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Guide for the Perplexed, by Moses Maimonides, Friedländer tr. [1904], at


IN its primary meaning akal (to eat) is used in the sense of taking food by animals: this needs no illustration. It was afterwards observed that eating includes two processes--(1) the loss of the food, i.e., the destruction of its form, which first takes place; (2) the growth of animals, the preservation of their strength and their existence, and the support of all the forces of their body, caused by the food they take.

The consideration of the first process led to the figurative use of the verb in the sense of "consuming," "destroying"; hence it includes all modes of depriving a thing of its form comp. "And the land of your enemies shall destroy (lit. eat) you" (Lev. xxvi. 38); "A land that destroyeth (lit. eateth) the inhabitants thereof" (Num. xiii. 32); "Ye shall be destroyed (lit. eaten) with the sword" (Isa. i. 6); "Shall the sword destroy (lit. eat)" (2 Sam. ii. 26); "And the fire of the Lord burnt among them, and destroyed (lit. ate) them that were in the uttermost parts of the camp" (Num. xi. 1);

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[paragraph continues] "(God) is a destroying (lit. eating) fire" (Deut. iv. 24), that is, He destroys those who rebel against Him, as the fire destroys everything that comes within its reach. Instances of this kind are very frequent.

With reference to the second effect of the act of eating, the verb "to eat" is figuratively used in the sense of "acquiring wisdom," "learning"; in short, for all intellectual perceptions. These preserve the human form (intellect) constantly in the most perfect manner, in the same way as food preserves the body in its best condition. Comp. "Come ye, buy and eat" (Isa. lv. 1); "Hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good" (ib. 2); "It is not good to eat much honey" (Prov. xxv. 27); "My son, eat thou honey, because it is good, and the honeycomb, which is sweet to thy taste; so shall the knowledge of wisdom be unto thy soul" (ib. xxiv. 13, 14).

This figurative use of the verb "to eat" in the sense of "acquiring wisdom" is frequently met with in the Talmud, e.g., "Come, eat fat meat at Raba's" (Baba Bathra 22a); comp. "All expressions of 'eating' and 'drinking' found in this book (of Proverbs) refer to wisdom," or, according to another reading, "to the Law" (Koh. rabba on Eccl. iii. 13) Wisdom has also been frequently called "water," e.g., "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters" (Isa. lv. 1).

The figurative meaning of these expressions has been so general and common, that it was almost considered as its primitive signification, and led to the employment "of hunger" and "thirst" in the sense of "absence of wisdom and intelligence"; comp. "I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord"; "My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God" (Ps. xlii. 3). Instances of this kind occur frequently. The words, "With joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation" (Isa. Xii. 3), are paraphrased by Jonathan son of Uzziel thus: "You will joyfully receive new instruction from the chosen of the righteous." Consider how he explains "water" to indicate "the wisdom which will then spread," and "the wells" (ma‘ayene) as being identical with "the eyes of the congregation" (Num. XV. 24), in the sense of "the chiefs," or "the wise." By the phrase, "from the chosen of the righteous," he expresses his belief that righteousness is true salvation. You now see how he gives to every word in this verse some signification referring to wisdom and study. This should be well considered.

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