Eight chapters of Maimonides on Ethics/Chapter IV

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Chapter IV

Concerning the Cure of the Diseases of the Soul[1]

Good deeds are such as are equibalanced,[2] maintaining the mean between two equally bad extremes, the too much and the too little.[3] Virtues are psychic conditions and dispositions which are mid-way between two reprehensible extremes, one of which is characterized by an exaggeration, the other by a deficiency.[4] Good deeds are the product of these dispositions. To illustrate, abstemiousness is a disposition which adopts a mid-course between inordinate passion and total insensibility to pleasure. Abstemiousness, then, is a proper rule of conduct, and the psychic disposition which gives rise to it is an ethical quality; but inordinate passion, the extreme of excess, and total insensibility to enjoyment, the extreme of deficiency[5], are both absoluteley pernicious. The psychic dispositions, from which these two extremes, inordinate passion and insensibility, result—the one being an exaggeration, the other a deficiency—are alike classed among moral imperfections.

Likewise, liberality is the mean between sordidness and extravagence; courage, between recklessness and cowardice; dignity, between haughtiness and loutishness[6]; humility, between arrogance and self-abasement; contentedness, between avarice and slothful indifference; and magnificence, between meanness and profusion. [Since definite terms do not exist in our language with which to express these latter qualities, it is necessary to explain their content, and tell what the philosophers meant by them. A man is called magnificent whose whole intention is to do good to others by personal service, by money, or advice, and with all his power, but without meanwhile bringing suffering or disgrace upon himself. That is the medium line of conduct. The mean man is one who does not want others to succeed in anything, even though he himself may not thereby suffer any loss, hardship, or injury. That is the one extreme. The profuse man, on the contrary, is one who willingly performs the above-mentioned deeds, in spite of the fact that thereby he brings upon himself great injury, or disgrace, terrible hardship, or considerable loss. That is the other extreme.[7]] Gentleness is the mean between irascibility and insensibility to shame and disgrace; and modesty, between impudence and shamefacedness.[8] [The explanation of these latter terms, gleaned from the sayings of our sages (may their memory be blessed!) seems to be this. In their opinion, a modest man is one who is very bashful, and therefore modesty is the mean. This we gather from their saying, "A shamefaced man cannot learn".[9] They also assert, "A modest man is worthy of Paradise"[10], but they do not say this of a shamefaced man. Therefore, I have thus arranged them."[11]] So it is with the other qualities. One does not necessarily have to use conventional terms for these qualities, if only the ideas are clearly fixed in the mind.[12]

It often happens, however, that men err as regards these qualities, imagining that one of the extremes is good, and is a virtue. Sometimes, the extreme of the too much is considered noble, as when temerity is made a virtue, and those who recklessly risk their lives are hailed as heroes. Thus, when people see a man, reckless to the highest degree, who runs deliberately into danger, intentionally tempting death, and escaping only by mere chance, they laud such a one to the skies, and say that he is a hero. At other times, the opposite extreme, the too little, is greatly esteemed, and the coward[13] is considered a man of forbearance; the idler, as being a person of a contented disposition; and he, who by the dullness of his nature is callous to every joy, is praised as a man of moderation, [that is, one who eschews sin]. In like manner, profuse liberality and extreme lavishness are erroneously extolled as excellent characteristics.[14] This is, however, an absolutely mistaken view, for the really praiseworthy is the medium course of action to which every one should strive to adhere, always weighing his conduct carefully, so that he may attain the proper mean.

