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De'ot - Chapter Three

De'ot - Chapter Three

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Halacha 1

A person might say, "Since envy, desire, [the pursuit] of honor, and the like, are a wrong path and drive a person from the world, I shall separate from them to a very great degree and move away from them to the opposite extreme." For example, he will not eat meat, nor drink wine, nor live in a pleasant home, nor wear fine clothing, but, rather, [wear] sackcloth and coarse wool and the like - just as the pagan priests do.

This, too, is a bad path and it is forbidden to walk upon it. Whoever follows this path is called a sinner [as implied by Numbers 6:11's] statement concerning a nazarite: "and he [the priest] shall make an atonement for him, for his having sinned regarding [his] soul." Our sages declared: If the nazarite who abstained only from wine requires atonement, how much more so does one who abstains from everything.

Therefore, our Sages directed man to abstain only from those things which the Torah denies him and not to forbid himself permitted things by vows and oaths [of abstention]. Thus, our Sages stated: Are not those things which the Torah has prohibited sufficient for you that you must forbid additional things to yourself?

This general statement also refers to those who fast constantly. They are not following a good path, [for] our Sages have forbidden a man to mortify himself by fasting. Of all the above, and their like, Solomon directed and said: "Do not be overly righteous and do not be overly clever; why make yourself desolate?" (Ecclesiastes 7:16).

Halacha 2

A person should direct his heart and the totality of his behavior to one goal, becoming aware of God, blessed be He. The [way] he rests, rises, and speaks should all be directed to this end.

For example: when involved in business dealings or while working for a wage, he should not think solely of gathering money. Rather, he should do these things, so that he will be able to obtain that which the body needs - food, drink, a home and a wife.

Similarly, when he eats, drinks and engages in intimate relations, he should not intend to do these things solely for pleasure to the point where he will eat and drink only that which is sweet to the palate and engage in intercourse for pleasure. Rather, he should take care to eat and drink only in order to be healthy in body and limb.

Therefore, he should not eat all that the palate desires like a dog or a donkey. Rather, he should eat what is beneficial for the body, be it bitter or sweet. Conversely, he should not eat what is harmful to the body, even though it is sweet to the palate. For example: a person with a warm constitution should not eat meat or honey, nor drink wine, as Solomon has stated in a parable: The eating of much honey is not good (Proverbs 25:27). One should drink endive juice, even though it it bitter, for then, he will be eating and drinking for medical reasons only, in order to become healthy and be whole - for a man cannot exist without eating and drinking.

Similarly, he should not have intercourse except to keep his body healthy and to preserve the [human] race. Therefore, he should not engage in intercourse whenever he feels desire, but when he knows that he requires a seminal emission for medical reasons or in order to preserve the [human] race.

Halacha 3

A person who accustoms himself to live by [the rules of] medicine does not follow a proper path if his sole intention is that his entire body and limbs be healthy and that he have children who will do his work and toil for him. Rather, he should have the intent that his body be whole and strong, in order for his inner soul to be upright so that [it will be able] to know God. For it is impossible to understand and become knowledgeable in the wisdoms when one is starving or sick, or when one of his limbs pains him. [Similarly,] one should intend to have a son [with the hope that] perhaps he will be a wise and great man in Israel.

Thus, whoever walks in such a path all his days will be serving God constantly; even in the midst of his business dealings, even during intercourse for his intent in all matters is to fulfill his needs so that his body be whole to serve God.

Even when he sleeps, if he retires with the intention that his mind and body rest, lest he take ill and be unable to serve God because he is sick, then his sleep is service to the Omnipresent, blessed be He.

On this matter, our Sages have directed and said: "And all your deeds should be for the sake of Heaven." This is what Solomon declared in his wisdom: "Know Him in all your ways and He will straighten your paths" (Proverbs 3:6).

