AN ANTHOLOGY OF THOUGHT & EMOTION... Un'antologia di pensieri & emozioni



A lecture by David R. Blumenthal

My revered teacher, Professor Georges Vajda, who would have been gratified to know of this conference and whose presence here is sorely missed, differed with his esteemed colleagues H. A. Wolfson, S. Pines, and G. Scholem in his evaluation of the place of Maimonides in Jewish intellectual and religious history.[2] As I have indicated in detail elsewhere,[3] Vajda, whose work was very much influenced by the conceptions of his French colleagues and by the nuances of French culture, introduced the concept "philosophic mysticism" into Jewish studies. He considered Maimonides to be the epitome of the philosopher whose teaching shaded almost imperceptibly into mysticism. Following Vajda humbly, I have tried to pursue this insight both for Maimonides and for his loyal disciple from fifteenth-century Yemen, Hoter teen Shelomo.[4] The time has come to again approach this subject.

The crucial test, though it is not the only one, is Guide of the Perplexed3:51.[5] The first problem, because it is logically prior to the solution and because Maimonides presents it first, is the question, who is the audience of this teaching. The answer is contained in the typology of worshipers at the beginning of the chapter. There (Joel 454:1-456:19; Pines 61-20), Maimonides sets forth a carefully crafted extended metaphor and, then, interprets it for the reader. There are seven levels of worship of God: (1) those who are irrational, who have no beliefs at all--they are outside the city; (2) those who speculate but err because of incorrect reasoning or blind authority (I think Maimonides intends to include here those who practice dhikr, the sufi technique of repeating God's name to induce a trance[6])--they are within the city but have their backs to the ruler; (3) the masses who observe the mitsvot--they are within the city, they face the palace but do not even see the wall thereof; (4) the legal experts and those who have studied math and logic--they have gone up to the wall of the palace and seek the gate; (5) those who have begun speculation, i.e., have studied physics--they are within the palace in the antechambers (Ar. dahaliz); (6) those have proved everything to a certainty, i.e., who have mastered metaphysics as well as the other philosophical arts--they are in the inner chambers (Ar. dakhil al-dar; Heb. `el he- haser ha- penimit) but cannot see or speak to the ruler; and (7) those who, after a special effort (Ar. sa'y), become prophets, there being two main divisions: (a) the others and (b) Moses--they are in the inner chambers, in the presence of the throne of the ruler (Ar. bayna yaday majlis al- sultan). Some of these see the ruler from a distance, others from closer up; only one person can speak and be spoken to.

This typology fits within Maimonides' more general schemes and is closest to the five- fold typology set forth in the extended metaphor of the lightning in the Introduction to the Guide (Joel 3:23- 4:12; Pines 7- 8). There, the levels include: (1) those who never see the light at all, (2) those who see it indirectly (in a polished body or in a stone) and intermittently, (3) those who see it directly but only once, (4) those who see it directly but intermittently, and (5) those who see it directly always.[7] These two extended metaphors are, actually, carefully nuanced typologies of the upper ranges of perfection. The analysis of true worship is intended for exactly this class of people. More specifically, Maimonides' teaching on true worship is intended for levels 6 and 7 of the palace typology, i.e., those who have mastered metaphysics (Ar. al- 'ulama') and those who have put forth the special effort to become prophets, there being several degrees according to one's ability to perceive the ruler. Or, using the extended metaphor of the lightning, the teaching on true worship is intended for those who see the light indirectly as well as for those who see it directly, there being several degrees in the latter group according to one's ability to perceive the light.

