Day 1: Prepatory Comments on the Introduction to "The Guide to the Perplexed"

We shall discuss Maimonides' introduction to his "The Guide to the Perplexed".

For brevity and convention's sake, we shall now refer to Maimonides by his nom de plume "Rambam". From now on, when you read "Rambam", it means Maimonides.

Rambam the Man

To fully appreciate this book, one must appreciate Rambam: he was a true genius. He not only was a master of Jewish theology, but he also possessed a consummate understanding of Classical philosophy, geometry, and the secular sciences and arts of his era.

In addition to his academic achievements, Rambam was one of Cairo's greatest physicians, serving the Sultan himself. Despite his demanding professional schedule, Rambam never neglected his religious study.

The Guide to the Perplexed: Deliberately Esoteric Work

"The Guide to the Perplexed" was not a mass-market book: it was intended only for a sophisticated, pious audience who sought to make sense of the Bible, but given their secular reasoning and knowledge, they could find the Bible perplexing and apparently contradictory.

Solomon and the Simile

The cause of much confusion in the Bible, especially for modern readers, is the complete lack of intuition for the ancient and esoteric similes, delicately used to illuminate Divine Wisdom.

Fortunately for us modern readers, these similes also confounded our ancestors, and so they provide some insights on how to address them.

To what were the words of the Law to be compared before the time of Solomon? To a well the waters of which are at a great depth, and though cool and fresh, yet no man could drink of them. A clever man joined cord with cord, and rope with rope, and drew up and drank. So Solomon went from figure to figure, and from subject to subject, till he obtained the true sense of the Law (Midrash Shir ha-shirim Rabba, i. 1)

Through careful study, meditation, and discussion, we will join our own cords of insight and use them to draw from the deep, obscure wells of wisdom.

Topics for Discussion

Please ponder the following questions before and after today's reading:

  • Why was Divine Truth hidden in the first place? What reasons does Rambam give for the Sages using similes and other devices for obscuring truth?
  • What are the two class or types of "figures" employed by the Prophets: Rambam gives examples of both.
  • Give examples of Rambam's 5th and 7th causes of contradictions.