Shomer Emunim #12-13

27 Jan

Shealtiel: If the Gaonim had the Sisrei Torah through kabbalah, how is it possible that the Rambam, who an encyclopedic knowledge of everything else about Judaism, didn’t know about it? And if the Sefer Yetzirah, Sefer Bahir, Pirkei Heichalos, and Sefer Zohar were written by the Tannaim, why didn’t the Rambam know about them or even mention them in his books- at all?

Yehoyada: It shouldn’t be a cause for alarm that the Rambam didn’t know about them, because not all people know every single branch of wisdom. Even the Godly names of 12 and 42 letters, which are mentioned in Tractate Kiddushin page 71 (and where they argue about the greatness of one who knows the aforementioned 42 letter name), were hidden from the Rambam, who mastered the entire Talmud. He himself admits this in his ‘Moreh’, in Part 1, Chapter 62. This is true even though Rabbi Hai Gaon (who preceeded the Rambam) had a kabbalah about them, as the Rashba writes in letter 220 of his responsa. Still, the Rambam simply hadn’t heard about the details of these things.

It’s also possible that the Rambam had indeed seen the Sefer Yetzirah, etc., but couldn’t understand what was written there. Anyone who hasn’t received the keys and introductions to these works from a Mekubal can’t understand what they are talking about. Look at what the Ramban writes at the end of his introduction to his commentary on the Torah: “I am bringing, with a true covenant, intrinsically verifiable, a good piece of advice to anyone who looks in this book. He should not think up an explanation, or think thoughts, about any of the hints that I wrote about the Sisrei Torah. Because my words won’t reach him, or enlighten him at all, with any amount of knowledge or understanding, unless they are from a wise Mekubal, into the ears of an understanding student of Kabbalah.” And this is certainly true of the Sefer Yetzirah, Bahir, Pirkei Heichalos, and Zohar. One who hasn’t received the Kabbalah from a Mekubal definitely can’t understand them.

Furthermore, anyone who hasn’t received this wisdom through a teacher (as the Rambam testifies about himself to not receiving the explanation of the Sisrei Torah through a teacher) and reads what is written in the Zohar, will find many words that seem to ascribe physicality to spiritual ideas. Such as a “wheel”, a “gate”, a “separation”, “ears”, “faces”, and the like. The reader will definitely speak out against the Sefer and it’s author. Even if he’s sure that Rashbi (Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai) wrote it, he won’t accept what’s written in it. I’ll prove it: It’s known to us, and explained in many places in the Gemara and Midrash that there is a power in names of God and amulets to work wonders. The Gemara in Shabbos page 61 says, “One may go out with an expert’s amulet”. And it says in Tractate Yevamos 49b that Moshe killed the Egyptian by using a name of God. And that Isaiah said a name of God and was swallowed by a tree [1]. And when David dug the pits for the altar in the Temple, he wrote a name of God onto pottery and threw it into the deep water [2] (Tractate Succah 53a). There are many more like these in the words of the Sages, as the Rashba writes in letter 220.

The Rambam, however, dismissed all this, and made fun of people who believe that there is any power in using Names to do anything, as you can see in the ‘Moreh’, Part 1, end of Chapter 61-62. The testimony of the Gemara about these stories using Names wasn’t enough to convince him.

It’s also known that the Sages accepted as fact the existence of demons and witchcraft, as evidenced by the widespread talk of these things in the Talmud and Midrashim. The Rambam, though, says these things aren’t real. He says anyone who believes that these things exist, but were prohibited by the Torah is an idiot, simple minded, and in the category of women and children. See Hilchos Avodah Zarah, end of Chapter 11 [3]. Even though the Torah itself speaks of the magicians in Egypt, and what they did with their magic. And the story of the witch [4]. And many other verses that show that these things exist. Even with all this proof, the logicians dismiss them and think up far-fetched, strange interpretations for these verses, so that they do not conflict with their ideas. They don’t accept the words of the Sages who say explicitly, in many places, that demons and magic exist, because according to these people, it’s impossible for things like that to exist. They do this with many things. This is the way of logicians and rationalists. They don’t accept the words of the Sages where they conflict with what they’ve concluded to be true through their own reason.