This carefully nuanced typology of holy men to whom the teaching on worship is directed is, then, comprised of philosophers and prophets. Let it be clear, as I have explained elsewhere[8] that, on experiential though not on dogmatic- halakhic grounds, these two groups blend into one another. There is a conceptual overlap between the prophet and the philosopher on theological, though not on legal, grounds. This, then, is the first piece of evidence that the true teaching on worship is directed toward Maimonides' contemporaries. Further evidence that this chapter is directed to people living in Maimonides' time who, while not prophets in a dogmatic- halakhic sense, were expected to be capable of absorbing and practicing this teaching, is as follows (the references are to Joel): (1) "Worship of the heart" is binding upon all, not just upon the prophets [457:6-7]. (2) Sizable sections of this chapter are written in second-person address [455:28- 9; 456:25- 7; 457:5- 12; 457:15- 459:5] in keeping with the character of the introductory letter to the book. (3) The terms Maimonides uses are normally reserved for the contemporary religious elite: "one who apprehends the true realities" (Ar. mudrik al- haqa'iq [454:20; 456:18]), "a noble one" (Ar. al- fadil [457:14,25; 461:2,10]), and "a person of perfect apprehension" (Ar. al- shakhs al- kamil al- 'idrak [460:11,13,16]). (4) Particularly significant are Maimonides' references to: "the prophets or the perfect noble ones" (Ar. al- 'anbiya' `au al- fudala' al- kamilin [460:24- 5]), "the rest of the prophets and the noble ones" (Ar. baqiyat al- `anbiya' wal- fudala' [463:8]), to himself (460:4- 9), and to older people who are capable of a pious death (462:22ff.). Note too that the metaphor of the lightning also implies the overlap of the philosopher and the prophet in its usage of the first person narrative and in its specifying that the metaphor applies to "the perfect ones" (Ar. al- kamilin [4:8]). The audience of Maimonides' teaching on true worship, then, is the upper range of his elite, the holy men of his day.

Maimonides' Teaching to the Elite

Maimonides' teaching on the ultimate stages that a truly religious person can achieve--i.e., his instruction to the upper range of the elite, the holy men of his day--is also contained in Guide 3:51, though it is alluded to elsewhere as well. To convey this teaching, Maimonides interprets a series of terms from the biblical- rabbinic tradition in a special way, using neo- aristotelian and sufi terms and concepts.[9] The key term is 'avodah / 'ibada ("worship").

Maimonides uses the word 'avodah / 'ibada in seven ways: (1) "the observance of the commandments of the law" (Ar. `imtithal `awamir al-shari'a - PM Avot 1:2 [Qafih 408]; PM Pereq Heleq [Qafih 199]); In this sensethe various mitsvot are celled 'ibadat (Guide 3:32, Joel 387:20- 2). (2) the sacrifices (Avot 1:2; Guide 3:32); and (3) prayer (Heb. tefillah; Ar. al- salat - SM Pos. 5; MT Tefillah 1:1; Guide 3:32). These usages can be grouped together because they refer to the cultic aspect of worship. The rites of the cult, however, must not be observed perfunctorily but with joy (MT Yom Tov 6:20; Lulav 8:15). (4) the middle way which is "the most complete of the modes of worship" (PM Shemonah Peraqim, 4 [Qafih 387]) This is Maimonides' philosophic- medical usage.
'Avodah, however, also refers to the "work of the mind" as follows: (5) rational, systematic, syllogistic thought about God: His existence, unity, incorporeality, creatorship, providence, etc. (Pereq Heleq [Qafih 199]; Guide 3:32 end). Maimonides associates this type of 'avodah with `ahavah, the intellectual love of God which is comprised of "perceiving all of reality as it really is and contemplating His wisdom in it" (Ar. `idrak ... `i'ibar hikmatahu - Guide 3:28 [373:20- 1]). 'Avodah- 'ahavah is, thus, a study of creation with a view to drawing syllogisms on God's existence, unity, etc. (MT, Lulav 8:15; Pereq Heleq, ibid.; taken together with SM Pos.3; MT Yesode ha- Torah 2:2; 4:12; Guide 3:51).

