Rabbi Moshe Pinchuk
Former Rosh Kollel (Melbourne, 1998-2001)
Currently Head of the Beit Midrash in Netanya College
Order and categorization is probably one of Rambam’s major achievements and contribution to the world of Halacha and Rambam is well aware of this. Thus any serious study of Rambam requires not only concentration on the actual text but on the location and inner organization of the text at hand.
Hilchot Teshuvais a case in point. The very existence of such a corpus is a Maimonadean creation ex nihillo. Prof. Gerald Blidstein commented on the difference between Hilchot Tefillah and Hilchot Melachim in Rambam. Hilchot Tefillah exists as a separate entity in the Talmud. The basic framework and vast majority of Hilchot Tefillah are concentrated in the first part ofMasechet Berachot; here Rambam was building on firm and pre-existent foundations. Hilchot Melachim, by contrast, simply did not exist as a separate halachik entity prior to Rambam. It was Rambam who conceived the very concept and then meticulously collected all relevant matter from the distant realms of Halacha. Here Rambam was working in virgin territory, the very framework and foundation had to be wrought from diverse halachot. In this sense Hilchot Teshuva is similar toHilchot Melachim. Here too the very framework is a Maimonadean creation. Meiri’s fascinating comment in his introduction toChibur HaTeshuva drives this point home: He relates a conversation he had with a Christian sage who told him that in their theological work they grapple with the question why Jews do not repent in spite of so many troubles and tragedies that befall them. Their only solution to this puzzle is that the Jews do not have proper instruction regarding the performance of Teshuva. “Therefore”, says Meiri, “I have decided to create a proper Teshuva manual for my Jewish brethren”.
The location Rambam chose for Hilchot Teshuva is, at first glance, puzzling. He places it neatly at the end of Sefer Mada, nowhere near Sefer Zemanim and HilchotYamim Noraim. How are we to decipher this choice? In his description of Sefer Zemanin, Rambam writes: “In it I have organized all mitzvoth which are time dependant”. The absence of Hilchot Teshuvafrom this book can mean only one thing. Teshuva indeed is not time dependant. Contrary to common association and habit,Teshuva is not indigenous to Elul and Yamim Noraim; rather it should be generated by the very act of sin wherever and whenever that may occur. The very choice of publishing this article at this period of the year may be frowned upon by Rambam.
Equally puzzling is Rambam’s choice of Sefer Mada for housing Hilchot Teshuva. In his description of Sefer Mada, Rambam writes: “In it I have collected all issues which are the essence and core of Moses'religion which must be a Jew’s primal knowledge”. The presence of Hilchot Teshuva here implies that Rambam views Teshuva as essence and core of Judaism. This again is surprising since one would have thought that Teshuva is merely a footnote to Judaism. For those who fail to live up to the standards and requirement of Judaism a special provision of Teshuva is available to return to the mainstream. By no means should Teshuva be viewed as part of this mainstream, it is only for failures and violations. Rambam apparently does not share this view, and rightfully so. I will leave it to the reader to supply the rational behind this Maimonadean position.