Now, since there are many things in these works of the Tannaim that, taken literally, are foreign to human intelligence, and are ridiculous to one has not received the keys to these things, it is therefore possible that they didn’t even consider what’s written in them, even though they’re written by Tannaim. This is because it is foreign to them, being as they have not received the kabbalah mouth to mouth, (ie from a Mekubal). Knowing all this, it’s no wonder that the Rambam didn’t bring down in his books anything written in the Sefer Yetzirah, Sefer Bahir, Pirkei Heichalos, and Sefer Zohar.

If you want to believe what’s written in the later Meforshim’s works, the Rambam did merit to receive the Kabbalah from a Mekubal at the end of his life. One of the commentaries on the Ramban writes in Parsha Shelach, “And this Rabbi Yaakov went to Egypt and gave over the Kabbalah to the Rambam za”l. And because he was so happy with it, he praised it to his students. However, he didn’t merit this until the end of his days.” Also the wise Rabbi Yitzchok Abarbanel [5] writes in his book ‘Nachalas Avos’, at the end of Chapter 3, “I also heard that the great rabbi Maimonides wrote in his letter these words, ‘Near the end of my life, a man came to me and told me interesting things. If I wasn’t at the end of my days, with my works spread over the world, I would have retracted many things that I wrote in there.’ Now, there’s no doubt that the words he heard at the end of his life were words of Kabbalah.”

The Mahara”m Alasker za”l writes at the end of his book of responsa [number 117, middle of the letter] in his notes on the Rasha”t, “I see fit to write down here the words that the Rambam za”l wrote in confidential letters which he sent to his respected student. These regard deep subjects and hidden secrets from the true kabbalah, knowledge and actions, which he wrote to show this man (ie, the aforementioned Rashat) that all of his words were not intelligent. Our rabbi (the Rambam) wrote in the letter mentioned, ‘And because of the love that exists between me and you, and between your holy ancestors, I am telling you that most of my time teaching you I was confusing you by figuring out the creations and trying to know their true nature following the outcome of the philosophical methods of inquiry and their teachings. It appears that what they said was without merit unfortunately. Because they don’t have proof to what they say, it comes to them through their own rational processes. Their ways tax the mind and confuse it. But the way of the true Kabbalah is cleared of stumbling blocks, and everything that is possible to understand about it is understood quickly. The prophets followed this path, and grasped what they did of future events, and performed strange, supernatural deeds. I learned a few of these ways of understanding the nature of the created world and all of my questions were answered. The way of perplexed people was cleared up for me. The keys of of wisdom were given over to me, and all things hidden from me were explained. Now behold, I am making you swear that you will not reveal the subtle secrets, and wondrous insights, except to someone who has a refined intellect and character, and is pure in his deeds and thoughts, and walks in the path of learning and knowledge…Know my brother, that the holy names are too numerous to count, etc.’ Look and see if he went in the way of the Kabbalah or not.” This confidential letter is in my possession in manuscript form, and is word for word as the Maharam Alasker writes, along with other Kabbalistic things.

At the end of the day, whatever the case is, we don’t need the Rambam to testify to the veracity of the Kabbalah. We have many other trustworthy witnesses, as smart and great as the Rambam who had a kabbalah, supported it, and passed it down to us, generation after generation. We have the Ravad, the Rokeiach, the Ramban, the Rashba, and the Ritva who testified that the Kabbalah that we have was received by them down from Moshe who received it from God, as they wrote in their books (that I mentioned in #11). Their testimony is more than enough. God forbid we should think that these wise and holy men, pillars of knowledge, made up on their own words about Godliness that is impossible to arrive at through rational inquiry. And that they testified that these things were given over to them. Even the most wicked man in Israel wouldn’t do that. Certainly then, these wise Mekubalim who testified about these things, wouldn’t do that.