(6) Maimonides states explicitly that the ultimate activity of the mind, though intellectual, goes beyond systematic thinking. 'Avodah in this sense is the intellectual yet more- than- intellectual contemplation of God. Thus he writes in Guide 3:51: "that that intellect which overflowed from Him, may He be exalted, toward us is the bond between us and Him. You have the choice: if you wish to strengthen and to fortify this bond, you can do so . . . The result is that when a perfect man is stricken with years and approaches death, this apprehension increases very powerfully, bliss over this apprehension and passionate love for the object of apprehension become stronger, until. . ." (Pines 621,627). In this sense, Maimonides also uses the following phrases which indicate that the ultimate activity of the mind, though intellectual, is more than just rational thinking about God and His ways (all citations are from 3:51, ed. Joel): `i'mal al- fikra fi al- ma'qul al- `awal (457:6), `i'mal al- fikra al-'aqliyya (457:14), al- 'avodah al- 'aqliyya (459:1), `ittihad 'uqulihim bi-'idrakihi (459:16- 7), and al- `ittihad bi- llah `a'ni `idrakuhu wa- mahabbatuhu (459:19). Note too that Maimonides associates this state with the Arabic ghibta ("bliss"), using that term no less than five times (456:11; 459:6; 461:5; 462:22,23; see also below on simhah), with the term hosheq / 'ishq (see below), and with the Arabic `infirad (457:7).

(7) The final meaning of worship is post- intellectual devotion to God. It follows after the previous level. Maimonides states this explicitly in Guide 3:51: "This kind of worship ought only to be engaged in after intellectual conception has been achieved . . . Now we have made it clear that love is proportionate to apprehension. After love comes this worship . . . in his endeavor to apprehend Him and in his endeavor to worship Him after apprehension has been achieved . . ." (Pines 620- 1, emphasis added). To highlight this teaching, Maimonides again employs several devices: He uses the word ba'da ("after") no less than nine times (454:20; 456:5,17,24,26; 457:2,4,8,13). He indicates that this state requires extra "effort" (Ar. sa'y) no less than seven times (455:4; 456:26; 457:8; 460:1; 461:4; 463:15,16). And he describes this state in non- philosophic terms: "total devotion to Him" (Ar. al- 'inqita' `ilayhi [456:26; 457:13; cf. also 3:32, Joel 384:16]), "closeness to Him" (Ar. al- qurb minhu [456:26; 459:14- 15,27]), etc.

Maimonides' interpretation avodah / 'ibada, thus, moves from the cult, to the philosophical- medical, to the intellectual and post- intellectual levels of worship. Note very carefully the delicate nuancing of the last level from rational thought about God and His ways (level 5), to intellectual yet more- than- intellectual contemplation of God (level 6), and finally to genuinely post- intellectual devotion to God (level 7). Given the complex audience for which this teaching was intended, it seems safe to state that Maimonides had three levels of teaching: an exoteric teaching of worship as cultic and philosophical- medical--this was for the masses; a semi- esoteric teaching of worship as intellectual knowledge--this was for the educated elite; and a deeply esoteric doctrine of worship as a state (or states) beyond even intellect--this was for the upper range of the elite.[10]

Further Evidence for the Intellectual- Contemplative
Level of Worship (Level 6)

Returning to Maimonides' typology of 'avodah / 'ibada, we note that level 6 is both intellectual and more-than- intellectual--i.e., that it is rooted in, and grows out of, intellectual thinking about God but that it is also more than that. This is "intellectual- contemplative worship of God." There is other evidence which points to and clarifies this level, particularly Maimonides' reinterpretations of hosheq / 'ishq and of simhah / ghibta.

Maimonides uses the terms hosheq / 'ishq in three ways: (1) to denote physical passion (SM Pos221; MT Melakhim 8:2); (2) to denote an emotional passion, as for beauty (MT Avodah Zarah 3:6); and (3) to denote an intellectual passion for Torah (MT Ishut 15:3), for the Intelligences (Guide 2:10 [189:4]), and for God (Guide 2:4 [178:12]).

In Guide 3:51, Maimonides uses this term in seven places (457:13; 462:15- 7,20,24; 463:4,5). In each case, the referent is God and the context is intellectualist. For example: "the exercise of intellectual thought in passionate love for Him always" (457:13); or, "his passionate love for the object of apprehension" (462:24). Maimonides defines and uses this term as a quantitative increment of rational thought as in the following examples: "the difference between `ohev and hosheq . . . for the excess of love such that there remain no thought of any other thing except this beloved is passionate love ('ishq)" (462: 17); and "in the state of the pleasure of that apprehension because of the intensity of the passionate love for . . . so that the apprehension which comes with the intensity of the passionate love for Him, may He be blessed, . . ." (Ar. shiddat al- 'ishq 463:4- 5; note the parallel passage in MT Teshuvah 8:3 where the same phenomenon is described but the term `ahavahgedolah yeterah 'azzah 'ad me'od is used, not hosheq).

