Sunday, July 19, 2009

Getting Back to Basics with R' Avraham, Son of the Rambam - New Translation

Rabbi Yaakov Wincelberg was kind enough to send me his recent translation of a classic, but little known, sefer that he recently published through Feldheim, The Guide to Serving God, which is a translation of the sefer Hamaspik L'Ovdei Hashem by Rabbeinu Avraham ben HaRambam.

The section of the Sefer Hamaspik that is extant today is only a small portion of the original sefer, although even that section is quite thick. From reading the translation and the introduction where R' Wincelberg explains the process he went through to translate this sefer both from its Hebrew version and the original Judeo-Arabic text, it is apparant that the translator was very thorough and this book was obviously the work of many years.

I would definitely recommend that others get this classic Mussar sefer, in this very accessible form and translation. I also would like to point out a couple of things that struck me from the first few chapters.

One interesting thing is that R' Avraham ben HaRambam certainly assumes that readers are already familiar with his father's understanding of the accounts of angelic visits to human beings from Chumash. While discussing the mida of generosity (Nedivus) in Chapter 5, he teaches how one should behave toward guests based on how Avraham and Lot conducted themselves with their angelic guests in their "visions." The fact that R' Avraham ben HaRamabam uses the term "visions," rather than referring to Avraham and Lot's actual encounters with the melachim teaches that he holds like his father in Moreh HaNevuchim 2:42 that angels cannot actually appear to human beings.

Another interesting thing I found was how R' Avraham really takes you back to basics. It's very easy for some of us to get caught up in the beauty and inspiration of very deep teachings, but we should never lose sight of the fact that all of those higher levels are only true when they follow the basic road common to all Jewish people, which means keeping halacha and learning regular Torah shebechsav and Torah Shebaal Peh. A life of penimius Hatorah (Ohr) can only exist when it is in the context of a life of someone who learns Torah and keeps halacha (the kli), the only kind of life capable of containing the Ohr of Penimius HaTorah.

He brings this out starkly in one particular paragraph where he says that "God has criticized the absolute confusion and severe ignorance of anyone who expects to achieve Encounter* by becoming engrossed in the intimate road while ignoring the common road..." (p. 19). I think that says it all.

*R' Avraham ben HaRambam uses the word Encounter to refer to the personal, intimate and experiential relationship with G-d which is the goal of life. R' Wincelberg explains this concept in his introduction starting on page xxxiii.

I certainly recommend the sefer, which has Hebrew and English on facing pages, and great footnotes that compare and contrast R' Avraham's writings which the shitos of his father, and which bring out some of the linguistic complexity in the original Judeo-Arabic. I will certainly pass on any comments or questions to the author! Kol tuv.

Picture of the sefer courtesy of and the picture of R' Wincelberg is courtesy of Rabbi Zweig's yeshiva in Miami Beach. Click here to get Dixie Yid in your e-mail Inbox or here to subscribe in Google Reader.

1 comment:

Rakia said...

it is a great sefer. tizkas lamitzvas.