Thursday, 15 January 2009

The Rambam - Yahrtzeit 20 Tevet

Born: 1135 (1138?)
Died: 1204

The Rambam (Rabbi Moshe Maimon) was (is) one of the greatest Rabbis to have ever lived. His entire life and being resembles the perfection of what it means to be a Jew. How strange it was that in his day he was looked down upon by the very Jewish world that would end up admiring him on a daily basis!

The Rambam was born in Cordova, Spain. He was an inquisitive child wanting to know everything about everything. Apparently his desire for knowledge (and justice!) never waned nor ended. His early thirst would end up making him one of the greatest people to have ever lived! He spent much time involved in study, learning not just about the Torah, the ways of a Jew and the laws of how to be a Jew, but he became an expert in a variety of the secular studies, including but by no means limited to – mathematics, astronomy, philosophy, and medicine. So great was he in medicine (a qualified doctor who would probably outdo most doctors of even today!) that he eventually became the personal physician of the Sultan!

It is known that the day of the Rambam was not one of idle chatter or waste. He was busy from day to night – and night to day. At times (mostly) when employed with the Sultan – he would come home having barely eaten the entire day and literally collapse on his bed. But it was not to rest that he lay down, rather his day was just beginning! A long queue of ill people would line up waiting hours all in order to receive expert advice on how to cure their sicknesses. The Rambam was the ultimate doctor who believed nothing less than preventing disease as being the solution to sickness – a far cry from the world of doctors today who delight in the ill health of others who must pay millions of dollars for “cures”. The Rambam would receive Jews and non-Jews alike. He was a true example of what a Jew is meant to be in the world – a true light to the nations. He was there for all and wished the best for all. Even to the degree of making sure that another’s body was healthy and fit ultimately to serve the Creator of the world.

Not for nothing do the words written on a large sign above his grave in Tiberies read: “From Moshe (Moses – who received the Torah on Mount Sinai) until Moshe (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon), there has never been another like Moshe.” The greatness of the Rambam was certainly on that level of Moshe himself. Just like the first Moses spent time involved with the needs of the community, taking care of everyone – whether life issues, Torah issues, or anything to do with one’s relationship with G-d, so too did this Moshe involve himself in life.

He wrote numerous masterful works which are studied daily by Jews all around the world. Most famous for his philosophical work the Moreh Nevuchim – a work that showed the inconsistencies with secular philosophy – and his Mishneh Torah – or Yad HaChazaka, the Rambam covered every area of Torah available!

The Yad HaChazaka – “The Strong Hand” is a 14 volume work composed of 1000 chapters that legalise the entire Torah into an easily readable format. Unfortunately the Rambam did not include any original sources as to where he had learned the law. Because of this, his generation burned his books claiming him to be a fake. How can one come to legalise the entire Torah and not even put the effort in to show where he was quoting from? Did he perhaps simply make up everything on his own account causing all Jews to stumble (G-d forbid) for generations to come?! Ironically one of the greatest “enemies” of the Rambam – Rabbi Yonah of Geronda turned around after the Talmud was burned in the very same place that they had burned the Rambam’s books earlier – and did complete Teshuva. He wrote a work known as “The Gates of Repentance” – Shaarei Teshuva – in order to make amends and encourage others to learn of the importance of being careful with one’s actions – before realising just what they can end up doing! From that point onwards, Rabbeinu Yona became a great supporter of the Rambam.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe instituted some decades ago the importance of learning the entire Rambam. The Rambam writes clearly in his introduction to his work that because learning Talmud in his day (1000 years ago!!!) had become difficult, and that people found it difficult to understand how to learn the proper law from the Talmud – that he compiled his work for everyone to learn and know what to do in every situation – whether for our times alone or for the times when the Temple stands! Such a statement seems to have been lost with the focus in many places to concentrate on Talmud study while neglecting to understand the actual law. Yet the Rambam himself made it!

The Rebbe’s plan was to set in motion the unbelievable idea to connect Jews around the world every single day with learning the same legal material. It would unite Jews and give them something to talk about to each other every day – since everyone would be learning the same Torah. More than this, one who completes the Rambam each year – literally as the Rambam himself says – completes learning the ENTIRE TORAH!

The Rebbe instituted 3 learning patterns that people with different time constraints could choose. One can either learn 3 chapters a day and complete the cycle in one year, one chapter a day and complete it in 3 years, or learn from the Sefer HaMitzvos of the Rambam (a concise summary of all the laws) to complete this shorter book in a year.

