Maimonides’ 10th Principle: God’s Knows Man’s Actions


Moshe Ben-Chaim


Reader: I have a question regarding the tenth of Maimonides' Thirteen Principles of Faith (Sheloshah Assar Ikkarim).  The tenth ikkar quite logically and correctly states, “I believe, with complete conviction, that the Creator, blessed be His name, knows all actions of human beings (b'nei adam), and all of their thoughts, as it is stated, "The One who fashions their hearts together, who perceives all their actions" (Tehillim  33:15).

Regarding the content and phraseology of this principle I have two questions:

1) Why does the Rambam have to cite a verse for a principle which seems self-evident?  This is one particular principle that is accepted by all theistic religions, and can surely be proven by simple philosophy.  This seems all the more strange - in light of the fact that the Rambam does not offer a scriptural proof in the text of any of the other principles (not even the one asserting the incorporeality of God, an idea that was very controversial in Rambam's day).  Why is it this principle alone that merited scriptural verification?

2) How does the verse that Rambam cites prove what he says?  Granted, the last part of the verse – “Ha-meivin kol ma'aseiheim”, “the One who perceives all their actions” - proves the notion that God is aware of all human deeds, but how does the Psalmist's statement that God "fashions all [human] hearts together" confirm that God knows all human thoughts?  One notion does not flow directly from the other, since the argument could be made that although God fashioned the human mind, He does not possess the capabilities to see into it once it has begun being put to use by the individual. You may answer that such an argument is preposterous because "God has knowledge of everything He created," and therefore surely if He formed the human mind, He can see into it. But that is precisely what Rambam's 10th principle is!  To offer such a response would therefore be an effort in circular reasoning, since the only way to derive Rambam's principle from that verse, would be to infer it therefrom using that exact principle. I would appreciate if you could help me out on this.



Mesora: Different than your source says, Maimonides cites verses in support of other Principles as well. (See his full text at the end of tractate Sanhedrin, chapter 10) The reason for citing verses validates a given principle as forming part of Torah, although reason alone dictates its truth. 


You are quoting from an abbreviated version. The question why this format cites a verse for the 10th Principle alone is not a question on Maimonides, but on the compiler. He cites a verse that Maimonides himself did not quote. I do not know who compiled this abbreviation, or why he cites a different verse, but I will offer a suggestion at the very end. Nonetheless, let us understand the verse :


“Who forms as one their hearts, Who understands all of their actions.” (Psalms 33:15)

Ibn Ezra learns comments: “Who forms their hearts as One Creator, and the creators (of mankind) are not many, therefore He alone understands all of their actions.”


Ibn Ezra understands this verse to mean the following two ideas: 1) God is the Creator. God must know His creations, including man's thoughts and actions. 2) Additionally, since nothing else contributed to Creation, God "alone" knows all.

You wrote, “although God fashioned the human mind, He does not possess the capabilities to see into it once it has begun being put to use by the individual.”  This is a grave error. God does not “perceive”. Knowledge and God are not two separate entities, whereby He may perceive that which is external to Him. (This forms part of the concept of “unity” of God.) Your statement suggests that God requires and act of “observation” to know. Observing implies ignorance on His part, i.e., until He has acquired a new perception, and new knowledge.  This is a mistake of “projection”, where man assumes God to be humanly restrained by natural law; i.e., laws of perception and acquisition of knowledge. However, as Maimonides teaches in his Laws of Repentance, God does not “know” in the same manner that man knows. Man must observe external phenomena in order to acquire knowledge. This cannot apply to God. Knowledge is inherent in His being, not through “subsequent observation”. For example, God’s knowledge of what He was yet to create during Genesis was true knowledge. This proves that He need not “observe” anything to know it. He is not barred from asny truth.

I would add, the universe had yet to be created; yet, God knew what was about to be created. Without perception. The Torah contains examples of God's knowledge of man's intent, even before he performs it as seen in His discussion with Cain. Again proving His knowledge is not based on perception, but due to His act of Creation, Hew knows all that He created.

