Sunday, June 02, 2013

And I will cause evil beasts to cease out of the land - Ramban addresses Rambam.

As I learned Ramban on Sefer Vaykra, it was revealing the way he develops his understanding of Hashgacha and in general his view of the world. He already laid the foundations for his thought in the first two books, Breishit and Shemot but here he applies it to the committed Jew in his day to day practice, namely the Mitzvot. Again we can observe the undertones of a dialog where Ramban addresses Rambam’s understanding almost at every turn though he only does so overtly on occasion. While to Rambam Mitzvot are tools for self-improvement to Ramban they are intrinsically important for the functioning of the universe – they have a deep mystical impact on the well being of the universe and its population.

On Vaykra 26:6
ו  וְנָתַתִּי שָׁלוֹם בָּאָרֶץ, וּשְׁכַבְתֶּם וְאֵין מַחֲרִיד; וְהִשְׁבַּתִּי חַיָּה רָעָה, מִן-הָאָרֶץ, וְחֶרֶב, לֹא-תַעֲבֹר בְּאַרְצְכֶם.             

6 And I will give peace in the land, and ye shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid; and I will cause evil beasts to cease out of the land, neither shall the sword go through your land.

He discusses the meaning of וְהִשְׁבַּתִּי חַיָּה רָעָה, מִן-הָאָרֶץ – I will cause evil beasts to cease from the land. Moshe Rabbeinu is telling the people that if they follow God’s commandments he will bring peace to the land and eliminate wild beasts from it. He refers to a discussion of the subject in Torat Kohanim (Behukotai 2:1) between Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Shimon.

והשבתי חיה רעה מן הארץ -
ר' יהודה אומר
מעבירם מן העולם.
ר' שמעון אומר:
משביתן שלא יזוקו.
אמר ר' שמעון:
אימתי הוא שבחו של מקום, בזמן שאין מזיקים, או בזמן שיש מזיקים ואין מזיקים?
אמור בזמן שיש מזיקים ואין מזיקין.
וכן הוא אומר: מזמור שיר ליום השבת, למשבית מזיקים מן העולם, משביתן שלא יזיקו
(ב) וכן הוא אומר: וגר זאב עם כבש ונמר עם גדי ירבץ ועגל וכפיר ומריא יחדיו ונער קטן נוהג בם. ופרה ודוב תרעינה יחדיו ירבצו ילדיהם ואריה כבקר יאכל תבן. ושעשע יונק חור פתן ועל מאורת צפעוני גמול ידו הדה.
מלמד שתינוק מישראל עתיד להושיט את ידו לתוך גלגל עינו של צפעוני ומוציא מרה מתוך פיו.
וכן הוא אומר: גמול ידו הדה, זו חיה ההורגת את הבריות

Rabbi Yehuda says I will remove them. Rabbi Shimon says I will restrain them so that don’t harm. Argued Rabbi Shimon, what would enhance God more, when they disappear or when they are here but don’t harm? So too it says: A song for the day of Shabbat, to the One who restrains the harmers, restrains them from harming.  (This is a play on the word Shabbat which also means refraining / restraining – God refrained from creation on the Shabbat)….

Ramban comments that rabbi Yehuda understands the sentence literally (Kepshuto!) that as the land prospers with plentiful food and health; its cities will become populated. Wild animals do not frequent populated areas, confining themselves to the forests and thus creating a safe environment. But Rabbi Shimon holds that it is a miraculous event. If we follow the Mitzvot even the wild animals that roam amongst us will not harm us. Ramban explains that the land will return to its original state before the sin of Adam where no animal killed humans or each other. Before Adam’s sin all animals were vegetarian as they had no permission to kill or eat living things. Once man sinned and animals were allowed to attack humans, they developed a taste for meat and now started devouring each other too. He reads the verses in Yeshayahu 11:6-8 quoted in the Midrash literally; a child will stick his hand into a snake pit and be unscathed; lions will be vegetarian.  In the days of Mashiach, all animals will return to their original pre-sin state and lose their appetite for meat. Ramban comments that Rabbi Shimon’s position is the correct one.

Here again Ramban is arguing with Rambam and in passing shows us some interesting insights into his thinking. First here is Rambam’s comment on the verses on Yeshayahu: (Hilchot Melachim 12:1)

אל יעלה על הלב שבימות המשיח, ייבטל דבר ממנהגו של עולם, או יהיה שם חידוש במעשה בראשית; אלא עולם כמנהגו הולך.  וזה שנאמר בישעיה "וגר זאב עם כבש, ונמר עם גדי ירבץ" (ישעיהו יא,ו), משל וחידה.  עניין הדבר--שיהיו ישראל יושבין לבטח עם רשעי העולם, המשולים בזאב ונמר:  שנאמר "זאב ערבות ישודדם--נמר שוקד על עריהם" (ירמיהו ה,ו).  ויחזרו כולם לדת האמת, ולא יגזולו ולא ישחיתו, אלא יאכלו דבר המותר בנחת כישראל, שנאמר "ואריה, כבקר יאכל תבן" (ישעיהו יא,ז; ישעיהו סה,כה).

Of course Ramban cannot agree with this for to him Yemot Hamashiach are going to be miraculous times; nothing will be as it is now. But again we see how he dialogs with Rambam all the time even when he does not mention his name. The fascinating thing is that he ties his own disagreement with Rambam into an ancient argument amongst the Tanaim. That in fact legitimizes Rambam’s position. Unlike some of his contemporaries who attacked Rambam vociferously to the point of burning his writings, Ramban makes sure we know that they both have legitimate positions supported by the rabbis of the Mishnah. What also caught my attention is how he explains the changeover of carnivores from vegetarians in a natural way. Once man became available to the beasts they developed taste for meat! Nothing changed except a more evolved palate! He in fact, many times in his commentary, reaffirms that miracles have to have a reason and a purpose, generally to make people aware that there is a divine presence in the world. But that is a subject for another post.