with the kisses of his mouth”
(The Song of Songs 1, 2)
The “love issue” does not represent in Maimonides’
Guide for the perplexed a well-defined and easy to approach subject. One cannot indicate
a “doctrine” of love or some clear lines of demarcation
regarding this very problem within the treatise.
Different kinds of love appear in different places and at different
levels under different names. Moreover, the significance of the term(s)
does not derive from a simple (even if rigorous) analysis of the different
occurrences in the text, but it supervenes or crops up as a result
of combining and comparing these occurrences, on the one hand, and
by discerning or/and bringing together the related terms, subjects
or strata of the treatise, on the other hand. The complexity
of this (t)issue is thus relevant for the uncovering of some explicit
and non-explicit articulations of the whole construction offering
new starting points for a fertile re-reading of the Guide.
Two premises encouraged this study by shaping a
problem-situation and by announcing significant and clearing up results:
The first premise is offered by the text itself.
Especially in the third part of the Guide love appears to be the climax
of the human knowledge experience; it represents the fulfillment of
all commandments and the superior stage fully attained by the prophet
in the moment of his separation from matter/body.
The second (and more perplexing) premise is represented
by the article of Prof. Moshe Idel from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
“Sitre Arayot in Maimonides’ Thought” (1986,
pp. 79-90). Prof. Idel draws the attention to Maimonides’ references
to sitre arayot (the mysteries regarding the forbidden sexual
relations) as an esoteric subject, together with Maase bereshit
(the Account of the Beginning) and Maase mercava (the Account
of the divine Chariot) in his earlier works: “I would like to
discuss Maimonides’ understanding of arayot as an esoteric
topic, and to comment on why in his later works he omits mention of
arayot when discussing the two companion secrets of the Accounts
of the Beginning and of the Chariot” (ibid., pp. 79-80).
Before entering and developing the created problem-situation
a methodological framework-distinction is necessary, the distinction
(I usually make use of when approaching Maimonides’ philosophical
work) between visible
The visible is the thematization, the instanciation,
the embodiment of the invisible. If the invisible is the essence,
then the visible is the existence. As existentialization, the visible
is, metaphorically, the ecstasy of the invisible. The latter can be
identified with the transcendence: “Principle: not to consider
the invisible as an other visible “possible”, or a “possible”
visible for an other […]. The invisible is there without being
an object, it is pure transcendence, without an ontic mask.
And the “visibles” themselves, in the last analysis, they
too are only centered on a nucleus of absence” (cf. M. Merleau-Ponty,
1968). From the ontic level to the ontological one the visible presents
itself as a limit, as the “body” of man and the “flesh”
of the world: “What there is then are not things first identical
with themselves, which would then offer themselves to the seer, nor
is there a seer who is first empty and who, afterward, would open
himself to them – but something to which we could not be closer
than by palpating it with our look, things we could not dream of seeing
“all naked” because the gaze itself envelops them, clothes
them with its own flash […]. How does it happen that my look,
enveloping them, does not hide them, and, finally, that veiling them,
it unveils them?” (ibid., p. 131).
I. Mystery (seter) and secret (sod)
The Hebrew words sitre Tora (“mysteries
of the Tora”) subscribe an horizon usually identified with the
core of the Jewish esotericism. As for Maimonides, metaphysics is
the science which unveils the divine truths the philosophers are looking
for, truths called, following the traditional line, "secrets"
(sodot) or "mysteries of the Tora” (sitre Tora). According to Prof. Moshe Idel, the "loss
of secrets" is in fact the true cause of the spiritual perplexity:
" Maimonides assumes that he can restore the broken line of transmission
of the secrets of the Torah, and recreate thereby a pre-existing ideal
situation" (1994, p. 292).
I intend to differenciate between mystery (seter)
and secret (sod), as the distinction proves extremely efficient
and illuminating in what follows.
The secret (sod) makes reference to the visible
realm: something visible is hidden by someone who keeps
the secret. No transcendence or ontological matters are implied.
The secret is kept simply by not being divulged, that is, by the personal
specific attitude engaged in a specific human dialogue-situation.
It depends on someone’s will whether to divulge or not
a secret to someone else.
On the contrary, the mystery (seter) relies more
on the invisible, that is, on the invisible hidden part which ontologically
refuses itself to any kind of discourse. Something invisible is hidden
by/through the visible and the very invisible can never be attained,
but only indicated, suggested, pointed out (of course, by means of
the visible). The mystery can not be divulged as there is no one
in the visible world possessing it. That is why the mystery does
not suppose a dialogue-situation. Every one, alone, faces the mystery
and this experience is unique. The mystery can not be taught. One
can only be initiated in these matters. The invisible and the visible
together create the mystery. As a principle the mystery consists of
both phanic (what is revealed/seen) and cryptic (what
is hidden) (cf. Lucian Blaga, 1983).
