The Rambam is the greatest arbitrator of Halacha of all times, one of the most important philosophers of the Middle Ages, a leader of the communities of Egypt and its environs, a man of science and a physician who influenced many future generations.
Maimonides’ life story
The Rambam was born in the year 1,138 in the city of Cordoba in Spain, and passed away on the 20th of Tevet 1,206 in Postat in Egypt, and was buried, according to tradition, in Tiberias in Israel.
The Rambam was born to a family of Rabbis and Rabbinical Judges; his father was Rabbi Mimon, the Rabbinical Judge. At quite an early age the Rambam began writing Talmudical compositions which he never published, and the composition Words of Logic which contains terms of logic. In the course of his life, and mainly towards the end of his days, the Rambam composed medical writings.
Following the religious persecutions of the Jews in Muslim Spain, the Rambam’s family moved to Fez in Morrocco. At this time, the Rambam was not yet 22. It was there, at the age of 23, that the Rambam began his interpretation of the Mishnah. It seems that during these years, the Rambam also wrote the letter of persecution, in which he rallied to the protection of all the Jews who had been forced to convert to Islam, and wherein he spoke well of them, and advised them to leave the borders of the country until the persecutions had passed.
The increased Muslim fanaticism, and the desire of the King of Morrocco to put the Jews under his jurisdiction to death, forced the Rambam’s family to resume their wanderings. At the age of 28, the Rambam reached the land of Israel through Acre; and from there, he continued at great risk (because of the Crusades) to Jerusalem, “to the great and sacred” house and to Hebron. The Jewish community in Israel was then exteremly small, poor and insecure.
The difficulties involved in living in the land of israel and the danger that the Karaite heresy would spread in Egypt, where a large Jewish community was situated, motivated the Rambam to leave for Egypt and reach ancient Cairo (Fustat). There he married a woman from a privileged family. At the age of 30 finished his interpretation of the Mishnah, largely written during his wanderings. During these stages Maimonides wrote the Book of Commandments the count of all the commandments of the Torah, as the key to his vast halakhic work the Mishne Torah, work which covers the entire Talmud, and which he wrote on his own within just (!) 10 or 14 years beginning at age 30.
Throughout this period Maimonides earned his living from a business he ran together with his brother, which allowed him to devote himself to writing. At 39 his brother drowned in the Indian Sea, and a great deal of money belonging to Maimonides and others was lost. Maimonides fell ill, probably from grief, and was sick for a whole year.
From his first years in Egypt, the Rambam filled a central leadership role. Despite his many pursuits, the Rambam also handled the affairs of the community and taught Torah in public. The Rambam’s Response contains questions that were sent to him from all over the Jewish world, and his responses reflect his unique humane and comprehensive vision.
To his chagrin, the Rambam was nominated to the position of King Salah-a-Din’s personal physician. His post robbed him of his precious time and wasted his powers, yet he always faithfully carried out his work. The Rambam interceded with the government for the benefit of the Jews of Yemen in their plight, and his response to them, the Letter of Yemen, was to have a critical influence on the spiritual development of Yemenite Jewery.
The Rambam’s son, Rabbi Avraham, was born when the Rambam was 48 years old. At the age of 49 the Rambam wrote his book of Jewish philosophy, The Guide to the Perplexed which was intended for his student. In response to aspersions cast against the Rambam’s belief regarding resurrection he wrote a Letter on the Resurrection in order to buttress the faith of the Jewish people.
Many communities in the Jewish world established a day of fasting in commemoration of the Rambam’s death. The deep sense of appreciation and respect that the Jewish people felt for the Rambam are aptly expressed in the famous saying:
“From Moses to Moses, there has not been a Moses”.
Original signature of Rabbie Moses Barabbie (=bar rabbie) ZT”L (=Zecher Tzadik Livracha)