Guide for the Perplexed - Moreh Nevuchim

Also known as Guide of the Perplexed - both titles are translations from the original Arabic title

<< Traditional Sources 
Translated by Nathaniel 
By the grace of G-d 
Copyright © 2013 Nathaniel Segal 
—  “. . . In the name of the L-rd, G-d of the world.”
(Genesis 21:33) 

Introduction –

  Letter to Maimonides' student Joseph ibn Aknin


•  The object of this treatise is to enlighten a religious man who has been trained to believe . . . In my Code (Mishneh Torah), the larger work, I have briefly stated the principles of our faith and its fundamental truths.  In this work I address those who have studied philosophy.  While firm in religious matters, they are perplexed and bewildered by ambiguous and figurative expressions in the Holy Writings.

•  This work has also a second object in view.  It seeks to explain certain obscure expressions which occur in the Prophets and are not distinctly characterized as being figures of speech or homonyms. . . .  Readers are entirely relieved of their perplexity when we explain the figure of speech, or merely suggest that the terms are figurative.  For this reason I have called this book Guide for the Perplexed.

  Attaining a degree of human perfection

The Almighty, desiring to lead us to perfection and to improve the state of our society, has revealed to us laws to regulate our actions. . . .  However, we must first form a conception of the existence of the Creator according to our capacities;  that is, we must have a knowledge of Metaphysics.  But this discipline can only be approached after the study of Physics (Physical Sciences);  for the science of Physics borders on Metaphysics, and must even precede it in the course of our studies. . . .  Therefore the Almighty commenced his Holy Scriptures with the description of the Creation, that is with Physical Science.

The Sages called the Natural Sciences – this description of creation – the "Structure of Creation" (Ma'aseh Breisheet).  They called Metaphysics the "Structure of the Divine Chariot" (Ma'aseh Merkavah) – based on Ezekiel's vision of a chariot.

Know that in Natural Science there are topics which are not to be fully explained in writing.  Our Sages laid down the rule that the "Structure of Creation" must not be expounded in the presence of two students.  Our Sages also laid down the rule that the "Structure of the Divine Chariot" must not be expounded even in the presence of a single student, unless he is wise and able to reason for himself.  Even then you should merely acquaint him with the heads of the different sections of the subject (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Hagigah 11b). . . .  "The secret of the L-rd is with those who fear Him" (Psalm 25:14).

  Using allegories, metaphors, and similes

Do not imagine that these difficult subjects – Natural Science and Metaphysics – can be thoroughly understood by any of us.  This is not the case.  At times, the truth shines so brilliantly that we perceive it as clear as day.  But our nature and habit then draw a veil over our perception.  We are like those who, though seeing flashes of lightning, still find themselves in the thick darkness of night.  For some of us darkness is illuminated as though from some kind of crystal or another substance that can shine at night.

Regardless, the degrees of illumination of truth come and go with greater or lesser frequency, even for the same person.  Moreover, these episodes of enlightenment seem to appear at random times and in random places.

A person who is in a position to teach even a portion of the knowledge that he has attained will also experience the same difficulties that he had experienced when learning the subject – periods of illumination of different degrees interspersed with periods of veiled perception.

Therefore, great scholars taught these subjects only by means of similes – metaphors and allegories.  When they could not find an appropriate simile for the entire idea that they were illustrating, they divided the lesson into parts and used a different simile for each part.  The lesson remained whole although divided into parts.

Sometimes, they employed a single simile to illustrate several subjects, the beginning of the simile representing one thing but the end another.

If we were to teach the disciplines of Natural Science and Metaphysics without the use of metaphors or figures of speech, we would be compelled to resort to profound and transcendental expressions.  However, these expressions would be no more intelligible than the metaphors and similes. 

  Directions for the study of the Guide


•  Seven causes of inconsistency and contradictions in a literary work:    [ Open in a new window if you'd like ]

  Mishnah and Baraitot

  Gemara (Talmud)

  Prophetic Books

  True Philosophers

  Commentators and Most Authors

  Transition to the Book

— Freely adapted by Nathaniel Segal from Maimonides' Introduction to the Guide for the Perplexed