Commentary Halacha 1

A person might say, "Since envy, desire, [the pursuit] of honor, and the like, are a wrong path and drive a person from the world, - With these statements, the Rambam obviously refers to the mishnah from Avot which he quoted at the conclusion of the previous chapter. Having decried the traits mentioned there, he explains that his condemnation is directed against excessive materialism, but not against all involvement in worldly affairs.

I shall separate from them to a very great degree and move away from them to the opposite extreme." - I.e., asceticism

For example, he will not eat meat, nor drink wine, nor live in a pleasant home, nor wear fine clothing, but, rather, [wear] sackcloth and coarse wool and the like - In Shemoneh Perakim, Chapter 4, the Rambam makes a similar - but more lengthy - condemnation of asceticism. There he also mentions other ascetic practices - refraining from sleep and seeking solitude in the mountains and deserts.

just as the pagan priests do. - This translation follows the published texts of the Mishneh Torah which state: kohanei haovdei kochavim. However, many manuscripts and early printed editions state kohanei Edom - "Roman priests," which would seem to indicate that the Rambam had hermitlike Catholic monastic orders in mind.

This, too, is a bad path and it is forbidden to walk upon it. - In Shemoneh Perakim (ibid.), the Rambam explains that, at certain times, many of the pious adopted ascetic practices as a safeguard against excessive involvement in materialism. However, they never regarded such practices as a goal in their own right. Others observed their behavior and mistook asceticism for an end rather than a means to achieve the middle path.

From the Rambam's statements in Shemoneh Perakim, it would appear that there are two drawbacks to asceticism:
a) It might lead a person to poor health, illness, and a lack of strength which would prevent him from serving God as the Rambam states in Halachah 3.
b) A person might err and feel that he has fulfilled his obligation to serve God through these ascetic practices. As a result, he may never feel the need to dedicate himself to the service of God as He prescribed in the Torah.

There is a third disadvantage that is stressed heavily by the teachings of Kabbalah and Chassidut and may be hinted at by the Rambam's statements in the following halachot.

The Zohar (Vol. II, p. 42b) states that God created the world "in order to let Himself be known." Similarly, Tanya (Chapter 33) explains that God created the world because He desired to have a dwelling place in the lower worlds. Thus, a person who tends to otherworldliness and asceticism, defeats God's purpose in creation.

Whoever follows this path is called a sinner [as implied by Numbers 6:11's] statement concerning a nazarite: "and he [the priest] shall make an atonement for him, for his having sinned regarding [his] soul." - A nazarite is forbidden to become impure through any contact with a dead body for the extent of his nazarite vow. If he contracts such impurity, he is required to bring a special sin offering. See Numbers, Chapter 6, Hilchot Nezirut, Chapters 6-8.

Our sages declared: - Ta'anit 11a. [Interestingly, the author of this statement, Rabbi Eliezer HaKfar, is also the author of the statement (Avot, ibid.) that "envy, desire, and the pursuit of honor, drive a person from the world."]

If the nazarite who abstained only from wine requires atonement, how much more so does one who abstains from everything.

Therefore, our Sages directed man to abstain only from those things which the Torah denies him and not to forbid himself permitted things by vows and oaths - One should not conclude that the Rambam completely disapproves of vows and oaths. At the conclusion of Hilchot Nedarim (13:23), the Rambam states: "Whoever takes a vow in order to stabilize his temperaments and correct his deeds, is zealous and praiseworthy."

In Hilchot Nedarim, he gives examples of people who were excessively inclined to a particular quality who take vows to correct their faults (in a manner reminiscent of his advice in the beginning of Chapter 2 of these halachot). Rather, what the Rambam criticizes in our halachah is abstention for the sake of abstention.

[of abstention]. - Note the Jerusalem Talmud, Kiddushin 4:12:

Rav Chizkiyah the priest said in the name of Rav: "A person will ultimately be called to judgment for everything which his eye saw and which he did not taste."
Rav Lazar was concerned because of this teaching. He saved his pennies and would [purchase] and eat from every fruit once a year.

