The Light of the Rambam, Master of Sciences
It’s amazing how often people tend to underestimate the ancient rabbis. Many, even learned ones, confuse wisdom for knowledge and believe we live in a more enlightened era. To them, the knowledge of the previous generations is to be ignored at best.
As what our readers might expect, much of what we take it for granted nowadays, is actually neither too obvious, nor unknown to our holy Rabbis. One such sage who embodied many areas of science of his time is certainly Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon (the Rambam, or Maimonides). The Rambam was one of the outstanding sages of the middle ages called “Rishonim” (the “first ones”). He was primarily an expert in medicine, but was also well versed in math, psychology and astronomy.
Psychology and Healing
The Rambam was a very prolific writer and, considering the amount of writings he left for us, one would be excused for thinking he had access to computers. Two of his works stand out most throughout all Jewish circles. One of them is the Mishneh Torah, a compendium of law comprising all Mitzvot, even those that are not extant (something unheard before). The other one is the Moreh Nevuchim(“Guide of the Perplexed”) which is a more philosophical and theological analysis on reality from a Jewish perspective.
The Rambam also advocates for a life of balance,stating that a person should neither over-delight himself with the pleasures of the world, nor mortifying his body by starving from them. A person should also neither be splurging his money, nor be stingy. Other advices include not engaging in marital relations right after eating, sleeping or going to the bathroom (as these are all bad practices), or doing so in excess because “the seed is the life force of the human body, and out of 1.000 deaths, 999 of them are because of excessive wasting it”.
This teaching falls in line with the Kabbalistic approach that the soul should dominate the body as a rider rides a horse. It’s one of the essential conditions for doing the Tikkun HaMidot (“rectifying the character traits”), in order to achieve transcendence.
However, his mastery of the human mind can best be understood from many of his ideas from the Mishneh Torah. One of them refers to the rectification of bad character traits by adopting its extreme opposite and then returning to the middle ground. For example, he recommends that a stingy person resolves to give money to everyone who asks him for 40 days and then returns to a moderate stance. Likewise, one who is a glutton should police himself to eat a lot less than how much he carves and then eating moderately (as is proper). Again, this is very much in line with how Kabbalists and Tzaddikim behave.
In speaking about health and healing in HilchotDe’ot, the Rambam makes a stern warning to every physician that, before anything, they should treat the person’s mind. This is because without restoring it first, no medicine will have its intended effect. The mind, as we know from the Kabbalistic writings (especially the Zohar), is composed of 3 elements, Chochmah, Bina and Da’at, and whether a person is in a state of peace or not depends on whether he has the requisite Mokhin(divine consciousness) or not. Without it, the lower Sephirot cannot function properly, which opens up the body for many illnesses and conditions.
When dealing with converts, the Rambam stressed that Jews need to be careful with them since we ourselves were outsiders in Egypt. It’s one of the Mitzvot not to oppress or abuse them in any way whatsoever. It’s also important to stress that the Talmud (Baba Metzia 59b) also stresses that the Torah has warned the Jewish people about this no less than 36 times (and some say 46 times). Converts, as we discussed before, often function as vessels for souls of Tzaddikim, as related in many places in Sha’arHaGilgulim by the Arizal, so one needs to be extra careful when dealing in them.
Rambam and the Secrets of Torah
The general consensus is that the Rambam was eminently against Kabbalah. However, a deeper view into the Moreh Nevuchim reveals that the terminology used there reveals he actually knew about the secrets of Torah, and very well. Many scholars state however that, later in life, the Rambam learned Kabbalah and two letters supposedly written by him praise it and state that “had I learned about the things I learned now, I’d not have written many of the things I wrote”. Although many scholars have rejected them as fake, one is quoted by the Migdal Oz to the first chapter of Hilchot Yisodei HaTorah, and another well known one published in R. Shilat’s edition of the Rambam's letters, pg. 695.
Whatever the case, many of the Rambam’s ideas throughout his works are well aligned with Kabbalah and prove that he was indeed a giant among giants in all areas of Torah. He understood the human mind better than anyone and his love for Torah continues to serve as inspiration to many throughout the generations.
The Rambam is buried in the coastal city of Tveria, and a very intricate and architecturally fascinating construction was erected there. None less than Rabbi Yosef Karo, author of the Shulchan Aruchcalled the Rambam the greatest Halachic authority of all communities of the Land of Israel and of Arabia and of the Maghreb. May his memory be for a blessing and inspiration!
This article was written in the zechut of Leora Yehudis Bas Kayla may HaShem help her attain all her hearts desires speedily!
In the merit of the study of this book - the book of the Zohar - the Jewish People will leave the Exile in a merciful manner. (parashat Naso, 124b). Studying Kabbalah is a huge source of merit that can bring all sorts of salvation to a person’s life. If you want to sponsor to have me study in-depth Kabbalah from the Arizal or the Rashash in your merit and receive its blessings, especially for sustenance, children and health.