Maimonides' Code
 The End with the Beginning

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By the grace of G-d 
Copyright © 2014-16 Nathaniel Segal 

A Principle for Studying the Torah
   There is no beginning or end

In a Torah exposition written by one of our Sages, every point in the text is unified with every other.  For example, we don't insist that someone starts to attend a class from the scheduled beginning.  Generally, people are also encouraged to enter the class anytime according to what is best for them even if it is after several study sessions.  If as students we didn't start studying a text at its beginning, we work through the text from where we can start until the end, resume at the beginning, and study the text until we reach our personal starting point.  To the extent that a text's content assumes previous information, we are now prepared to work through until the end with a more complete understanding.  Nevertheless, we have already successfully examined the text's end even before its beginning.  We disregard the handicap of missing earlier information since we don't regard a Torah text as really having a beginning and an end.

In practical terms, Maimonides wrote his Code on sheets of paper (or parchment).  Each hand-written page belonged in its place – the ideas on a page continue what he wrote on the previous page just as the next page picks up where the previous page left off.  Before the Internet, which is to say before hypertext, the practical technologies of writing have constricted us to write in steps with a beginning, middle, and end.  So in studying these written texts, we use memory and thought processes to connect the end with the beginning even though we do not see them together.

Even the Torah scroll has a beginning – the first letters and words of the Book of Genesis.  We stitch each succeeding page of parchment adjacent to the previous page, and so on.  In practice, Torah scribes are allowed to write later pages before earlier ones.  Two scribes can divide the assignment, if only to speed up the completion of the new Torah Scroll.  Even so, both scribes are always writing – really copying – the text of Scripture from a previously written Torah Scroll.  Eventually, all the pages are stitched together in their order to form a unified Torah Scroll.

You can think in terms of a roll of microfilm as a scroll like the Torah Scroll.  The microfilm reader lets a user scan through pages instead of having to turn pages one by one.  Using microfilm, we have a sense of how a paged document can be experienced as a scroll.

If we were to unroll the entire Torah Scroll into a circle (a large circle indeed), we could bring the last words of Deuteronomy next to the first words of Genesis.

— based in part on an idea taught in the Book of Formation - Sefer Yetzirah, Chapter I, Mishnah 5 (part 2)

Maimonides' Code - The Book of Judges —

The last of the Code's fourteen books

“The Laws of Kings and Their Wars” - Chapter 12

The last section and the last chapter of the Code

The Conclusion of Maimonides' Code
   The last chapters and the last laws of the Code

The laws gathered in Chapters 11 and 12 of The Book of Judges are sometimes called "The Laws of the Messiah."

The contents starting from Chapter 8, Ruling 10 and onward, are a transition into "The Laws of the Messiah." The previous laws concern the early wars for entering the Land of Israel (Land of Canaan) and for establishing a form of government headed by a Jewish king. Mostly these rulings do not apply to King Messiah.

In the Messianic Era, there will be no wars. When we look at the proof-texts from the prophet Isaiah, we see that King Messiah's force and rule is solely by speech.

Maimonides' Postscript

"The Laws of Kings" are complete, as is the entire composition [the Mishneh Torah / Code] –
Blessed is He Who spoke and the Universe came into being, both its details as well as its entirety.
Finished and complete, may G-d, Creator of the Universe, be praised.

When we study the Torah, there is no end or beginning.

The end is wedged into the beginning,
and the beginning into the end.


The Beginning of Maimonides' Code —

The Epigraph:

[ —  “. . . In the name of the L-rd, G-d of the world.” ]  * 
(Genesis 21:33)
—  “Then I will not be ashamed, when I examine all Your commandments.”
(Psalms 119:6)

The Introduction to Maimonides' Code

*  Generally, printers have missed printing this verse: “. . . In the name of the L-rd, G-d of the world.”  However, Rabbi Bluming's critical edition begins with both this verse from Genesis and with the verse from Psalms.  So does Moses Hyamson's critical edition.  This essay, relating the end of Maimonides' Code to the beginning in one study, is based on the premise that students of the text are unlikely to find any edition that opens with the verse ". . . In the name of the L-rd, G-d of the world."