Thus, our Sages stated: - The Jerusalem Talmud, Nedarim 9:1

Are not those things which the Torah has prohibited sufficient for you that you must forbid additional things to yourself? - In Shemoneh Perakim (ibid.), the Rambam prefaces this statement with the following comment: "Our Sages have made statements about this subject which are more marvelous than any others that I have ever seen."

This general statement also refers to those who fast constantly. - In Shemoneh Perakim, the Rambam also criticizes excessive fasting. He quotes the prophet, Zechariah, who questions the motives of the Jews' fasts (7:5): "Was it for Me that you fasted?" and exhorts them to "Practice true justice, and show kindness and mercy every man to his brother" as the proper service of God. To underscore this point, he concludes with the prophecy (ibid. 8:19) that even the public fasts will ultimately be transformed into festivals and days of rejoicing.

They are not following a good path, [for] our Sages - Ta'anit 11a

have forbidden a man to mortify himself by fasting. - The phrase "to mortify himself" is significant here. The Rambam (Hilchot Ta'anit 1:4; 1:9) himself mentions that the Sages commanded both the community and the individual to fast in times of distress.

The Rambam's statements have been questioned by the Rashba (Responsa 431 and 688) and by the Lechem Mishneh based on Nedarim 10a. However, the commentaries note that Shmuel, the author of the statement in Ta'anit, also states (Bava Kama 91a) that one may fast. Here, the Rambam's statements are directed against self- mortification and asceticism and not against fasting per se.

Nevertheless, it must be noted that in Hilchot Teshuvah, when the Rambam describes "the paths of Teshuvah" (3:4), he makes no mention of fasting.

Of all the above, and their like, Solomon directed and said: "Do not be overly righteous and do not be overly clever; why make yourself desolate?" (Ecclesiastes 7:16) - The midrashic works have not interpreted this verse in the manner suggested here. However, we find other Spanish Jewish Sages who followed this interpretation. See Duties of the Heart 3:25, Ibn Ezra in his commentary to Ecclesiastes.

Note that this verse uses the two terms - the righteous (tzadik and the wise (chacham) - which the Rambam has used to designate the man with a ideal traits.

The placement of this halachah raises questions. One might have expected it to appear in the previous chapter which deals with other excesses and deviations from the middle path. However, it is possible to explain that, in its present position, it serves as a preface to the following halachot which explain how our service of God and connection to Him can be established within the context of our material reality. Thus, when viewed as a totality, this chapter emphasizes how Judaism desires that religious fulfillment be found within the context of our day to day life, rather than in otherworldly "spiritual" activities.

Commentary Halacha 2

A person should direct his heart and the totality of his behavior to one goal, - In Shemoneh Perakim, Chapter 5, the Rambam addresses himself to many of the concepts mentioned in this and the following halachah. He begins that chapter with the declaration:

A person must control all the powers of his soul with [his] intellect... and concentrate on a single goal at all times: To comprehend God, blessed be He, to the extent that man can know Him.
All of his activities: what he does, the way he rests, and what he says should lead to this goal.

becoming aware of God, blessed be He. - Literally, the term means "The Name," but obviously, it refers to the Master of The Name.

The [way] he rests, rises, and speaks should all be directed to this end. - In the previous Halachah, the Rambam condemned asceticism and otherworldliness. In this Halachah, he stresses the desired intent of our worldly involvement, to know God.

In Chapter 1, Halachah 6, the Rambam introduced a religious component into the development of an ethical personalty, pointing out that we must "imitate" God's qualities. In this halachah, he adds a further point. All of man's actions are to be taken in an atmosphere of God-awareness.

The concept of knowing God recalls the opening Halachah of the Mishneh Torah:

The fundamental [principle] upon which all fundamental [principles are based] and the pillar of the wisdoms is to know that there is a Primary Being.

In both halachot, the Rambam emphasizes how the knowledge of God is not an abstract, intellectual past-time, but rather an all- encompassing commitment, embracing every aspect of our experience. Torah living does not confine God to the synagogue or the house of study, but provides us with a means to relate to Him within every dimension of our lives (Al HaTeshuvah).