Know, moreover, that these moral excellences or defects cannot be acquired, or implanted in the soul, except by means of the frequent repetition of acts resulting from these qualities, which, practised during a long period of time, accustoms us to them.[15] If these acts performed are good ones, then we shall have gained a virtue; but if they are bad, we shall have acquired a vice. Since, however, no man is born with an innate virtue or vice, as we shall explain in Chapter VIII, and, as every one's conduct from childhood up is undoubtedly influenced by the manner of living of his relatives and countrymen,[16] his conduct may be in accord with the rules of moderation; but, then again, it is possible that his acts may incline towards either extreme, as we have demonstrated, in which case, his soul becomes diseased.[17] In such a contingency, it is proper for him to resort to a cure, exactly as he would were his body suffering from an illness. So, just as when the equilibrium of the physical health is disturbed,[18] and we note which way it is tending in order to force it to go in exactly the opposite direction until it shall return to its proper condition, and, just as when the proper adjustment is reached, we cease this operation, and have recourse to that which will maintain the proper balance, in exactly the same way must we adjust the moral equilibrium.[19] Let us take, for example, the case of a man in whose soul there has developed a disposition [of great avarice] on account of which he deprives himself [of every comfort in life], and which, by the way, is one of the most detestable of defects, and an immoral act, as we have shown in this chapter. If we wish to cure this sick man, we must not command him merely [to practise] deeds of generosity, for that would be as ineffective as a physician trying to cure a patient consumed by a burning fever by administering mild medicines, which treatment would be inefficacious. We must, however, induce him to squander so often, and to repeat his acts of profusion so continuously until that propensity which was the cause of his avarice has totally disappeared. Then, when he reaches that point where he is about to become a squanderer, we must teach him to moderate his profusion, and tell him to continue with deeds of generosity, and to watch out with due care lest he relapse either into lavishness or niggardliness.[20]

If, on the other hand, a man is a squanderer, he must be directed to practise strict economy, and to repeat acts of niggardliness. It is not necessary, however, for him to perform acts of avarice as many times as the mean man should those of profusion. This subtle point, which is a canon and secret of the science of medicine, tells us that it is easier for a man of profuse habits to moderate them to generosity, than it is for a miser to become generous. Likewise, it is easier for one who is apathetic [and eschews sin] to be excited to moderate enjoyment, than it is for one, burning with passion, to curb his desires. Consequently, the licentious man must be made to practise restraint more than the apathetic man should be induced to indulge his passions; and, similarly, the coward requires exposure to danger more frequently than the reckless man should be forced to cowardice. The mean man needs to practise lavishness to a greater degree than should be required of the lavish to practise meanness. This is a fundamental principle of the science of curing moral ills, and is worthy of remembrance.

On this account, the saintly ones[21] were not accustomed to cause their dispositions to maintain an exact balance between the two extremes, but deviated somewhat, by way of [caution and] restraint, now to the side of exaggeration, and now to that of deficiency. Thus, for instance, abstinence would incline to some degree towards excessive denial of all pleasures; valor would approach somewhat towards temerity; generosity to lavishness; modesty to extreme humility,[22] and so forth. This is what the rabbis hinted at, in their saying, “Do more than the strict letter of the law demands.”[23]

When, at times, some of the pious ones deviated to one extreme by fasting, keeping nightly vigils[24], refraining from eating meat or drinking wine, renouncing sexual intercourse, clothing themselves in woolen and hairy garments, dwelling in the mountains, and wandering about in the wilderness, they did so, partly as a means of restoring the health of their souls, as we have explained above, and partly because of the immorality of the towns-people.[25] When the pious saw that they themselves might become contaminated by association with evil men, or by constantly seeing their actions, fearing that their own morals might become corrupt on account of contact with them, they fled to the wildernesses far from their society, as the prophet Jeremiah said, “Oh that some one would grant me in the wilderness the dwelling of a wanderer, and I would quit my people and abandon them; for they are all adulterers, a troop of faithless evil-doers.”[26] When the ignorant observed saintly men acting thus, not knowing their motives, they considered their deeds of themselves virtuous, and so, blindly imitating their acts, thinking thereby to become like them, chastised their bodies with all kinds of afflictions, imagining that they had acquired perfection and moral worth, and that by this means man would approach nearer to God, as if He hated the human body, and desired its destruction. It never dawned upon them, however, that these actions were bad and resulted in moral imperfection of the soul. Such men can only be compared to one who, ignorant of the art of healing, when he sees skilful physicians administering to those at the point of death [purgatives known in Arabic as] colocynth, scammony, aloe, and the like, and depriving them of food, in consequence of which they are completely cured and escape death, foolishly concludes that since these things cure sickness, they must be all the more efficacious in preserving the health, or prolonging life. If a person should take these things constantly, and treat himself as a sick person, then he would really become ill. Likewise, those who are spiritually well, but have recourse to remedies, will undoubtedly become morally ill.

