יום רביעי י"ז בשבט תשפ"ב 19/01/2022
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  • The Mission Continues

    As in the past so it remains today - we were and still are under the selfsame commitment to adhere to the directions of the Gedolei Yisrael, who stand guard against breaches of purity threatening our camp. When we were required to ask – we asked. When we were instructed to depart – we left. The moment we are summoned back to raise the flag, every other consideration is pushed to the side and we answer: We are ready!

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  • Harav Yisrael Friedman zy”a, the Rebbe of Husyatin

    מוטי, ויקיפדיה העברית

    The ancestral chain of Harav Yisrael Friedman, the founder of the Husyatin chassidic court, originates with the holy Baal Shem Tov. The Husyatin chassidus has its roots in Galicia and eventually came to Tel Aviv, during the turbulent years between the two World Wars.

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  • Maccabi'im Gravesite

    In honour of Chanukah, we will discuss a fascinating, ongoing investigation attempting to establish the place of burial of Mattisyahu Kohen Gadol and his family.

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Reflections

Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon – the Rambam

Who can describe the greatness of Rabbeinu Moshe ben Maimon, the Rambam, called by some ‘the great eagle’?

24/10/2009 20:15
The Rambam was born in Spain but lived most of his life in Egypt. He composed numerous works which subsequently became fundamental texts both in the field of halachic literature and in the philosophy of Judaism. The Rambam was niftar in Egypt and was buried in Tiveria, in Eretz Yisrael, in accordance with his explicit request. Upon his grave is written; “From Moshe until Moshe, none arose as great as Moshe.”

Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, the Rambam, was born in Cordova, Spain to his father, Rav Maimon, who was a dayan in that city. The Rambam’s family name was in fact ‘ben Ovadya’, after the name of the ancestor of their family of dayanim in Cordova, Rav Ovadya Dayan. There are those who trace the Rambam’s family back to Rabbi Yehudah haNasi and to Dovid haMelech.

There are several versions of the correct date of birth of the Rambam. At the end of his commentary to the Mishnah, he writes; “I, Moshe son of Maimon the Dayan…….began the composition of this commentary at the age of twenty-three, and I completed it in Egypt at the age of thirty, in the year nine and seventy of the records.” This year corresponds to the year 4928 from the creation of the world. If the Rambam was thirty years of age in that year, then it follows that he was born in the year 4898.

This notwithstanding, the grandson of the Rambam, Rav Dovid haNagid, wrote in one of his letters that his grandfather the Rambam was born on the 14th of Nissan in the year 4895, three years prior to the year mentioned in the Commentary to the Mishnah. Today it is generally accepted that the Rambam was indeed born on the 14th of Nissan as Rav Dovid wrote in his letter, but that the year of his birth was 4898, as is written in the Commentary to the Mishnah.

According to tradition, after Rav Maimon was widowed of his first wife, he was commanded in a dream to marry the daughter of a butcher, and the Rambam was born from this second marriage. While yet a young boy, the Rambam struggled with his studies and was expelled from his home. After he had left, he met with Rav Yosef haLevi, the Ri Migash, who drew him close to him and prayed for his success, until the gates of wisdom were finally opened to him. But this account of events is subject to much doubt, since the Ri Migash died when the Rambam was still a very young boy, at most five or seven years of age.

The period of time during which the Rambam was born was at the end of a Golden Age of Spanish Jewry. In those days, the Jews of Spain lived under the Muslims, whose leaders were tolerant of their Jewish subjects and their religious practices, permitting them to learn Torah and observe the mitzvos. But approximately in the year 4908 extremist Muslim tribes known as ‘al Mewahidun’ conquered Spain and began to place restrictions on Jewish life in the areas they now controlled. This led to a mass exodus of Jews from Spain, hastening the end of the Golden Age. The family of the Rambam numbered among the exiles and thus they began their wanderings in search of a place where they could live a Torah life in tranquillity.

When his family fled Spain, the Rambam was just ten years of age, and the family was to wander for another ten years. Eventually, in approximately the year 4919, they settled in the town of Fez in Morocco. There the Rambam wrote a number of his compositions, including the beginning of his commentary to the Mishnah, which he eventually completed seven years later in Alexandria in Egypt. But the family did not find peace in Morocco either; Muslim extremism was then spreading and made its presence felt there too, and the situation was becoming dangerous for the Jews of Fez. In the year 4925 the family of Rav Maimon left Morocco for Eretz Yisrael. At first they stayed in Acco, and then from there they travelled to Yerushalayim and Chevron.

