Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman – Torah scholar, Kabbalist, philosopher, physician, poet and Jewish leader – was born in the year 4954 from Creation. He was raised, studied, and lived for most of his life in Girona, Catalonia.
Being a brilliant scholar, he did not wish to make any profit from the Torah and became a practicing physician in his native town. At the same time he served as the communal rabbi of Gerona, and later became the chief rabbi of the entire province of Catalonia.
Ramban devoted most of his time to the study of the Talmud and Kabbalah, and to his literary work. He compiled commentaries on the Talmud, authored books on Jewish law and ethics and wrote a famous commentary on the Torah – one of the classic commentaries studied today.
Ramban’s commentary on the Torah is one of the standard commentaries printed alongside the Hebrew text, like those of Rashi and Ibn Ezra. Nahmanides often explained the p’shat, the simple meaning of the text, but he also sometimes gave longer philosophical comments. He is the first of the major commentators who included into his Torah commentary some mystical interpretations from the Kabbalah.
The life of Ramban underwent a sudden change in the year 5023, when he was challenged to participate in a religious dispute – the Disputation of Barcelona. (Later, Rabbi Moshe wrote down the main points of this dispute in his “Sefer Vikkuach”).
The dispute took place in the palace of king James I of Aragon and lasted for four days.The king was so impressed with the scholarship, wisdom and eloquence of the Ramban, that he visited him in the synagogue the following Shabbos. At a farewell audience to which the King invited the Ramban, the king praised him highly, and gave him a rich present as a token of respect and admiration.
However, the Ramban’s brilliant speech was too much for his adversaries. Their subsequent attacks made it clear that the Ramban should flee from the country.
At the age of 72, the Ramban had to leave his beloved community, his famous Yeshivah, his friends, and his native land. In the year 5027 he made an aliyah to the Land of Israel.
He found the Holy Land in great desolation; the Jewish communities were scarce and scattered. In a letter to his son written upon his arrival, Rabman described the plight of Jerusalem which still had not recovered from its destruction by the Crusaders some 170 years ago. He found only two Jews there, a leather dyer and his son. However, through the efforts of Rabbi Moshe, a minyan and a Jewish community were soon re-established in the city. Until the present day there is a synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem which bears the name of the Ramban.