Monday, July 6, 2009

Rambam-What is The Soul- Yisodei Hatorah perek 4 halacha 8

After the Rambam discusses that there is no soul without a physical entity and there is no physical entity without a soul he now discusses the soul of a man. He says,

נפש כל בשר היא צורתו שנתן לו האל והדעת היתרה המצויה בנפשו של אדם היא צורת האדם השלם בדעתו. ועל צורה זו נאמר בתורה נעשה אדם בצלמנו כדמותנו כלומר שתהיה לו צורה היודעת ומשגת הדעות שאין להם גולם כמו המלאכים שהם צורה בלא גולם עד שידמה להן. ואינו אומר על צורה זו הניכרת לעינים שהיא הפה והחוטם והלסתות ושאר רושם הגוף שזו תואר שמה. ואינה הנפש המצויה לכל נפש חיה שבה אוכל ושותה ומוליד ומרגיש ומהרהר. אלא הדעה שהיא צורת הנפש ובצורת הנפש הכתוב מדבר בצלמנו כדמותנו. ופעמים רבות תקרא זאת הצורה נפש ורוח. ולפיכך צריך להזהר בשמותן שלא יטעה אדם בהן. וכל שם ושם ילמד מענינו: 

"The soul of every living thing is the form that G-D gave it. The extra knowledge that is found within the soul of a man is the complete form that is given to a man (it is considered complete) because of man's knowledge. It is because of this form (the extra knowledge) that the Torah says, 'Let us make man in our image and our likeness.' This means that there is a knowledgeable form that can attain knowledge that does not have a physical shape so much so that it is similar to them (the heavenly beings). You should not say about this form that it is recognizable to the eyes that it has a mouth, nose, jaw and other features of the body, that these features are called the image. Also, it is not the soul that is found in every animal that eat, drink, reproduce, feel, and think, rather the knowledge is the form of the soul and it is the form of the soul that the Torah is speaking about (when it says in our image and our likeness). Many times this is referred to as the form of the soul and the wind (or breath). Therefore, one needs to be careful with the names in order not to make a mistake and every name needs to be learned within its subject content."

The Rambam chooses to describe man in a very unique way. He does not say that man is special because of his ability to speak. He says that man's soul was given the special ability of attaining knowledge. Every other being that was granted a soul does not have the ability of gaining knowledge. This is what differentiates man from all other beasts. All creatures are given the abilities to eat, drink reproduce and so on, however, only man is given the special spiritual capability to know and attain the same level as the heavenly creatures. This is why the Torah says that man is made "in our image and our likeness." The Tzura, the soul of the man is similar to the angels and this allows him to attain the same understanding as the heavenly creatures.

Here we can see a crucial idea found within the Rambam, what is the soul. The soul of a man, as understood by Rambam, is solely his ability to attain knowledge. It is not some mystical being that combines with man, but rather just man's ability to attain knowledge like the angels. This is what the purpose of man is, to attain as much knowledge as possible. The more knowledge a man acquires the more important his soul becomes. This can explain why the Rambam believes learning is important. However, unlike many of his fellow Rabbis, the Rambam thought that all knowledge helps improve one's soul. Just like learning Gemorah and Tanach improves one's soul, so too knowledge of physics and metaphysics improves one's soul. This is a very innovative idea since it tells us that all knowledge is important and not just Torah proper. In fact, as David Guttman points out , science and metaphysics, according to the Rambam, are Torah.

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