Maimonides

Accept the truth from whatever source it comes.

Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (Hebrew: רבי משה בן מיימון; Arabic: موسى بن ميمون بن عبد الله القرطبي الإسرائيلي / Mussa bin Maimun ibn Abdallah al-Kurtubi al-Israili; March 30, 1135 – December 13, 1204), commonly known by his Greek name (Moses) Maimonides, was a Jewish rabbi, physician, and philosopher. He was born in Spain, but spent most of his life in Egypt. His works ranged from a commentary on the Mishnah to his Code of Law (summarising the whole of Jewish law) and the philosophical work, the Guide for the Perplexed.

Sourced

Charity is the sign of a righteous man
  • Accept the truth from whatever source it comes.
    • Introduction to the Shemonah Peraqim, as quoted in Truth and Compassion: Essays on Judaism and Religion in Memory of Rabbi Dr. Solomon Frank (1983) Edited by Howard Joseph, Jack Nathan Lightstone, and Michael D. Oppenheim, p. 168
    • Unsourced variant: You must accept the truth from whatever source it comes.
  • It is better and more satisfactory to acquit a thousand guilty persons than to put a single innocent one to death.
    • Moses Maimonides, The Commandments, Neg. Comm. 290, at 269-271 (Charles B. Chavel trans., 1967).
  • We are obligated to be more scrupulous in fulfilling the commandment of charity than any other positive commandment because charity is the sign of a righteous man.
    • As quoted in A Maimonides Reader (1972) by Isadore Twersky, p. 135. A footnote on this page states : tzedekah is translated as both "righteousness" and "charity".
  • When a man reflects on these things, studies all these created beings, from the angels and spheres down to human beings and so on, and realizes the divine wisdom manifested in them all, his love for God will increase, his soul will thirst, his very flesh will yearn to love God. He will be filled with fear and trembling, as he becomes conscious of his lowly condition, poverty, and insignificance, and compares himself with any of the great and holy bodies; still more when he compares himself with any one of the pure forms that are incorporeal and have never had association with any corporeal substance. He will then realize that he is a vessel full of shame, dishonor, and reproach, empty and deficient.
  • One who is in a dying condition is regarded as a living person in all respects. It is not permitted to bind his jaws, to stop up the organs of the lower extremities, or to place metallic or cooling vessels upon his navel in order to prevent swelling. He is not to be rubbed or washed, nor is sand or salt to be put upon him until he expires. He who touches him is guilty of shedding blood. To what may he be compared? To a flickering flame, which is extinguished as soon as one touches it. Whoever closes the eyes of the dying while the soul is about to depart is shedding blood. One should wait a while; perhaps he is only in a swoon.
  • Thus they shall not miss this particular branch of the many branches of the Law and will have no need to roam and ramble about in other books in search of information on matters set forth in this treatise.
    • Mishneh Torah, Book 3, Treatise 8 (Sanctification of the New Moon), closing words

Guide for the Perplexed

(Arabic: Dalalat al-Ḥa'irin دلالة الحائرين Hebrew:מורה נבוכים, translit. Moreh Nevuchim, The Guide for the Perplexed (1904) at Wikisource, as translated by Michael Friedlander.