Nevertheless, we notice that the Hebrew words for "G-d of the world" are in both the postscript and in the epigraph – this opening verse of the Preface.  In the postscript, though, we read the additional word 'Creator' between the words 'G-d' and 'of the'.  The postscript is also clearly in the form of a prayer.

We still need to know, though, whether Maimonides himself composed the postscript or whether a copyist or a printer added it.  Only then can we connect this end with this beginning.

Maimonides' Code - The Book of Knowledge —

The first of the Code's fourteen books

“The Fundamental Laws of the Torah” - Chapter 1

The first laws in the Code


Examining the Principle of Studying the Torah
  When There Is No Beginning or End —

Studying the end of the Code

I've translated only the last ruling of this last chapter, Law 5 (above), since it closes with a verse from Isaiah that is a proof-text describing the Messianic Era generally. When we also read the previous eight verses in the Book of Isaiah, we have a full set of proof-texts that describe some of the details that are the subjects of the last two chapters of Maimonides' Code.

Generally, the subjects of the last two chapters of Maimonides' Code are –

(According to Rabbi Shmuel Tanchum Rubenstein, ed. Mishneh Torah (mish NEH toh RAH), the "Popular Rambam" edition. Jerusalem: Mossad HaRav Kook, 1987.)

Examining the Postscript

The conclusion of the Code can only be taken as an ending in the sense that Maimonides had reached the point where he had accomplished his intention.  He had before him a unified composition ready for publication, entire and complete.  As he writes (see the complete postscript above) –

"The Laws of Kings" are complete, as is the entire composition . . .  [This work is] finished and complete, may G-d, Creator of the Universe, be praised.  ^ 

Studying the Beginning of the Code – the Epigraph

Maimonides opens this entire composition – known by the Hebrew name Mishneh Torah (mish NEH toh RAH) – with a verse from Psalms.  “Then I will not be ashamed, when I examine all Your commandments” (Psalm 119, verse 6).  We know from precedence and from principles of Torah study that we can and should study this verse as though it were attached following the last chapter of the Code.  In a way, we regard the beginning of Maimonides' Code also as the conclusion of the entire Code.  I explained these principles for study the Torah in detail above.

A Torah composition like the Code seems, to an ordinary student, to be linear like works of non-fiction and fiction that he or she has read or studied before.  These works proceed from a beginning, continue with the text itself, and end with a conclusion.  Instead, a Torah composition is circular.  The beginning cannot be separated from the end just as the end cannot be separated from the beginning.  The beginning cannot be studied as though nothing came before it.

Similarly, the conclusion of the Code can only be taken as an ending in the sense that Maimonides had reached the point where he had accomplished his intention.  He had before him a unified composition ready for publication, entire and complete.  Again, see what he writes in the postscript.

When Maimonides opens the composition of his Code with an epigraph from Psalms, "when I examine all Your commandments," one emphasis here is all Your commandments.  He tells us that he will not be ashamed when he has studied the entire Torah – all the instructions for fulfilling all the commandments.  In this composition, the Mishneh Torah, Maimonides gathered together everything that he had learned from the Torah.  He now prepares to teach us what he knows about all the commandments.  In the Introduction he writes:

This composition gathers together the entire Oral Torah, [and when a person learns the entire set of fourteen books in the Code] he or she knows the entire Oral Tradition – all the rulings and laws of the Torah, even those which we cannot fulfill now [because they depend on having the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, because they depend on all Jews living in the Land of Israel, and so on].

Connecting the last laws with the opening

Specifically, Maimonides' Code concludes with laws about King Messiah, laws that relate to the future but not to now.  However, the subjects of the last two chapters of Maimonides' Code do relate to the present in at least three points.  As listed above, 1) "belief in the Messiah and the messianic era are embedded in Scripture;" 2) "to gloss over issues concerning the Messiah's arrival and his rule as king is to dismantle the structure and integrity of the Hebrew Scriptures;" and 3) "it is unwise to calculate a date when the Messiah will arrive."

In addition, since we expect the arrival of the Messiah at any moment, how to identify the real Messiah is a fourth issue that relates to contemporary life.  Actually, this ruling and the other three rulings have been ongoing, day-to-day laws of Jewish life, for man, woman and child.  The trajectory of history moves toward the Messianic era.

