Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Rambam- Create a Foundation of Knowledge in Halacha and Then Learning Maaseh Merkavah - Perek 4 halacha 13

Even after the Rambam goes into the importance of Maaseh Merkavah and maaseh Breishis he ends off on a very important note. He tells us that we must have a foundation in knowledge of the Torah, specifically halacha, before we can even attempt to conquer a knowledge (in the negative sense) of G-D and His world. He says,

ועניני ארבעה פרקים אלו שבחמש מצות האלו הם שחכמים הראשונים קוראין אותו פרדס כמו שאמרו ארבעה נכנסו לפרדס. ואע"פ שגדולי ישראל היו וחכמים גדולים היו לא כולם היה בהן כח לידע ולהשיג כל הדברים על בוריין. ואני אומר שאין ראוי לטייל בפרדס אלא מי שנתמלא כריסו לחם ובשר. ולחם ובשר הוא לידע האסור והמותר וכיוצא בהם משאר המצות. ואע"פ שדברים אלו דבר קטן קראו אותן חכמים שהרי אמרו חכמים דבר גדול מעשה מרכבה ודבר קטן הוויות דאביי ורבא. אעפ"כ ראויין הן להקדימן. שהן מיישבין דעתו של אדם תחלה. ועוד שהם הטובה הגדולה שהשפיע הקב"ה ליישוב העולם הזה כדי לנחול חיי העולם הבא. ואפשר שידעם הכל קטן וגדול איש ואשה בעל לב רחב ובעל לב קצר:

"The subjects that are dealt with in these four chapters that deal with these five commandments are referred to by the previous wise ones as the Garden, as in the Garden that four entered into to. Even though (these four) were great men of israel and they were very wise, still, not all of them had the ability to know and attain all of these subjects. I say (the Rambam) that it is not proper to enter the Garden unless your basket is filled with bread and meat. Bread and meat is referring to knowing the Issur viheter (permitted and prohibited) laws, as well as all other laws, that are in all other commandments. Even though these things are small, the wise ones called them a major idea and the debates of Abaye and rava (halacha) a small subject. Even though this is so (that the wise ones call the halacha a small subject and Maaseh Merkavah a big subject) it is proper to learn the halacha before Maaseh Merkavah. The reason for this is that they settle a man's knowledge first. Furthermore, (the halacha) represents the influence of G-D in this world that allows one to attain a place in the world to come. And it is possible for anyone to understand Halacha, small or great, male or female, a big hearted person or a small hearted person."

The Rambam here reveals to us a major principle that should be utilized. He tells us that the only way that we are going to be able to acquire the world to come is through following halacha. This is true because everyone has the ability to acquire a knowledge of halacha and follow it appropriately. However, Maaseh Merkavah serves an entirely different purpose, that helps us develop our minds, for those who are able, in a way that we can achieve a greater understanding of G-D. The reason we must first achieve a comprehensive knowledge in halacha before we begin to delve into Maaseh Merkavah is because Maaseh Merkavah builds upon the foundation stones of Halacha. One can only understand and appreciate Maseh merkavah once halacha has been mastered.

This goes very well with Rambam's ideas on how one achieves eternal life. The Rambam bases eternal life on acquired knowledge, called the acquired intellect. Someone who has a basic understanding of halacha will be able to live forever, but it is a lower level than someone who has mastered halacha and understands it with intricate details. On top of this is the person who learns Maaseh Merkavah. A person that is able to acquire the knowledge of G-D (through the negative understanding of what He is not) will have an even greater and more meaningful eternal existence, because of this greater knowledge. This is why the Rambam refers to the original wise ones as calling Maaseh Merkavah a great subject and halacha a small subject, because Maaseh merkavah, learned in the correct way, will lead a person to have an extremely amazing eternal life.

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