Introduction

  • I have composed this work neither for the common people, nor for beginners, nor for those who occupy themselves only with the Law as it is handed down without concerning themselves with its principles. The design of this work is rather to promote the true understanding of the real spirit of the Law, to guide those religious persons who, adhering to the Torah, have studied philosophy and are embarrassed by the contradictions between the teachings of philosophy and the literal sense of the Torah.
  • A sensible man should not demand of me, or hope that when we mention a subject, we shall make a complete exposition of it.
  • My object in adopting this arrangement is that the truths should be at one time apparent and at another time concealed. Thus we shall not be in opposition to the Divine Will (from which it is wrong to deviate) which has withheld from the multitude the truths required for the knowledge of God, according to the words, 'The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him (Psalm 25:14)
  • Do not imagine that these most difficult problems can be thoroughly understood by any one of us. This is not the case. At times the truth shines so brilliantly that we perceive it as clear as day. Our nature and habit then draw a veil over our perception, and we return to a darkness almost as dense as before. We are like those who, though beholding frequent flashes of lightning, still find themselves in the thickest darkness of the night. On some the lightning flashes in rapid succession, and they seem to be in continuous light, and their night is as clear as the day. This was the degree of prophetic excellence attained by (Moses) the greatest of prophets, to whom God said," But as for thee, stand thou here by Me" (Deut. v. 31), and of whom it is written" the skin of his face shone," etc. (Exod. xxxiv. 29). [Some perceive the prophetic flash at long intervals; this is the degree of most prophets.] By others only once during the whole night is a flash of lightning perceived. This is the case with those of whom we are informed," They prophesied, and did not prophesy again" (Num. xi. 25). There are some to whom the flashes of lightning appear with varying intervals; others are in the condition of men, whose darkness is illumined not by lightning, but by some kind of crystal or similar stone, or other substances that possess the property of shining during the night; and to them even this small amount of light is not continuous, but now it shines and now it vanishes, as if it were" the flame of the rotating sword."
  • You must know that if a person, who has attained a certain degree of perfection, wishes to impart to others, either orally or in writing, any portion of the knowledge which he has acquired of these subjects, he is utterly unable to be as systematic and explicit as he could be in a science of which the method is well known. The same difficulties which he encountered when investigating the subject for himself will attend him when endeavouring to instruct others: viz., at one time the explanation will appear lucid, at another time, obscure: this property of the subject appears to remain the same both to the advanced scholar and to the beginner. For this reason, great theological scholars gave instruction in all such matters only by means of metaphors and allegories.
  • You are no doubt aware that the Almighty, desiring to lead us to perfection and to improve our state of society, has revealed to us laws which are to regulate our actions. These laws, however, presuppose an advanced state of intellectual culture. We must first form a conception of the Existence of the Creator according to our capabilities; that is, we must have a knowledge of Metaphysics. But this discipline can only be approached after the study of Physics: for the science of Physics borders on Metaphysics, and must even precede it in the course of our studies, as is clear to all who are familiar with these questions.
  • In my larger work, the Mishnab Torah, I have contented myself with briefly stating the principles of our faith and its fundamental truths, together with such hints as approach a clear exposition. In this work, however, I address those who have studied philosophy and have acquired sound knowledge, and who while firm in religious matters are perplexed and bewildered on account of the ambiguous and figurative expressions employed in the holy writings.
  • The key to the understanding and to the full comprehension of all that the Prophets have said is found in the knowledge of the figures, their general ideas, and the meaning of each word they contain.
  • Know that the figures employed by prophets are of two kinds: first, where every word which occurs in the simile represents a certain idea: and secondly, where the simile, as a whole, represents a general idea, but has a great many points which have no reference whatever to that idea: they are simply required to give to the simile its proper form and order, or better to conceal the idea: the simile is therefore continued as far as necessary, according to its literal sense. Consider this well.