The evidence is clear: passionate love (hesheq / 'ishq) is a quantitative increment of intellectual love ('ahavah / mahabba); i.e., it grows out of rational thought and is an aspect of intellectual- contemplative worship.[11]

Maimonides uses the term simhah in five ways corresponding to three different Arabic roots: (1) eating, drinking, and the giving of gifts to family and others in order to make them happy (SM Pos. 54, 169; PM Sukkah 5:1; MT Yom Tov 6:17- 22, the most complete statement; Lulav 8:12 4; 'Avelut 14:1; Guide 3:43); (2) the joy of observing the commandments and loving God (PM Berakhot 9:5; Shemonah Peraqim 6 [Qafih 391], 'Avot 1:2; MT Lulav 8:15; De'ot 5:4 and 'Ishut 15:17; Matenot 'Aniyim 10:4 and Megillah 2:17; Teshuvah 9:1); (3) an attitude of joyous equanimity in the face of the vicissitudes of life (PM Berakhot 9:5, 10:3; MT De'ot 2:3 and Teshuvah 7:8; Guide 2:29 where these are called halat, states of soul); and (4) the pleasure of knowing God through the exercise of rational thought (MT Teshuvah 8:1- 4; parallels in: SM Pos. 3; PM Pereq Heleq [Qafih 204- 5]). In all of these cases, the Arabic parallels are surur and farh, the description of these states (Ar., halat) in Guide 2:29 (Joel 237: 18- 23; Pines 337) being the most complete.

The Arabic root ghabata, which I have translated as "bliss," occurs seven times in Guide: once in 1:60 (98:18) where the devotee is urged to accumulate negative attributes of God and "be blissful in this"; once in 2:43 (279:2- 4) where the Hebrew term for bliss, no'am, is discussed and the people is described as "blissful in its obedience to Him, having pleasure in that"; and five times in 3:51 (456:11; 459:6; 461:5; 462:22,23). In each of these five cases, the root is explicitly connected with the "bliss in that which he apprehended" and, in two of them, the text speaks of the "increased intensity of the bliss. . ." (Ar. 'azam, ta'azzama - 456:11; 462:22- 3).

The evidence is clear: simhah in its fifth sense of "bliss" (though note that only the Arabic term appears) is a quantitative increment of intellectual joy, i.e., it grows out of rational thought (level 5) and is an aspect of intellectual- contemplative worship (level 6).[12]

Further Evidence for the Post- IntellectualLevel of Worship (Level 7)

Returning again to Maimonides' typology of 'avodah / 'ibada, we note that level 7 is completely post- intellectual, post-ratiocinative. This is "post- cognitive devotion to God." There is other evidence which points to and clarifies this level of worship, namely: the convoluted literary presentation and the reinterpretation of the concepts of silence and kavvanah .

As is well known, Maimonides clearly states that he will not reveal everything and that, insofar as he does expose true doctrine, he will do so with great indirection. Thus, he states at the very beginning of the Guide (Introduction): "A sensible person thus should not demand of me or hope that, when we mention a subject, we shall make a complete exposition of it; or that, when we engage in the explanation of the meaning of one of the metaphors, we shall set forth exhaustively all that is expressed in that metaphor . . . rather they are scattered and entangled with other subjects that are to be clarified. For my purpose is that the truth be glimpsed and then again concealed . . ." Maimonides goes on to enumerate different types of symbolic language and concludes his Introduction by listing seven types of contradiction, two of which he admits he will use in his exposition in the Guide.[13] In using this method, Maimonides created a new literary genre--the puzzle.[14]

