Special Sub-Topic: Figures of Kabbalah: Maimonides
|It was common for Jewish rabbis to use an abbreviated form of their name. What was Maimonides' real name?|
Moshe ben-Maimon. It means: Moses son of Maimon, he is also known as "Rambam" (ra=rabbi/m=moshe/ ba=ben/m=maimon). Born in 12th century Spain, the Jewish community, who before had been well-regarded, was beginning to feel the pressures of the Roman Catholic church. Tensions between the growing Catholic presence and Spanish Muslims were rising, and the Jews there were placed somewhere in the middle. In nearby France at this time, the first inquisition had just begun. Many rabbis of middle-age Europe used abbreviated forms of their name to distinguish themselves from others of the same name and also to protect their identity.
|Maimonides was many things: rabbi, philosopher, physician. He wrote many works. Which of these is considered essential to one who studies Kabbalah?|
The Guide for the Perplexed. "The Guide for the Perplexed" (Moreh Nevuchim) is a treatise between mystical interpretations and rational philosophies, such as Aristotle, whose teachings (certain ideas, not all) won Maimonides' praise.
"Opening of Hope" is another name for a letter he wrote to the Jews of Yemen. It is better known as "Iggeret Teman."
"Book of the Mitsvot" (Sefer ha-Mitsvot) is a listing of all 613 commandments.
"Codification of Jewish Law" (Mishneh Torah) is an encyclopedic style commentary on all the 613 commandments, the first of its kind.
(NOTE: for the record, I have only read "The Guide for the Perplexed.")
|Modern-day Kabbalah took form in small, isolated Jewish academies of Medieval Europe (such as the Spanish cities Castile and Catalonia, and the Ashkenazi region along the Rhine River). Maimonides' teachings were also designed to contend with these early Kabbalists, a conflict that peaked with a mass burning of the book "The Guide for the Perplexed."|
t. Though this burning was at the hands of Dominicans, it has since been widely debated that anti-Maimonidean Jews at least approved, if not orchestrated, this act. Maimonides' (seemingly) Aristotelian-infused view on mitsvot and G-D Himself worried some rabbis that such teachings would allow for a relaxed adherence to law and ritual. Mystics were angered by Maimonides' labeling the Creation and Chariot accounts as metaphysics, and Biblical descriptions of the emotions and appearance of G-D as anthropomorphic. Today, his opinion of mysticism is debated, but modern Kabbalists see many correlations within "The Guide" and so, ironically, Maimonides has become an essential teacher to the Jewish mystic and Kabbalist.
|In "The Guide for the Perplexed" Maimonides wrote that man was created in the likeness of G-D not concerning men's physical bodies, but concerning G-D's Divine Intellect, of which man possesses a lower form, known as what? |
Intellectual Perception. He taught against any notion that G-D contained any physical, or corporeal, form. He said man was created in G-D's likeness in terms of intellectual perception, which does not require the use of corporeal organs.
Kabbalists today believe that G-D can be and is both. More importantly, attributing defining qualities to G-D (he is a hundred feet tall, or he has no body) can lead to heresy, as one should relinquish all notions of who or what G-D is, as G-D is infinite and therefore cannot be quantified.
|Maimonides believed that it was best to approach the vast exploration of G-D after becoming proficient in scientific and philosophical studies. This would teach one methods of inference and how to recognize fallacies. What else did he say one should do when investigating matters of the Creator?|
wait modestly, advancing step by step. This area is another one that early mystics contended with, because earlier in the same chapter from which this question derives ("The Guide", chapter 5), Maimonides likens his thought and exploratory process to that of Aristotle. Furthermore, this statement could imply that one should learn the sciences in a secular manner, then apply a secular education to the study of the Divine. Of course this probably was not his intention; he respected Aristotle as a fellow philosopher, and he believed it was important to develop the skills of rational thought and scientific reasoning before applying oneself to a subject so vast and complicated as G-D and His nature.
|According to Maimonides, what was the reward given to Moses (from Exodus) for hiding his face from the glory of G-D upon Mt. Sinai? |
the light that surrounded him after descending Sinai. In Numbers it is called "the similitude of the Lord." Maimonides asserts that this was given to Moses as a reward for hiding his face from the goodness and glory of G-D. The rabbi finds the account symbolic for the humility one should have when approaching Divine matters.
|Maimonides incorporated ideas from philosophy, Aristotle, physics, metaphysics, natural sciences, Islamic philosophy, early cosmology, and more, into his teachings. |
t. In "The Guide for the Perplexed" Maimonides uses ideas and theories from all areas of science. These ideas did not weaken his spiritual beliefs, just as Kabbalists today can see the seeds of truth in all areas of science and reasoning. The study of evolution, mathematics, physics: these are concrete ideas, and tools for further discovering G-D and His Creation. To a Kabbalist, knowledge of such should only add to one's belief that G-D is truly Great.
|Man is utterly ignorant, Maimonides states, of the methods and ways of G-D's eternal Wisdom. The rabbi believes this is because of what?|
G-D has no definable attributes. Maimonides believed that G-D's Will and Wisdom are the same thing, since G-D has no definable attributes. To the perception of man, love and judgement are opposite emotions or actions of G-D. But within the Divine realm they are the same. Rabbi Daniel Matt compared this idea to a lit candle, from which a multitude of other candles were lit. Though some shone brighter than others, some flickering, others steady, they were in essence the same flame, because they all shared the same source. The same can be said of G-D's perceived attributes. They are a bright light, it is the human perception that offers color and hue. In G-D, all exists in perfect Oneness. This is a central teaching in Kabbalah.
|According to Maimonides, angels have free will and act consciously within the range of action entrusted to them (an angel of judgement acts freely within the realm of judgement). Humans likewise have free will and act consciously. The difference is that human actions are which stage of excellence?|
lowest. Also, Maimonides writes that human actions and influence are preceded by non-action, while the angels and higher beings perform only that which is good in the sight of G-D.
|Confusion and doubt can arise as one begins to question Creation and Purpose. In Maimonides' view, this is a result of two things. The first is man's mistaken notion that the universe and world were made solely for man's sake. The other is man's ignorance: of both the workings of the higher, spiritual realms and something else. Of what is man also ignorant?|
G-D's intention to give existence to all things possible. Man is ignorant of G-D's intention to give existence to all things whose existence is possible, because, as Maimonides states, existence is undoubtedly good.
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