For example: when involved in business dealings or while working for a wage, he should not think solely of gathering money. - i.e., he should not view the acquisition of money as an end in its own right.

Rather, he should do these things, - as a means...

so that he will be able to obtain that which the body needs - food, drink, a home and a wife. - However, as the Rambam continues in the following Halachah, the maintenance of physical well-being is also not an end in its own right. Rather, it is also only a means for the service of God.

Similarly, when he eats, drinks and engages in intimate relations, he should not intend to do these things solely for pleasure - In Shemoneh Perakim (ibid.), the Rambam also uses the expression "solely for pleasure," indicating that the Rambam does not advocate a life without physical pleasure. (Note also the passage from the Rambam's commentary on the Mishnah, Sanhedrin 7:4, quoted below.)

There is nothing wrong with enjoying food, for example, as long as one does so within the framework of maintaining health. Indeed, in Shemoneh Perakim, the Rambam emphasizes how one may use pleasure to encourage himself to perform the acts necessary to maintain his health.

to the point where he will eat and drink only that which is sweet to the palate and have intercourse for pleasure. Rather, he should take care to eat and drink only in order to be healthy in body and limb. - The Rambam has just laid down the principle that all of man's actions are to be carried out in a framework of awareness of God. Yet, to exemplify this principle, he speaks not of awareness of God, but of avoiding indulgence and maintaining one's health. The Rambam introduces the maintenance of health as an immediate - and intermediary - goal which will provide us with a program of concrete action.

Therefore, he should not eat all that the palate desires like a dog or a donkey. - In Shemoneh Perakim (ibid.), the Rambam states: "In such an activity, a person is just like an animal. It is not an action man undertakes because he is a man, but rather, one that he undertakes because he is an animal."

Rather, he should eat what is beneficial for the body, be it bitter or sweet. Conversely, he should not eat what is harmful to the body, even though it is sweet to the palate. - The Rambam gives a full list of proper eating habits in the following chapter. Here, he cites only selected examples:

For example: a person with a warm constitution should not eat meat or honey, nor drink wine - as Solomon has stated in a parable: The eating of much honey is not good (Proverbs 25:27). One should drink endive juice, even though it is bitter, - this is given as a remedy for a warm liver constitution (Maimonides' Medical Aphorisms).

for then, he will be eating and drinking for medical reasons only, in order to become healthy and be whole - for a man cannot exist without eating and drinking.

Similarly, he should not have intercourse except to keep his body healthy - See Chapter 4, Halachah 19, for a discussion of this matter.

and to preserve the [human] race. - The Ra'avad mentions a third reason for intercourse - granting one's wife her conjugal rights The Rambam does not mention that issue here because, in these chapters he focuses on those behaviors in which a person engages voluntarily as an expression of his personal desires. He discusses a man's conjugal obligations later in the Mishneh Torah, in Hilchot Ishut, Chapter 14 (Kessef Mishneh).

Therefore, he should not engage in intercourse whenever he feels desire, - See also Chapter 5, Halachah 4, which discusses the frequency of intimate relations.

but when he knows that he requires a seminal emission for medical reasons, or in order to preserve the [human] race. - In his commentary to the mishnah, Sanhedrin 7:4, the Rambam writes:

The intent of intimate relations is the preservation of the species and not only pleasure. The aspect of pleasure was only introduced in order to arouse the creations toward that ultimate goal...
The proof of this is that desire and pleasure cease after ejaculation for this was the entire goal for which our instincts were aroused. If the goal were pleasure, satisfaction would continue as long as man desired.

