Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Mishneh Torah - Sefer Ahavah

The next Sefer in the Mishneh Torah is Sefer Ahavah. However, every time I translate the name of this sefer into English, I instantly begin to hum the great 50’s song by The Monotones (possibly one of the all-time worst names for a band). Just as Chazal began Shas with Massechet Berachot, so too Rambam began the formal mitzvah section of the Mishneh Torah with the Halakhot of Prayer. (See this post for an explanation of why Sefer Madda is a quasi-hakdamah to the Mishneh Torah.) Sefer Ahavah contains the following sections of halakhot: (I am not going to explain the eponymous sections.)

  • Hilkhot Kriat Shema
  • Hilkhot Tefillah and Birchat Kohanim - Laws of the Amidah
  • Hilkhot Tefillin, Mezuzah and Sefer Torah
  • Hilkhot Tzitzit
  • Hilkhot Berachot
  • Hilkhot Milah - Laws of Brit Milah
  • Seder HaTefillah - Description of prayer liturgy (נוסח התפילה)

First of all, let’s talk about the name Sefer Ahavah. There are other seforim in the Mishneh Torah where Rambam uses the same names that Chazal used, for example: Nashim, Nezikin and Tehorah. Certainly, it is significant that he chose not to use the name Berachot for this sefer. Also, it is a name which does not easily explain the topic of the sefer. Rambam could have called it Sefer Tefillah because it mainly contains the laws of prayer. However, Rambam decided to include the laws of Tefillin, Mezuzah and Sefer Torah and the laws of Brit Milah which are not at all connected to prayer. Why would Rambam have decided to group these laws with the obvious laws of prayer?

The laws of Tefillin, Mezuzah and Sefer Torah appear in Massechet Menachot - obviously! The laws of Brit Milah appear in Massechet Shabbat. On the surface, both of these groups of laws do not seem to be connected to the Massechtot where they appear.

Tefillin, Mezuzah and Sefer Torah appear at the end of the 3rd perek of Menachot, seemingly because they are included in a long list of mitzvoth that are: מעכב זה את זה. This is a situation where missing a part of the mitzvah (like one of the two paragraphs of the mezuzah scroll) prevents you from being able to perform the mitzvah. In other words, if you have a mezuzah that has only one paragraph, then that mezuzah is not kosher. But there does not appear to be a philosophical or halakhik connection between the laws of the minchah korban and the laws of Tefillin, Mezuzah and Sefer Torah. Similarly, the laws of Brit Milah appear in the 19th perek of Massechet Shabbat, where the Mishnah discusses whether or not you can carry the items needed for a Brit Milah on Shabbat when there is no Eruv. Again there is no obvious connection between the halakhot of Menachot and Shabbat and the halakhot of Tefillin, Mezuzah and Sefer Torah and Brit Milah.

Here goes my grand unifying theory of Sefer Ahavah - these are mitzvot which easily enable you to express your love to HaShem. Our quest begins with the last perek of Hilkhot Teshuvah, which presents the idea that the love that a person should feel towards HaShem is comparable to the love that is described in Shir HaShirim. To worship HaShem with love is one of the highest levels of doing mitzvoth. This idea is a natural connection to the grand unifying theory of Sefer Ahavah: after you have learned about the goal of your Avodat HaShem, here are some mitzvot to get you started - the laws of prayer. And certainly it is obvious that the laws of Tefillin, Mezuzah, Sefer Torah and even tzitztit can be considered to be a subsection of the laws of prayer. Similarly, the laws of Kedushat Beit HaKnesset which appear in the 4th perek of Massechet Megillah are placed towards the end of Hilkhot Tefillah. Brit Milah could represent removing a physical barrier that exists between HaShem and men. Thus all of these laws emphasize how we can easily express our love of HaShem, and enhance our experience of loving HaShem.

I plan to discuss why Chazal chose to place the halakhot of Brit Milah in Massechet Shabbat in a separate post. (In ten years when I get a chance to learn the 3rd perek of Menachot I can also write a post about why the laws of Tefillin, Mezuzah and Sefer Torah are located there. I’ll keep you posted - pun intended.) 

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1 comment:

  1. Yaakov,

    the Rambam says exactly what you said in explaining his grouping and naming of Sefer Ahavah -- though he has a slightly different twist on the placement of bris milah. In his words, the Rambam writes in the hakdamah to mishnah torah

    ספר שני. אכלול בו המצוות שהן תדירות, שנצטווינו בהם כדי לאהוב את המקום ולזוכרו תמיד--כגון קרית שמע, ותפילה, ותפילין, וברכות; ומילה בכללן, לפי שהיא אות בבשרנו להזכיר תמיד בשעה שאין שם לא תפילין ולא ציצית וכיוצא בהן. וקראתי שם ספר זה ספר אהבה.

    The Rambam also stresses that these are mitzvos that are constantly and consistently available to us to do -- and that love of Hashem and constantly remembering Him are very much connected concepts.