Maimonides did not want his brother to travel to India by sea, not for all the treasures in the universe. And David promised to complete the journey in Aydhab, where goods could be bought and sold. Crossing the desert with a caravan, Maimonides thought, was harsh enough, but safer than the sea travel. He told his brother to not travel by sea no matter what happens. Usually, David listened to his brother, but not this time, as you will soon see. In the previous posting, you saw the last letter Maimonides wrote to his brother. It expressed anguish and fear for David’s safety. Here is the last letter David sent to Maimonides, right before he defied him and decided to join another caravan and board the boat to India after all…
The letter, as it was found, was in reasonably good shape, but some words are missing. I will be adding my assumptions as to those missing words in orange. Where nothing can be guessed, I will add this symbol [...], also in orange.
The last letter that Maimonides received from his brother
To my beloved brother Rabbi Moses, son of Rabbi Maimon – the memory of the righteous be blessed!
David, your brother who is longing for you – may God unite me with you under the most happy circumstances in his grace.
I am writing this letter from Aydhab. I am well, but my mind is very much troubled, so that I walk around in the bazaar and do not know – by our religion – where I am [...], nor how it is that I did not imagine how much you must worry about me.
This is my story: I reached Qus and after Passover I booked for Aydhab in a caravan. [For reasons unknown, David did not want to join the caravan that was going to Aydhab, and which was part of his original arrangements. It seems to me that he discovered the owner was a crook and was afraid of being robbed or left for dead. He must have left with only one or two companions, a very dangerous way to travel.] So we travelled alone out of fear of him. No one has ever dared to embark on such a disastrous undertaking. I did it only because of my complete ignorance. But God saved us after many frightful encounters, to describe which would lead me too far afield. When we were in the desert, we regretted what we had done, but the matter had gone out of our hands. Yet God had willed that we should be saved. We arrived in Aydhab safely with our entire baggage. We were unloading our things at the city gate, when the caravans arrived. Their passengers had been robbed and wounded and some had died of thirst. Among them was Ibn al-Rashidi, but he was unharmed. [This may have been the caravan David did not want to travel with.] We preceded him only slightly and there was only a small distance between us and those who were robbed. We were saved only because we had taken upon ourselves those frightful experiences. All day long I imagine how you must feel when you hear about Ata Allah Ibn al-Rashidi, how he was robbed, and you believe that I was in his company. Then God comes between me and my reason.
To cut a long story short: I arrived in Aydhab and found that no imports had come here [...] at all. I found nothing to buy except indigo. So I thought about what I had endured in the desert [probably, he felt he should let himself lose the opportunity for trade after all he had already gone through]; then it appeared a simple matter for me to embark on a sea voyage. I took Mansur as my travel companion, but not Ma`ani, for all my troubles came only from him; you know the man and how he behaves (2 Kings 9:11). Sometime, if God wills it, I shall tell you all that happened between us on our way from Fustat to Aydhab.
My company in the Malabar sea will be [...], Salim, the son of the broker and his brother's son, Makarim al-Hariri and his brother, and the brother of Sitt Ghazal. But Ma`ani embarked, together with Ibn al-Kuwayyis on another ship, and Bu 'l-Ala remains in Dahlak, since the ship in which he travelled foundered, but he was saved and absolutely nothing of his baggage was lost. Ibn Atiyya, however, was in another boat, together with Ibn al-Maqdisi. Their boat foundered and only their dinars remained with them.
Now, despite all of this, do not worry. He who saved me from the desert with its [probably "dangers"] will save me while on sea. [...]
And, please, calm the heart of the little one and her sister; do not frighten them and let them not despair, for crying to God for what has passed is a vain prayer (M. Berakhot 9:3). I am doing all of this out of my continuous efforts for your material well-being, although you have never imposed on me anything of the kind. So be steadfast; God will replace your losses and bring me back to you. Anyhow, what has passed is past, and I am sure this letter will reach you at a time when I, God willing, shall have already made most of the way. But the counsel of God alone will stand (Proverbs 19:21). Our departure will probably be around the middle of Ramadan.
I shall travel with [...] Tell this to his uncle, and also that he is fine. Best regards to you, to Bu Ali and his brother, to the elder Bu Mansur and his brothers, to my sisters and the boys, to all our friends, to the freedman, and Mahasin.
Written on the 22nd of Iyyar, while the express caravan is on the point of leaving.