Sunday, August 15, 2004

Condensation of Ch. 1 of Rambam's 'Eight Chapters"

This is part of my upcoming translation
of Rambam's "Eight Chapters", to be
published shortly by Judaica Press.

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1. Though the human nephesh has several functions and capacities, it’s nonetheless a single entity.

2. Since improving character amounts to healing the nephesh, it’s important to understand the nephesh the way a doctor understands the body. We’ll thus begin by discussing its five capacities: the digestive system, the senses, the imagination, the emotions, and the intellect.

3. Though the human and animal nephesh seem to share various functions because identical terms are used to describe both, they’re actually different. And we’ll be limiting our discussion to the human nephesh.

4. The human digestive system encompasses ingestion, retention, digestion per se, excretion of waste, growth, procreation, and metabolism; the senses encompass seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling and touching; the imagination encompasses the capacity to retain impressions of experiences and to compare and contrast them, as well as to combine things within one’s experience with things out of it, and to concoct impossible combinations of things; the emotions encompass the capacity to crave something or reject it, as well as to actually express personal and emotional proclivities through the different parts of the body; and the intellect encompasses the capacity to reason, speculate, acquire knowledge, and to differentiate between good and bad forms of behavior within the realm of the practical and the speculative.

5. Know that your nephesh is a sort of “matter” whose “form” is your ability to reason. If your nephesh never achieves its form, then its potential to do that would have been for naught. But that and other such themes is beyond our discussion of character, so we won’t delve into them.

(C) 2004 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman