Shomer Emunim, #8-9

19 Jan

8. Shealtiel: You’ve spoken well, and proven logically that there are secrets and hidden parts to the Torah. And that they were known to the Talmudic Sages (Chaza”l), who called them ‘Maaseh Bereishis’, and ‘Maaseh Merkavah’. But we aren’t forced to believe, based on that, that the ideas of the Mekubalim are those same secrets and Sisrei Torah. After all, the Ramba”m [1], a tremendously wise man and an expert on the entire Talmud, explains to us in the first four chapters of his book “Yad Hachazakah” [2], what Maaseh Merkavah and Maaseh Bereishis are [3].

9. Yehoyada: If the Rambam would have said that his explanation on these matters was received from his teachers, then we would have a question as to which holy person to follow: Should we follow the Rambam or the Mekubalim who are in sync with the interpretation of Rashi, Tosfos, and the other medieval commentators listed?

But the Rambam doesn’t say this explanation was received from his teachers, rather it was own interpretation. He says this explicitly in the introduction to section 3 of Moreh Nevuchim [4]. He says that what he explains about Maaseh Merkavah, Maaseh Bereishis, and the Sisrei Torah, were not received from any teacher, nor did they come to him through prophecy. Rather, these are his own ideas, using his own logic. Therefore, he says, it’s possible that they are incorrect, and that they mean something totally different.

Since this is the case, how we can grab hold of a possible explanation, and let go of a sure one, i.e. the interpretation of the Mekubalim, who have given it over to us testifying that they received it from their teachers, and all the way back to the Tannaim (the authors of the Mishnah) [5].

In addition, the Rambam’s interpretation has been rejected. All the Commentators [6] push it away with both hands. The Ra”n [7] writes, “The Rambam wrote what he wanted to, but I wish he hadn’t.” The author of the Kessef Mishnah [8] brings this down in the 4th chapter of “Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah” [9]. The philosopher, Rabbi Shem Tov son of Shem Tov, writes in the first Teaching of his book “Ayin Hakoreh”, after a long list of complaints against the Rambam, “And Rabbi Moshe (the Rambam) has many weak, false claims about this. This is because from the day of our exile from the Land of Israel, there hasn’t been found amongst Israel as wise a man as Aristotle in these matters. He has brought the Rambam za”l to think only bad thoughts the entire day. He thought that there was no knowledge outside of what these men (i.e. the philosophers) taught. This brought him to say that the Merkavah of Ezekiel and Isaiah, which we were obligated to keep secret, is nothing but a small portion of the wisdom of Aristotle. If you compare word for word, chapter for chapter, what is written in the ‘Moreh’ to the wisdom of the philosophers, it seems clear that whatever Ezekiel grasped is known to the Christian, Arabic, and Greek philosophers. They know it better and clearer, in fact, than Ezekiel, peace be on him, did. This is clear…” See there, where he expounds on this.

Also, the philosopher, author of the Sefer “Derech Emunah” in Gate 20, Teaching 1; the philosopher Rabbi Chasdai Kreskas in his Sefer “Ohr Hashem”, Teaching 4, Examination 10; the philosopher, author of “Tehillah LeDavid”, in Section 3, Chapter 1; the philosopher, author of “Neveh Shalom”, in Examination 2, Teaching 4, Chapter 1, and Teaching 5, Chapter 5; all write that it is impossible that Aristotle’s Natural Science and descriptions of God are what Chaza”l were referring to when they spoke of Maaseh Bereishis and Maaseh Merkavah, as the Rambam thought. They prove this from the words of Chaza”l.

Rather, Maaseh Bereishis and Maaseh Merkavah deal with topics that are impossible to grasp through deduction. They are Kabbalistic teachings known to those who fear God and respect his name, scholars of the truth, and masters of the Torah out of which comes all of this complete wisdom (ie, knowledge of Maaseh Bereishis, etc.). The proof is that scientists cannot create new beings through natural means. But Rava created a cow, and Rabbi Zeira [10] created a man, using Sefer Yetzirah.

In truth, many, many people denounce the Rambam’s explanation of Ezekiel’s Merkavah, and the reasons he gives for the Mitzvos in his ‘Moreh’. They write that he should keep silent [11]. Because of all this, we don’t need to align our views with his on these matters.


[1] Maimonides, Rabbi Moses son of Maimon. Spain, Morocco, Egypt, 1135-1204. Rabbi, Philosopher, and Doctor. He wrote the first codification of the entire Written and Oral Torah.

[2] Rambam’s 14-book code of Jewish law. Also called ‘Mishneh Torah’.

[3] Rambam writes that they are referring to certain scientific ideas.

[4] The ‘Guide for the Perplexed’. Rambam’s popular work on philosophy and theology.

[5] The Mishnah was the first major written redaction of the Oral Torah, done by Rabbi Yehudah the Prince in 220 AD. Jewish sages of this era were called “Tannaim”. The Gemara was written as an interpretation of this relatively concise work.

[6] The word ‘Meforshim’ is used here, which literally means ‘commentators’. However, the term really only refers to commentators on the Talmud that have been widely accepted by other Jewish scholars.

[7] Rabbi Nissim son of Reuven. Spain, 1320-1380.

[8] Rabbi Yosef Karo, Spain, then Israel, 1488- 1575. Also author of the “Shulchan Aruch”.

[9] A section of the Mishneh Torah.

[10] Two sages in the Talmud.

[11] Paraphrased from Job 13:5.


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