Besides all this, any honest scholar can see that the Torah, books of the Prophets, and sayings of our Sages are witnesses to the truth of the Mekubalim’s ideas. They are very much in sync with each other, unlike the ideas of the Philosophers. Because, firstly, Philosophy is taken from a nation who did not believe in the Torah of Moshe, and is entirely conjecture, as the philosophers themselves freely admit. Therefore, each generation changes it’s ideas, the later ones arguing on the earlier. One generation can think there is proof to one idea, and the next will think there is proof to the opposite idea. The Rambam in Moreh, Part 2, Chapter 22 admits to the weakness of their findings. He says, “However, anything that Aristotle speaks about, from the sphere of the moon and above is entirely based on theory and logic, except for a small part. And this is certainly true in the field of intelligence.”. The Sefer Kuzari, Teaching 4, end of Number 25, writes, “But I will tell you these ideas so that the philosophical ideas don’t confuse you into thinking that if you go after them, you are putting yourself on a sure, proven path. You can’t hold all of these ideas in your head at once. They don’t stand up to a comparison with each other. Further, no two philosophers agree totally with each other on this, unless they both follow the same teacher.” See there.

Secondly, besides for all this, it is impossible to mesh their views with the Sages’. Because of this, followers of philosophy have been forced to make a mockery of the Scripture with their strange interpretations of the pure Torah of God. See for example: Since it was a postulate among them that an angel is separated and impossible to materialize, they denied Abraham’s (Avraham) sighting of the angels in Elonei Mamre, and explained it as a prophetic vision. And also by the story of Jacob (Yaakov) (Gen. 32:25), “And a man wrestled with him.” It wasn’t while he was awake, it was in a prophetic vision. And the story of Balaam (Bilam). The donkey didn’t actually speak; it was a prophetic vision (see ‘Moreh’, Part 2, Chapter 42). All of these things aren’t Sisrei Torah, they are contradictions to the text [6]. It is prohibited to hear them, as the Ramban says in a lengthy piece in Parsha Vayera.

Similarly, regarding the words of the Sages, and their Aggados (stories) which are passed down from the Prophets. They falsely ascribe invented designs and intentions for them in order to make them agree with their own ideas and thoughts which are based on the wisdom of he philosophers. At times, they simply disregard the words of the Sages by saying that we don’t have to worry about them since they are only the words of an individual person. This is even though we don’t find any Tanna or Amora (Mishnaic or Gemaraic scholar) who disagrees with him! [7]

A few of the Jewish philosophers decide the Law for themselves, based on which Talmudic Sage agrees with Aristotle or disagrees with Plato. There is no agreement among them, since one decides one way, and another thinks it should be something else. Each one makes his own Torah and his own theology, and decides what he will or will not believe in (See Rashba’s Responsa, letter 9, on this). Will you then say that these are the secrets of the Torah that were given by God? God forbid someone would believe something like that.


[1] To hide from King Menasheh.

[2] Which was coming up through the hole that he dug.

[3] Rambam’s theory of the nature of women seems to be based on Aristotle, although there are many Talmudic sayings that can be seen to support his position as well.

[4] 1 Samuel, Chapter 28 tells a detailed story of King Saul visit to a witch.

[5] Portugal, 1437- Italy, 1508.

[6] ‘Sosrei Hakasuv’ in Hebrew.

[7] Many take the position that, when learning the Talmud, if there is a disagreement between two Sages concerning matters of theology, it is permissible to choose whichever one makes the most sense to you. However, if there is no dispute, the matter is seen to be universally agreed upon. (Note that this principle does not apply as simply to the Halacha, the practical religious laws.)

The Rambam, however, disagrees, and says (Moreh Nevuchim, section 3) that theological Talmudic sayings are not binding, even if there is no dispute. He is amongst a small minority of Rishonim who hold like this. Rabbi Ergas obviously disagrees with him.


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