The perfect Law which leads us to perfection—as one who knew it well testifies by the words, "The Law of the Lord is perfect restoring the soul; the testimonies of the Lord are faithful making wise the simple"[27]—recommends none of these things (such as self-torture, flight from society etc.). On the contrary, it aims at man's following the path of moderation, in accordance with the dictates of nature, eating, drinking, enjoying legitimate sexual intercourse, all in moderation, and living among people in honesty and uprightness, but not dwelling in the wilderness or in the mountains, or clothing oneself in garments of hair and wool, or afflicting the body. The Law even warns us against these practices, if we interpret it according to what tradition tells us is the meaning of the passage concerning the Nazarite, "And he (the priest) shall make an atonement for him because he hath sinned against the soul."[28] The Rabbis ask, "Against what soul has he sinned? Against his own soul, because he has deprived himself of wine. Is this not then a conclusion a minori ad majus? If one who deprives himself merely of wine must bring an atonement, how much more incumbent is it upon one who denies himself every enjoyment."[29]

By the words of our prophets and of the sages of our Law, we see that they were bent upon moderation and the care of their souls and bodies, in accordance with what the Law prescribes and with the answer which God gave through His prophet to those who asked whether the fast-day once a year should continue or not. They asked Zechariah, "Shall I weep in the fifth month with abstinence as I have done already these many years?"[30] His answer was, "When ye fasted and mourned in the fifth and in the seventh (month) already these seventy years, did ye in anywise fast for me, yea for me? And if ye do eat and if ye do drink are ye not yourselves those that eat and yourselves those that drink?"[31] After that, he enjoined upon them justice and virtue alone, and not fasting, when he said to them, "Thus hath said the Lord of Hosts. Execute justice and show kindness and mercy every man to his brother."[32] He said further, "Thus hath said the Lord of Hosts, the fast-day of the fourth, and the fast-day of the fifth, and the fast of seventh, and the fast of the tenth (month) shall become to the house of Judah gladness, and joy, and merry festivals; only love ye truth and peace."[33]. Know that by "truth" the intellectual virtues are meant, for they are immutably true, as we have explained in Chapter II, and that by "peace" the moral virtues are designated, for upon them depends the peace of the world.

But to resume. Should those of our co-religionists—and it is of them alone that I speak—who imitate the followers of other religions, maintain that when they torment their bodies, and renounce every joy, that they do so merely to discipline the faculties of their souls by inclining somewhat to the one extreme, as is proper, and in accordance with our own recommendations in this chapter, our answer is that they are in error, as I shall now demonstrate. The Law did not lay down its prohibitions, or enjoin its commandments, except for just this purpose, namely, that by its disciplinary effects we may persistently maintain the proper distance from either extreme. For, the restrictions regarding all the forbidden foods, the prohibitions of illicit intercourse, the fore-warning against prostitution, the duty of performing the legal marriage-rites which, nevertheless, does not permit intercourse at all times, as, for instance, during the period of menstruation, and after child-birth, besides its being otherwise restricted by our sages, and entirely interdicted during the daytime, as we have explained in the Tractate Sanhedrin—all of these God commanded in order that we should keep entirely distant from the extreme of the inordinate indulgence of the passions, and, even departing from the exact medium, should incline somewhat towards self-denial, so that there may be firmly rooted in our souls the disposition for moderation.[34]

