by Ilil Arbel, Ph.D.
For many years, Maimonides dreamed about going to Eretz Israel ¹, but the King of Egypt did not allow him to do so. Before his death, he called his disciples and told them that as soon as he died, and the purification rites were completed, they must put his body on the back of a camel and allow the camel to wander as it pleased. They were to follow the camel, and where it would stop and refuse to continue -- they should bury him right there.
The disciples obeyed. For one day, morning to night, the camel walked until it reached the town of Tiberias in Eretz Israel. The camel stood near the grave of Rabbi Johanan ben Zakai, and would not budge any further. When the disciples saw the great miracle, they removed the body and buried Maimonides there.
The distance from Egypt to Tiberias is extensive, but the disciples knew they had experienced Kefitzat ha-Derach ². Indeed, the way back to Egypt lasted a few weeks.
¹ The Land of Israel in Hebrew.
² Literally, the phrase means "The Jumping of the Road." In Jewish myth, there is a recurring miracle that allows a traveler to cross long distances in unnaturally short time.
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.