The Letter of Ramban
A Letter For The Ages/Iggeret HaRamban/The Letter of Ramban
This letter was written by Rabbi Moshe Ben Nachman, more widely referred to by his acronym Ramban and known in English as Nachmanides. The Iggeret HaRamban was printed for the first time in Mantua, Italy, in 1623 as part of the book “Tapuchei Zahav” by Rabbi Yechiel Mili.
This letter occupies a special place in the world of Torah literature. It is recited and studied regularly by masses of Jews who hold dear the lessons of this letter and try to live in accordance with its lofty spirit. Through the ages, Ramban’s letter has been cherished by Torah scholars as well as the masses of Jewry.
This letter was sent by Ramban from the city of Acre in Eretz Yisrael to his son in Catalonia, Spain, to inspire him to act with humility. He instructed his son to read this letter once every week and to teach it to his children as well, so that they might learn it by heart, in order to train them in their youth to fear God.
Ramban assured his son that on the day that he read this letter his wishes would be fulfilled from heaven:
“Heed, my son, the discipline of your father, and do not forsake the guidance of your mother (Proverbs 1:8). Accustom yourself to speak gently to all people at all times. This will proect you from anger – a most serious character flaw which causes one to sin. Our Rabbis taught (Nedarim 22a): “Whoever flares up in anger is subject to the discipline of Gehinnom, as it is written: Banish anger from your heart and remove evil from your flesh (Ecclesiastes 11:10). The evil mentioned here refers to Gehinnom, as it is written: And the wicked are destined for the day of evil (Proverbs 16:4).
Once you have distanced yourself from anger, the quality of humility will enter your heart. This sterling quality is the finest of all admirable traits, as Scripture writes: On the heels of humility comes the fear of HASHEM (Proverbs 22:4). Through humility, the fear of God will intensity in your heart, for you will always be aware of from where you have come and to where you are destined to go. You will realize that in life you are as frail as the maggot or the worm – all the more so in death. It is this sense of humility which reminds you of the One before Whom you will be called for judgment – the King of Glory. Of Him it is written: Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You (Kings a 8:27; Chronicles 6:18), surely not the hearts of men (Proverbs 15:11). Furthermore, it is written: Do I not fill heaven and earth? says HASHEM (Jeremiah 23:24).
After you give serious thought to these ideas you will stand in awe of your Creator and will be guarded against sin. Once you have acquired these fine qualities, you will indeed be happy with your lot.
When your actions display genuine humility – when you stand meekly before man, and fearfully before God; when you stand wary of sin – then the spirit of God’s Presence will rest upon you, as will the splendor of His Glory; you will live the life of the World to Come.
And now my son, understand clearly that one who is prideful in his heart towards other men rebels against the sovereignty of heaven, for he glorifies himself in God’s own robes, for it is written, HASHEM reigns, He dons the mantle of grandeur (Psalm 93:1).
For indeed, of what should man be prideful? if he has wealth – it is HASHEM who makes one prosperous. And if honor – does honor not belong to God? As it is written: Wealth and honor come from You (Chronicles b 29:12) – how can one glorify himself with the honor of his Maker? If he takes pride in wisdom – let him understand that God may remove the speech of the most competent and take away the wisdom of the aged (Job 12:20).
Thus, all men stand as equals before their Creator. In His fury He casts down the lofty; in His goodwill He elevates the downtrodden. Therefore, humble yourself, for HASHEM will lift you.
Thus, I shall explain to you how you may accustom yourself to the quality of humility, to walk with it always. Let your words be spoken gently; let your heat be bowed. Cast your eyes downward, and your heart heaven-ward; and when speaking, do not stare at your listener. Let all men seem greater than you in your eyes: If another is more wise or wealthy than yourself, you must show him respect. And if he is poor, and you are richer or wiser than he, consider that he may be more righteous than yourself: If he sins it is the result of error, while your transgression is deliberate.
In all your words, actions and thoughts – at all times – imagine in your heart that you are standing in the presence of the Holy One, Blessed is He, and that His Presence rests upon you. Indeed, the glory of HASHEM fills the universe. – Speak with reverence and awe, like a servant who stands in the presence of his master. Act with restraint in the company of others: If one should call out to you, do not answer with a loud voice, but respond gently – in low tones, as one who stands before his mentor.
Take care to always study Torah diligently so that you will be able to fulfill its commands. When you rise from study, ponder carefully what you have learned; see what there is in it which you can put into practice.
Review your actions every morning and evening, and in this way live all your days in repentance.
Cast external matters from your mind when you stand to pray; carefully prepare your heart in the presence of the Holy One. Purify your thoughts, and ponder your words before you utter them.
Conduct yourself in these ways in all your endeavors for as long as you live. In this way you will surely avoid transgression; your words, actions and thoughts will be flawless. Your prayer will be pure and clear, sincere and pleasing to God, Blessed is He, as it is written: When You prepare their heart [to concentrate], you are attentive [to their prayers] (Psalms 10:17).
Read this letter once a week and neglect none of it. Fulfill it, and in so doing, walk with it forever in the ways of HASHEM, may He be Blessed, so that you may succeed in your ways and merit the World to Come that lies hidden for the righteous. Every day that you shall read this letter, heaven shall answer your heart’s desires… Amen, Selah”.