Likewise, all that is contained in the Law concerning the giving of tithes, the gleaning of the harvest, the forgotten sheaves, the single grapes, and the small bunches in the vineyards for the poor, the law of the Sabbatical year, and of the Jubilee, the giving of charity according to the wants of the needy one, all these approach the extreme of lavishness to be practised in order that we may depart far from its opposite, stinginess, and thus, nearing the extreme of excessive prodigality, there may become instilled in us the quality of generosity.[35] If you should test most of the commandments from this point of view, you would find that they are all for the discipline and guidance of the faculties of the soul. Thus, the Law forbids revenge, the bearing of a grudge, and blood-revenge by saying, "Thou shalt not avenge nor bear any grudge";[36] "thou shalt surely unload with him"[37] (the ass of him who hates you); "thou shalt surely help him to lift them up again"[38] (thy brother's ass or ox which has fallen by the way). These commandments are intended to weaken the force of wrath or anger. Likewise, the command, "Thou shalt surely bring them back"[39] (thy brother's ox or lamb which has gone astray), is meant to remove the disposition of avarice. Similarly, "Before the hoary head shalt thou rise up, and honor the face of the old man",[40] "Honor thy father and thy mother"[41] etc., "thou shalt not depart from the sentence which they may tell thee"[42] etc., are intended to do away with boldness, and to produce modesty. Then, in order to keep away from the other extreme, i. e. of excessive bashulness, we are told, "Thou shalt indeed rebuke thy neighbor" etc.,[43] "thou shalt not fear him"[44] (the false prophet) etc., so that excessive bashfulness, too, should disappear, in order that we pursue the medium course. Should, however, anyone who would without doubt be foolish if he did so try to enforce these commands with additional rigor, as, for instance, by prohibiting eating and drinking more than does the Law, or by restricting connubial intercourse to a greater degree, or by distributing all of his money among the poor, or using it for sacred purposes more freely than the Law requires, or by spending it entirely upon sacred objects and upon the sanctuary, he would indeed be performing improper acts, and would be unconsciously going to either one or the other extreme, thus forsaking completely the proper mean. In this connection, I have nerver heard a more remarkable saying than that of the Rabbis, found in the Palestinian Talmud, in the ninth chapter of the treatise Nedarim, where they greatly blame those who bind themselves by oaths and vows, in consequence of which they are fettered like prisoners. The exact words they use are, "Said Rabbi Iddai, in the name of Rabbi Isaac, 'Dost thou not think that what the Law prohibits is sufficient for thee that thou must take upon thyself additional prohibitions?'"[45]

From all that we have stated in this chapter, it is evident that it is man's duty to aim at performing acts that observe the proper mean, and not to desist from them by going to one extreme or the other, except for the restoration of the soul's health by having recourse to the opposite of that from which the soul is suffering. So, just as he who, acquainted with the science of medicine, upon noting the least sign of a change for the worse in his health, does not remain indifferent to it, but prevents the sickness from increasing to a degree that will require recourse to violent remedies, and just as when a man, feeling that one of his limbs has become affected, carefully nurses it, refraining from things that are injurious to it, and applying every remedy that will restore it to its healthy condition, or at least keep it from getting worse, likewise, the moral man will constantly examine his characteristics, weigh his deeds, and daily investigate his psychic condition; and if, at any time, he finds his soul deviating to one extreme or another, he will immediately hasten to apply the proper remedy, and not suffer an evil aptitude to acquire strength, as we have shown, by a constant repetition of that evil action which it occasioned. He is, likewise, bound to be mindful of his defects, and constantly to endeavor to remedy them, as we have said above, for it is impossible for any man to be free from all faults.[46] Philosophers tell us that it is most difficult and rare to find a man who, by his nature, is endowed with every perfection, moral as well as mental.[47] This thought is expressed often in the prophetical books, as, "Behold in his servants he putteth no trust, and his angels he chargeth with folly",[48] "How can man be justified with God? or how can be pure one that is born of woman?"[49], and Solomon says of mankind in general, "For no man is so righteous upon earth that he should do always good, and never sin".[50]

Thou knowest, also, that God said to our teacher Moses, the master of former and later ages, "Because ye have not confided in me, to sanctity me"[51], "because ye rebelled against my order at the waters of Meribah"[52], "because ye did not sanctify me".[53] All this (God said) although the sin of Moses consisted merely in that he departed from the moral mean of patience to the extreme of wrath in so far as he exclaimed, "Hear now ye rebels"[54] etc., yet for this God found fault with him that such a man as he should show anger in the presence of the entire community of Israel, where wrath is unbecoming. This was a profanation of God's name, because men imitated the words and conduct of Moses, hoping thereby to attain temporal and eternal happiness. How could he, then, allow his wrath free play, since it is a pernicious characteristic, arising, as we have shown, from an evil psychic condition? The divine words, "Ye (Israel) have rebelled against me" are, however, to be explained as follows. Moses was not speaking to ignorant and vicious people, but to an assembly, the most insignificant of whose women, as the sages put it, were on a plane with Ezekiel, the son of Buzi.[55] So, when Moses said or did anything, they subjected his words or actions to the most searching examination.[56] Therefore, when they saw that he waxed wrathful, they said, "He has no moral imperfection, and did he not know that God is angry with us for demanding water, and that we have stirred up the wrath of God, he would not have been angry with us". However, we do not find that when God spoke to Moses about this matter He was angry, but on the contrary, said, "Take the staff ... and give drink to the congregation and their cattle".[57]