Studying the laws of the Torah that relate to the future, though, is also part of the Torah even though we have no opportunity to follow and obey these laws.  Studying the laws about King Messiah completes the content of the Code which is "gathering together the entire Oral Torah" in one composition – "when I examine all Your commandments."  Then, Maimonides tells us, "I will not be ashamed."  He is not ashamed since the Torah has been his teacher and he has been a diligent student.

Connecting the last single law by itself with the opening

Even beyond this, the last single law itself, number 5, is intimately connected with the idea of "all Your commandments."  During the Messianic Era, ". . . The only occupation of the entire world will be solely to know G-d."  How will we know G-d?  By studying His Torah without distractions.  His Torah, both the written Scriptures and the Oral Torah, the Oral Tradition, are the explanations of "all Your commandments."

Maimonides writes in this last law – Halachah (hah lah KHAH), the "Way of Jewish Life" – that, "In the [Messianic] Era there will be neither famine nor war, neither jealousy nor aggressive competitiveness. . . ."  These conditions facilitate studying all of G-d's commandments.  Even more, the study of the Torah prevents these four undesirable conditions.

Tikkun olam (tee KOON oh LAHM) - the Torah fixes the human world

The Torah is G-d's like a blueprint for Creation.  We study the parts of the blueprint that call for observance of the commandments as a means to accomplish what is called in Hebrew tikkun olam – fixing the world.

 Our responsibility to complete our contribution to the construction of Creation is by studying the blueprint, which calls for the fulfillment of all of G-d's commandments.  Our responsibility to observe G-d's commandments is a means to an end – bringing about tikkun olam.  "Fixing" in this sense refers to our jobs to bring the world as we find it into line with G-d's intention – the Divine blueprint.  Previous generations, of Jews and non-Jews, accomplished what they could.  Only the finishing touches have remained for us to labor on.

The Torah creates Shalom - peace is the end of struggle and war

Shalom, the end of war, is also the collective end of personal struggles associated with the Torah.  On one hand, we resist temptations to violate the negative commandments – activities that we are not supposed to do.  On the other hand, we also end this struggle by genuinely immersing ourselves in the pleasure of engaging in G-dly activities – the positive commandments, what are supposed to do.

One purpose of the Torah is to end quarrels.  In the Chapters of the Fathers (Pirkei Avot 1:12) Rabbi Hillel teaches us, "Be among the disciples of Aaron [the first High Priest]:  loving peace, pursuing peace, loving your fellow [even the seemingly worthless ones], and bringing them near to the Torah."  Maimonides translates this idea into a family message and then into a universal message –

Peace in the house and peace between a husband and a wife are [so] great.  The reason that the entire Torah was given was to establish peace in the world, as it says, "Its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace." (Proverbs 3:17)
— from Maimonides' Code, The Book of Seasons, "The Laws of Chanukah," Chapter 4, Ruling 14 (the last lines of this ruling)
Freely translated by Nathaniel Segal

The Torah creates completeness in the world

The Hebrew word shalom is related to another Hebrew word that means completeness – sh'leimut (shlay MOOT).  Shalom as a greeting is a prayer and a personal blessing.  Sh'leimut is the state of realizing shalom.  The Torah is the means to this end.  A prayer from the Holiday prayer book reads –

You are 'Shalom' and Your name is 'Shalom'.  May it be your will that You bestow upon us . . . life and blessing to be preserved as peace – shalom.

Preservation of peace is the realization of peace in our lives, the outcome of a prayer and a blessing.  Note that 'Shalom' is one of G-d's names.  The realization of peace is from the One Who on High also dwells among us in peace.  When?  As a measure for measure.  When we "examine all Your commandments" to vigorously observe them, we achieve completeness like the One who dwells among us in completeness.  Again, the Torah is a means to an end.  It serves to complete our lives.

The Torah as an instrument to eliminate famine, war, jealousy, and aggressive competitiveness

Adapted by Nathaniel Segal from —
Likutei Sichot. Volume 27. "Vayikra" (Leviticus). pp. 259-260.
By His Holiness, Grand Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson
The Lubavitcher Rebbe

Also from the Book of Formation - Sefer Yetzirah