Thursday, June 4, 2009

Rambam-The Decomposition of materials- Yisodei Hatorah perek 4 halacha 4

The Rambam discusses the decomposition of man as well as other materials. He says,

הואיל וכל הנפסד יפרד ליסודות אלו למה נאמר לאדם ואל עפר תשוב. לפי שרוב בנינו מן העפר. ולא כל הנפסד כשיפסד מיד יחזור לארבעה היסודות. אלא יפסד ויחזור לדבר אחר ודבר אחר לדבר אחר וסוף הדברים יחזור ליסודות ונמצאו כל הדברים חוזרין חלילה: 

"Everything that decomposes decomposes into these four elements. Therefore, why does it say that man will return to the dust? The reason is because the element that makes up the majority of a man is dust (Genesis 3:19). However, not everything that decomposes goes back to the four elements immediately, rather it decomposes and turns into something else and that turns into another thing and eventually it reverts back to the four elements. Everything has this process and it is never ending."

So the Rambam seems to be telling us a simple fact, all things decompose. However, this superficial reading of the Rambam misses the point. If we notice, the Rambam brings in the pasuk that talks about man returning to the Earth as dust. Why does he need to point out this fact if he is just telling us that all things decompose and describes the process?

It must be that the Rambam is coming to teach us a valuable idea that we can learn from this natural process. The fact that everything decomposes shows us that there is a process to life. Man grows from being an infant into a man and then slowly starts to regress and eventually that ends with death. After death the body goes through several more decompositions that, in the end, leave man as just bones. This process divulges a great deal about man in general. Man is not the ultimate being, but rather there is a higher power that causes man and everything else to return to the base elements from which this world is made.

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