The juxtaposition of intellectual contemplation and post- intellectual devotion as set forth in Guide 3:51 contains one of Maimonides' deepest puzzles. It is a superb example of his convoluted literary style. On the one hand, these themes are very deeply interwoven, so much so that it is almost impossible to separate them. For example: Maimonides takes the special term 'avodah she- ba- lev, which he employs in MT in its usual sense of sincere prayer (Tefillah 1:1 with the Kesef Mishneh ad loc), and reinterprets it as both these types of worship: "After love comes this worship to which attention has been drawn by the sages, may their memory be a blessing, who said, 'This is worship in the heart.' In my opinion it consists in setting thought to work on the first intelligible and in dedicating oneself exclusively to this. . ." (Pines 621). Note the reference to both post- intellectual and to intellectual- contemplative worship in the space of two sentences. Another example: "If, however, you have apprehended God and His acts in accordance with what is required by the intellect, you should afterwards engage in totally devoting yourself to Him, endeavor to come closer to Him, and strengthen the bond between you and Him, that is the intellect" (Pines 620). Again, note the close juxtaposition between post- intellectual devotion and intellectual bonding. Another example: "when a perfect man is stricken with years . . . the intellect is strengthened, its lights achieve wider extension, its apprehension is purified, and it is in bliss in what it apprehends" (Pines 627). Note the non- ratiocinative contemplative terminology woven into the theme of the development of the organ of rationality par excellence--the intellect. Finally, words like "bliss," "passionate love," and "dedication," even given in their intellectualist context, can allude only to some non- intellectual state.

On the other hand, several usages point to the differentiation of intellectual- contemplative from post- intellectual experience: The word "after" can allude only to a post- intellectual state. The word "effort" implies an activity beyond thinking and even intellectual contemplation. The word "total devotion" is used in a way that makes it a label for the post- intellectual dimension of this teaching. By contrast, the other terms such as "bliss," "passionate love," and "dedication" are always used in distinctly intellectualist contexts.

The teaching on this ultimate form of worship is, thus, undeniably present but it exists only as an undercurrent. It is exceptionally well hidden under the main current of intellectualism which is the dominant motif of Maimonides' worldview. Maimonides' intellectualism was well-known to his readers. He asserts it in all his works and does not hide it. Why, then, is the teaching on post- cognitive worship (level 7) presented in such a convoluted way? Why is it so carefully concealed within Maimonides' intellectualism? Is there, perhaps, a deeper esoteric teaching on intellectualism? one which needed hiding because it was too intimate, or too inexpressible? Indeed, the logic of the typology of worship, the special terminology, the convoluted literary method of this discussion, and the complex typology of holy men as the audience for it point exactly to this: to the existence of a post-cognitive level of worship, one which could not be achieved without intellect but one which was "after" it, which transcended it.

Maimonides' concern with silence is on three levels. First, he who articulates a false doctrine is a heretic and will be deprived of his or her share in the world- to- come (MT Teshuvah 3:7- 8 with Guide 1:36). Matters of speech are, therefore, taken seriously and silence is to be recommended.
Second, in Guide 1:50, 59, 64, and 2:5, Maimonides makes it very clear that it is a person's obligation to study reality and to represent to himself in the most rational form possible all the truths contained therein. He then states: "Now, this representation itself (Ar. tasawwur) is the true praise (of God). Speaking about it is meant to instruct someone else or to make it clear to oneself that one has apprehended (it)" (2:5 [180:24- 5]). Representation of rational truths, then, is the desideratum. This, we have seen, is the core of Maimonides' intellectualism. However, as these sources also indicate, representation without words is better than speech. This is so because the danger of incorrect doctrine and hence heresy is thus avoided. But it is also so because non- verbal intellectualization is, as we have seen, integral to Maimonides' concept of intellectualist contemplation as a mode of worship. Note that the spheres, intellectual entities above humankind, practice this form of worship (2:5, drawing on Ps. 19:4) and that this silent mode is also the command of the "pious ones" (1:50) and the "perfect ones" (1:59).

