Thursday, July 24, 2008

Moshe as Paradigm of Human Perfection.

Before discussing the other three differences between Moshe’s prophecy and that of the other prophets, I want to work through Rambam’s description of Moshe’s personal achievements. (The quote below is from the online edition available at www.Da’ while I translate from Rav Kafih’s edition which accounts for the slight differences). I will intersperse the translation (italic) with comments. In his introduction to Perek Chelek Rambam writes:

נבואת משה רבנו ע"ה

. והוא שנאמין כי הוא אביהם

של כל הנביאים אשר היו מלפניו ואשר קמו מאחריו, כולם הם תחתיו במעלה. והוא

היה הנבחר מכל מין האדם אשר השיג מידיעתו יתברך יותר מכל מה שהשיג או ישיג

שום אדם שנמצא או שימצא. וכי הוא עליו השלום הגיע התעלותו מן האנושות עד

המעלה המלאכותית, ונכלל במעלת המלאכים, לא נשאר מסך שלא קרעו ונכנס ממנו.

ולא מנעו מונע גופני, ולא נתערב לו שום חסרון בין רב למעט, ונתבטלו ממנו

הכוחות הדמיונות והחושיות והשגותיו, ונבדל כוחו המתעורר המשתוקק, ונשאר

שכל בלבד. ועל העניין הזה נאמר עליו שהיה מדבר עם השם יתברך בלא אמצעיות

מן המלאכים.

The seventh foundation, the prophecy of Moshe Rabbeinu A’H, is that we believe that he is the father of all prophets that preceded him and those that will follow him.

The belief in the uniqueness of Moshe is fundamental to Judaism. A child admires a father and sees him as a model to aspire to and try to emulate. Moshe is the paradigm of what a prophet could be and represents what they all aspire to emulate.

They all are below him in rank, he is God’s preferred member from among the whole of the human species, having apprehended God more that anyone has or will ever apprehend Him. He reached the ultimate level of attainment above all humankind, having apprehended the level of angels and having attained the level of angels.

Moshe is the paradigm of human perfection, a human being that has transcended his physicality and material self to apprehend and conceptualize the transcendental. Underlying this statement of Rambam is the Aristotelian concept of unity between the knower and knowledge. If one apprehends angels, the transcendental concepts, one becomes transcendental, an angel.

No veil remained without him tearing it down and he was not stymied by any physical barrier being without any deficiencies whatsoever, small or large. His imaginative and sensory faculties were non-existent during his state of apprehension, as were his appetites, becoming only Sechel - intellect. That is the meaning of what the Rabbis said of him that he speaks with God without the intermediary of angels.

What is a veil in the context of apprehending the transcendental? Rambam in MN 3:9 devotes a whole chapter to just this theme.

Matter is a strong veil preventing the apprehension of that which is separate from matter as it truly is… However great the exertion of our intellect may be to comprehend the Divine Being or any of the ideals, we find a veil between the two. Thus, the prophets frequently hint at the existence of a veil between God and us. They say He is concealed from us in a heavy cloud, in darkness, in mist, or in a enveloping cloud: or use similar figures to express that on account of our matter we are unable to comprehend His essence.

Bypassing our materialism is the only way to apprehend the non-physical, the immaterial. Rambam in his introduction to Avot, Shemona Perakim, presents the human mind as an integrated unit that both controls and directs bodily function and also is the seat of the intellect. Intellectual perfection comes when all these integrated components of the human mind are perfectly tuned so that each performs its role in a rational and balanced manner. It is only then that the intellectual can apprehend true realities that are not material. Moshe is the paradigm of such a human being. he was not stymied by any physical barrier being without any deficiencies whatsoever, small or large. Deficiencies are related to matter. Matter is transient, good being its coming into existence and bad its demise. Concern with material existence only, means to emphasize the finite. That prevents one from even comprehending that that there is more to existence than matter, that there is a transcendental First Cause. The veil that hides the transcendental is commensurate with how important the material is to us. Moshe overcame that concern, forty days and forty nights he ate no bread and drank no water, tore all possible human veils that stood between him and apprehension of the immaterial, and still could only apprehend “My back but My face will not be seen”. That was more than any other human could.

Prophecy is not a superhuman trait but something that every person can attain. It is synonymous with human perfection. Human perfection means apprehending God to the best of our abilities. Apprehending God means searching beyond the physical and material existence trying to understand how, why and for what purpose we exist and what is our role in the whole of existence as a species and as individuals and acting accordingly. Moshe is the model that we all try to emulate knowing that we will never attain his level of perfection. The prophets among us, those that succeeded in perfecting themselves to the utmost both past, present and future, know that they are not at Moshe’s level.

This understanding of Moshe’s attributes and uniqueness is important in understanding why we believe the Torah is of divine origin.

The question which now remains to be settled is this: Is the person who proclaimed these laws the same perfect man that received them by prophetic inspiration, or a plagiarist, who has stolen these ideas from a true prophet? In order to be enabled to answer this question, we must examine the perfection of the individual, obtain an accurate account of his actions, and consider his character. The best test is the rejection, abstention, and contempt of bodily pleasures for this the first of the degrees of the people of science and all the more of the prophets. (MN2:40)


  1. Good post.

    But minus one point for grammar:
    and still could only apprehend “My back but My face will not be seen”.

  2. "The prophets among us, those that succeeded in perfecting themselves to the utmost both past, present and future, know that they are not at Moshe’s level."

    Refutation of the Chabad dogna?

    Your living up to "few words, many topics."

  3. Ahm... offtopic again...

    It seems someone is being casual towards God. Maybe a good reading of Mishlei could put him in his place.

  4. "Acquire wisdom, acquire understanding; ... The beginning of wisdom [is to] acquire wisdom, and with all your possession acquire understanding." Mishlei Chapter 6

    The commentators point out it says acquire wisdom. Do not make it up.

  5. My comment directly above this one was directed to the article linked in the comment above it and not at this post.

    The quote from Mishlei is from chatper 4 not 6.