About his stay in Eretz Yisrael, the Rambam wrote; “On the third day of the week, on the third day of the month of Sivan, I disembarked safely on to dry land, and came to the city of Acco. Thus was I saved from persecution with our arrival in Eretz Yisrael. On that day I took an oath that this day would forever be kept as a day of gladness and rejoicing, feasting and generosity to the poor, for myself and my family for all generations. And on this third day of the week, the fourth day of the month of Marcheshvan, in the twenty-sixth year of the Yetzira, we left Acco and ascended to Yerushalayim. There I went up to the Holy Place to pray, on the fifth day of the week, the sixth day of the month of Marcheshvan. On the first day of the following week on the ninth day of the month of Marcheshvan, I left Yerushalayim for Chevron in order to prostrate myself upon the graves of our Forefathers in the Cave there. Upon that day, I stood in the Cave and prayed with great praise to G-d, in gratitude for all that He has bestowed upon me. Thus did I vow that these two days, the sixth and the ninth of Marcheshvan, would be kept as festival days, complete with prayer and rejoicing, and celebratory meals. May HaShem help me in all my endeavours, that I may be able to properly keep my vow to HaShem, Amen. And just as I merited to pray in those places whilst they yet stood in ruins, so may I and all Jews merit speedily to see their rebuilding, Amen.”
In those days, the Jewish population in Eretz Yisroel was small and poverty-stricken. After a number of months during which the family of the Rambam attempted to acclimatise themselves to their new circumstances, they left Eretz Yisroel and travelled to Egypt. There they settled in Alexandria, and after five years moved again to the city of Fustat, near to Cairo. In Fustat the Rambam married the daughter of Rav Mishael haLevi, who gave birth to his only son, Rav Avraham.

During his sojourn in Egypt, the Rambam supported himself by trading in precious stones, the business being run by his brother, Rav David. In approximately the year 4937, Rav David drowned whilst sailing to India on business purposes, and a great treasure of merchandise sank with him, precious stones, some of which were the property of the Rambam. The Rambam was stricken with illness as a result of his great distress at the death of his brother, and even after he recovered after a long while, he continued to mourn him for many long years.

The Rambam was not only outstandingly great in all matters of Torah; he was also extremely proficient in many other spheres of wisdom, including astronomy and medicine. In the year 4931 Salah-a-Din became the ruler of Egypt, and he proceeded to appoint the Rambam as his personal physician, with a salary paid from the Sultan’s treasury. Many tales are related in connection to the Rambam’s great wisdom as displayed at the Sultan’s court. It is recounted that the other court physicians were jealous of him, and attempted on many occasions to bring him into the disrepute of the Sultan, and even to have him killed. On one of these occasions, the physicians were involved in a dispute with the Rambam in the presence of the Sultan, over whether it was possible to heal someone born blind of his affliction so that he would be able to see as a healthy person. The Rambam asserted that it was impossible to perform such a feat, and the other doctors contended that it could be done. The Sultan ordered that the dispute be settled by bringing to the court someone blind from birth, whom the physicians would then attempt to heal. A blind person was then brought before the Sultan, and the physicians began to prepare herbs and medicines, mixing them into an ointment which they then smeared over the patient’s eyes. A short time passed, and then suddenly the patient began shouting and exclaiming that he could see. The Rambam did not lose his composure, and took a red handkerchief from his pocket and waved it in front of the patient’s eyes. He then addressed him, saying; “if you can indeed now see, please, then, tell me what colour is this handkerchief?” The man looked at the handkerchief, and replied that it was red, at which the Rambam again addressed him, asking him; “if indeed, you were blind from birth, as the physicians claimed, please then explain how you were able to identify the colour you saw as red?” The Sultan, who had been closely following the exchange, was forced to admit the correctness of the Rambam’s position and the embarrassed physicians were completely discredited.

In a letter which the Rambam sent to Rav Shmuel ibn Tibon, he describes his daily routine: Every day he had to visit the Sultan in his palace in Cairo, and there he would stay for most of the hours of the day. Afterwards, he would return to his home, where he would find many sick people waiting to be treated by him, both Jews and non-Jews. According to the Rambam’s own testimony, he would finish his daily duties ‘after two hours into the night’.