Third, buried (as we would expect) in the midst of his advocacy of negative theology, Maimonides expounds upon the utter impossibility of intellecting God: "Apprehension of Him consists in the inability to attain the ultimate apprehension of Him. All the philosophers say, 'He has dazzled us by His beauty and He is hidden from us by the intensity of His brightness,' as the sun . . . 'Silence is praise to You' (Ps. 65:2) which interpreted signifies: silence with regard to You is praise . . ." (1: 59 [95:113; Pines 139- 40]). Here, Maimonides paraphrases sayings and uses images from the Islamic mystical literature[15] to indicate that God lies beyond rational thinking and even beyond intellectualist contemplation He is ineffable in every sense. Maimonides then concludes this paragraph by backtracking to create a contradiction of the seventh type: "Accordingly, silence is preferable--and limiting oneself to the [modes ofl apprehension of the intellects--just as the perfect ones have enjoined and said, `Commune with your own heart upon your bed and be still' (Ps. 4:5)."[16]

Using this typology, one can say that Maimonides understood kavvanah on six levels, each of increasing religious intensity: (1) emptying one's mind and standing before God (MT Tefillah 4:6; Guide 3:51 [458:12- 18]); (2) concentrating on the meaning of the words (Tefillah 4:16- 19; 3:51 [458:1-20]); (3) praise of God resulting from love and from fear of Him (MT Yesode ha- Torah 2:2; 4:12; Lulav 8:15; Guide 3:35, 44); (4) remembering God (PM Berakhot 1:3; Guide 3:44 (see also above); (5) intellectual contemplation of God (3:51 [458:29- 459:5]); and (6) post- intellectual devotion / silence (1:59; 3:51 [456:24- 457:15, given the double talk of that passage]).

The evidence from Maimonides' teaching on silence and kavvanah, then, though not featured prominently in Guide 3:51, points clearly to the existence of a post- intellectual form of devotion to God as the ultimate that man can achieve.

Ambiguous Evidence

There are two metaphors which Maimonides reinterprets in Guide 3:51 which are ambiguous--i.e., read one way, they point to intellectual- contemplative worship (level 6) as the ultimate state one can achieve while, read another way, they point to post- cognitive devotion (level 7) as the ultimate stage of worship. These metaphors are: the verse "I sleep but my heart waketh" (Song 5:2) and the "kiss of death" (Talmud Bava Batra 17a).

In MT (Teshuvah 10:3), Maimonides indicates that the entire biblical Song of Songs is to be understood as a metaphor for "the great, excessive, and exceptionally powerful love" of man for God. This phrase, as noted above, corresponds to passionate love (hesheq) and, hence, we can expect that Maimonides will interpret the Song of Songs as a metaphor for the intellectual- contemplative type of worship. In Guide 3:51 (Joel 459:5-460:9; Pines 623- 4), he does just that with the verse, "I sleep but my heart waketh." Maimonides, in explaining the spiritual level achieved by Moses and the patriarchs, describes the state alluded to in the verse as follows:
And there may be an individual who, through his apprehension of the true realities and his bliss in what he has apprehended achieves a state in which he talks with people and is occupied with his bodily necessities while his intellect at the same time is wholly turned toward Him, may He be exalted (Ar. masruf nahwahu). He is, in his heart, continuously in His presence, may He be exalted, although he is with men outwardly . . . "I sleep but my heart waketh" . . . It happened because of the union of their intellects with the apprehension of Him[17] . . . because of the union of their intellects with God, I mean with apprehension of Him and love of Him . . . because of their nearness to Him, and what nearness!

Maimonides concludes this explanation with the cryptic remark that deserves close attention: "This level is not one to which someone like me can aspire for guidance in achieving it. But the previous level can be aspired to through the training we have described." As Pines points out, Maimonides may mean that he cannot aspire to be guided to the achievement of this level of double- consciousness--in this case, philosophic piety would be limited to intellectual contemplation of God (level 6) or he may mean he cannot aspire to guide others to the achievement of this level--in this case, philosophic piety would include post- intellectual devotion to God (level 7) though one could not instruct others in it. The previous level that Maimonides admits is attainable in any case is "intellectual worship consisting in nearness to God and being in His presence"--itself an ambiguous term that can refer to intellectual contemplation (level 6) or to post- intellectual devotion (level 7).
The evidence is quite clear: Maimonides understands the Song of Songs in general, and this verse in particular, to be a metaphor for intellectual- contemplative worship and he understands the double- consciousness of Moses and the patriarchs to be possibly available to the uppermost range of the elite.[18]

