Chapter One (Part 2)
Let's delve into our beings now by beginning to explore the five parts of
our Spirit as Rambam depicts them.
But first it's important for our purposes to understand that we'll be
discussing our own, the human, Spirit rather than animals', plants', or
other entities' spirits. For while each and every thing has the sort of
unique impelling, animating force we're talking about, we're interested in
knowing what makes *us* "tick" in order to grow.
Besides, "the human digestive system, for one, isn’t the same as a horse
or donkey’s" as Rambam points out, which is also true of the other parts
of the Spirit aside from the digestive system. Since we humans "are
nourished by the human digestive system, while donkeys are nourished by
the donkey digestive system", and other entities are nourished by theirs.
Now, that's clear enough and no one would argue with the matter, but
Rambam then steps aside to make a very important point.
He says that even though "the term 'digestion' is used for all three, ...
(nevertheless) the different systems are only analogous to each other and
the terms don’t refer to the same thing." That means to say that even
though we, animals, and plants are all said to "digest" things in order to
function and grow, still and all, animals' and plants' digestive systems
are different from ours, and they're all only called by the same name for
the sake of convenience. (Have patience, though; we'll soon see what all
this has to do with spiritual growth.)
He'd have us compare the three different digestive systems to "three dark
rooms, the first of which was illuminated by sunlight, the second by
moonlight, and the third by candlelight". The point is that even though
all three rooms can be said to be “illuminated”, in fact "the source and
generator of light in the first (room) was the sun, the second was the
moon, and the third was a flame."
"In much the same way," Rambam continues (while drawing closer to our
spiritual well-being), "what generates human senses is a human Spirit,
what generates a donkey’s is a donkey Spirit", etc., and "the only thing
they have in common is an analogous term" -- i.e., they're all said to be
kept alive by a Spirit. Now, this obviously isn't the place to discuss
human versus animal or vegetable digestion and nutrition, but suffice it
to say that Rambam's overarching statement is that sometimes the very same
term is used for two or more very different, though similar things.
But why would Rambam consider it necessary to make that point? It comes
down to this: He'll be differentiating between different instances of
goodness, (spiritual and ethical) health, piety and the like in the course
of this work. For you see, one of his central themes here is the idea that
we really don't understand what's good, healthy, and pious; so we'd need
to differentiate between good and bad instances of each if we're ever to
be truly spiritually excellent. That's also to say that we're not to fall
for appearances. For, since our spiritual makeup often isn't what it seems
to be, it's essential for us to avoid applying terms lightly.
For while some derive their *so-called* goodness, health, and piety
from "candlelight" (to use the above illustration), meaning to say, from
synthetic sources; and others from "moonlight", meaning to say, from
derivative sources; we're expected to derive true goodness, health, and
piety from "sunlight" -- from trustworthy, inspired sources.
We'll determine later on, by the way, that this idea also touches on some
intriguing things, like our understanding of G-d, on what in this world
matters and what doesn't, and the like.
Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Yaakov Feldman and Torah.org