Maimonides’ Fifth Principle

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

That He, blessed be He, is fit to worship, to praise, and make known His greatness and to perform His commands. And not to act in this manner to one who is below Him in existence, [whether] from the angels, the stars, the planets, the elements [matter]  or what is constructed from them. For they are all natural, and concerning their behaviors there is no governing or choice, except [by] He alone, God, blessed be He. And so also it is not fitting to serve any of these that they become intermediaries to draw close to Him. Rather, to God alone must man’s thoughts be intent, and abandon all else. And this is the Fifth Principle that Torah has warned us agains idolatry, and most of Torah warns against this. 

Maimonides explains why anything but God is unfit to worship: “For they are all ‘natural’, and concerning their behaviors, there is no governing or choice.”  This statement has great meaning. By “natural,” Maimonides means that everything except God has been “designed.” Design refers to a defined and static scope of form and function, what we call “nature.” The nature of “tree” is different than the nature of “animal.” Their behaviors are distinct and fixed. 

Nothing can deviate from its design. Thus, to project onto a rock that is possesses an ability to protect, wrongly assumes the rock’s nature is other than what God defined. Nothing can deviate from its nature. Thus, idols, red strings, mezuzas, stars, and all else cannot affect man’s fate, as God did not design them with such a capacity. God alone controls man’s fate based on reward and punishment. To suggest a wicked person can escape a punishment by using red bendel or mezuzas, renders God unjust, and not in control. Astrology, luck, magic, spells, evil eyes, amulets, etc. are all false as none were never validated throughout history. Nor can a human being do more than what his muscular strength allows. 

All existences except God are natural: they are limited. They are unworthy of worship and praise, nor may they be valued for what they cannot accomplish. 

We begin to appreciate Maimonides’ brilliance in isolating his 13 Principles as fundamentals in defining who is a Jew, and who is outside its pale.