At the end of 3:51 (Joel 462:17- 463:17; Pines 627- 8) Maimonides touches briefly on the subject of immortality and its relationship to his philosophic piety. He explains that intellectualist pursuits are inhibited in youth and describes the broadening and brightening of the intellect that takes place as one grows older (cited above). Then he writes (Joel 462:22-463:12; Pines 627- 8):

The result is that, when a perfect man is stricken with years and approaches death, this apprehension increases very powerfully, bliss at this apprehension and a passionate love for the object of the apprehension becomes stronger until the soul is separated from the body at that moment in this state of pleasure (Ar. lidhdha).The Rabbis have indicated with reference to the deaths of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam that the three of them died by a kiss . . . The purpose of this was to indicate that the three of them died in the pleasure of this apprehension due to the intensity of the passionate love . . . "Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth" (Song 1: 2) . . . After having reached this condition of enduring permanence, the intellect remains in one and the same state . . . and he will remain permanently in that state of intense pleasure.

Here too Maimonides concludes with a cryptic remark which deserves close attention: "The other prophets and excellent men are beneath this degree but they are included in the general class--the apprehension of their intellects becomes stronger at the separation--as it says, 'Your righteousness shall go before you; the Glory of God will gather you in' (Is. 58:8)."[19] Maimonides means to say that death by a "kiss" is beyond most people but death in the throes of intellectualist-mystical ecstasy is not. He concludes this beautiful chapter by urging the reader to "multiply those times you are with God or striving to approach Him . . . "

The evidence is again quite clear: death by the "kiss," as well as death by something just a little lower, is part of the intellectualist-contemplative mode of worship (level 6) and/or the post- cognitive mode of worship (level 7). Both are for the upper range of the elite. One's state of bliss in the world- to- come is likewise an aspect of this worship, it being a function of the philosophic- mystical ecstasy one achieves in the moments before death. Furthermore, these states are accessible to all who have the ability and who submit to the discipline.


All the evidence cited here leads to three main conclusions: First, Maimonides proposed as the summit of his religious philosophy a distinctly post- cognitive piety. This piety was built upon the exercise of the intellect in rational and cognitive thought but was posterior to such thinking To put it differently, Maimonides had an exoteric teaching of rational intellectualism and an esoteric teaching of post- cognitive piety. The former was for the educated elite and the latter was for the upper range of that elite, the selected few.

Second, Maimonides' teaching on post- cognitive piety was itself divided into two levels. The first was an intellectual yet more- than-intellectual contemplation of God. The experience alluded to grew out of, and indeed was an intensification of, the exercise of the intellect in rational thought. It was rooted in rational thinking and yet was more than ratiocinative. The interpretation of such terms as "worship" (level 6) "passionate love," and "bliss" point in this direction, together with one interpretation of the verse from the Song of Songs and the "kiss of death." The second level of Maimonides' teaching on post- cognitive piety was that of the truly post- intellectual devotion to God. The experience alluded to completely transcended its rational roots. It was beyond attribution, beyond metaphor, beyond even negation, beyond even intellectualist contemplation. It was ineffable, inarticulable, non- verbal. The interpretation of such terms as "worship" (level 7), "after," "effort," "total devotion," "kavvanah," and "silence" point in this direction, together with the convoluted method of teaching, the complex typology of holy men, and the alternate understanding of Maimonides' views on the Song of Songs and the "kiss of death."

Third, Maimonides accomplished his teaching on this subject by reinterpreting Hebrew terms and metaphors drawn from the biblical and rabbinic traditions against the background of the neoaristotelian and sufi usages of his intellectual milieu. In doing so, he called upon common conceptualities and formulated a new and stunning vision of the spiritual capacities of humankind. The interpretive tendencies of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries notwithstanding, it seems to me quite fair to apply the term "philosophic-mystic" to Maimonides.[20]

For other articles by Professor David R. Blumenthal, see this link:


...and Blumenthal's website: