Who is Rambam?
Rambam was one of the most outstanding sages in Jewish history. Born in Cordova, present day Spain, in 1135, he passed away in Egypt in 1204 and is buried in the Holy Land, in the
city of Teveria. In addition to serving as one of the most important and influential authorities on Jewish law and philosophy (he authored Moreh Nevuchim, “Guide for the Perplexed,” a foundational work on Jewish philosophy), Rambam also served in his own times as a true leader in a challenging era as well as a world famous physician and master of medicine and
Rambam’s literary works are a series of groundbreaking initiatives. After authoring an exhaustive commentary on the entire Mishnah, an entirely innovative project, he wrote Sefer Ha-Mitzvos, “the Book of Commandments,” in order to clarify in brief (a) which of the Torah’s hundreds of directives (positive commands and prohibitions) are included in the primary body of 613 mitzvos, (b) their sources in the Torah and Talmud, and (c) their consequences and the extent of their application.
The clarity introduced by Sefer Ha-Mitzvos was intended to facilitate the creation and broad acceptance of his main work, Mishneh Torah – an exhaustive compendium of all of the Torah’s
laws, laid out in clear, concise language and arranged in a logical, methodical, and accessible manner. Mishneh Torah includes laws of the Jewish people’s past, present, and future – from the
laws of the beis ha-mikdash (Holy Temple in Jerusalem) and sacrifices to the laws of Moshiach and the redemption of the Jewish people at the end of days. This work stands alone in history,
for such an exhaustive and brilliant enterprise had never been produced before, nor has it been replicated.
Even his tombstone is entirely unique. The inscription reads, “From Moshe until Moshe, there rose none like Moshe” – the latter half paraphrased from the verse, “And there was no other prophet who arose in Israel like Moses, whom G-d knew face to face” (Devarim 34:10). It could be said that whereas Moshe Rabeinu gave the Jews the entire Torah, partly in written form and partly by oral tradition, Rambam merged the two and presented the Jewish people the entire body of Torah laws in written form.
Rambam emerged from the golden era of Sefardic Jewry – he lived in Spain, Morocco, and Egypt, and authored all his writings with the exception of Mishneh Torah in Arabic (they were
subsequently translated into Medieval Hebrew). Nevertheless, all of Jewry came to revere the authority of his writings.
In general, a reference to “Rambam” as a subject refers to Mishneh Torah.
The Mishna Torah
Rambam’s (Maimonides’) Mishneh Torah, his Magnum Opus of Jewish Law, includes 14 volumes – also known as “Yad HaChazakah”, encapsulating the entire spectrum of all 613 Mitzvos, in an incredibly organized, structured fashion.
The word YAD (from the name Yad ha-Chazakah) has the numerical value of 14, equal to the amount of volumes that make up the Mishneh Torah.
The Fourteen books are:
Mada – Knowledge
Ahava – Love
Zemanim – Times
Nashim – Women
Kedusha – Holiness
Hafla’ah – Vows
Zera’im – Agriculture
Avoda – (Temple) service
Korbonos – Sacrifices
Tahara – Purity
Nezikin – Damages
Kinyan – Acquisitions
Mishpatim – Laws
Shoftim – Judges