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Ibn Ezra: The Soul Print E-mail

ReadingsThe 1st of Adar is the Yahrtzeit of Rav Avraham Ibn Ezra (1089-1164). He was born in Tudela during the height of Spain’s Golden Age. There, he established a close friendship with Rav Yehuda Halevi. Three of his uncles were ministers in the royal palace. He moved to Toledo, during the benevolent rule of King Alfonso VI. After the Kinf died, however, the anti-semitic masses began to harass the Jews, so he headed south to Muslim Spain – to Granada, Cordova, and Lucena. In 1148, the barbaric Almohades overran Morocco and continued into Spain. He was forced to flee to Rome, Provence, and Rhodes (where he befriended Rabbeinu Tam and other grandsons of Rashi, as well as the Rosh). He traveled to Egypt and learned with the Rambam. He wrote a commentary on the Torah and Navi, based in large part on Hebrew grammar. He also wrote dozens of books on astronomy, astrology, and mathematics.

The greatest happiness of the soul is said to consist in the highest and most perfect knowledge of God. The soul descends from heaven as a tabula rasa,1 a blank, which is to be filled up with the knowledge gathered here on earth during a sojourn in the body. On the attainment of this object the soul's future happiness depends; in case of success, the soul is received into the chorus of angels, which surround the throne of the Almighty and delight in the splendor of His everlasting glory.

The power of determining the future of the soul is entirely in the will of man. It must therefore be man's primary duty to do everything by which his will may be influenced in favor of his heavenly soul. " Acquire knowledge of God " is the first precept resulting from this theory; "Do thy utmost to remove from thy heart everything which is an obstacle impeding thy progression in the right direction." Such obstacles arise from every indulgence in sensual appetites and lusts; they must be removed, as soon as their presence is observed. In allusion to this object, the Commandments given to the Israelites, on Mount Sinai, begin and conclude with those two fundamental precepts. It is, however, impossible to acquire the true knowledge of God without the aid of some additional branches of science; and in fact the soul when given to man by the Lord, is like a tablet prepared to write upon," etc. (Yesod Mora x.) The soul is also compared to the substance,  which receives, under certain circumstances, wisdom as its form. The soul of man coming from the bodiless beings above {anima universalis), is said to be like a ray of light, sent out by the sun, without any loss to the latter.
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