In this new light sitre Tora represent the mysteries
of the Tora as opposed to the secrets which can be fully explained
and easily translated into visible terms.
II. Sitre Tora: Maase bereshit, Maase
mercava (and sitre arayot?)
In his Introduction to the Guide, referring
to sitre Tora Maimonides explicitly mentions Maase bereshit
and Maase mercava. Moreover, he identifies Maase bereshit
with physics (the science of the created, changing nature), and Maase
mercava with metaphysics (the science of the Law, of the eternal,
unchanging truths): “We also stated (Mishne Tora, I.ii.12,
and iiv.10) that the expression Maase bereshit (“Account
of the Creation”) signified “Natural Science”, and
Maase mercava (“Description of the Chariot”) Metaphysics
Maase bereshit and Maase mercava are so
closely related that someone can not refer only to Maase
mercava without taking into account the truths of the Natural
Science, Maase bereshit. The understanding of the relation
which therefore exists between Maase mercava and Maase bereshit
offers a key to understanding the mysteries of the metaphysics:
"Know that also in Natural Science there are topics which are
not to be fully explained. […] because there is a close affinity
between these subjects and metaphysics, and indeed they form part
of its mysteries. Do not imagine that these most difficult problems
can be thoroughly understood by any one of us" (Introduction).
Consequently, metaphysics essentially signifies Maase mercava,
but secondary, it is strongly related to (and could even include some
parts of) Maase bereshit.
Using the distinction visible/invisible, we could
say that physics is nothing else but the science of the visible uncovered
Maase bereshit is dealing, as the denomination
already indicates, with the “beginnings”, that is, the
creation, the coming into being of the visible, while Maase mercava
stands for the human-divine endeavor to discover/to reconstruct the
way upwards having for a target the invisible.
The distinction reveals its real significance by
an attentive analysis. Both terms bereshit and mercava
have a special echo in the Jewish tradition.
Bereshit is the first word and also the name of the first
book of Moses. Maase bereshit will designate everything related
to the created world, all that appears directly as multiple in all
The second term, Mercava, means throne,
Maimonides insists upon the fact that what Ezekiel and Isaiah saw
in their visions was only the throne of God and by no means God
Himself; the two
prophets have seen only the place where God stood, His trace:
“The prophet likewise says “that is the likeness of the
glory of the Lord”; but “the glory of the Lord”
is different from “the Lord” Himself, as has been shown
by us several times. All the figures in this vision refer to the glory
of the Lord, to the chariot, and not to Him who rides upon the chariot;
for God cannot be compared to anything. Note this” (III,
Maase merkava points to a form of esoteric knowledge that
is transmitted only to the initiated ones, and not even to these entirely,
since it refuses the discursive form par excellence. This is
why, the disciple is merely to receive a few elements, which lead
him, if he possesses appropriate skills, to the veiled science of
un-veiling: “The Maase merkava must not be fully expounded
even in the presence of a single student, unless he be wise and able
to reason for himself, and even then you should merely acquaint him
with the heads of the different sections of the subject [rashei
peraqim]” (Babyl. Talm., Hagigah 11b). What is concealed,
must stay concealed. Unveiling equals veiling. Discourse, as wording,
becomes the instrument of arcane concealment, of oblivion, of hiding
what is utmost hidden;rashei peraqim (“the primeval elements/headings”)
are truly beneficial to him only who knows how to advance in silence,
liberated from words (see III, 1-7).
After all precaution, Maimonides leaps to the presentation
proper of the Account of the divine throne, Maase merkava.
The starting point for this is represented by the two visions of Ezekiel
(chapter 1 and chapter 10) and the vision of Isaiah
(chapter 6), texts that have engendered in Jewish mysticism
(starting with the 1st century CE, and going on to the
10th century) what is called “the throne mysticism”.
Of course, only “the primeval elements/headings” [rashei
peraqim] are exposed.
“Two of the crucial issues of Jewish esotericism, the
Accounts of the Beginning and of the Chariot, are discussed by Maimonides
several times in his works. In his opinion, they are identical with
two philosophical domains, physics and metaphysics, respectively.
This interpretation is proposed already in Maimonides’ earlier work,
the Commentary on the Mishna. No significant change is discernible
between his first treatment of these issues and his later discussions.
