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Rambam (Maimonides)

Rambam (Maimonides)

1135-1204

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Maimonides was born in Cordova, Spain, on the day before Pesach, Nissan 14, 1135. His father Rabbi Maimon was a great scholar. From his father he received his first instruction in Scripture, Talmud and mathematics. The young Moshe was gifted with a brilliant mind and showed great promise. When he reached the age of Barmitzvah, Cordova was invaded by the fanatical tribes, the Almohades. The new conquerors gave the inhabitants of Cordova one choice: either to accept the faith of Islam or to leave the city at once. The majority of the Jews of Cordova chose to go into exile. Maimon and his family were among them.

For about ten years the family of Maimon wandered about from place to place without finding a haven of refuge. Despite these hardships, however, Moshe continued his studies, and his wonderful courage and faith was an inspiration to all.

Finally Rabbi Maimon arrived in Fez, Morocco when his son Rabbi Moshe was 25 years old. Here, too, the Jews endured great hardship and persecution at the hands of the fanatical Mohamedans. Rabbi Maimon, then wrote a famous letter in Arabic, which he sent to all the Jewish communities in North Africa. In this letter he urged them to remain loyal to their faith despite all their hardships, to study the Torah and practice the mitzvoth and to pray three times daily.

A few years later the position of the Jews in Fez became unbearable. The leading Jews of the community were put to death for refusing to accept the faith of Islam. Maimon's life, too, was in grave danger, but the local Arab poet who was a friend of Rabbi Maimon saved him In the dark of night, in the spring of the year 1165, Rabbi Maimon and his family boarded a ship sailing for the Land of Israel. Great were the perils of the sea in those days, but a few days before Shovuos they finally reached the shores of the Holy Land at Acco. The Jews of Acco who had already heard of the great scholar, welcomed him with great affection and honor. But here, too, they could find no peace, -and after visiting the sacred graves at Jerusalem and Hebron, Rambam and his family journeyed to Egypt, which was known as a "land of enlightenment and freedom" in those days, much as our United States of America is known nowadays. They settled in Alexandria at first but then moved to Fostat (Old Cairo), where Maimon died.

Maimonides continued his studies with great zeal. His younger brother David took care of all the family, for he was a prosperous trader in jewels. One day, however, came the terrible news that David perished in the Indian Ocean. Maimonides was so heart-broken that he became ill. It took him nearly a whole year to recover, and then he had to make plans for the support of his own family as well as of the family of the young widow and her infant daughter.

Maimonides did not want to earn his livelihood by accepting the position of Rabbi, as he wanted no profit from his knowledge of the Torah. Maimonides became a physician, for he had studied science and medicine in his earlier days.

During his wanderings and in the midst of the perils of the sea, and on the land, Maimonides not only studied the Torah and Talmud constantly, but was engaged in writing a commentary upon the Mishna! Soon after his arrival in Egypt, at the age of 33 (in the year 1168), Maimomdes completed his commentary on the Mishna, written in Arabic which was the spoken language of the Oriental Jews. Maimonides was particularly happy to complete his commentary on the Mishna, for he was a descendant of Rabbi Judah Hanassi, who compiled the Mishnah about 1000 years previously

The commentary on the Mishna won great fame. Numerous inquiries on points of Jewish law began to flow to him from the most distant Jewish communities, and Maimonides' opinion was greatly respected.

Maimonides particularly endeared himself to the Jews of Yemen to whom he addressed a letter of consolation and encouragement (Iggereth Teman, i.e. Yemen) at the time when their entire future as Jews lay in the balance because of bitter oppression.

It is amazing how much Maimonides managed to put into a day's work! There were pressing communal affairs, there was his medical practice, his regular hours of study of the Torah and Talmud, his correspondence and so on. Yet in the midst of all this strenuous work he produced his second outstanding work - the Mishneh Torah or Yad Hachazakah, (in the year 1180). This is a gigantic religious code, a digest of the entire Talmud. It was written in simple, clear Hebrew, in the language of the Mishna which was understandable to all Jews. It is divided into 14 books (Yad consists of the Hebrew letters Yud and Daleth adding up to fourteen), each subdivided into chapters and Halachoth (laws) in an exemplary manner.

About 1185 he became the personal physician of the Vizier, and later on also the personal physician of Sultan Alfadal, who succeeded his kind and generous father. Sultan Saladin. Many of the nobles of the country now sought his services and advice, but Maimonides also found time to treat the poor, without taking any fees from them. Maimonides still found time to correspond with Jewish communities near and far and to continue his literary activity in the field of medicine, astronomy and philosophy. All this despite his frail body and frequent ill health!

About 1190 Maimonides finished his famous philosophical work, Moreh Nebuchim (Guide to the Perplexed). This book he also wrote in Arabic and it became famous in Jewish as well as non-Jewishn circles.

During the last twenty years of his life Maimonides was the recognized and beloved head (Nagid) of all the Jewish communities of Egypt.

Maimonides died at Fostat on Teveth 20, 1204. His body was taken to Tiberias in the Land of Israel and was interred there.

From Moses the son of Amram, who received the Torah on Mount Sinai, to Moses the son of Maimon, the author of Mishne Torah, there was none like unto Moses the son of Maimon! Or to quote the saying mentioned at the beginning of this brief story: "From Moses to Moses there was none like unto Moses." No other man has ever earned such a great tribute, and no other tribute has ever been more deserving.

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