Reasons for the Commandments as Contemplative Practice in Maimonides


Reasons for the commandments or ta’ame ha-mitsvot are among the most controversial aspects of Moses Maimonides’ expansive literary corpus. This article does not consider the specific content of Maimonides’ reasons for the commandments, but focuses instead on the structural importance of this theme to his broader oeuvre. In Sefer ha-mitsvot, Maimonides argues that reflection upon the divine wisdom manifest in the commandments leads to contemplative pleasure and love of God. I argue that this passage provides an important but frequently overlooked key to Maimonides’ later discussion of this theme in his Guide of the Perplexed. In particular, I argue that Maimonides’ reflection upon reasons for the commandments must be understood in light of the Aristotelian mandate to contemplate virtue and virtuous acts. While other writers developed ta’ame ha-mitsvot in an apologetic vein, Maimonides treats reflection upon the reasons for the commandments as a full-blown philosophical and contemplative practice contributing to human perfection and love of God.