Only in the Commentary, however, did Maimonides refer to the
third issue which is mentioned in the Mishna of Hagigah,
namely arayot or sitre arayot” (Moshe Idel, 1986, p.
The esoteric dimension of arayot (forbidden sexual
relations) is obvious. Whether the arayot interdictions represent
a step in a progressive curriculum (the first step of an ascending
ladder having at the top Maase mercava) or a separate subject
is not clear (cf. ibid., p. 83). A significant problem is the change
in Maimonides’ attitude towards arayot. “First
they are considered as “secrets” together with the two
main esoteric issues, the Accounts of the Beginning and of the Chariot.
In the Mishne Tora the arayot, still viewed as “secrets”,
are, however, separated from the other esoteric issues. Finally, in
the Guide, the content of the previous discussions of arayot,
together with additional remarks on this matter, cease to be “secrets”
at all. We perceive a shift from an esoteric perception of arayot
to an overtly exoteric one” (ibid., p. 84).
Why did Maimonide exclude arayot from the larger
framework of sitre Tora thus limiting, apparently without any
explanation, the realm of Jewish esotericism? Prof. Moshe Idel suggests
an answer which pertinently and critically takes into consideration
both the context and the tradition Maimonides belonged to and reacted
to in his works: “Writing on these two Accounts alone, Maimonides
could offer an alternative to the commonly accepted interpretation
of these esoteric topics. However, as the secrets of arayot had
never been the subject of a special Hekhalot text, there was no particular
need for Maimonides to submit an elaborate interpretation of his own
as an alternative” (ibid., pp. 86-87).
From within the framework of the Guide alone and
considering the distinction made between mystery and secret together
with the self-delimitation cleared up by Prof. Idel, one more reason/answer
could be inferred with regard to Maimonides’ exclusion of arayot
from under the heading of sitre Tora. The need to clearly
define within his system of thought the Jewish esotericism by settling
once again its boundaries obliged Maimonides to resort to precise,
explicit or implicit distinctions and demarcations. Such explicit
distinctions are: matter and form, corporeal and uncorporeal, proper
and figurative meaning, existence, likeness (appearance) and essence.
I suggested that an implicit distinction would be mystery/secret with
a special stress on the significance of the mystery. From this very
point of view, the arayot, referring exclusively to corporeal
“hygiene” and supposing a submission to the body alone
and its desires, have no connection at all with the mystery; nothing
points to the invisible, moreover, the visible is self-referent, narcissiac
and there is no place for mystery which always stands in between the
visible and the invisible. The interdictions in the form of commandments
are a self-evident prerequisite situated in the Guide on the
same level with the rejection of the idolatry.
The first consequence regarding Maimonides’
attitude towards human love stresses the importance (in every kind
of relation) of the understanding that the body/the matter in itself
does not represent the ultimate value.
III. Human and/or divine love
The first and main description/understanding of love
has in the center the idea of the relation. Love implies a special
kind of relation/connection/intercourse. Now, this relation is usually
(inter)personal, but one can apply the term also for describing similar/analogous
relations and this is done, according to Maimonides, only by the use
of homonymy. It is the case of the so-called relation between man (or
any other creature) and God:
“It is quite clear that there is no relation between
God and time or space. [...] But what we have to investigate and to
examine is this: whether some real relation exists between God and
any of the substances created by Him, by which He could be described?
That there is no correlation between Him and any of His creatures
can easily be seen; for the characteristic of two objects correlative
to each other is the equality of their reciprocal relation. [...]
It is impossible to imagine a relation between intellect and sight,
although, as we believe, the same kind of existence is common to both;
how, then, could a relation be imagined between any creature and God,
who has nothing in common with any other being; for even the term
existence is applied to Him and other things, according to our opinion,
only by way of pure homonymy” (I, 52).
All creatures have the attribute of corporeality
whilst God is uncorporeal. Words can be used with their proper meaning
only with regard to the visible realm (as a referent) and by no means
with regard to the invisible itself as the latter can only be indicated
in a figurative manner and never referred to properly.
Taking into consideration this aspect I will differentiate
at the level of the significance between human and divine love. The
table below presents the main different (love-)relations referred
to differently in the treatise:
divine love, loving-kindness, providence; the mystery of the creation
ahava (by way of homonymy): divine
love for man/creatures;
human love; lust, the problem of (sitre) arayot
hesed: human mercy, charity and
generosity as imitatio Dei;
(eventually by way of homonymy): human love for God; the mystery
of the divine essence (Maase mercava); amor Dei intellectuallis;
divine kiss, unio mystica; amor Dei intellectuallis
Prof. W. Zeev Harvey described these three different
kinds of love designated by the three different Hebrew terms as follows:
hesed represents the love of the strong for the weak, a love
that derives from power; ahava represents the love of the weak
for the strong, a love that derives from need; and hesheq represents
the intellectual love.
