"Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom; let not the strong man glory in his strength; let not the rich man glory in his riches. But only in this should one glory: in understanding and knowing Me; for I the Lord act with kindness, justice and righteousness in the world" Jeremiah 9:22-23


The concluding verses of this week's haftarah also conclude the greatest work of Jewish philosophy, the Guide of the Perplexed by Moses Maimonides, completed in 1190. The last two chapters of the Guide (Part III, 53-54) are devoted to expounding the goal of human life, which the Rambam finds expressed in Jeremiah's words.

The first three items form a descending hierarchy of goals - wealth, bodily strength and cleverness. Wealth is the most external and transient, an unworthy goal for perfection. Strength belongs more directly to the person, but is still temporary and superficial. Even wisdom in one's dealings with others, while important, is directed outwards, not towards one's human essence.

Maimonides's life work was bringing people to the knowledge of God, which leads to passionate love of God and ultimate closeness to the Divine. The problem is that we can never fully know God, the infinite and absolute, with our finite minds. What we can know are God's ways, and for Maimonides this meant the laws of science and the workings of nature, which reveal divine wisdom. Learning Torah, for this philosopher, included knowing physics, chemistry and biology!

By studying the rational laws of the Torah alongside the rational laws of nature, we can impress upon ourselves wise, balanced ways of living. God, for Maimonides, doesn't act capriciously or emotionally but according to reason, and knowing God means living intelligently and avoiding harm. If our outer life is balanced, we can cultivate our inner life and train our minds to focus on an ever more refined understanding of the utter unity of God.

When we live that way, filled with lofty thoughts, acting ethically is no longer an effort but flows naturally from us. Painful as life often is, Maimonides's rational analysis shows that good far outweighs evil. Existence itself is kindness and justice, and to know God is to become like God and follow God's ways, acting kindly and justly, out of the fullness of our divine-human nature.

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