Questions and Suggested Answers
Based on the writings of Nehama Leibowitz
Why does Rambam in his Guide (cited above) utilise both the passage from Malachi and Jeremiah, whereas in his Code in the laws of idolatry he cites only the passage from Jeremiah and does not mention the other passage from Malachi?
In his Guide for the Perplexed, Rambam is laudatory in his description of the nations of the world in terms of their innate belief in the one and only God. Rambam presents a rationale for their external acts of worship; i.e. paying homage to man-made idols. He explains that internally these nations really believe in the one true God but they are incapapble of relating to Him because they require a close tangible object to symbolize the Almighty. However the real object of their worship is really the one and true God. Thus Rambam quotes from both Malachi and Jeremiah because these prophets speak of the nations of the world actually directing praise to God.
In the Mishne Torah, Rambam is describing the breakdown of belief in God, propelled by the distorted teachings of false prophets. It seems that with the passage of time, mankind sinks deeper into the sin of idolatry. Thus the verse from Malachi is not appropriate in this context. In the Mishne Torah, Rambam interprets Jeremiah’s words (10 - 7, 8) as a rebuke to the nations who continue to forsake the living God. On the other hand, Rambam utilizes these same words in the Guide, interpreting them as a proof that the nations really believe in God.
Prepared by: Rabbi Mordechai Spiegelman veteran yeshiva educator (USA) now residing in Jerusalem