The mataphor of the divine kiss as an expression for
the intense love of God is highly significant. As long as man is in
body his love and knowledge of God are imperfect. “The more
the forces of his body are weakened, and the fire of passion quenched,
in the same measure does man’s intellect increase in strength
and light; his knowledge becomes purer, and he is happy with his knowledge.
When this perfect man is striken in age and is near death, his knowledge
mightily increases, his joy in that knowledge grows greater, and his
love for the object of his knowledge more intense, and it is in this
great delight that the soul separates from the body. To this stage
our Sages referred, when in reference to the death of Moses, Aaron,
and Miriam, they said that death was in these three cases nothing
but a kiss” (III,
This is also the hidden meaning of Songs 1, 2:
“Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth”.
The intellectual union suggested by the metaphor of the
divine kiss represents the climax of the human ascension to God while
in body. The man experiencing this kind of death/separation from body
attains perfection. As a matter of fact, the perfection is seen paradoxically
as both a precondition and a state attained in the very moment and
by the very fact of “being kissed”. Human perfection implies
“the possession of the highest intellectual faculties. [...]
With this perfection man has obtained his final object; it gives him
true human perfection; it remains to him alone; it gives him immortality,
and on its account he is called man” (III, 54).
The “intellectual love” appears as a contradiction
in terms. Love is usually restrained to sensibility and has nothing
to do with the intellect. Maimonides rather refers here to love as
a homonym and this would be an easy-to-understand presumption after
following Maimonides’ line of thought.
Another reason is offered by the use of the word “delight”
when referring to the precise moment of the separation from the body.
Interestingly enough, Maimonides asserts that the intellect once separated
“continues for ever in that great delight, which is not like
bodily pleasure.” (III, 51) The difference in register
is obvious. The invisible can only be indicated by way of figurative
meaning/homonymy. The kiss is no more an ordinary (human) kiss since
the love is no more an ordinary (human) love (within the visible realm
and between “visible” partners).
Any discourse aiming to
the invisible (in itself - with reference to the essence of
God, or as separate form/intelligence - with reference to angels,
or even as human intellect - in body) is double.
IV. Love and/or knowledge of God
“[...] man’s love of God is identical with His knowledge
of Him. [...] man concentrates all his thoughts on the First Intellect,
and is absorbed in these thoughts as much as possible” (III, 51).
Maimonides repeatedly identifies the love of God with
His knowledge (and “His” is to be understood here as both
“object” and subject, for indeed God is the Subject
par excellence). An active and totally engaged attitude
is required whenever one tries to approach God. This equals in Maimonides’
thought to a concentration of all human bodily powers/forces and intellectual
faculties on God. This concentration necessary implies a detachment,
a withdrawal from the senses, i.e. from the body, since matter supposes
multiplicity and dispersion. “And thou shalt love the Lord thy
God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might”
(Deut. 6, 5).
Only the invisible is one, this is why the unity belongs to the intellect,
as unity of the form: “I explain “with all thy heart”
to mean “with all the powers of thy heart”, that is, with
all the powers of the body, for they all have their origin in the
heart; and the sense of the entire passage is: make the knowledge
of God the aim of all thy actions [...]” (I, 39).
The love of God and the knowledge of God are identical
or precede one another mysteriously reinforcing each other. Spiritual cleaving to God supposes the “practice”
of death as melete
The withdrawal from the senses is made possible by (and
eventually leads to) retirement and seclusion. “Every pious
man should therefore seek retirement (le-hipared) and seclusion
and should only in case of necessity associate with others.”
(III, 51) The retirement from the visible realm implies first
the retirement from society and then the “retirement”
from the body. Love unifies and guides all the forces towards an “intellectual
identity” (hence the immortality of the soul) meant to always
“be in touch” with God. Love refines the human identity
by bringing the man as much as possible nearer to the likeness of
God (otherwise, a relation at this level, as we have already seen,
The worship of God must be preceded by His
knowledge and love. “David therefore commands his son Solomon
these two things, and exhorts him earnestly to do them:
to acquire a true knowledge of God, and to be earnest in His service
after the knowledge has been acquired” (III, 51).
Loving God is the supreme liturgical act which
ennobles man and delivers him from the chains of the death.
