Obligation

 

Moshe Ben-Chaim


 

Last week we commenced a series of articles dedicated to our Fundamentals of Judaism. In part, this new series is in response to the many branches of Jews. However, these branches are mere constructs of the mind, as we are all equally Jews, united by the Torah’s objective principles that determine who is and isn’t a Jew or Noachide. We explored those tenets that bind all Jews and Noachides, which make us each, a true Torah observer.

 

It is unfortunate that day schools and yeshivas do not incorporate classes on Judaism’s Fundamentals. For without this knowledge, a student will not know what truly defines the Torah system. So I once again urge parents and teachers to make a change this year, and insure that your school or yeshiva teaches Judaism’s Fundamentals to students at all levels, according to their understanding. The primary source is of course the Torah’s words, and Moses’ instruction to the people. However, the Fundamentals are not easily located, as they are scattered throughout the Torah. Maimonides consolidated the Fundamentals, and formulated them in his Commentary on the Mishna on Talmud Sanhedrin, chapter 11.

 

Last week we enumerated and explained the first four Fundamentals: 1) knowledge of God’s existence; 2) that God is One; 3) that He is not physical; 4) that He existed before all other existences. It is obvious too that these principles, which Maimonides enumerated, are also in an order. For before one may say God is One, he must know that God exists. And once we know God exists, and is One, then we must understand that He is not physical. These first three principles address God Himself. Maimonides then states Principle IV: we must know that God existed before anything else. This fourth principle addresses knowledge about God in relation to other existences. So this comes after knowledge of God, independent of anything else. Again, the first three principles address God independent of anything else, and the fourth principle addresses God in relation to other existences. But we must bear in mind that when we say “relationship” between God and other existences, it is our ‘best’ possible term, so that we may express some concept that God is not unrelated to all else. But we cannot assume God relates to things as we do.

 

Now, once we enter the realm of God and His creations, we find the fifth principle which describes man’s “obligations” which emanate from God having created us and giving us a system which best directs us to the most fulfilling life. This concept of “obligation”, I feel, is one that is quite alien to many observant Jews, and more so to those non-observant. But this may be excusable, as the Fundamentals are not taught, so many Jews today lack conviction that God is truly “out there”. Although they enunciate His truth, they cannot prove that God exists, so they do not truly believe it either. Additionally, since people in general accept things as true only when sensed physically, intellectual conviction does not carry any weight in their estimation of what is “real”. Therefore, since God is not a clear truth in their minds, they sense no obligation to follow His commands. Once again we arrive at the dire need that the Fundamentals are taught.

 

But in truth, one who recognizes God, in accord with Maimonides parameters, will feel truly fortunate that he is alive, and is granted this opportunity of life. He will, ever day upon waking and throughout his day, be cognizant of God’s existence, that he is a “created thing”. A Rabbi one lectured on this topic, quoting Ramban, and although not an abstract point, it is most essential that we feel “created”. This is truth. Those who cannot realize this require serious reflection, as the ego’s grip is strongest in this area. This is when a person’s ego won’t let go. To deny, “I am not in control of my very life…I am created” unveils a distorted personality. But once a person can relinquish his egotistical emotions, and accept his mortality, he simultaneously admits of a Creator who imposed his mortality, his creation and limited existence on Earth.

 

Let us now read Maimonides’ Fifth Principle:

 

“That He, blessed be He, is fitting to serve, to laud and to publicize His greatness, and to perform His commands. And that we must not do so to lesser existences among the angels, stars, planets, and the elements, or anything made from them. For these are natural objects and on their designs there is not judgment or free will, except God alone who is blessed. Similarly, one must not serve them as an intermediary to God, but to God alone must we direct our thoughts, and abandon all else. And this is the Fifth Principle which warns against idolatry, and most of the Torah warns against this.”

 

 

Maimonides not only states a principle, but within it, he explains the rationale. He follows the very central rule of a rational life, and that is, following rationality. Thus, we don’t recognize anything besides God, since all else are “natural” objects. Meaning, as he says, they have a “design”, which clearly admits of their inferior status since they are designed, and thereby limited by their Designer. Therefore, we do not elevate an existence and deify it, if it is not in control of itself, let alone the universe. We only pray to He who is not limited, and actually runs the universe…only he can answer. Maimonides adds that we also do not relate to any created entity as an intermediary. What this translates in today’s world, is the prohibition to seek cures or success from any mortal, or pray to any angel.