Commentary Halacha 3

A person who accustoms himself to live by [the rules of] medicine does not follow a proper path if his sole intention is that his entire body and limbs be healthy - The Rambam puts the maintenance of health mentioned in the previous halachah into proper perspective. It is not to be pursued as a goal in its own right. Rather, it should be appreciated as merely a means to enable one to reach an awareness of God. The Rambam develops this idea at length in Shemoneh Perakim Chapter 5. There, he states:

A person should have the intention while eating, drinking, having intercourse, sleeping, awakening, moving, and resting, [that he does so] for the purpose of his physical health alone.
His intention in [seeking] physical health should be to prepare for the soul healthy and sound vessels to acquire wisdom and intellectual and emotional advantages until he reaches the goal of [knowing God].

and that he have children who will do his work and toil for him.- i.e., though procreation is a valid reason for intimate relations, one's intent in procreation should not be selfish.

Rather, he should have the intent that his body be whole and strong, in order for his inner soul to be upright so that [it will be able] to know God. - The Rambam also elaborates on the interrelation between the attainment of physical health and spiritual achievement in the Guide to the Perplexed, Vol. III, Chapter 27.

Heath is necessary as part of one's process of striving to know God...

For it is impossible to understand and become knowledgeable in the wisdoms when one is starving or sick, or when one of his limbs pains him. - The Maggid of Mezeritch would say: "A small hole in the body creates a large hole in the soul."

[Similarly,] one should intend to have a son [with the hope that perhaps he will be a wise and great man in Israel. - This is the desired goal in procreation - to perpetuate the nation, not only physically, but also spiritually.

Thus, whoever walks in such a path all his days will be serving God constantly; even in the midst of his business dealings, even during intercourse for his intent in all matters is to fulfill his needs so that his body be whole to serve God. - In Shemoneh Perakim (ibid.), the Rambam associates such behavior with Deuteronomy 6:5: "Love God, your Lord, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might." The course of action described enables us to dedicate every aspect of our being toward the love of God as prescribed by this verse.

Even when he sleeps, if he retires with the intention that his mind and body rest, lest he take ill and be unable to serve God because he is sick, then his sleep is service to the Omnipresent, blessed be He. - Perhaps, the Rambam uses this name for God to convey the concept that just as God's presence pervades all existence, our service of Him must encompass all aspects of our lives.

On this matter, our Sages - Avot 2:15

have directed and said: "And all your deeds should be for the sake of Heaven." - In Shemoneh Perakim (ibid.), the Rambam elaborates upon this statement as follows:

Our Sages included this entire concept in the most succinct expression possible... When one meditates on this concise statement, one wonders how they could describe in its entirety an idea so awesome that many books were written about it without encompassing it totally. Without a doubt, [the statement] was made with Divine inspiration.

The commentaries note that Beitzah 16a stated concerning Hillel: "All of his deeds were for the sake of Heaven," and associates that with the following narrative in VaYikra Rabbah 34:3.

Hillel bid his students farewell. They asked him where he was going He told them that he was going to perform a mitzvah. They discovered that he was going to the bathhouse and asked him to explain his previous statements. He told them: Since the human body is created in the image of God, it is a mitzvah to wash oneself.

This is what Solomon declared in his wisdom: "Know Him in all your ways - Avot D'Rabbi Natan 17:7 also associates the above statement with this Biblical quote. Berachot 63b describes this verse as: "A small passage upon which all the fundamentals of Torah depend." Note also the Rambam's comments in Shemoneh Perakim, ibid.

Likkutei Sichot, Vol. III, notes that the rules of Torah scholarship would have called for the quotation of the Biblical verse before the quote from our Sages. However, the Rambam chooses this sequence because it reflects a progression in the service of God.

"All of your deeds should be for the Sake of Heaven" implies that the deeds are not themselves holy, merely that they are directed toward a Godly intent. "Know Him in all your ways" implies that a bond with God can be established within the context of our physical activity itself.

and He will straighten your paths" (Proverbs 3:6). - In Iggerot HaKodesh, the Ramban interprets the state described in this clause as a natural product of the elevated rung of service mentioned in the previous clause. When a person develops an all encompassing bond with God, Divine light will illuminate all his paths.

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