Eight chapters of Maimonides on Ethics/Foreword

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The author, Rabbi Moses (may God preserve him!) said:[1] We have already explained in the introduction to this work (i. e. the Commentary on the Mishnah) the reason the author of the Mishnah had for putting this treatise (Abot) in this Order (Neziḳin)[2]. We have also mentioned the great benefit that is to be derived from this treatise, and have promised many times in preceding passages to discuss certain important points at some length in commenting upon it. For, although the contents of the treatise seem clear and easy to understand, yet to carry out all that it contains is not a simple matter for everybody. Moreover, not all of its contents is intelligible without ample comment, withal that it leads to great perfection and true happiness. For these reasons, I have deemed it advisable here to go into a more lengthy discussion. Besides, our Rabbis of blessed memory have said, “He who wishes to be saintly, let him practise the teachings of Abot[3]. Now, there is nothing that ranks so high with us as saintliness, unless it be prophecy, and it is saintliness that paves the way to prophecy; as our Rabbis of blessed memory said, “Saintliness leads to holy inspiration.”[4] Thus, their words make it clear that the putting into practice of the teachings of this tractate leads one to prophecy. I shall later expound the truth of this assertion, because upon it depends a number of ethical principles.

Further, I deem it fit to preface the commentary on the respective Halakot[5] proper by some useful chapters, from which the reader may learn certain basic principles which may later serve as a key to what I am going to say in the commentary. Know, however, that the ideas presented in these chapters and in the following commentary are not of my own invention; neither did I think out the explanations contained therein,[6] but I have gleaned them from the words of the wise occurring in the Midrashim, in the Talmud, and in other of their works, as well as from the words of the philosophers, ancient and recent, and also from the works of various authors,[7] as one should accept the truth from whatever source it proceeds.[8] Sometimes, I may give a statement in full, word for word in the author's own language, but there is no harm in this, and it is not done with the intention of glorifying myself by presenting as my own something that was said by others before me, since I have just confessed (my indebtedness to others), even though I do not say "so and so said", which would necessitate useless prolixity. Sometimes, too, the mentioning of the name of the authority drawn upon might lead one who lacks insight to believe that the statement quoted is faulty, and wrong in itself, because he does not understand it. Therefore, I prefer not to mention the authority, for my intention is only to be of service to the reader, and to elucidate for him the thoughts hidden in this tractate. I shall now begin the chapters, which, in accordance with my intention, are to serve here as an introduction, which is to consist of eight chapters.

  1. See Hebrew text p. 5, n. 2. The introductory words are by ibn Tibbon.
  2. See Goldschmidt, Der Babylonische Talmud, I, Berlin, 1897, Einleitung in die Mišnah von Moses Maimonides, p. XXX; and Hebrew Review, vol. I, p. 191.
  3. Baba Ḳamma, 30a: אמר רבי יהודה האי מאן דבעי למהוי חסידא לקיים מילי דנזיקין רבא אמר מילי דאבות ואמרי לה מילי דברכות.
  4. Abodah Zarah, 20b: חסידות מביאה לידי ענוה ענוה מביאה לידי יראת חטא יראת חטא מביאה לידי קדושה.
  5. I. e., the verses of Abot.
  6. See H. Malter, Shem Tob Joseph Palquera, in JQR (new series), vol. I, p. 163, n. 21.
  7. The “ancient” philosophers upon whom M. drew, although not always from the sources (see Munk, Guide, I, p. 345, n. 4; Rosin, Ethik, p. 5, n. 4), are Socrates, Plato, the Stoics, especially Aristotle (see Introduction, p. 5, n. 2), Alexander of Aphrodisias (Moreh, I, 31; II, 3), and Themistius (Ibid., I, 71). By the “recent” philosophers M. means Abu Nasr al-Farabi (Ibid., I, 73, 74; II, 15, 18, 19; III, 18), Ibn Sina, al-Gazzali, Abu Bekr Ibn al-Zaig (Ibid., I, 74; II, 24 twice; III, 29), but hardly Ibn Roshd (Averröes). The “works of various authors” refers to the ethical writings of M.’s Jewish predecessors, among whom were Saadia, Ibn Gabirol, Baḥya, Bar Ḥiya, Ibn Zaddik, Yehudah ha-Levi, Abraham Ibn Ezra, and Ibn Daud. See M.’s Letter to Ibn Tibbon, in Ḳobeẓ Teshubot ha-Rambam, II, 28b; Munk, Ibid., I, p. 107, n. 1; p. 345, n. 4; p. 433, n. 2; 434, n. 4; III, p. 417, n. 2, and p. 438, n. 4; Beer, Rabbi Moses ben Maimon pp. 47-50; Geiger, Nachgelassene Schriften, III, Moses ben Maimon, p. 41; Kaufmann, Attributenlehre, p. 324, n. 186; Rosin, Ibid., pp. 5-25, 96, n. 3; Wolff, Acht Capitel, Introduction, XII-XIII; Cohen, Charakteristik, in Moses ben Maimon, I p. 79; in JE, articles on the Greek, Arabic, and Jewish philosophers mentioned in this note, and article by I. Broydé, Arabic Philosophy—Its Influence on Judaism, II, p. 58. On M.’s relation to Ibn Roshd, see Munk, Notice sur Joseph ben-Jehouda, p. 31, and n. 1; Steinschneider, Catal. Bodl., Moses Maimonides.
  8. See Jaraczewski, Die Ethik des Maimonides, etc., in ZPhKr., XLVI, p. 9; and H. Malter, Ibid., p. 169, n. 31.