Completion of Rambam’s Magnum Opus

The central narrative of this week’s parsha, Beshallach, describes the splitting and crossing of the Red Sea.  It represented one of the greatest miracles witnessed by the Jewish nation and their Egyptian pursuers. Raging waters were transformed into dry land only to revert to their natural state when the Egyptian pursuers entered.

The Ba’al Shem Tov taught that nothing happens by coincidence. Certainly nothing relating to Torah is mere happenstance. This week, hundreds and thousands of Jews will have concluded the study of Maimonides’ monumental and encyclopedic work, known as the Mishneh Torah or Yad Hachazakah. Since there are no coincidences, there must be a connection between this historic event, the weekly parsha in general and the story of the splitting of the sea in particular.

The first connection that comes to mind is the very name Yad Hachazakah, which translates as “the mighty hand.” When the Torah concludes with G‑d’s eulogy for Moses, the very last verse (Devarim 34:12) states: “And for the mighty hand …” According to the Targum Yonoson, Nachmanides and other sources, this refers to Moses’ splitting of the sea.

It is fascinating to see the parallel here between Moses and his future namesake, the Rambam (Rabbi Moses ben Maimon). The first Moses demonstrated his mighty hand in splitting the sea and Maimonides, whose epitaph states “from Moses to Moses none has arisen like Moses,” demonstrated his own mighty hand in composing the Yad Hachazakah.

We must now try to understand the deeper underlying connection between Moses’ splitting of the sea and Maimonides’ writing of his magnum opus. On the surface, these two events represent totally different genres of might. The first is the power to control nature and the latter is the power to codify Jewish law. 

Transforming “Sea” into “Dry Land”

To understand the connection between these two manifestations of a mighty hand, we must first consider the significance of the sea splitting and turning into dry land. The question has been raised why G‑d chose to save the Jewish people through this method. G‑d could have simply plucked the Jews out of Egypt. Why the need for such a dramatic double miracle of splitting the sea and drowning Pharaoh’s entire army? 

Chassidic philosophy answers that this event was actually intended as a prelude to and preparation for the revelation at Mount Sinai. The giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai represented a profound revolution in the nature of things. Before Sinai, the physical and spiritual realms were dichotomous entities. It was impossible to imbue a physical object with a spiritual character. G‑d removed that barrier between the physical and the spiritual at Sinai. In the words of the Midrash, “the upper [spheres] can descend downward and the lower [spheres] can rise upward.”  Before Sinai the two dimensions were discrete and disparate, much like parallel lines that can never meet. After Sinai, we were empowered to merge these two spheres. Whenever we perform one of the Mitzvahs given at Sinai, we reveal G‑d’s power within the physical dimension of the world.

The realignment of the spheres at Sinai was foreshadowed six weeks earlier when G‑d transformed the sea into dry land. The “sea” represents that which is normally concealed and “dry land” alludes to that which is normally revealed. The transforming of the water into dry land was thus not simply intended as a demonstration of G‑d’s awesome power. Rather it transformed the hidden dimension of G‑dly energy, symbolized by the sea which covers up all that is in it, into “dry land”, i.e., into a state of revealed G‑dly energy.

Revealing Hidden Knowledge

We can now understand the deep connection of the splitting of the sea that we read about in this week’s parsha, in which G‑d displayed His mighty Hand through Moses, and the Yad Hachazakah of the Rambam.

The Rambam’s work revealed heretofore ambiguous and even concealed knowledge. More than any other previous work, Yad Hachazakahmade this elusive knowledge accessible to everyone. In the words of Rambam’s introduction:

“I Moses, the son of Maimon of Spain, … contemplated all these texts and sought to compose a work derived from all these texts … all in clear and concise terms, so that all the laws be revealed to small and big …”

Before Rambam’s Yad Hachazakah one would have to have been exquisitely proficient in the Talmud to know these matters. The average person could not hope to swim in the “Sea of the Talmud” and emerge onto “dry land.” Rambam took his metaphoric “staff,” struck the “sea” of Torah knowledge and turned these secrets into “dry land.”

