God’s Plan for Man

Moshe Ben-Chaim

“Why am I here? What will fulfill me most and make me truly happy?” These questions gnaw away inside us. Can we arrive at a satisfying answer?

We know that Judaism is God’s only religion: this is proven like any historical fact, and is based on mass revelation at Sinai. While other religions demand blind faith since they lack proof for their claims, Judaism demands intellect and reason, and is the only religion that provides proof of divine origin. So our question is not concerning “which” religion is true; this has been established and even affirmed by the other religions. Rather, our question concerns God’s intent…God’s plan for man. Why was Torah not given until year 2448? What does this say about God’s plan for those initial individuals and societies? What does this say about their capacities as thinking beings? Did God not desire the best life for them as well? And what does this say about us, who are created identically to those previous generations? There are a few sources that enlighten us to a fundamental truth about God’s will. I will cite those sources, through which I feel you will detect the answer that I will suggest at the end. 

1. Maimonides 

Maimonides wrote many brilliant works, including his Mishneh Torah and his Sefer Hamitzvos. Both works elucidate the Torah’s commands. However, when comparing his words in both works addressing the mitzvah of “Loving God,” we find a major discrepancy. In the Sefer Hamitzvos, Maimonides teaches the path to loving God is through Torah study. But in his Mishneh Torah, he says the path to loving God is through studying the universe. How do we explain this conflict? We also wonder why he wrote both works, if they cover the same topic. 

Why does Maimonides derive Love and Fear of God from King David’s words? “When I see Your heavens, the work of Your fingers”…“what is man that You should be mindful of him (Psalms 8:4)?”  What lesson may be learned from Maimonides’ selection of this specific verse as the source that identifies the love and fear of God? [1]

His Sefer Hamitzvos is a listing and elucidation of the 613 mitzvos. In contrast, the Mishneh Torah goes beyond this, as we find “Laws of the Fundamentals of Torah”  and “Laws on Personality Traits”, two categories outside the sphere of God’s formalized 613 commands. In his Laws of the Fundamentals of Torah, Maimonides discusses a unique categorization of topics; not Torah “laws” as we might think. So we wonder what is Maimonides’ intent in his Mishne Torah. 

Maimonides commences this section with God’s unique existence as independent (eternal) in contrast to all else that is dependent existence. That is, all created things required God’s will to come into existence. But creation also requires God’s will that it might continue to exist. That is, “creation” alone does not endow any entity with permanence; it’s duration too requires God’s will. (That alone deserves a few moments to fully appreciate.)

Maimonides teaches that God alone must exist, and if He did not (were that possible) all else would suddenly cease existing. Conversely, all else need not exist, nor does it affect God at all if all else were to cease to exist. 

In law 1:6 concerning the knowledge of God’s role as the sole cause and only “true” existence, Maimonides says this is a positive command. We wonder: why didn’t Maimonides discuss the “command” element at the very outset? 

Maimonides continues…he teaches that God is not physical, and therefore all physical conditions and affects cannot apply to God. This includes God having no parts, location, He does not change, become tired, He does not eat or possess emotion. Maimonides describes the categories of all existences, from man to the stars, spheres and the angels, and elaborates on them.

Finally, what connects all these topics placed in Hilchos Yesodei Hatorah, i.e. God’s existence, creation, metaphysics, angels, sanctifying God's name, not profaning God's name, prophecy, false prophets, revelation at Mount Sinai, the unchanging status of Torah and the prohibition to change it at all? What consideration demanded this compilation of topics? 

2. Talmud

Another source directs us towards the answer.  Talmud Sanhedrin states:

Rabbi Judah said, “Adam the First was commanded only against idolatry.” Rabbi Judah ben-Besayra said, “Adam was also commanded against cursing God.” Others say Adam was also commanded on setting up courts. With which opinion is this in accord? Rabbi Judah said in Rav’s name, “God said to Adam, ‘I am God’,” thereby teaching not to curse Me; “God said to Adam, ‘I am God’,” thereby teaching do not exchange Me with another god; “God said to Adam, ‘I am God’,” thereby teaching My fear shall be upon you (Talmud Sanhedrin 56b).”

Our interest is piqued as Adam was not commanded on the 613 commands. Furthermore, the Talmud teaches a fundamental that can easily be overlooked. This fundamental is that through one phrase “I am God”, God intimated to Adam a few other commands. But why intimate, instead of clearly stating each command outright?

Also, Talmud Niddah 30b teaches, “The embryo is taught all of Torah, and at birth, and angel smites its lip and he forgets it.” What does this metaphor explain?

