Tag Archives: Ramban

Cut Stone

Three possible reasons are offered for the Torah’s prohibition of making an altar with cut stones (Ex. 20:25). You may only use stones that have not been shaped by iron. Noting that the Torah used the word for sword, Rashi and Ramban (ad loc.) follow the Sages (Mekhilta, ad loc.) in explaining that metal, and swords in particular, are used ...

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Does God Micromanage?

God controls the world. But how much attention, how much direct guidance, does He give to the details? Ramban provides an uncompromising statement on the subject, which requires further examination due to his own equivocation. Ramban (Ex. 13:16) writes (tr. R. Aryeh Leibowitz, Hashgachah Pratis, p. 70): From the overt major miracles man comes to a realization of the hidden miracles, which are the foundation of the Torah. For a person has no portion in the Torah of our teacher Moses unless he believes that all our matters and circumstances are miraculous, that they do not follow nature or the general course of the world–this is true regarding the nation and the individual.

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More Than Just God’s Name

You expect members of an enslaved nation to ask many questions before agreeing to rebel against their masters. However, asking the name of their proposed redeemer’s deity seems only marginally relevant, a low priority considering the logistical issues they face. Yet Moshe, before asking how to prove his ability to redeem the Jews from Egypt, asks what name to call God when the people ask. God’s answer is: “I will be what I will be” (Ex. 3:15). This is hardly a simple answer to a straightforward, if unusual, question. Rambam (Moreh Nevukhim 1:63) sees in this exchange a more profound exercise. Except for the Levites, the Jews in Egypt adopted the local idolatries (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhos Avodah Zarah 1:3). Before accepting that Moshe was God’s messenger, they first had to be convinced that God exists. Following R. Sa’adiah Gaon, Rambam explains that God gave Moshe a three-word proof for God’s existence. A Necessary Being must exist eternally.

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Law and Order

The debate over the culpability of the biblical residents of Shechem reaches beyond the text to legal realms but should also extend to our philosophy of citizenship. Following Shechem the man’s attack on Dinah, her brothers tricked and killed the male residents of the city. Ya’akov condemned the brothers, to which they forcibly responded (Gen. 34). Why were all the residents punished for a single man’s sin? Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhos Melakhim 9:14) uncharacteristically explains this biblical episode in his legal code. People in general are obligated by the Noachide code to establish courts to maintain justice. Since Shechem was unpunished for his crime, the city residents clearly were failing to enforce law and order, and therefore liable for violating the command to establish courts. According to the Rambam, administering justice is a personal obligation of each citizen.

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Angels and Afterlife

The Torah speaks explicitly about angels but gives little detail about these supernatural creatures. A debate about these biblical narratives reflects not only different understandings about the nature of angels but also about other crucial concepts. According to Jewish tradition, Avraham is visited by three angels (Gen. 18:1). Rambam (Moreh Nevukhim 2:42; Mishneh Torah, Hilkhos Yesodei Ha-Torah 2:3-4) writes that any time the Bible speaks of people seeing angels, it occurs in a vision. Angels are incorporeal and cannot be seen. Therefore, the Torah begins by saying generally that God revealed Himself to Avraham and then gave details about the content of that prophetic vision, i.e. the three angels visiting.

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The Right Side of History

Should we ask why bad things happen to bad people? Pharaoh and the Egyptians fulfilled God’s prophecy to Avraham that his descendants would be enslaved in a foreign land (Gen. 15:13). Why, then, were the Egyptians punished? Ramban’s answer to this question reflects a broader opinion of his that is much-criticized but under-appreciated. Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhos Teshuvah 6:5) answers that while God’s plan includes people enslaving Jews, it does not specify who will serve this evil role. Every individual has the choice of doing good or bad and receiving appropriate recompense. The Egyptians chose to enslave the Jews rather than allowing another nation to do so. Therefore, they deserved punishment.

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