Deuteronomy is Moses farewell address, exhorting the nation in the Torah’s fundamentals. Our parsha contains the second account of the Ten Commandments. Prior to repeating them to the nation, Moses emphatically asks the nation if God ever spoke to a people from amidst fire, or performed miracles, selecting one nation from another as He performed in Egypt. Moses means to say that God benefited Israel in two manners: 1) He demonstrated that He has a will for mankind – His Torah communicated through fire; and 2) He demonstrated that He protects those who follow Him, as evidenced in the miracles of the Exodus. In other words, the Torah lifestyle is a reality, as it is God’s will. It is the purpose of our having been created. But it is also beneficial; to such an extreme that God shields those who follow Him, providing great wonders for our good. Moses emphasized what great good God had bestowed upon this nation.
Moses then says this, “You have been shown to know that Hashem is God, there is no other aside from Him.” Shown to “know”…not believe.
The Ten Commandments’ first law, and Maimonides’ first Principle states that we must “know” that God exists. This demands that man intellectually grasps what we mean by God. It is also not a matter subject to belief, as Moses teaches, “You have been shown to know”. God demonstrated His existence, and did so in a manner that allows us to “know” and not merely believe. But is belief beneficial, if we have not yet arrived at knowledge?
Let us assume a friend tells us that inside a closed box, there rests an item called “X”. Now, as I do not know what X is, does my agreement with him that X is inside, have any meaning? Is it of any worth at all, if I “agree”?
Well, what do I mean that I “agree”? It cannot mean that I have ascertained proof, since the box is closed, and I have not witnessed what this X is. I can “trust” my friend isn’t lying, but that trust offers me no knowledge whatsoever. I am still blind to what X is, regardless of my verbal statements.
Similarly, if my Rabbi were to tell me any idea, an idea that I have no way of proving, I am again no more informed if I say “I agree with you, since you are my Rabbi”. In halacha, yes: we must follow our Rabbis, as this is concerning how we “act”, not how we think. But in philosophy, an area not subject to a psak or ruling, if even our Rabbi tells us an idea that we do not comprehend, my saying “I agree with you” is a meaningless statement. I cannot “agree” with that which my mind does not grasp. So if someone says any idea about God, an idea I do not see clearly as true with my mind, any agreement or belief is worthless. Furthermore, I have not performed any mitzvah with my agreement, my agreement is also a lie, as I have not increased my knowledge; nor have I become any more devout to God. The converse is true: I have rejected reason and allowed myself to be fooled that I know something, which I do not. Torah is about truth. To say I agree with that, which I do not understand, is a lie.
The truth is; you, the reader, know the difference between knowledge and belief. You “know” who your parents are. But you only “believe” your neighbor is wearing a blue shirt right now. You would not be any more informed by saying you agree that he’s wearing a blue shirt. You don’t know this is true and real. So your agreement is meaningless. Belief is meaningless. You must also feel it is equally meaningless to agree with any person, if you don’t see the idea as true with your mind.
You even possess knowledge – and not belief – of historical events, as you know that George Washington was the first president. Had this been a lie, it would not be the singular account found in history books, unopposed by the “real” story. There would – at least – be two stories circulating. But there isn’t. This explains how God can say that His Revelation at Sinai would be a proof for “all time”: “Behold I come to you in thick cloud, so that the nation hear when I speak with you, and also in you will they be convinced forever”. (Exod. 19:9)
Moses was following God; just as God wished that man have a proof, Moses too reminded the people of what they saw, “You have been shown to know”.
Moses goes so far as to demand that we not only listen to an idea, but we consider it until it becomes a conviction in our hearts: “And you shall know today, and place upon your hearts…” The Rabbis teach that this verse teaches two steps: 1) we know something by way of transmission from our Torah and Rabbis; and 2) that we place it on our hearts, meaning that we use reason to prove the matter to our minds. Rabbi Bachhya ben Joseph ibn Paquda (Duties of the Heart) teaches that if we fail to use reason to prove something to our minds, and simply rely on the authority of the Rabbis, we commit a sin to our Creator:
“Without knowledge of the fundamentals and foundations, and without practicing them, one simply cannot fulfill the commandments”.
“It is forbidden for one affirming Torah as true, to remain without knowledge, for the Torah warns on this, as it is written, “And you shall know today and place upon your hearts…”
“Whomever has the intellectual capacity to very what he receives from tradition, and yet is prevented from doing so by his own laziness or because he takes lightly God’s commands and Torah, he will be punished for this and held accountable for negligence.”
