Maimonides on the Six Orders of the Mishnah
The sequence of the six orders follows the precedent of Scripture
Maimonides, also known as Rambam, was a Jewish legal codifier, a philosopher, and a physician. He also wrote a commentary on the Mishnah in Arabic. In his introduction to that commentary, Maimonides explains the sequence of the six sedarim (orders) of the Mishnah by finding parallels between the order of the sedarim and several passages from the Torah. Reprinted with permission from Maimonides' Introduction to His Commentary on the Mishnah, translated and annotated by Fred Rosner, and published by Jason Aronson.
When the author of the Mishnah considered its editing, he saw fit to divide this work into sections and therefore divided it into six sections.
The first section deals with commandments pertaining to the plants of the land such as laws of prohibited mixtures, laws of the Sabbatical year, Orlah (fruit prohibited in the first years of a trees production), heave offerings, tithes, and other laws of agricultural gifts.
The second section deals with the holidays and the festivals their requirements and their varying laws, that which is prohibited, desirable and permitted therein, and those laws and commandments that are properly associated with each of these holidays.
The third section deals with conjugal relations and enumeration of the laws pertaining to relations between men and women such as the Levirate marriage, Halitzah (a surviving brother's refusal to marry his deceased brother's wife), the marriage settlement document, betrothals and divorces, and all that is deemed necessary to be stated for each of these subsections.
The fourth section deals with civil and criminal laws, disputes between man and his neighbor, trade, business dealings, partnership in real estate and the like.
The fifth section deals with sacrifices according to their varying laws and multitude of types.
The sixth section deals with the matter of purifications and their opposites.
Each of these sections is called a Seder (order). The first section is called Seder Zera'im (seeds, agriculture), the second Seder Mo'ed (appointed times), the third Seder Nashim (women), the fourth Seder Nezikin (damages), the fifth Seder Kodashim (holy things), and the sixth Seder Tohorot (purities).
[Rabbi Judah the patriarch] began with Seder Zera'im because it deals with laws specifically relating to the plants of the earth, and the plants of the earth represent the sustenance of all living creatures. Since it is not possible for man to survive without consuming food, it would be impossible for him to serve the Lord in any manner. Therefore, he began by speaking of preceptsdealing specifically with produce of the land.