Regarding circular reasoning, I do not understand how it is so, as you suggest. Maimonides teaches that God knows all man’s actions and thoughts, and supports it by referring to a verse. Once all of Torah has been validated by the Proof of Sinai, all verses are thereby validated. A verse is used merely to cite a truth, not to render it as true. This is not circular reasoning. Circular reasoning would be where one wishes to prove something from the thing itself. But our proof is derived not from the text, but from the unbroken chain of transmission. This external phenomenon of transmission can then prove the text. You too agree to this, as you wrote "the One who perceives all their actions” proves the notion that God is aware of all human deeds".


Until this point, we have referred to the abbreviated version. Let us now understand Maimonides’ original formulation of his 10th Principle:


That God knows man's actions and does not remove His eye from them.

His knowledge is not like someone who says God abandoned the land but rather like it says, "Great in council and mighty in deed, Your eyes are cognizant to all the ways of mankind”. (Jer. 32)   "And God saw, the evils of man were abundant on the land, and every inclination of his heart was only evil, all day.” (Gen. 6)  And it says, "And God said, ‘the cry of Sodom and Amora is abundant, and for their sin is greatly heavy." (Ibid 18:20) And this demonstrates the 10th principle.”


Why must Maimonides open his principle by discounting a fallacy? He says, “His knowledge is not like someone who says God abandoned the land”. Maimonides could have opened with his first quote! But in all fairness, this question also applies to his other principles. In order to attain “truth”, all other possibilities are refuted. Admission of a fact, without the elimination of doubt of that fact, is not considered knowledge. As long as a person harbors doubt about God’s being One, or the Only God, or His non-physical nature, etc., such a person has not yet acquired true knowledge of God. This applies to all ideas. A friend showed me the Minchas Chinuch on parshas Yisro, concerning the command of knowing God. In that section, the author stresses three times that to fulfill this command (the first of the 10 Commandments) man must prove to himself beyond a shadow of a doubt, that God exists. This is not a matter of belief, but of rational conviction. To arrive at conviction the author stresses that all doubts must be removed.


Now that Maimonides teaches what is not considered God’s knowledge of man, he goes on to tell us what is. But in doing so, why does he require three verses to make his point? Perhaps, each verse was not recorded to illustrate a new point (although by definition, a new verse must teach a new idea). Perhaps three verses teach the presence of a “theme”. A triad of verses is regularly used in prayers to indicate that a Torah concept permeates the three parts of Scriptures: Torah, Prophets and Writings. Here too, perhaps, Maimonides’ lesson is that God’s knowledge of both, man’s thoughts and actions, are known by God, and are a theme in Torah. It is a central idea. If you review the verses above, you will note that each one includes references to both, thoughts and actions.


Why does the abbreviated version of Maimonides’ 13 Principles omit all supporting verses, except from in this principle? What is there in proving God’s knowledge of man’s actions, (this 10th Principle) that a verse would be more essential? One thought presents itself to me: the very definition of a “verse”, a Torah verse, is that which God formulated to convey His knowledge to man. This is the purpose of God’s concretization of His ideas, in the form of Torah verses. Following this explanation, we may suggest that a verse’s very existence is proof of God’s relationship with man. But God relates to man based on His knowledge of man’s thoughts and actions, to refine the dross from his soul. It is only due to His knowledge of how and what man thinks and does, that His Torah verses exists. A “verse” is proof that God knows how man thinks and acts.


Our final question was why the compiler of this abbreviated form does not use Maimonides’ own quoted verses, but uses another verse. I think we may now answer that the compiler is following Maimonides’ lead. Maimonides desired to show that God possesses knowledge of all man’s thoughts and actions. The compiler too quotes a verse that addresses both areas of man’s life, i.e., man’s thoughts (heart), and his actions. God is aware of both. Additionally, the compiler may have selected to use a fourth verse, as this strengthens the point that this theme exists in the Torah. With more verses quoted, a theme is more pronounced, and thus, the lesson is imparted in greater measure.