  • When I have a difficult subject before me — when I find the road narrow, and can see no other way of teaching a well established truth except by pleasing one intelligent man and displeasing ten thousand fools — I prefer to address myself to the one man, and to take no notice whatever of the condemnation of the multitude; I prefer to extricate that intelligent man from his embarrassment and show him the cause of his perplexity, so that he may attain perfection and be at peace.
Introductory Remarks on Method
  • There are seven causes of inconsistencies and contradictions to be met with in a literary work. The first cause arises from the fact that the author collects the opinions of various men, each differing from the other, but neglects to mention the name of the author of any particular opinion. In such a work contradictions or inconsistencies must occur, since any two statements may belong to two different authors. Second cause: The author holds at first one opinion which he subsequently rejects: in his work., however, both his original and altered views are retained. Third cause: The passages in question are not all to be taken literally: some only are to be understood in their literal sense, while in others figurative language is employed, which includes another meaning besides the literal one: or, in the apparently inconsistent passages, figurative language is employed which, if taken literally, would seem to be contradictories or contraries. Fourth cause: The premises are not identical in both statements, but for certain reasons they are not fully stated in these passages: or two propositions with different subjects which are expressed by the same term without having the difference in meaning pointed out, occur in two passages. The contradiction is therefore only apparent, but there is no contradiction in reality. The fifth cause is traceable to the use of a certain method adopted in teaching and expounding profound problems. Namely, a difficult and obscure theorem must sometimes be mentioned and assumed as known, for the illustration of some elementary and intelligible subject which must be taught beforehand the commencement being always made with the easier thing. The teacher must therefore facilitate, in any manner which he can devise, the explanation of those theorems, which have to be assumed as known, and he must content himself with giving a general though somewhat inaccurate notion on the subject. It is, for the present, explained according to the capacity of the students, that they may comprehend it as far as they are required to understand the subject. Later on, the same subject is thoroughly treated and fully developed in its right place. Sixth cause: The contradiction is not apparent, and only becomes evident through a series of premises. The larger the number of premises necessary to prove the contradiction between the two conclusions, the greater is the chance that it will escape detection, and that the author will not perceive his own inconsistency. Only when from each conclusion, by means of suitable premises, an inference is made, and from the enunciation thus inferred, by means of proper arguments, other conclusions are formed, and after that process has been repeated many times, then it becomes clear that the original conclusions are contradictories or contraries. Even able writers are liable to overlook such inconsistencies. If, however, the contradiction between the original statements can at once be discovered, and the author, while writing the second, does not think of the first, he evinces a greater deficiency, and his words deserve no notice whatever. Seventh cause: Itis sometimes necessary to introduce such metaphysical matter as may partly be disclosed, but must partly be concealed: while, therefore, on one occasion the object which the author has in view may demand that the metaphysical problem be treated as solved in one way, it may be convenient on another occasion to treat it as solved in the opposite way. The author must endeavour, by concealing the fact as much as possible, to prevent the uneducated reader from perceiving the contradiction.
  • Having concluded these introductory remarks I proceed to examine those expressions, to the true meaning of which, as apparent from the context, it is necessary to direct your attention. This book will then be a key admitting to places the gates of which would otherwise be closed. When the gates are opened and men enter, their souls will enjoy repose, their eyes will be gratified, and even their bodies, after all toil and labour, will be refreshed.

Part I

  • Know that for the human mind there are certain objects of perception which are within the scope of its nature and capacity; on the other hand, there are, amongst things Aich actually exist, certain objects which the mind can in no way and by no means grasp: the gates of perception are dosed against it. Further, there are things of which the mind understands one part, but remains ignorant of the other; and when man is able to comprehend certain things, it does not follow that he must be able to comprehend everything.

Part III

  • If I had omitted setting down something of that which has appeared to me as clear, so that the knowledge would perish when I perish, as is inevitable, I should have considered that conduct as extremely cowardly with regard to you and everyone who is perplexed.
    • Introduction
  • He … who has achieved demonstration, to the extent that it is possible, of everything that may be demonstrated; and who has ascertained in divine matters, to the extent that that is possible, everything that may be ascertained; and who has come close to certainty in those matters in which one can only come close to it …

Unsourced

  • Anticipate charity by preventing poverty; assist the reduced fellow man, either by a considerable gift or a sum of money or by teaching him a trade or by putting him in the way of business so that he may earn an honest livelihood and not be forced to the dreadful alternative of holding out his hand for charity. This is the highest step and summit of charity's golden ladder.
  • No disease that can be treated by diet should be treated with any other means.
  • One should see the world, and see himself as a scale with an equal balance of good and evil. When he does one good deed the scale is tipped to the good - he and the world is saved. When he does one evil deed the scale is tipped to the bad - he and the world is destroyed.
  • The risk of a wrong decision is preferable to the terror of indecision.

Misattributed

  • Teach your tongue to say "I do not know" and you will progress.
    • This is actually from the Talmud (Tractate Berachot 4a)

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Last modified on 27 March 2008, at 09:39