3. The Two Tablets

As we once discussed, the original two Tablets, the Luchos, were formed naturally, including their letters. Maimonides derives this from the Torah’s verse:

“And the tables were the work of God” (Exod. xxxii. 16), that is to say, they were the product of nature, not of art: for all natural things are called “the work of the Lord.”  “And the writing was the writing of God (ibid).” [2]

Of what dire import was it that the first Tablets be “naturally” formed; not Moses’ carpentry as in the second Tablets?

4. Torah

Torah starts with Genesis and the stories of the Patriarchs and matriarchs. Why not simply start with the first command?  

Rashi’s commentary on Gen, 24:42:  “Rabbi Acha said, ‘More pleasant is the speech of the servants of the Patriarchs before God, than the Torah (commands) of their children, as we find Eliezer’s account (describing his encounter with Rebecca) doubled in the Torah, while many of the central commands of the Torah are only given by way of hints.”   

What lesson does this comparison teach?

God’s Original Plan

Why did God give Adam only one command, and Noah only seven? Why not give them the entire Torah? 

The answer: because it was unnecessary.  God’s work is perfect; He created Adam with all that he required so as to live as God intended. Meaning, with intelligence alone, man is capable of deriving truths through independent thought. This is God’s will, and His preferred state for man. 

Here is the point: Functioning by design and not coercion (i.e., commands) is the most pleasing and perfected existence for us, and God wants man to live in the most pleasing state. When our minds grasp a truth through studying the natural world (as opposed to Torah study) this truth registers as something rooted in our experience…in reality. It impacts and impresses us most deeply. This realization in-turn propels one to non-conflicted action. We are most happy when we act in accord with what we see as real and true. Conversely, coerced Torah adherence carries some conflict. The Rabbis say God held Sinai over our heads to threaten our Torah acceptance.

Nonetheless, man did require at least one command, for there is one idea that cannot be grasped through observing nature: human obedience to God. This relationship of God as Master and man as servant requires communication. Therefore, the Talmud teaches that God gave Adam one law: idolatry. From there, the Talmud teaches that man can derive other lessons: “God said to Adam, ‘I am God’,” thereby teaching not to curse Me; “God said to Adam, ‘I am God’,” thereby teaching do not exchange Me with another god; “God said to Adam, ‘I am God’,” thereby teaching My fear shall be upon you.”  The Talmud is explaining how Adam, through his very design, was equipped to derive all other truths, from one simple command. 

Maimonides’ Message

This explains why in his Mishne Torah Maimonides says that love of God is attained through studying the natural world, and not through the Torah. For with his Mishne Torah, specifically in this opening section of the Fundamentals of Torah, Maimonides is presenting the most primary truths. These truths are prior to Torah, from which Torah was formulated. That is why they are called “fundamentals of Torah”…the prior building blocks from which God created the Torah system. 

Maimonides’ Mishne Torah differs greatly from his Sefer Hamitzvos. The latter addresses the Torah system and mitzvos alone. But with his Mishne Torah, Maimonides describes “reality” – topics more inclusive than Torah commands. He addresses God’s existence, angels, prophecy, the heavens, and our relationship to God based on these truths. Our understanding of these topics are prerequisites for following Torah commands. We must know God’s role as Creator and sustainer of all else. We must know that although quite lofty, the heavens and angels too are creations, not existences worthy of deification as previous sinful generations blindly believed. We must know that God relates to man, this is “prophecy.” We must know that our role is obedience, so we must sanctify God and respect His name and fame. Once we know all this, then we are ready to move to the next step, and that is understanding our personalities and gaining control over our tendencies and passions. Thus, the laws of Personality Traits follow.

We see, Maimonides’ Mishne Torah encompasses much more than a list of commands. He is preparing us for life. In doing so, he cleverly teaches us that man possesses a design through which we can attain the best life, love of God’s knowledge and awe of His creations. That’s why he teaches that love of God can be learned from King David’s admiration of the natural world, as opposed to citing a command. By citing King David’s words — “When I see Your heavens, the work of Your fingers”  — Maimonides presents an example of man loving God through the study of the natural world.

Maimonides avoids stating the “command” of knowing God until he first states this reality based on reason alone. Again, the command element is second, to the arrival of this truth through reason, a natural process. Interesting too, is that his treatment of Mitzvos is discussed only at the end of his Guide.

