Guide for the Perplexed, by Moses Maimonides, Friedländer tr. , at sacred-texts.com
IN accordance with this intention I find it convenient to divide all precepts into fourteen classes.
The first class comprises those precepts which form fundamental principles, such as we have enumerated in Hilkot yesode ha-torah. Repentance and fasts belong also to this class, as will be shown.
The second class comprises the precepts which are connected with the prohibition of idolatry, and which have been described by us in Hilkot a‘bodah-zarah. The laws concerning garments of linen and wool, concerning the fruit of trees in the first three years after they have been planted, and concerning divers seeds in a vineyard, are likewise contained in this class. The object of these precepts is to establish certain true principles and to perpetuate them among the people.
The third class is formed by commandments which are connected with the improvement of the moral condition [of mankind]; these are mentioned in Hilkot de‘ot. It is known that by a good moral state those social relations, which are indispensable for the well-being of mankind, are brought to perfection.
The fourth class includes precepts relating to charity, loans, gifts, and the like, e.g., the rules respecting "valuations," (scil., of things devoted to sacred purposes, Lev. xxvii. 1-27); "things devoted" (ibid. ver. 28); laws concerning loans and servants, and all the laws enumerated in the section Zera‘im, except the rules of "mixtures" and "the fruit of trees in the first three years." The object of these precepts is clear; their benefit concerns an people by turns; for he who is rich to-day may one day be poor--either he himself or his descendants; and he who is now poor, he himself or his son may be rich to-morrow.
The fifth class contains those precepts which relate to the prevention of wrong and violence; they are included in our book in the section Neziḳin. Their beneficial character is evident.
The sixth class is formed of precepts respecting fines, e.g., the laws on theft and robbery, on false witnesses, and most of the laws contained in the
section Shofetim belong to this class. Their benefit is apparent; for if sinners and robbers were not punished, injury would not be prevented at all: and persons scheming evil would not become rarer. They are wrong who suppose that it would be an act of mercy to abandon the laws of compensation for injuries; on the contrary, it would be perfect cruelty and injury to the social state of the country. It is an act of mercy that God commanded "judges and officers thou shalt appoint to thee in all thy gates" (Deut. xvi. 118).
The seventh class comprises those laws which regulate the business transactions of men with each other; e.g., laws about loans, hire, trust, buying, selling, and the like; the rules about inheritance belong to this class. We have described these precepts in the sections Kinyan and Mishpatim. The object of these precepts is evident, for monetary transactions are necessary for the peoples of all countries, and it is impossible to have these transactions without a proper standard of equity and without useful regulations.
The eighth class includes those precepts which relate to certain days, as Sabbaths and holydays: they are enumerated in the section Zemannim. The Law states clearly the reason and object of each of these precepts; they are to serve as a means for establishing a certain principle among us, or securing bodily recreation, or effecting both things at the same time, as will be shown by me.
The ninth class comprises the general laws concerning religious rites and ceremonies, e.g., laws concerning prayers, the reading of Shema’, and the other rules given in the section Ahabah, with the exception of the law concerning circumcision. The object of these laws is apparent; they all prescribe actions which firmly establish the love of God in our minds, as also the right belief concerning Him and His attributes.
The tenth class is formed of precepts which relate to the Sanctuary, its vessels, and its ministers; they are contained in the section ‘Abodah. The object of these precepts has already been mentioned by us (supra, chap. xxxii.).
The eleventh class includes those precepts which relate to Sacrifices. Most of these laws we have mentioned in the sections ‘Abodah and Ḳorbanot. We have already shown the general use of the sacrificial laws, and their necessity in ancient time.
The twelfth class comprises the laws concerning things unclean and clean. The general object of these laws is, as will be explained by me, to discourage people from [frequently] entering the Sanctuary; in order that their minds be impressed with the greatness of the Sanctuary, and approach it with respect and reverence.
The thirteenth class includes the precepts concerning forbidden food and the like; we have given them in Hilkot maakalot asurot; the laws about vows and temperance belong also to this class. The object of all these laws is to restrain the growth of desire, the indulgence in seeking that which is pleasant, and the disposition to consider the appetite for eating and drinking as the end [of man's existence]. We have explained this in our Commentary on the Mishnah, in the Introduction (chap. iv.) to The Sayings of the Fathers.
The fourteenth class comprises the precepts concerning forbidden sexual intercourse; they are given in the section Nashim and Hilkot issure-biah.
[paragraph continues] The laws concerning the intermixture of cattle belong to this class. The object of these precepts is likewise to diminish sexual intercourse, to restrain as much as possible indulgence in lust, and [to teach] that this enjoyment is not, as foolish people think, the final cause of man's existence. We have explained this in our Commentary on The Sayings of the Fathers (Introd., chap. viii.). The laws about circumcision belong to this class.
As is well known, the precepts are also divided into two classes, viz., precepts concerning the relation between man and God, and precepts concerning the relation between man and man. Of the classes into which we divide the precepts and which we have enumerated, the fifth, sixth, and seventh, and part of the third, include laws concerning the relation of man to man. The other classes contain the laws about the relation of man to God, i.e., positive or negative precepts, which tend to improve the moral or intellectual condition of mankind, or to regulate such of each man's actions which [directly] only concern him and lead him to perfection. For these are called laws concerning man's relation to God, although in reality they lead to results which concern also his fellow-men; because these results become only apparent after a long series of intermediate links, and from a general point of view; whilst directly these laws are not intended to prevent man from injuring his fellow-man. Note this.
Having described the laws of these classes, I will now again consider the precepts of each class, and explain the reason and use of those which are believed to be useless or unreasonable, with the exception of a few, the object of which I have not yet comprehended.