Thursday, February 22, 2007

Rambam deals with a misfortune - the death of a young daughter.

Further to my last post “who is Satan?” my friend Rabbi Buchman reminded me about the following excerpt of a letter Rambam wrote to his pupil R. Yosef ben Yehudah. It is published in R. Shailat’s edition of the Iggerot page 262. I am not a very good translator so here goes more or less a paraphrase.

“I already advised you about the death of the young daughter[1] God should accept her death as a Kapparah. My son, do not mourn or be depressed on neither a male nor a female. God knows, and the truth is as I will say, that a person that understands things does well when he focuses on humankind rather than the individual[2]. I am not saying that this attitude is perfect but it is the most acceptable and is the cause of the least anxiety. There is no choice for a person wishing to understand our well designed existence that was labeled by its Creator “Tov Me’od” – very good – but to concentrate and see the good in the happenings of the whole of humankind rather than trying to see it in the occurrences in the life of each individual. I hope that when you will receive the chapters of the Moreh Hanevuchim dealing with this issue, you will understand this better with God’s help”.

Apparently Rambam wrote this letter while he was still composing the MN, which he published in sections. It confirms our understanding of his attitude towards the misfortunes in our day-to-day life.

It is interesting to contrast this letter with an earlier one (page 228) regarding the death of his brother and his reaction to it. There too, though he admits to depression, illness and still being disconsolate eight years after his death, he consoles himself with the study of Torah and general knowledge. To be translated at a later date.

[1] Although there are different opinions R. Sheilat believes it is Rambam’s daughter.
[2] I translated it as I understand this sentence in the context though it is a little forced. See r. Sheilat’s note that the letter is only available in a poor translation and not in its original Arabic.


  1. in this letter, does he not attribute the death of his daughter to hashgacha klalis? I seem to remember something like that

  2. i translated all the parts of the letter that were pertinent to the daughter's death. You may read uit as Hashgacha klalit though I am not sure Rambam has it the way you think it is.