We have, indeed, digressed from the subject of this chapter, but have, I hope, satisfactorily solved one of the most difficult passages of Scripture concerning which there has been much arguing in the attempt to state exactly what the sin was which Moses committed. Let what others have said be compared with our opinion, and the truth will surely prevail.

Now, let me return to my subject. If a man will always carefully discriminate as regards his actions, directing them to the medium course, he will reach the highest degree of perfection possible to a human being, thereby approaching God,[58] and sharing in His happiness. This is the most acceptable way of serving God which the sages, too, had in mind when they wrote the words, "He who ordereth his course aright is worthy of seeing the salvation of God, as it is said, 'to him that ordereth his course aright will I show, will I show the salvation of God!'[59] Do not read wesam but wesham derek".[60] Shumah means "weighing" and "valuation". This is exactly the idea which we have explained in this chapter.

This is all we think necessary to be said on this subject.


  1. To this chapter, in which the Aristotelian doctrine of the Mean (Μεσότες, balance) is applied to Jewish ethics, M. later supplemented H. Deot, I, 1—7; II, 2, 3, 7; and III, 1. Cf. Eth. Nic. II, 5—9; III, 8—14; IV. Although M. follows Aristotle in defining virtue as a state intermediate between two extremes, the too little and the too much, he still remains on Jewish ground, as there are biblical and Talmudical passages expressing such a thought. Such passages are Prov. IV, 26, "Balance well the track of thy foot, and let all thy ways be firmly right"; ibid., XXX, 8, "Neither poverty nor riches give thou unto me"; Eccles. VII, 16, "Be not righteous overmuch; neither show thyself overwise" (quoted in H. Deot, III, 1); etc. In Moreh, I, 32, M. interprets "neither show thyself overwise" and "To eat too much honey is not good" (Prov. XXV, 27) as a warning against attempting to exceed the limits of one's intellectual powers, and as an admonition to keep knowledge within bounds. In the Palestinian Talmud (Ḥagigah, II, 77 a bot.), there is found an interesting passage which sums up well the thought of this chapter, and it is curious that M. did not refer to it. It reads, "The ways of the Torah may be likened to two roads, on one of which fire and on the other snow is encountered. If one go along one path, he will be burned to death, and if he proceed along the other, he will perish in the snow. What, then, should one do? He must go between the extremes." A similar passage is found in Tosefta Ḥagigah 2 (cf. Yer. Ḥagigah, p. 20), "They make it incumbent upon man to go between the extremes, and not to incline to this side or to that." See, also, Soṭah, 5a, "he (the scholar) in whom there is pride deserves excommunication, and also he in whom there is no pride at all." For a discussion of Aristotle's doctrine of the Μεσότες, see Grant, The Ethics of Aristotle, vol. I, pp. 251—262. For that of M., see Jaraczewski, ZPhKr, XLVI, pp. 11—12; Rosin, Ethik, p. 26, n. 1; p. 79 ff.; Lazarus, Ethik, vol. I, Abhang XIV (Eng. ed. vol. I, p. 273 f.); Wolff, Acht Capitel, Introd., pp. XIII—XIV; Yellin and Abrahams, Maimonides, pp. 78—83; Cohen, Charakteristik, etc., in Moses ben Maimon, I, p. III ff.; A. Löwenthal in JE., II, p. 101; Lewis, in Aspects of the Hebrew Genius, (London, 1910) pp. 82—83. On the mean in Jewish religious philosophy, see Rosin, Ethik, pp. 10, 12, 14, 19, 24; H. Malter, JQR (new series) vol. I, p. 160, n. 15.
  2. השױס, the equidistant (equivalent to the Aristotelian ίσον, the exactly equal, the normal, or equibalanced); cf. Moreh, II, 39, “It is clear, then, that the Law is normal (משוױה) in this sense; for it contains the words, ‘Just statutes and judgments’ (Deut. IV, 8); but ‘just’ is here identical with ‘equibalanced’ (שוױם).”
  3. הממוצעים, the mean (Aristotelian μέσον). Nic. Eth., II, 6, “By an objective mean, I understand that which is equidistant from the two given extremes, and which is one and the same to all, and by a mean relatively to the person, I understand that which is neither too much nor too little.”
  4. Cf. ibid., “Virtue, then, is a disposition of the moral purpose in relative balance, which is determined by a standard, according as the thoughtful man would determine. It is a middle state between two faulty ones, in the way of excess on one side, and defect on the other; and it is so, moreover, because the faulty states on one side fall short of, and those on the other side exceed, what is right, both in the case of the emotions and the actions; but virtue finds, and, when found, adopts the mean.” Cf. H. Deot, I, 4, and II, 2.
  5. הקצה הראשון, is the extreme of excess (Aristotle's ὐπερβολή), and הקצה האחרון the extreme of deficiency (ἔλλειψις). Cf. H. Deot, I, 5; III, 1; ואתרחק לצד האחרון עד שלא יאכל בשר ולא ישתה יין וכ׳, where צד האחרון clearly means the extreme of the too little.
  6. See Hebrew text, c. IV, pp. 19—20, n. 17. On the gloss והגחת ממוצעת וכ׳, introduced here in some Mss. and edd., see Hebrew text, c. IV, p. 20, note. This gloss seems to go back to Eth. Nic., II, 7, “He that is as he should be may be called friendly, and his mean state friendliness; he that exceeds, if it be without any interested motive, somewhat too complaisant, if with such motive, a flatterer; he that is deficient and in all instances unpleasant, quarrelsome and cross."
  7. The virtue which I. T. explains here, owing to the inadequacy of the Hebrew terms, is the one which Aristotle calls magnificence (I. T.'s טוב לב). The excess is want of taste or vulgar profusion (יתרון טוב הלבב), and the defect paltriness (הגבלה). See Eth. Nic., loc. cit. According to Aristotle, magnificence is a higher kind of liberality (גדיבות), and consists of the spending of money on a grand scale, with taste and propriety. It is prompted by a desire for what is noble, concerning itself with the services of religion, public works, and so forth. The vulgar man, whose object is ostentation, offends with excessive splendor, while the mean man, on the other hand, through timidity and constant fear of expense, even though he does expend large amounts, mars the whole effect by some petty characteristic of meanness (ibid., IV, 2). I. T. has, accordingly, incorrectly explained the terms גבלה ,לב מוב, and יתרון טוב הלבב.
  8. See H. Deot, I, and II for a list and discussion of the virtues. Aristotle mentions and discussess the following virtues in Eth. Nic.; courage (II, 7, and III, 6-9), perfected self-mastery or temperance (II, 7, and III, 10-11), liberality (II, 7, and IV, 1), magnificence (II, 7 and IV, 2), greatness of soul (II, 7, and IV, 3), love of honor (II, 7, and IV, 4), gentleness (II, 7, and IV, 5), friendliness (II, 7, and IV, 6), truthfulness (II, 7. and IV, 7), jocularity or liveliness (II, 7, and IV, 8), and modesty (II, 7, and IV, 9). Cf., also, Eudemian Ethics, II, 3, where a formal table is given contaning fourteen virtues and their respective pairs of extremes; and Mag. Mor. I, 20 ff.
  9. Abot, II, 5.
  10. Abot, V, 20.
  11. See Hebrew text, c. IV, p. 21, n. 16.
  12. Aristotle also mentions the paucity of terms to express the nice distinctions he makes (Eth. Nic., II, 7).
  13. Better, "the apathetic"; see Hebrew text, c. IV, p. 21, n. 27.
  14. Cf. Eth. Nic., II, 9, "for we ourselves sometimes praise those who are defective in this feeling (anger), and we call them gentle; at another, we term the hot-tempered manly and spirited."
  15. Cf. Yoma, 86 b; Sotah, 22a, "As soon as a man has committed a sin and repeated it, it becomes to him a permitted act".
  16. Cf. H. Deot, "VI, 1, "The natural disposition of the human mind occasions man to be influenced in his opinions and actions by those with whom he associates, and his conduct to be dependent on that of his friends and countrymen".