Covered by the Sea

Indeed, the analogy between the splitting of the sea and Maimonides’ magnum opus is reflected in the concluding words of his work:

“In that Era there will be neither famine nor war, neither envy nor competition, for good things will flow in abundance and all the delights will be as freely available as dust. The occupation of the entire world will be solely to know G‑d. The Jews will therefore be great sages and know the hidden matters, and will attain an understanding of their Creator to the [full] extent of human potential; as it is written [Yeshayahu 11:9], ’For the world will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d as the waters cover the ocean bed.’"

These concluding words capture the essence of Rambam’s contribution toward our reaching that goal, when no Divine knowledge will remain concealed.

A Major Difference

However, there is a significant metaphorical difference between the sea turning into dry land and the knowledge of G‑d engulfing the entire world. In the former there ceases to be a sea whereas in the latter the entire world becomes a sea!

One can suggest a solution to this matter based on the Rebbe’s discourse  he delivered in the year 5751 and briefly again in 5752 on the occasion of the completion of the study of the entire Yad Hachazakah.  The Rebbe demonstrates that this description of a world transformed into a sea of knowledge applies to the second stage of the Messianic Age, when radical, positive changes will occur.

According to Rambam, there will be no fundamental changes to the nature of the world in the initial stage of the Messianic Age. However, with the advent of the Resurrection of the Dead, a period of radical change to nature, there will be changes in the way we relate to Torah knowledge as well.

In the initial stage, the Rebbe explains, the world will remain in its natural state but will be exposed to previously hidden dimensions of G‑dly knowledge. That process by which the hidden dimensions of knowledge are revealed to us, one might suggest, is analogous to the splitting of the sea.

In the second stage of the Messianic Age, the entire world will be subsumed into that sea of G‑dly knowledge. While the physical world will exist no less literally than before, we will cease to be spiritual “land creatures.” Instead we will become spiritual “aquatic” beings. Rather than revealing the seabed (read: hidden dimensions of knowledge) we will become one with that knowledge.

The Hand that Defeats Amalek

There is yet another connection between the Rambam’s work and this week’s parsha:

At the very end of the Parsha we read of the war the Jews waged against the evil nation Amalek shortly after their miraculous transit of the Sea. Amalek was defeated, the Torah says, while Moses’ hands were raised. This might be understood, allegorically, as a reference to the future Moses - Maimonides - whose “mighty hand” will neutralize the last vestiges of Amalek that separate us from Redemption.

What is Amalek’s modus operandi?

The Book of Devarim (25:17-18) describes  Amalek’s tactics. Among them we find: “… he cut off all the weak people at your rear.” In other words, he used the tactic of divide and conquer. Our strength as a people is our unity. By separating Jews into classes, such as the strong and the weak, the big and the small, etc., Amalek undermines our ability to forge ahead.

The Rebbe’s campaign to encourage the study of Yad Hachazakah was designed, among other objectives, to unite the entire Jewish people. As mentioned above, the Rambam’s work was intended for all, both the “small and the big.” It therefore has the capacity to unite the Jewish people.

Another one of the spiritual Amalek’s tactics is to sow doubt in our lives. Indeed, the very word Amalek has the same numerical value as the Hebrew word for doubt, safek.  One of the features of the Yad Hachazakah is the absence of disputes and lengthy analysis likely to confuse the reader and sow doubts about the Torah’s intention. Rambam’s work confounds those doubts.

Amalek also attacks the people when they are weary from their travels. This is true specifically with respect to our generation, which has become weary from the length of our exile.  We may easily become impatient with the time it has taken for the Redemption to materialize. As a result, people can lose faith and hope in the coming of Moshiach.

The Rambam’s work is an antidote to that hope-poisoning tactic of Amalek.  One of the main sources in Torah for knowledge about Moshiach and Redemption is indeed the Yad Hachazakah. Rambam devotes the last two chapters of his Mishneh Torah to the laws of the Messianic Age. The Rebbe explained that the study of Torah regarding the Redemption, in and of itself, helps condition our minds to think in ways consistent with a Geulah mentality rather than a Galus mentality.

The “mighty hand” of Moses that defeated Amalek then will rid us of Amalek now and prepare us for the ultimate true and complete Redemption.