Monday, June 1, 2009

Rambam- All Things Decompose, A Valuable Lesson- Yisodei Hatorah perek 4 halacha 3

The Rambam goes on to discuss the decomposition of objects. The focus here is that they will return to the four basic elements. He says,

וכל המחובר מארבעה יסודות אלו הוא נפרד בסוף. יש שהוא נפרד לאחר ימים אחדים. ויש שהוא נפרד לאחר שנים רבות. וכל שנתחבר מהם אי אפשר שלא יפרד להן. אפילו הזהב והאודם אי אפשר שלא יפסד ויחזור ליסודותיו. וישוב מקצתו לאש. ומקצתו למים. ומקצתו לרוח. ומקצתו לארץ:

"Everything that is composed of these four integral elements, they will eventually decompose back into them. There are those [objects] that it will take a short time to decompose and there are those [objects] that it will take many years for them to decompose. However, everything will eventually decompose back into the basic elements. Even gold and rubies will decompose and return to their basic elements. Some objects will return to either fire, water, wind or earth."

This idea, on the surface seems like it is just dealing with scientific facts. However, if we look deeper, a very integral part of Judaism can be unveiled. The Rambam introduces us to the idea of decomposition by simply stating that everything decomposes that is made of the four basic elements. Everything, according to the Rambam, on Earth is made of the four basic elements. Therefore, the Rambam is telling us that everything on Earth will decompose. This idea, might only be teaching us a scientific idea and nothing really important to spirituality.

The next part of the Rambam says that some objects decompose fast and others decompose slowly. This already has two types of lessons. The first lesson is strictly scientific, that there are different speeds of decomposition. However, it also begins to tell us a significant ideas. Some things remain on the Earth a long time, but others are very temporary. Nevertheless, both end up in the same place, broken up into their base elements and no longer extant.

The next part of the Rambam is completely a mussar (lesson) type of idea. The Rambam tells us that even gold and rubies decompose. The only reason to single these two objects out is to show the vanity and pointlessness that is involved with these objects. Man always chases after gold and rubies, but for what reason? Rambam is telling us that even these seemingly important objects are, in the end, worthless.

I think this Rambam is coming to teach us that mankind can not be so obsessed with corporeal things. It is nice to live a long and wonderful life, however, we have to realize that everything on earth is fleeting. This is why Rambam explains to us that everything will end up decomposing and no longer be extant. The only thing that will remain is that which is not made from the four elements and that is the soul, or as Rambam calls it, the active intellect. This is what man should focus on and really care about.

1 comment:

Garnel Ironheart said...

Okay, here goes again...

The Rav discusses the concept of how plants and human beings are interrelated from the Torah perspective. He notes that we come from the Earth (via Adam) and return to it when we die (for dust thou art) just like plants. We share a strong connection to the physical world in that regard.

It's interesting that the Rambam would say everything decomposes. He never met styrofoam which has become the symbol of a God-free society that believees that decomposition (ie aging) is a criminal act.