From Moses to Moses there were none like Moses: Prophecy of Maimonides' Birth
by Ilil Arbel, Ph.D.
Moses Maimonides had a strong relationship with the Biblical Moses ben Amram, after whom he was named. Maimonides was born on Nisan 14, on Passover's eve, and heard the tales of the Biblical Moses since early childhood. He always believed that Moses was the greatest of the prophets. He showed four points that made him believe that the Biblical Moses was superior to all others:
- Moses received his revelations directly from God, without the intervention of any other entity, such as an angel.
- Moses communed with God not in a dream, but in a normal state of consciousness.
- Moses did not dissolve or burn, as some other prophets did, but maintained himself whole.
- Moses maintained prophetic ability continuously, not in intervals.
Maimonides felt that the Biblical Moses achieved this state, similar to that of an angel or a pure spirit, because he liberated himself from desire, from the tyranny of his senses, and from the power of his imagination.
The legends and folklore show how much the Jews accepted the similarity and connection between the two leaders, so much so that a famous saying circulated even during Maimonides' life time, and later inscribed on his grave: "From Moses to Moses there were none like Moses." The Jews felt that:
- Both started life during a time of persecution.
- Both lived in Egypt.
- Both had many miracles attributed to them.
- Both were strongly involved with the king.
- Both were hounded by enemies all their lives.
- Both were leaders of the Jews.
The relationship started, according to a variant legend, even before Maimonides was born, and applied to the prophetic dream that Rabbi Maimon had before he married Maimonides' mother:
This event happened to the father of the Rambam, Rabbi Maimon, rest his soul. From his youth Rabbi Maimon contemplated Torah and wisdom, inquiring into wonders and looking at the deepest and exalted secrets of the Torah; and these secrets, their keys were saved for elders, who had already advanced in wisdom. And Rabbi Maimon was so deep into the Torah that he refused to marry, because he said: "My soul longs for the Torah only." The years passed and he was still unmarried.
One day Maimon lied under a fig tree in his garden, and a tiny bee started walking on his face. He woke up, but immediately fell asleep again. In his dream he saw the five books of Moses' Torah. He started reading, and suddenly saw Moses, son of Amram, giving the Torah. He turned to Rabbi Maimon and said: "The Lord of Heaven and Earth be blessed. He will give you a son who will write Mishneh Torah, and light the eyes of all Israel; he will be a holy man, perfect in the quality of spirit and soul, a teacher and a leader of his people."
While our Rabbi Moses was still speaking, Elijah the Prophet appeared and said: "Maimon, get up and go to nearby Córdoba, and take as wife the daughter of the butcher there."
When Rabbi Maimon woke up, he traveled to Córdoba and married the butcher's daughter, as Elijah the Prophet said. And the woman gave birth to Maimonides, the Rambam. The mother did not have the privilege of raising her son Maimonides: she died in childbirth.
Ilil Arbel. Maimonides: A Spiritual Biography. New York: Crossroad Publishing Company. (To be published September 2001).
Yitzhak Avishur. Shivhe ha-Rambam. Jerusalem: The Magnes Press, The Hebrew University. 1998.