  17. On the acquisition of virtues and vices, see Eth. Nic., II, 1 3; and H. Deot, I, 2, 7. See below c. VIII, p. 85ff.
  18. Cf. Eth. Nic., II, 2, "for excessive training impairs the strength as well as deficient; meat and drink, in like manner, in too great or too small quantities, impair the health; while in due proportion they cause increase, and preserve it".
  19. Cf. H. Deot, II, 2. The same thought is expressed by Aristotle in Eth. Nic., II, 9. If we find ourselves at one of the faulty extremes, we must drag ourselves away in the opposite direction, for by bending ourselves a long way back from the erroneous extreme, allowing for the recoil, as when one straightens a crooked piece of timber, we shall at length arrive at the proper mean. Punishment of sin also, according to M., forces the culprit to the other extreme of the sin committed. Thus, if a man sin as regards property, he must spend his money liberally in the service of God; if he has indulged in sinful bodily enjoyments, he must chastise his body with fasting, privation, and the like. This practice should even extend itself to man's intellectual failings, which may cause him to believe some false doctrine, a fault that is to be remedied by turning one's thoughts entirely away from wordly affairs, and devoting them exclusively to intellectual exercises, and carefully reflecting upon those beliefs in which he should have faith (Moreh, III, 46). Compare with this Aristotle's theory as regards correction, according to which the remedies are of such a nature as to be the contraries of the ills they seek to cure (Eth. Nic., II, 2).
  20. Cf. H. Deot, II, 2, "How shall he cure them (the moral ills)? The sages tell the wrathful man that if he is accustomed to scold and curse he should train himself never to give vent to these feelings, and that he should continue this course a long while, until he has eradicated wrath from his heart. If he is haughty let him train himself to be humble, let him clothe himself in ragged garments which humiliate those who wear them, and let him do similar acts, until he has uprooted his pride, and returned to the middle course which is the moral one; and, when he has done so, let him continue in it all his days. He should act in a similar way with all his characteristics. If he is far from the middle course, at one extreme, let him force himself to go to the other, and accustom himself fully to it, until he returns to the proper course, which is the medial trait as regards each characteristic".
  21. See infra, c. VI; and M.'s Commentary on Abot, V, 7. 11.
  22. M. departs from strict adherence to the Aristotelian doctrine of the mean, which Aristotle himself does, at times, and especially as regards the virtue of justice. M. states here that the deviation from the mean on the part of the saints was because of caution and restraint. Later, in H. Deot, I, 5, he expands this thought in drawing a distinction between the wise man (חכם) and the saint (חסיד). Wise men cling to the exact middle course, but “the early saints were accustomed to deviate in their characteristics from the middle course towards either one or the other extreme, now making one characteristic tend towards the extreme of deficiency, and now another towards that of excess. This is doing ‘more than the strict letter of the law demands’.” In regard to the two characteristics, pride and anger, M. states, in some instances, the Aristotelian view which considers the medium course the virtue, only to depart from it at other times, and, following the Bible and Talmud, considers the extreme the virtue. Thus, in this chapter, pride (גאוה) is the one extreme, self-abasement (שפלות הרוח) the other, and humility (ענוה), the mean, is the virtue; anger (כעס) is the excess, insensibility to shame and disgrace (העדר הרגשה חרפה ובוז) the deficiency, and mildness (סבלנות), the mean, is the virtue. In H. Deot, I, 4, the medium course (בינוני), likewise, in respect to anger, is designated as the virtue. Man should not be insensible to anger (ולא כמת שאינו מרגיש), although he should give vent to his wrath only at great provocation (ולא יכעוס אלא על דבר גדול). In his Commentary on Abot, IV, 4 (Rawicz, Commentar, pp. 78—80), and in H. Deot, II, 3, M. asserts, however, that excessive humility and complete absence of anger are the virtues, and not the medium course. The passage in Deot is as follows, “There are, however, some dispositions in regard to which it is wrong to pursue even a middle course, but the contrary extreme is to be embraced, as, for instance, in respect to pride. One does not follow the proper path by merely being humble. Man should be very humble and extremely meek. To this end, Scripture says of Moses, our master, that he was ‘very humble’ (Num. XII, 3), and not that he was simply humble. Therefore, the sages command us, ‘Be thou very humble’ (Abot, IV, 4), and say, furthermore, that all who are proud-hearted deny an important principle of our faith, for Scripture says, ‘Thy heart will become uplifted, and thou wilt forget the Lord thy God’ (Deut. VIII, 14), and they also say, ‘he who is presumptuous, even to a slight degree deserves excommunication’. In like manner, anger is a very bad characteristic; one should go to the opposite extreme and school himself to be without wrath, even as regards a matter at which it might seem proper to show anger....... The Rabbis of old said, ‘Whoever allows himself to be carried away by his wrath is like a worshipper of idols’ (Nedarim, 22a). Futhermore, they said, ‘If a wise man becomes angry, his wisdom forsakes him; if a prophet, his inspiration departs from him’ (Pesaḥim, 66b), and, ‘Those that abandon themselves to their angry passions do not deserve to live’ (Pesaḥim 113b). Therefore, they recommend total absence of anger, so that a man may thus train himself never to feel it, even at those things which naturally would provoke one to wrath. The proper course to pursue, and the way of the righteous, is that ‘they are insulted, but do not insult; they hear themselves reviled, and answer not; they do good from pure motives of love; they rejoice amidst their sufferings, and of them it is said, ‘Those that love him are like the sun going forth in its might’ (Judges V, 31, Shabbat, 38b)”. See Rosin, Ethih, p. 87, n. 5; Cohen, Charakteristik, in Moses ben Maimon, I, pp. 112—116. See, however, supra, p. 54, note 1, for biblical and Talmudical passages which support the doctrine of the medium course.
  23. Baba Meẓï‘a, 35a: עשית הישר והטוב זו לפנים משורת הדין.
  24. To study Torah.
  25. Cf. H. Deot, VI, 1, and H. Nedarim, XIII, 23.
  26. Jer. IX, 1.
  27. Ps. XIX, 9.
  28. Num. VI, 11.
  29. Nazir, 19a, 22a; Ta'anit, lla; Baba Ḳamma, 91b; Nedarim, 10a; cf. M.'s Commentary on Abot, V, 15.
  30. Zech. VII, 3.
  31. Ibid., VII, 6.
  32. Ibid., VII, 9.
  33. Ibid., VIII, 9.
  34. Cf. Moreh, III, 35, and H. Deot, III.
  35. Cf. Moreh, III, 39.
  36. Lev. XIX, 18.
  37. Ex. XXIII, 5.
  38. Deut. XXII, 4.
  39. Ibid., XXII, 1.
  40. Lev. XIX, 32.
  41. Ex. XX, 12.
  42. Deut. XVII, 11.
  43. Lev. XIX, 17.
  44. Deut. XVIII, 22.
  45. Yer. Nedarim, IX, 1; ed. Krotoschin, 41b: אלא שאתה מבקש לאסור עליך.
  46. Cf. Moreh, III, 36.
  47. Cf. M.'s Commentary on Abot, V, 14 (Rawicz, Commentar, p. 100). See Eth. Nic., VII, 1, "it is a rare thing for a man to be godlike".
  48. Job IV, 18.
  49. Ibid., XXV, 4.
  50. Eccl. VII, 20.
  51. Num. XX, 12.
  52. Ibid., XX, 24.
  53. Deut. XXXII, 51.
  54. Num. XX, 10.
  55. Mekilta to בשלח (Ex. XV, 2).
  56. See Moreh, I, 4, on the interpretation of Ex. XXIII, 8.
  57. Num. XX, 8.
  58. See below, c. VII, n. 5a. On nearness to God (התקרבות), see Cohen, Charakteristik, etc., in Moses b. Maimon, vol. I, pp. 106, and 124.
  59. Ps. L, 23.
  60. Sotah, 5b; Mo'ed Ḳaṭan, 5a.