A wise Rabbi explained the metaphor of the angel in the womb. The human mind is naturally endowed with a set of innate faculties. For example, we do not need to learn to “compare,” as the mind does this naturally. When a child sees a stranger, it cries as his mind compares this face to his recalled image of his mother’s face. There are a number of others, like “equality:” we know when two objects are dissimilar; without ever being taught the concept of “equal.”  Neither do we need to be taught about cause and effect. We can also deduce, without being taught how to deduce. All this shows that a human being innately possesses these intelligent faculties, just as he innately possesses emotions. The Rabbis taught this by saying, “an angel teaches the embryo Torah, and we forget it all at birth.” Forgetting is in contrast to never having learned. For the person who learned, but then forgot, still retains pathways back to that knowledge. This is the Rabbi’s message: we innately possess pathways, or rather faculties, that can uncover truths concerning God, the universe, and our roles here. Torah was not absolutely required. 

Rabbi Acha said: “More pleasant is the speech of the servants of the Patriarchs before God, than the Torah (commands) of their children.”  Again this highlights the Patriarchs’ perfections. Without Torah, we are taught the degree that even their servants’ mundane words expressed. Thus, man can naturally achieve perfection, without Torah. Even the first naturally-formed Tablets expressed the idea that nature offers man a revelation of the Creator’s hand at work. What an amazing sight that would have been to see…sapphire Tablets with God’s words naturally formed inside its grain.

When we study creation, we are examining existence. In contrast, when we study Torah, although still witnessing God’s brilliance...we are not relating to “existence.” Moses very question to God, “show me Your honor” was his attempt to understand God’s very existence. Evidently, “existence” in Moses’ eyes was something most central. Additionally, when we are studying creation by using our minds alone, we engage the process of thought greater than when relying on Torah’s shortcuts (commands). The many great thinkers from Abraham to Aristotle and Einstein, reveal the raw human potential.

Torah starts with the genesis of the universe for this very reason. Naturally, man was well-equipped to study the universe, as we read of Adam accurately naming (defining) the animals.  Torah is not a history book, and as Rabbi Isaac said, it could have started with the first command. But we require fundamentals before we can accept and follow Torah. Maimonides codified these fundamentals. We now understand the distinction between his Sefer Hamitzvos and his Mishne Torah. 

Over the years, man corrupted himself. Many Torah laws were invented to combat these corruptions, like not following superstitions or the ways of the Canaanites and Egyptians. Laws and holidays were invented to recall God’s kindness, like Passover and Succos. Tefillin recall the first born deaths during God’s salvation. So the Torah as we have it today, the 613, could not have been given to Adam. Later generations backslid, and God in His kindness formulated a Torah system to help mankind remain on track. Adam was quite capable of using his mind to arrive at those laws independent of man’s deviation. He, his sons, Noah and Abraham sacrificed to God, as they fully understood man’s relationship to his Maker. Prayer was expressed by our Patriarchs, without any command. They used their minds to grasp God, His ways, and His will for man. Prophecy was God’s means of communicating with man, and prayer was man’s means of communicating with God. 

 Torah and Mitzvos do not target a new plan, but remain true to the original plan, like first fruit offerings that compel us to recognize the Creator of our bounty, as do tithes. Again, we see Abraham gave tithes without a Torah, displaying how the human mind can arrive at truths and morality independent of the Torah. This was God’s initial plan. The greatest mitzvah is education, and we learned that Abraham taught tens of thousands. Kindness and justice was also exemplified by Abraham’s wars against the kings, and God said of Abraham that He will reveal greater justice by teaching Abraham of Sodom’s justice so Abraham could teach God’s ways as he always did. This means Abraham understood God’s ways, without a Torah. As we study the Patriarchs, as is God’s will, we will arrive at even more examples supporting the Rabbis who metaphorically taught that “Abraham observed the entire Torah[3].” This means that Abraham was able to arrive at the same truths God later taught in a formal communication to mankind. 

The Rabbis teach that ultimately, in the days of the messiah, man will return to the state of Adam where we naturally are attached to God and wisdom. But this is only the general rule. Anyone today can engage his or her mind and become an Abraham. We each have this capacity, as we are now.  It only takes the conviction that God will provide, and the trust He will do so, and then we can release our attachment to the “calculations sought by the masses”[4] (prioritizing wealth) and minimize our work so as to maximize our Torah study[5]. Doing so, we will arrive at the greatest fulfillment through realizing God’s wisdom. 

[1] Hilchos Yesodei Hatorah 2:2

[2] Guide for the Perplexed, book I, chap. LXVI

[3] Talmud Kiddushin 82a, mishna 

[4] Hilchos Shmitta v’Yovale 13:13

[5] Ethics 4:12