 I used the English
version, The Guide for the Perplexed, translated from the original
Arabic text by M. Friedlander, Dover Publications, New York,
1956. The biblical verses follow The Jerusalem Bible, Koren
Publishers Jerusalem LTD., Jerusalem, 1997.
 In fact, this is
also the (methodological) aim of the treatise: not to offer a philosophical
system with clear determinations, but to show/indicate a way
meant to overpass the perplexity caused, I would say, by the inadequate
“doctrine-oriented” approach of the perplexed ones (nevokhim).
“[...] the aim is not “to prove” or “to demonstrate”
or “to establish some ultimate truth”, but to point out
as a ‘signpost’, which is the accurate meaning of Guide
(Arabic: Dalala)” (José Faur, 1999, p. XI).
 See also Madeea
Axinciuc, 2002, “Moise Maimonide. Călăuza rătăciţilor
ca itinerar al minţii în Dumnezeu” [”Moses
Maimonides. The Guide of the Perplexed as itinerarium mentis in
Deum”], Bucharest: Academia Română, Fundaţia Naţională
pentru Ştiinţăşi Artă, pp. 18-20.
he likewise interprets the "secrets" (sodot) or "mysteries
of the Torah” (sitre Torah) of ancient mysticism as being
identical with philosophical ideas" (Sara Klein-Braslavy,
1990, p. 58). Is Maimonides "working within the framework
of Aristotelianism" (ibid., p. 57), is The Guide for the Perplexed
trying to identify and thus to reduce Judaism to Aristotelianism,
or Maimonides is working within the framework of Judaism, using Aristotle
as an instrument (undoubtedly a precious one) in order to express
philosophically his interpretatio authentica?
 “[…] the earliest
Jewish mysticism is throne-mysticism. Its essence is not absorbed
contemplation of God’s true nature, but perception of His appearance
on the throne, as described by Ezekiel, and cognition of the mysteries
of the celestial throne-world” (Gershom Scholem, 1974, p. 44).
 Ezekiel 10, 1
and Isaiah 6, 1-2.
 “[…] we comprehend
only the fact that He exists, not His essence” (I, 58).
 Ezekiel 1, 28:
“[…] This was the appearance (mare) of the likeness
(demut) of the glory (cavod) of the Lord (IHWH)”.
 “Do not expect or
hope to hear from me after this chapter a word on this subject, either
explicitly or implicitly, for all that could be said on it has been
said, though with great difficulty and struggle” (III, 7).
 On the occasion
of his two lectures (“Love in the Philosophy of Maimonides”)
given at the Center for Hebrew Studies, Bucharest, December 2001.
 “And Moses the
servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab by the mouth of
the Lord (al-pi Adonai)” (Deut. 34, 5); “And
Aaron the priest went up into Mount Hor by the mouth of the Lord (al-pi
Adonai), and died there [...]“ (Num. 33, 38). In
Miriam’s case the phrase “by the mouth of the Lord”
is not used because “it was not considered appropriate to use
these words in the description of her death as she was a female”
A similar problem
has been rised, for example, with regard to Hasdai Crescas, a medieval
Jewish critic of Maimonides, whose major philosophical work, The
Light of the Lord, mentions joy and love as divine attributes.
Prof. W. Zeev Harvey makes a necessary distinction which also functions,
I would say, in Maimonides’ Guide: “Although Crescas
held joy and love to be passions, and although he attributed joy and
love to God, he nonetheless did not attribute passions to God.
When he attributes joy and love to God, he attributes them to Him
not as passions, but as actions” (1998, p. 106).
language of love evokes more than legal loyalty. It claims the total
self” (Michael Fishbane, 1996, p. 3).
In his Light
of the Lord (Book II, Part 6, Chapter 1) Hasdai Crescas asserts:
“[...] in proportion to the perfection [of the lover] will be
the love” (translated by W. Zeev Harvey, 1998, p. 124).
 See Michael Fishbane,
1996, p. 21.
For a detailed
analysis of hitbodedut and its multiple meanings (including
both “concentration” and “isolation”, “seclusion)
especially in later texts, see Moshe Idel, 1996, Hitbodedut as
Concentration in Ecstatic Kabbalah, in Jewish Spirituality
from the Bible through the Middle Ages, Edited by Arthur Green,
vol. I, New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company. “This connection
between apprehension and providence indicates a possible influence
of Maimonides’ approach (Guide 3, 51) to the relationship
between them [between shutting one’s eyes and hitbodedut]”
(ibid., p. 435).
“And thou, Solomon
my son, know thou the God of thy father, and serve Him with a perfect
heart [...]”(I Chron. 28, 9).