Moshes ben Nachman was born in Girona, Catalonia, Spain in 1194 / 4934, and was the crown of that country’s golden age of Jewish sholarship. He was a great Talmudic scholar. He was also called “Nachmanides” meaning “Son of Nachman” in Greek. He was the relative of Rabbi Yonah of Girona. The Ramban studied under many great Rabbis most notably R. Yehudah ben Yakar and R. Nassan ben Meir. He also had mentors in kabbalah including R. Ezra and R. Ezriel, both from Genova. He was not only a commentator, Talmudist, and kabbalist, but also a student of medicine, something which he practiced professionally. He also learned physics, and many different languages. The sefer which reflects his greatness the most was “Milchamot Hashem ” which was written by him for the purpose of defending Rabbi Yitzchak Alfassi ZT’L (better known as the RIF). Another notable sefer of the Ramban was the “Torat Haacku”, which was a brief book of laws and a number of halachic discussions.
Rabbi ben Nahman was a well respected leader of his community and of Jews everywhere. He eventually became the Chief Rabbi of the whole province of Catalonia. The Ramban’s fame rose when he brilliantly defended the Jewish religion in the great disputation of 1263 CE. King James I of Aragon ordered the Ramban to participate in a public religious debate with the Jewish apostate Pablo Christiani.The great dispute took place in Barcelona. The debate was to take place in the presence of king James I. One of the main themes of the debate was ” Has the Messiah arrived, or is he yet to appear and redeem the world from its state of misery and suffering.” Pablo Christiani showed off his knowledge of the bible by basing his arguments on biblical and Talmudic texts. The Ramban resisted the attacks of Pablo for four days. He used full use of the freedom of speech that the king granted him. As a result the Ramban destroyed Pablo by use of just plain logic of his arguments. The king was very impressed by his victory and as a reward, gave the Ramban 300 gold coins.
Great arguments still continued after the dispute. The Dominican priest claimed that Pablo had won the dispute. So as a result of this claim the Ramban wrote “Sefer Havikvach”, which is a detailed account of his questions and his answers. As a result of this sefer they charged him with humiliating the catholic religion, and he was ordered to leave Aragon.
After leaving Aragon, the Ramban started to write his major work, which was a commentary on the torah. In this work he offered a clear view and explanation of the text, showing the moral and ethnical lessons that come out of it . In many places throughout his commentaries he introduced midraschic and kabbalist explanations, this showed his greatness as a Talmudic scholar. In 1267 CE at the age of 72, the Ramban went to Palestine, where he devoted himself to renewing the Jewish settlements in Jerusalem. He encouraged the Jews to return to the city and he fixed up a destroyed synagogue. He also started a Talmudic school which attracted many different people from all over the world.
The Ramban was a great Talmudic scholar as well as secular scholar. He was recognized as the leading authority on Jewish law. His commentaries are studied widely, and his commentary on the torah is printed in all additions of the “Mikrot Gidolot” and read by many.
He spent the last years of his enormously productive life writing his monumental commentary on the Five Books of Moses, beginning it in Spain and completing it in Eretz Yisrael. Another gem of those final years was Iggeres HaRamban, the letter in which Ramban sets forth eloquently and pithily the ethical principles by which his son should conduct himself.