What exactly will you learn from the Rambam’s magnum opus Mishna Torah? You’ll learn about the fundamentals of G-d and prophecy. You’ll learn about the right way to behave. The right way to eat. You’ll learn how to observe the Sabbath day. The laws of eating Kosher. You’ll learn about the Temple, all the things that happen there and all the different vessels and make-up of it. You’ll learn about the laws of family purity. You’ll learn about the phases of the moon – if you’re good at mathematics! You’ll learn about the different Jewish festivals – Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, Pesach and Sukkot. You’ll learn about life itself and the right approach to take to it all – to know what’s important and what’s not. And if you think that’s all, keep tuned right up until the very last chapters, where you’ll learn all about Moshiach – the righteous redeemer who will ultimately take us out of this exile we find ourselves in.

If we can learn just one thing from the Rambam’s teachings, let us learn something that can carry us through in improving the world on a daily basis *today!* The Rambam is really the authority par excellence of the laws of charity. Contrary to popular belief, charity is not about feeling sorry for another’s apparent “misfortune”. It’s about establishing the world. If money makes the world go around, then it is people filled with kindness that will distribute it to make things happen!

The Rambam lists 8 different levels of charity. Each of us being filled with kindness wants to do only the best. We want the best house, the best car, the best computer and cell phone. Why not want the best of charity too?! Charity is not feeling sorry for the other. It’s about seeing the greatness of another and his potential. It’s about seeing what G-d has blessed them with, what they can give to the world – if only they have the means. It’s about supporting another, giving them a loan (to do what *they* want to make a success of life!) and bringing them in to your own business, showing them the ropes, making them feel good about being them. It’s not about dropping a penny into the old hat laid in front of them, worn out from people treading upon it as they walk down the street without a care for whoever gets in their way!

This is charity. This is kindness. This is what makes the world go around. The Rambam will not accept anything less (except to those who feel they too can accept less in their own lives.) The Rambam is the prime example of loving another just as much as oneself. Because if we wish for a mansion for ourselves, then perhaps they do too. And therefore, if I am to fulfil this commandment in the best possible way – both with love and kindness – it means wishing for my friend the same that I have. And more, it means actively involving oneself to insure that they receive just as I do – no matter how much. To make another great with the potential they have. This is the highest level of charity. To wish another the pleasures we have – this is the highest level of charity. To make another be able to stand on his own two feet in life never having to feel the shame of asking another for help – ever… this is the highest level of charity. Can there be any other level? Sure. The Rambam says, you can give with a sour face too, embarrass another, make him feel bad about his life and then expect some sort of respect for your “act of kindness” – this too is charity. But it’s really only for those who feel that doing the barest minimum is good enough. Naturally, we all know better!

For more information about these laws of charity see the articles on this very site under the chapter heading “Rambam Rules” or see Lesson 1 immediately!

Amazingly the Rambam’s Yahrtzeit falls out every single year in Parshas Shmot – the portion of the Torah which makes mention of G-d’s “Strong Hand” – the Yad HaChazaka. In fact the very last words of this portion says “And G-d spoke to Moses ‘Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh, for with a ‘Strong Hand’ he will send them out (from Egypt where they were exiled) and with a ‘Strong Hand’ he will drive them out from his land.”

It seems that there is power in the Yad Hachazaka – The Strong Hand, in that it literally contains within it the power to cause those who hold the Jewish people in exile to do everything possible to force them into freedom. Perhaps this beautiful hint in this portion of Torah which we read this week is a sign to us all to focus our learning on this important work and to realise that through it we will add in hastening to bring the final redemption – may it be immediately!

If you would like to learn the Rambam’s teachings, contact Rav Eliyahu and schedule a learning session with him in person or over Skype –

There is a plethora of material available about the Rambam on the Internet.

For more see:

Learn the ENTIRE Rambam in Just ONE YEAR! (The end of the article lists numerous resources to help you learn, including online audio Shiurim and more!)

A video from the Rebbe speaking about the importance of learning Rambam

For a more info about learning Rambam and to download a beautiful Rambam learning calendar see Rambam Calendar.

We are involved in a number of activities to helping others including sharing Torah on this blog at absolutely no cost. See our latest Mikva Project for more info.

Light a candle for the Rambam 

May the merit of the Rambam help us all to be able to learn his teachings and the entire Torah, to be able to understand it all and practise everything we learn.

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