The Rambam’s main teacher of Torah was his father, Rav Maimon. Rav Maimon was a talmid of the Ri Migash, and as such the Rambam regarded himself also as the Ri Migash’s talmid. In addition, the Rambam saw himself as the talmid of the Rif, Rav Yitzchak Alfasi, who was the Rav of the Ri Migash.

The Rambam composed many seforim on all aspects of Torah. His sefer Mishneh Torah, also known as the ‘Yad haChazakah’, is a fundamental source of halachic rulings, which was accepted as authoritative by every Jewish community. In this sefer there are fourteen sections, covering every topic of Torah, and in each case the Rambam rules on how one should conduct oneself.

The Rambam’s commentary on the Mishnah also became established as one of the fundamental commentaries on the Mishnah. The Rambam also authored an especially profound work on the philosophy of the Torah, by the name of ‘Moreh Nevuchim’ or ‘Guide for the Perplexed’.

In addition to his authorship of these monumental works, the Rambam also corresponded with many Jewish communities. In his letters, he sought to offer words of encouragement and also educated in halachic matters, and as to the proper course of action in specific circumstances. One of the best known of these letters is his ‘Letter to Teiman’, which the Rambam sent to the Jewish community there. This was at a time when they were suffering extreme persecution at the hands of the arab authorities, and also from the falsehoods spread by lying tongues, causing many of them to leave their faith and convert to Islam, r’l. In his letter, the Rambam explained the fundamentals of faith, bringing proofs from the Written and Oral Laws. He also attempted to lift the spirits of the brokenhearted Jews there, and encouraged them to leave their places of dwelling, even if it would entail the abandonment of their homes and possessions; it was critical to be able to live a life of faith in HaShem. The Rambam even went further, and came out in defense of those who had unfortunately already converted to Islam as a result of their persecution, finding ways to judge them favourably. This letter subsequently became known as the ‘Letter regarding apostasy’.

In addition, the Rambam also authored a ‘Letter on the matter of the Resurrection of the Dead’, his sefer ‘Matters of Logic’, the ‘Sefer haMitzvos’ which is the introduction to the ‘Mishneh Torah’, and also many other works including those on medicine and healing.

The Rambam was accustomed to establish for himself various dates as days of rejoicing, dates upon which momentous events had occurred in his life. As such, the third of Sivan, upon which he had arrived in Eretz Yisrael in his youth, and also the sixth of Marcheshvan, when he had arrived in Yerushalayim, and the ninth of Marcheshvan, when he had merited to pray at the graves of our Forefathers in Chevron, were all days of celebration. The Rambam also established the twenty-eighth day of Iyar as a festival-day, this being the date upon which the Sefer Torah reputed to have belonged to Ezra haSofer had come into his possession. The Rambam made a comparison between this Sefer Torah and the others which he already owned, and discovered that there were many discrepancies, apparently errors, in the others. From then onwards, the day upon which he had received the special Sefer Torah became one of great joy and happiness.

The Rambam was niftar on the twentieth of Teves in the year 4965 in Egypt. Before his petira, he instructed his talmidim; ‘please, do not bury me in Egypt’, and instead to bring his casket up to Eretz Yisrael. His talmidim fulfilled his request and he was escorted in a grand procession, on a chariot pulled by mighty horses from the Sultan Salah-a-Din’s stables. It is related that when the entourage reached Eretz Yisrael, the kehillos of Yerushalayim and Tiveria argued over which one of them would merit to have the Rambam buried in their midst. The Jews of Yerushalayim argued that it was only fitting that the great Rambam should be buried in the Holy City, but the Jews of Tiveria countered that he should be buried there, together with the other members of his family. The argument was still in full force when suddenly bandits appeared from the west, attempting to rob the entourage. All the accompanying members of the casket fled in fright and the horses also leaped away, carrying the holy Rambam in the direction of Tiveria. When they had recovered from their fright, the talmidim and others realised that it was clearly a sign from Heaven that the Rambam should be buried in Tiveria, and so it was.
On the stone of the Rambam’s grave is written; “From Moshe until Moshe, none rose like Moshe”. The Chida explains this phrase to mean that from the time of Moshe Rabbeinu until that of the Rambam, who carried the same name, no prophet, Tanna, Amora or Gaon was called by the name of Moshe.

In the proximity of the Rambam are buried his father, Rav Maimon, Rav Yochanan ben Zakai and other Tannaim and Amoraim, and also the Shlah haKadosh.