“If however, you possess intelligence and insight, and through these faculties your are capable of verifying the fundamentals of the religion and the foundations of the commandments which you have received from the sages in the name of the prophets, then it is your duty to use these faculties until you understand the subject so that you are certain of it – both by tradition and force of reasoning. If you disregard and neglect this duty, you fall short in the fulfillment of what you owe your Creator”.”
Torah has no room for doubt, as God gifted us all with the ability to ascertain proof. Maimonides teaches concerning someone who errs in any of the 13 Principles, that he/she is not entitled to Olam Haba:
“And when one stumbles in a principle of these Principles, he is excluded from Klal Yisrael, he denies the essence [kofer b’ikkur], he is considered a heretic and an apikores, and it is a mitzvah to hate and destroy him”.
This harsh statement must waken us all to the severity of these principles and the urgency of our immediate study and intelligent grasp of all 13 Principles.
Now, who is our God? Moses makes it clear, “For God is Governor [Elohim] in heaven above, and on the land below, there is no other”. Moses means to teach that in all of creation, nothing exists that controls the universe. This must be so, since in all of creation, all is “created” and by definition, not the Creator! God alone created and runs the world…both realms, heaven and Earth.
This is so clear, that it boggles then mind when we find Jewish leaders and Rabbis, suggesting the heretical: they say “God fills up all space”, “God is everywhere”, and “a piece of God is in every man”. This violates the exact warning Maimonides gave, calling these people heretics with no world to come. Sadly, “Rabbis” teach this heresy, as does the Tanya. Yet, people are led to accept what is in print or repeated by those with Rabbinic titles and famous reputations. They fail at Moses’ teaching, to see truth. However, the truth is what God says through His prophets:
“And (God is) not like one man that may be divided into many individual parts’ and also, ‘the Chachamim (wise men) denied God as being composite or subject to division’, and, ‘the prophet said (Isaiah, 40:25), ‘To what shall your equate Me that I should be similar, says God?’ (Principle III)”
As God is dissimilar to anything in creation, God cannot occupy space; God cannot be divided where “parts” of Him are inside humans. Absurd. Moses does not mean God is “in” heaven or “on” Earth. He means that God’s “control” is exclusive over both realms.
This must be clear. We do not accept any intelligent being aside from God. This means we must reject notions of idolatry, superstition, omens, forces, amulets, mysticism, and all suggestions that there are “controlling” or “ruling” forces, other than God. We must equally reject the practice of seeking protection and success by asking blessings from Rabbis. Why? Because Maimonides includes Reward and Punishment as one of these principles, which is throughout Torah. No Jew ever asked Moses for a blessing. They understood they can pray directly to God, and that Moses too, was a mortal, unable to do anything other than God’s commands.
God rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked, regardless of Rabbis’ blessings, which have no affect. This is a righteous and just system, not one where a wicked person gains success through a Rabbi. Jacob told this to his wife, “Am I in God’s place?” Jacob was angry with Rachel for seeking him, instead of God.
Yet, despite the severity of Moses’ teachings and Maimonides terrifying threats…few Jews take seriously these fundamentals. How many Jewish organizations, teachers and Rabbis insist these fundamentals be taught in every medium, until others possess this knowledge, and not belief, and no longer stumble? I also wonder why very few Rabbis fail to oppose heretical teachings that still go unchallenged within orthodox groups? If leaders fear man more than God, and desire positions instead of truth, we are in a sorrowful time. This appears the case, clearly marked by the absence of the Temple, “Any generation in which the Temple is not rebuilt, is considered as if it was destroyed in its time”. That means we need much repair. And education of Torah fundamentals must be where we start.
We all must take a lesson from Moses. He did not fear admonishing the Jews. He possessed genuine concern for the notions each Jew possessed. I am gratified that one of my friends has continued to speak out against an erring, noted Rabbi and author on Torah fundamentals, as we all must. Others should take his courageous lead, insisting on truth, paying attention to God’s words alone with no concern for reputations. We must care that others are no longer misled. We must act to ensure the most vital teachings are spread.
In the end, we learn from Moses and our great Rabbis that we must search for proof, and not simply rely on what we are taught. This is a sin. This violates God’s words in our parsha. We must know that no human has a monopoly on truth, and that Rabbis and books can – and do – transmit heresy. To confirm we do not harbor heretical notions, our only recourse is study and reason, as Rabbi Bachya teaches. We must be clear that God is unlike anything on Earth: He is not “in space”, nor is “part” of Him “in” us. We must know that nothing but God alone has any power. We must dismiss all fables of amulets, spirits, omens, horoscopes, blessings, consulting the dead, and the like.
We must seek and support truth.