפרד הקדוש ברוך הוא בדעתו משאר הנמצאים
    where all he could do is differentiate Him from other existing things which I understand to mean clarifies what He is not. That after all is the ultimate knowledge. So yes you know a full glove has something in it but you don't know if it is a hand, air, water or what.

    >It seems much more evident to me that Rambam saw the physical realm as one facet of the metaphysical realm, in that it was an accidental expression of the metaphysical essence

    Again I beg to differ. Heavens to him were of a different category than the earth. He saw them as Ba'alei Deah but still he clearly says they do not know HKBH because He and they are different categories. The way you present it is closer to Tzimtzum idea as you see the physiacl and metaphysical living in one dimension "bekefifah Achas".

    I see a clear line and it is very compelling.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Anonymous, well said.

    I get very put off with the "ein mikra yotze myedei peshuto" crowd. The Rabbis always allegorized and shown the Passuk is not Kifshuto and Rambma proves that pessukim especially ma'aseh breishis are halachikally allegorical.

    That is why I try to emphasize that Torah iis eternal because it interprets whatever reality man ever will understand.

    ReplyDelete
  13. jewishskeptic5/24/2006 8:09 PM

    >" Its assur to denigrate a great Rabbi. The Rambam did not force his own meanings into Chazal. He brought proofs from Scripture and through rational argument. Im tired of some people who speak bad about the Rambam. It is probably because they feel insecure about their own beliefs especially when the Rambam disproves so many of peoples false beliefs which they forbiddenly hold on to."

    That's your pious opinion.
    Anyone who has no preconcieved religious prejudices knows that the Rambams ideas are foreign to the Torah & Chazal & his explanations of biblical & Chazal sources are selective & contrived.

    About your point about the isur of denigrating a great Rabbi,I don't think I am denigrating him. He did make a crucial impact on Jewish history.
    But speaking of the "isur" of denigrating a great Rabbi,as many other isurim,it is hypcritical,lofty words,hardly ever adhered to by the rabbis who proclaim them!
    Tell me,who burned the books of the Rambam? How many denigrations are there of Gedolim against other Gedolim? Yes, I know the lame teruts of מחלוקת לשם שמים .
    What did the Gaon of vilna say about the Hasidic Gedolim? Of course there are "terutsim"...
    What did the Satmar have to say about the Lubavitcher Rebbe & vice versa? What do all the present Gedolim & Rebbeim say about each other? Of course,there are "terutsim"...
    So don't talk about the isur of denigrating a great Rabbi!

    ReplyDelete
  14. First of all its the people who are against the Rambam who have preconcieved notions because they aren't openminded objective when talking about him. People just want to bash people who's ideas refute their own and prove them wrong. This is the case with people who speak bad about the Rambam and IT IS dengirating a great Rabbi. Rabbeynu Yonah and other Rabbis who spoke out against the Rambam did it lesheym shamayim and did not denigrate him at all. They spoke about what a great Sage he is but that they disagreed with him. However, Rabbeynu Yonah did teshuva for speaking against the Rambam after he saw the book burnings. So you see, these Rabbis held the Rambam in great esteem. It is time to stop listening to the stupid comments and opinions of people who speak false ideas of the Rambam, because as you see, the Rabbis in the Rambam's time and after spoke about how great he was. The Rambam as I said brings sources from Torah and Chazal, something not seen very much in the Jewish community today. He also brings sources from the Torah and uses rational arguments, so your opinion of the Rambam is false when you say his ideas are foreign to the Torah and Chazal and his explanations of Biblical and Chazal sourses are selected and contrived. It is due to blindly following Rabbis without looking at the sources and following our minds which has caused this problem for the Jewish community.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Biblical criticism, high or low, would not faze him nor make a dent in his thought process...The Torah is divine because of its content...That in itself makes it divine.

    ReplyDelete
  16. y do so many bloggers not beleive the whole torah was given at sinai?

    ReplyDelete
  17. Glunker,

    I dont know about bloggers in general. I believe with all my heart in Torah min Hashomayim. I am just trying to define what it means. there are so many shitos starting with the machlokes in Gemara whether megilos megilos nitno or not, what the meaning of the machlokes is see Ramban, rashi et al and so on. Donj't you think it is as legitimate a study as hilchos shabbos for example?

    ReplyDelete
  18. Your website has a useful information for beginners like me.
    »

    ReplyDelete
  19. I find some information here.

    ReplyDelete