At the very end of his laws of Mezuza, Maimonides makes some interesting comments:
“Man is obligated to take meticulous care with Mezuza, for it is a regular obligation upon all. And each time one enters and exits [his home] he meets with the Unity of God, the name of God. And he will recall his love of God, and awaken from his slumber and his errors due to the futilities of temporal life. And he will know that there is nothing that stands for all eternity, except the knowledge of the Rock of the World, and he will immediately return to his senses and travel upright. The first wise men said, ‘Whomever has Tefillin on his head and arm, Tzitzis on his garment, and a Mezuza on his entrance, it is assumed he will not sin for he has many reminders. And they, [Tefillin, Tziztis, and Mezuza] they are the angels that will save him from sin, as it states, ‘God encamps His angels around His fearers and saves them.’ Blessed is God who assists us.”
Maimonides exposes the cause of man’s sin: he assumes he is immortal, as he writes, “he will awaken from his slumber and his errors due to the futilities of temporal life.” Man thinks otherwise, that ‘his’ life will never end, and based on this fallacy, man invests his energies in his Earthly stay, not realizing he will leave all behind. Therefore, Maimonides wishes to benefit his readers by writing, “And he will know that there is nothing that stands for all eternity, except the knowledge of the Rock of the World”. God alone is eternal, while human life is temporal. When man accepts this reality, he will remove his energies from temporal futilities, and “he will immediately return to his senses and travel upright”. I believe this is the precise reason why God’s punishment to Adam and Eve was death. Initially, they were not to die, but after they displayed an overestimation of the physical by indulging in that fruit, God’s correction was to make them mortal. This rude awakening was the perfect response to remove their energies from Earthly vices. Had they lived correctly, according to God’s command not to eat of that fruit, there would have been no need to remove them from the Earth. But with abuse of the Earth, came the need to remove them from it. Tefillin, Tzitzis and Mezuza surround us always, and they too function to remind us constantly of God.
But what strikes us, is the quote from Psalms, and Maimonides’ concluding words, “God encamps His angels around His fearers and saves them.’ Blessed is God who assists us.” This quote from Psalms refers to when God had sent an angel to save King David from the evil servants of Achish. How does that angel – an external force of salvation – equate to the angels mentioned herein, namely Tefillin, Tzitzis and Mezuza? These latter “angels” are not sudden forces, but they are reminders, with which man must work, and together man is saved from sin. The quoted verse seems inapplicable to Tefillin, Tzitzis and Mezuza. Why then did Maimonides use this specific verse?
Rabbi Reuven Mann suggested that both cases were generated by God’s providence. Therefore, Maimonides rightly quoted that verse. Just as God intervened to save King David with an angel, so too He intervened (at Sinai) when He gave us these mitzvahs of Tefillin, Tzitzis and Mezuza. These mitzvahs are in fact “angels” in the sense that they are truly creations of God for the purpose of saving man. It matters none whether man’s danger is external, as in King David’s case; or if man’s danger is internal, as in the case of Tefillin, Tzitzis and Mezuza which attempt to save men from his own emotions. This explanation now brings us to a new understanding of our human condition…
If man is in need of these mitzvahs, then we are being taught that man is not independent, even though he possesses free will. While it is true that we have full control to decide whether or not to sin, or to repent, we cannot do so alone, and require Divine assistance. This may sound like a lack of free will, but it is not. For example, a person may have the free will to lift a weight, but if it is too heavy, he cannot, and requires assistance. So too in regards to repentance: man may wish to repent, but he may not have the opportunity to recall his sin; he may not have the strength before Yom Kippur to introspect far enough to uncover his destructive emotions; he may not meet a person who he wronged, so that he might be reminded his of his sin, and so on. There are a myriad of factors at play that lead to our successes and failures, and most are not in our control, simply because there is only so much we may focus on, on any given day. The Talmud also teaches, “One who comes to purify himself 9of sin) is assisted.” We learn that assistance is needed.
This concept of man’s dependency is based on a Torah verse, “And God your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your seed, to love God your God with all your heart and with all your soul, for the sake of your lives.” (Deut. 30:6) This is stated in connection with God’s ultimate act of changing our very selves in the messianic era. At that time, as Ramban continues, and as stated in the Prophets, God will cut a new treaty, give us a “new heart”. Man is dependent on God, even for our ultimate state of Earthly existence.
In his formulation of Teshuva – Repentance – Maimonides states that one must commence with the words “Please God, I have sinned...” A Rabbi once taught that this is because there are so many particulars in his life; man must beseech God to arrange those particulars and events, which allow his improvement.
This also explains why Maimonides concludes this law above with the words “Blessed is God who assists us.” Maimonides does not end other sections with these words, precisely because he is underscoring the essential feature in man’s repentance and restraint from sin: man requires assistance. As my friend Howard quoting Rabbi Ruben Gober stated, we reiterate this concept during this time of repentance when we recite the Avinu Malkanu: “Our Father our King, return us in a complete repentance before You”. We ask God to assist us in our repentance. Appropriately, Maimonides refers to Tefillin, Tzitzis and Mezuza as “angels”, since an angel is a force external to man, which assists man in ways he cannot assist himself. Left up to natural law, man will destroy himself, as seen in Adam and Eve’s case. Without God intervening, they would have succumbed to the power of lusts, permanently ensnared. Mortality addressed this overestimation of Earthly pleasures. This theme is broad…but it becomes more broad…
Not only do Tefillin, Tzitzis and Mezuza function to guard us, but also all Mitzvahs do. Meaning, the entire Torah is proof of man’s dependent nature. The Talmud states that “man is a sick being, and Torah is the bandage”. The Talmud also states, “God looked at the Torah, and created the world”. This means that Torah is so indispensable to mankind, it ‘preceded’ man. And the very first event subsequent to God’s creation of man was His command to Adam, teaching that man cannot exist even temporarily without direction. And God tells us “Not on bread alone does man survive, but on all that comes from God’s mouth does man survive”.
This theme of human dependence permeates all areas of life and Torah. But the most primary lesson is the very fact that we are created beings. This is dependence par excellence, and the theme of Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur when we recite such poems describing how we are but “clay in the hand of the Molder”, and other similar poems.
From our creation, to our human design and our manner of living, God designed man with numerous reminders of His existence, through making us dependent beings. We require air, food, clothing, shelter, friends, wealth, health, and a myriad of other physical, psychological and philosophical necessities. It is only through the temporal futilities as stated by Maimonides, that we err, and become distracted from this ultimate reality.
We are thankful to God for His constant and ever-present reminders of His existence, and His position in the universe, via Tefillin, Tzitzis and Mezuza.
We should not avoid such a reality: firstly, because it is true! Nor shall we avoid it because it strikes at the core of our sense of accomplishments. Rather, we should align our thinking with the attitude of enjoying what is real. Avoiding reality only leads to frustration, since we meet with reality at every turn. But if we can abandon our subjective agenda, and simply consider the grand plan in which we find ourselves…we are designed as well to find the deepest satisfaction in this truth.
This Rosh Hashannah, consider the Sages’ crafted prayers and blessings. Read them slowly. Thankful are we to still be living, that we have yet another Rosh Hashannah in which we may arrive at a deeper understanding and appreciation for why we are alive, and how we can make the most of our lives, living with the pinnacle of enjoyment in the realization of Torah truths.
In summary, what does man need? The answer: everything!
A happy Rosh Hashannah to all!