 

Moses too commands the Jews to guard the mitzvos. However, he commences with the idea that man must first know something, and then he must prove it to his mind (Deut. 4:35,36)

 

“You have been proven to know that Hashem is God, there is no other besides Him. From the heavens He caused you to hear His voice to train you, and on Earth, He showed you His great fire, and His words you heard from amidst the flames.”

 

Forty years later, Moses reminds the people of Revelation at Sinai. He recalls to memory that undeniable event, the proof of God. Moses states that God exists, He is alone, and His voice emanated not from an Earthly source…He is not physical. Interesting…these are Maimonides’ first three principles. But Moses continues: (Deut. 4:39,40)

 

“And you shall know today, and you shall place it on your heart, that God is governor in heaven above, and on the Earth below, there is no other. And you shall guard His statutes and commands which I command to you today, that he will do good for you and your children after you, and that you shall have a length of days on the land that Hashem your God gives to you, all the days.”

 

As we stated last week, Moses first tells the Jews they must “know” these matters, and then he instructs them to “place them on their hearts”, which means to prove them. The first principle, before all else, is to adhere to a life where rational proof guides every thought and action. He then reiterates the first principle: God exists. He then says His reign is in heaven and Earth, meaning, all that exists is due to Him, and no other being is responsible. This is principle number two: God is one. We also derive from here that if God created the universe, then He cannot be physical, since He created the physical world in its entirety. He preceded anything physical. This is principle number three: God is not physical. And as God “created” everything, he must have come first. Principle number four in Maimonides 13 Principles, is this: God was the First. The last words “all the days” teach that Torah observance is eternal. That is, the Torah will never be changed. This is Maimonides Principle IX. (Sforno) This makes clear sense, as God knows that, as man will never be altered, so too, the system he requires for perfection will never be altered.

 

We now arrive at Principle V. Let us read it again:

 

“That He, blessed be He, is fitting to serve, to laud and to publicize His greatness, and to perform His commands. And that we must not do so to lesser existences among the angels, stars, planets, and the elements, or anything made from them. For these are natural objects and on their designs there is not judgment or free will, except God alone who is blessed. Similarly, one must not serve them as an intermediary to God, but to God alone must we direct our thoughts, and abandon all else. And this is the Fifth Principle which warns against idolatry, and most of the Torah warns against this.”

 

Just as Moses first tells the Jews to recognize certain knowledge, and then commands them in obeying God’s laws, Maimonides follows suit. Principle V describes the obligation we have as God’s created beings, to follow His plan for us, and this devolves upon us once we recognize the first four principles.

 

God created us for a reason. Moses says that this reason is “good” for us, that reason or objective being the Torah lifestyle. God is not imposing that which is hurtful, for God cannot do evil. All He created is for a good, and we can realize this good through study. And isn’t it interesting, that the greatest mitzvah, the greatest command, is Torah study. Hence, God desires, more than all else, that we engage in studying His Torah and creations, to arrive at a ever-growing appreciation of His existence, a gift only made available to man, and no other creation. It ends up that this very obligation is for our very good...a very different type of obligation. We are to regularly engage in Torah study, embodying a life of righteousness and charity.

 

Our greatest minds, Moses and Maimonides, paralleled each other in their recognition of the Torah’s fundamentals. From their identical teachings, we confirm what core ideas make Judaism, “Judaism”.

 

One should ponder these principles until they are clear: provable to our minds, and pleasant in our hearts. We should then feel obligated in drawing closer to the Creator, even without the Torah’s commands. And perhaps, this is exactly the true perfection of Abraham; that he drew close to God even prior to Torah’s existence. Torah, then, actually portrays the life of one who is perfect. We may initially feel ‘coerced’ to adhere to God’s commands, but we will, with proper study and training, eventuate in a natural desire to do that, towards which, our minds and hearts are inclined. With greater knowledge and conviction, we will naturally desire the good, and we will feel a new, unmatched satisfaction and fulfillment in life, knowing that God created each one of us for a great good.

 

We conclude Part II of Judaism’s Fundamentals with the realization that Judaism is set apart from all other religions in its demand that man follow a life based on reason and proof, and not faith. Our minds are to be engaged in all areas, and as Moses and Maimonides taught, we must apply reason to our Jewish lives, and we will find that using reason is the only tool for uncovering the never-ending word of wisdom. We will find, through living such a lifestyle, the enriching happiness we all seek. When man engages his most central feature, his intelligence, and discovers brilliance in God’s creations and Torah, his whole being reaches his peak of fulfillment. But if a Torah lifestyle is ignored, and man does not engage his mind as God decreed, then only half his being is nourished, while his soul perishes, and he lives unfulfilled. Man then loses this world, and the next.