Sunday, March 1, 2009

Sefer Madda Addendum

A few additional words that I wanted to mention about Sefer Madda. Sefer Madda can be described as the halakhik prerequisites to being able to do mitzvot. You should be able to accomplish the following concepts before you can properly perform a specific mitzvah. (Similar to Derech Eretz Kadma L’Torah. Click here for my rant on origin of this Rabbinic aphorism.)

  • Believe in HaShem - Hilkhot Yesodei HaTorah
  • Be physically and psychologically able to do mitzvoth - Hilkhot Deot
  • Learn how to do the halakhot - Hilkhot Talmud Torah
  • Avoid idolatry - Hilkhot Avodah Zarah
  • Repent for aveirot or mistakes: Hilkhot Teshuvah

I would like to describe two reasons that prove that Sefer Madda is genuinely distinct from the rest of the Mishneh Torah. Firstly, there is a good vocalized (menukad) edition of the whole Mishneh Torah by Mosad HaRav Kook called Rambam L’Am. The ONLY volume of the Mishneh Torah that you can buy individually is Sefer Madda. If you want any other volume of the Rambam L’Am you must buy the entire set. (Unless you get lucky in a used-seforim shop.)

Secondly, Sefer Madda was quite controversial in the halcyon days of the Middle Ages - back when hygiene was poor and book burning was de rigueur. Not only did copies of the Moreh Nevuchim go up in flames, but so did copies of Sefer Madda. Ramban agreed that most of Sefer Madda was heretical and therefore deserved to be burned. (Presumably because of Rambam’s liberal use of Greek philosophy.) However, Ramban stated that Hilkhot Teshuvah was such a great work of machshavah that it prevented them from burning the rest of Sefer Madda. Ramban did not suggest burning the entire Mishneh Torah, rather only Sefer Madda was problematic. Hence, I assert that Sefer Madda can be considered to be separate from the rest of the Mishneh Torah.

We will continue with the second book of the Mishneh Torah, Sefer Ahavah. Yet, in many ways it is appropriate for it to be considered as the first book, since Sefer Madda is a preface to the Mishneh Torah. In reality there is a preface to the Mishneh Torah called the Sefer haMitzvot, but does anyone actually learn it from cover to cover?

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