Ask the rabbi

  • Torah and Jewish Thought



Rabbi David Sperling

Sivan 11, 5779
Shalom HaRav, I had the privilege of sitting in your Shiurim and learning Torah few years back. Thank you very much for that. I heard that Rambam's many ideas are not accepted in jewish thinking today in the book of Moreh Nevuchim, because part of the reason is that in our times the main jewish orthodox stream of thinking is vastly based on kabbalah, and Rambam didn't had that in his time.[i.e kabbala]. what does that mean that he didn't know Kabbala. if I am not mistaken it has been there already as rabbi Shimon bar Yochai revealed through his teachings and its hard for me to understand that great Rabbi like Rambam didn't know Kabbala. please help me understand . Thank you in advance for your precious time, concern and guidance in helping people like us to understand the Torah in a right way .
Shalom, Thank you for your question – it is always nice to hear from former students, especially when one hears from them through Torah. You are correct that there are some ideas in the Rambam that are not considered as main stream Jewish thought today (although let me say from the outset that a Jew who holds true the beliefs of the Rambam is certainly well within the boundaries of Orthodox Judaism). What do we “do” with these ideas? One approach – found in Chabad and others – is to try to interpret the Rambam according to the more widespread Kabbalistic ideas. In fact, in the Kabballistic work “The Tanya”, he quotes the Rambam, and puts him in line with Kabbalistic Torah. Another approach, which is more wide spread, is to admit to different approaches to Torah. This approach believes that the Rambam did not merit to see the Kabbalistic Torah which we are familiar with today. This is because much of our Kabbalistic tradition comes through the teachings of the Ari HaKadosh, who live well after the Rambam. The major kabalistic text of the Zohar was not published until after the Rambam's time – and any oral tradition of it's contents did not (according to this approach) reach the Rambam. Of course the Rambam had some esoteric Kabbalistic tradition (some of which is found in the Prophets, the Talmud and other early works). But, he understood these works in the framework of the wider Judasim that he lived in. How to understand the hidden Kabbalistic side of Torah is open to several approaches. The Rambam's approach – and probably his greatest gift to us – was to explain rationally concepts that are usually seen as irrational. The irrational perhaps has it's place in a world view that is beyond the physical limits of the world. But, for the rational man, the Rambam provided a path that allows one to both stay firmly based in his rationality, and at the same time connect to the Torah and the entire world Mitzvot and Holiness. In summary, whether a person choices the path of the Rambam, or whether they feel closer to the more widespread Kaballistic approach, one should recognize the greatness of the Rambam. May we merit to learn to from all the great Rabbis in Israel. Blessings.
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