Rabbi Avi Weinstein

Archive for February 20th, 2009|Daily archive page

They Should Have Listened to the Rambam!

In Uncategorized on February 20, 2009 at 2:43 pm

Maimonides on Personal Finances Hilchot Deot Chapter 5

The way of people who know the ways of the world is that one first finds a profession from which he can make a living, after which he should buy a home, and after that he should marry, as it is written:

Who is the man who planted a vineyard, but had yet to consecrate it, who is the man who built a home but has not dedicated it, and who is the man who betrothed a woman but had yet to marry her. (Deuteronomy 20:6)

But fools begin by marrying, and afterward they buy a house if they are able, and only at the end of his days does he look to have a profession, or he becomes dependent on tzedaka. As it is written in the curses:

He will marry a woman, build a home and then plant a vineyard. (Deuteronomy 28:30)

In other words, the curse is that he will do everything backwards which will guarantee his failure, but when a blessing is offered, Scripture says:

And David was enlightened in all his ways, and the Lord was with him. (I Samuel 18:14)

The Rambam offers common sense advice that requires personal responsibility on the one hand, but does not remove the feeding hand of the community when one goes the way of fools. David Brooks in his column entitled was unwittingly channeling the twelfth century Physician philosopher rabbi. Yes, there is much foolishness, and yes they are still our responsibility. Just as cancer victims who smoked all their lives need health care, and the morbidly obese diabetic needs insulin, the financially profligate need to be reckoned with as well.

People need to be responsible and Rick Santelli’s Jeremiad on CNBC, has merit, but no civil society denies a person shelter because of his sins, especially when there is so much blame to go around.

By the way, the Rambam switches the order of the verse in Deuteronomy 20:6 where it mentions building a house before planting a vineyard. One opinion understands this “misquote” as being sensitive to the fact that a vineyard’s fruit cannot be eaten or sold until after the fourth year when the fruit is redeemed. The Rambam assumes that the vineyard is planted, but one could buy a house before the vineyard was turned into income.

Either way, the order of the verse that offers the curse is quoted exactly as it appears, and one might assume that the order of blessing is the opposite of the curse. Both readings infer that the fact that marriage is mentioned last in the more neutral context and mentioned first in the curses is significant. This is an interesting reading, but not a necessary one.
Loosely based on Scripture, the Rambam is imparting his own wisdom here, and it is wisdom for the ages.

Stay tuned for a posted file on this passage.