Sunday, September 01, 2013

Interesting Comment of a Medieval Provencal Scholar on the Ra'avad/Ramban - Rambam disagreement on Olam Haba.

Ramban towards the end of the Sha’ar Hagemul section of his work on Aveilus- Torat HaAdam – summarizes his opinion regarding what occurs after death.  


עכשיו ביארנו כונתנו בשכרי המצות וענשן, ונחזור בקצרה: כי שכר הנפשות וקיומם בעולם הנשמות נקרא לרבותינו זיכרונם לברכה "גן עדן", ופעמים קורין אותו "עליה", ו"ישיבה שלמעלה". ואחרי כן יבא המשיח והוא מכלל חיי העולם הזה, ובסופה יהיה יום הדין ותחיית המתים, שהוא השכר הכולל הגוף והנפש, והוא העיקר הגדול שהוא תקות כל מקוה להקדוש ברוך הוא, והוא העולם הבא, שבו ישוב הגוף כמו נפש, והנפש תדבק בדעת עליון כהדבקה בגן עדן עולם הנשמות, ותתעלה בהשגה גדולה ממנה, ויהיה קיום הכל לעדי עד ולנצח נצחים

The reward of the souls in the world of the spirits is referred to by the Rabbis as “Gan Eden”, at times they refer to it as “going up” or “sitting in elevation”. After this period [Gan Eden], the mashiach will come – he being part of this world and at the end of that period will be the Day of Judgment and the Revival of the Dead, a reward that encompasses both the physical and the spiritual. That is the important matter that all that yearn for HKBH, yearn for it, the Olam Haba, where the physical becomes spiritual, the soul cleaving in the higher knowledge just as it did in Gan Eden in the spirit world, elevating to a High apprehension and everything will become eternal”. (Translation is a little difficult and loses the flavor of the original)

Ramban based on his reading of various sources in Chazal understands that once a person dies his soul an immanent entity that has a ghostlike substance, enters either Gehinom- hell or Gan Eden – paradise – for a transitional period until Techyat Hametim – the revival of the dead. In between Mashiach comes and physical life continues for a while with structural and societal changes which I will not go into here until towards the end of that period, when the dead come back to eternal life and the physical becomes cleaved with the spiritual. That is Olam Haba where the physical body is sustained by its spiritual component. In the schema the order of things after one dies are; Gan Eden, Mashiach, Techyat Hametim and Olam Haba.
Ramban’s source for this thinking is the Ra’avad in Hilchot Teshuvah 8:2. Rambam is discussing Olam Haba and explains that there is no physical existence in that state. To Rambam Olam Haba is what one experiences immediately after death and is permanent. Mashiach and the revival of the dead have no connection with this and are separate future occurrences. In Rambam’s order Olam Haba is first as it comes immediately after death followed by Yemot Hamashiach and eventually some kind of Techyat Hametim for some elite.  

On Rambam’s statement:

  ג  [ב] העולם הבא--אין בו גוף וגווייה, אלא נפשות הצדיקים בלבד, בלא גוף כמלאכי השרת

Ra’avad comments quoting various Talmudic statements that, according to him, unequivocally show the rabbis believed that the participant in Olam Haba does have a physical body. As to the Rabbis statement that in Olam Haba there is no food etc… he suggests that the bodies that come back from the dead are as strong as those of Eliyahu the prophet turned angel … Ramban in Sha’ar Hagemul does not quote him but clearly expands on it and explains more details.
In Daat 74-75 I was reading an article by Dr. Aviram Ravitzky about a manuscript of a book titled Mezukak Shiv’atayim authored by Rabbi Joseph ben Shaul Kimhi, a 14th century scholar in Provence.  As anyone who read Bein Torah Lachochma by Professor Moshe Halbertal, especially towards the end, knows that the Maimonidean controversies in Provence during the late 13th and early 14th century created a rift between those scholars and the Spanish scholars of the Ramban and his followers the Rashba etc… school.  The rabbis of Spain rarely quote the Provencal rabbis in their works and as the Jewish community was destroyed in Provence at the end of the century, their works fell into oblivion. It is only now that slowly scholars are discovering a few manuscripts in national libraries and are starting to decipher them and bring them back to the world. A revival of the dead indeed! Mezukak Shiv’atayim is one of those books. It is an encyclopedic work that includes Halacha and theology. Aviram Ravitzky quotes a short excerpt which caught my attention and addresses the above matter.
“And I the student wonder at the Ra’avad comment for this is not Olam Haba but Techyat Hametim for Olam Haba is after death. That is why the Members of the Great Gathering (Anshei Knesset Hagedola) wrote in the yotzer of Shabbat: Olam Haze, Olam Haba, Mashiach and Techyat Hametim in that precise order….”
Rav Yosef is referring to the Shabbat Yotzer Or Bracha at the morning Shema and Tefillah “Hakol Yoducha”. At the end we say Ein aroch lecha baolam hazeh, ve’ein Zulatecha lechayei Olam Haba, efes biltecha leyemot hamashiach vein dome lecha litchyat Hametim. The order is clearly not the Ra’avad order but rather Rambam’s.

What also caught my eye is that Rabbi Yosef traces the Hakol Yoducha prayer to the Anshei Knesset Hagedola. We know that it does not exist in Rambam’s siddur at the end of Sefer Ahavah. I have also checked Siddur Resag and it does not have it either. I cannot imagine that a Minhag in place from the Anshei Knesset Hagedola would be ignored by these Rishonim.  

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