Page 62 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 17 (1958-1959)

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J
e w i s h
B
o o k
A
n n u a l
nature's gifts, attractive alike to women and to philosophers, he
was invited by Lorenzo de Medici himself to make Florence his
home. In addition to the other humanistic disciplines, Pico della
Mirandola had studied Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic, and was
particularly interested in the mystical teachings of the Kabbalah.
He naively saw therein “proof” of the divinity of Jesus and was
inspired by it to the noble task of reconciling the three great
religions—Christianity, Islam and Judaism—among themselves,
these with Plato, and Plato with Aristotle. As a matter of fact, in
his
Heptaplus—a.
mystical explanation of the history of creation
—he derived Plato’s doctrines from Moses.
Under the stimulus of the great Pico and the other Platonists
whom he met in his wanderings, Judah Abarbanel became in­
terested in Platonism, and at the request of Pico he composed a
treatise on the Harmony of the Skies. The chief product of his
scholarship and the work which made his name famous was,
however, the
Dialogues about Love.
The subject of love—in its philosophical transmutation—was
a popular one with both Jew and Christian. Beginning with the
rabbinical statement in Midrash Rabbah comparing the Song
of Songs to the Psalms of David in sacredness and importance,
and continuing with the medieval Jewish commentators who saw
in the Song an allegorical exegesis giving voice to God’s love
for His chosen bride, Israel, the love song became the vehicle for
mystic and symbolic interpretations. Judah Abarbanel made use
of a similar form to delineate his Platonic Philosophy of Love.
The book consists of three dialogues, and, following the usage
of the Song of Songs, presents only two
dramatis personae: Philo,
love, and
Sophia,
wisdom.
Philo’s opening remark, “My acquaintance with you awakes
in me love and desire,” leads to a debate on the distinction
between love and desire. Then follow definitions of the various
kinds of love, giving rise to a disquisition on the love of friends
and of God. God is the source, the means and end of all good
and the supreme end of human activities. Our love of God is,
however, of necessity limited by our finite comprehension.
A detailed inquiry is then made into the precise nature of
happiness and love. Happiness consists not in gain or pleasure but
in wisdom, which presupposes virtue. Knowledge of God consti­
tutes real human happiness. In human love the sensual must be
blended with the spiritual; only in such a blend is love fostered.
Moreover, the beloved is of greater worth than the lover. “And
when you learn, O Sophia, the part played by love throughout
the universe, . . . you will entertain greater reverence for it . .
Love is found to be of three kinds: natural, sensitive and rational-
voluntary. But love is not limited to the sublunar world. Heaven
loves earth as a husband and her nurslings as children. Th e entire