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Eight Chapters

Rambam's Introduction (Part II)

Rambam doesn't claim much credit for what he says here, in fact, stating that he merely collected material from Midrashim, the Talmud, and from other traditional Jewish works, and collated them to suit his purposes. That's a rather modest statement, though, because as anyone who's ever written a research paper, article, or book knows, half the success is based on how wise your choices are and how well you collated them. And "Eight Chapters" excels in both.

So, it would better be said that Rambam *based* the proofs for his contentions on those sources, but that he then formulated a whole new medley in the end that allowed those sources to shine in wholly different ways.

A higher, humbler truth for our purposes, though, is that in the end we really don't do very much more than collate things in our lives. In point of fact, not a lot of what we do or say is original with us so much as an amalgam of what we'd heard or done before, what others whom we admire have said or done, and what G-d has granted us on the spot for His own ends. The wise soul would take that to heart and always keep it in mind.

In any event, Rambam then said something that many wouldn't expect perhaps of so eminent a Jewish scholar as he. He acknowledged citing and even quoting verbatim from the works of certain non-Jewish philosophers and thinkers as well. And he did that, he said, in the firm belief that "we’re to accept truth from whoever utters it".

The fact of his having cited outside sources isn't astonishing unto itself (though it's still not done very often in classical Hebrew texts for various reasons). And Rambam's idea that we're to seek wisdom and truth from anyone isn't all that new, for it has already been pointed out that only someone "who learns from everyone" is wise (Pirke Avot 4:1).

But his point is well taken, because the individuals he cited often said things that are antithetical to the Jewish Faith, and so many Jews would reject *anything* they'd say as a consequence. So rather than not quote them, Rambam decided to; because "all (he) ever wanted to do was help the reader and explain what’s hidden away" in Pirke Avot. He also quoted them in the firm belief that we should indeed be willing to take to heart the true and good that anyone says (while rejecting the bad and false).

But he decided to cite them anonymously. For as he explained, if Rambam mentioned his sources by name, then that "might make a reader who doesn’t accept (that source) think that what he said is harmful or of bad intent" - - even when it wasn't at all, in that context.

The underlying points he seems to be making are, first, that we must all have enough of the proverbial courage of our convictions to say what has to be said for truth's sake; and second, that -- by definition -- truth can never contradict G-d's Torah.

And with that, Rambam provides us all with "Eight Chapters", which is his own guide to spiritual excellence.


Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Yaakov Feldman and Torah.org


 

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