Friday, March 17, 2006

Judaism's goal - The ultimate worship- Emulating God.

This week, Parshat Ki Tisah, contains many seminal concepts in Judaism. I wish to focus in on Rambam’s understanding (of course based on my reading) of “Nikras Hatzur”. After being on Har Sinai to receive the Tablets and finding the Jews worshipping the Golden Calf, Moshe plants a tent outside the camp where he meditates and develops his prophetic abilities to the level of “Ponim el Ponim ka’asher yedaber ish el re’ehu” - Face to face like a person talks to his friend. It describes a type of meditation controlled by the rational faculty without the interference of the imaginative one. It is a very high level of apprehension of God.

Moshe’s meditation is not only a self - actualization program but also just as importantly a process that involves leadership issues, how best to lead the people further on their way to Canaan. It is the ultimate goal of the search for God, to emulate Him by understanding how God runs the universe. In that quest Moshe asks God to show him how to lead the people – “Hodieini noh es derocheicha …ure’eh ki amcha hagoy hazeh” Show me your ways so that I know you considering that this is your nation. God promises him that he will fulfill this request, doing so later when Moshe ascends the mountain for the Forty days. God shows him how he runs the world, teaching him the 13 midos, each representing an attribute that humans deduct from analyzing God’s deeds and apply to Him.

Moshe then asked God to show Himself to him. God’s answer is that He will show Moshe how to go about learning all there is to know about the physical world and its workings. “Anochi a’avir kol tuvi “ I will show you all my goodness – Rambam notes that at Creation God used the word Tov and Tov Meod, which he explained as meaning the creations had continuity and permanence. The word “Tuvi” refers to the same idea of permanence in nature. God told Moshe that to find Him, he needs to study where all this came from. “Nikras hatzur” – the rock in which the cave that was pointed out to Moshe was – is a metaphor for provenance. ( the word Tzur – literally a hard rock- is seen as a foundation – one builds a strong building on a hard rock) Moshe was told to look at the provenance of the world, the First Cause, that is as far as he as a human can expect to grasp of the Divinity. That is metaphorically referred to as the back, as one can recognize another person from the back by his gait and comportment. God is recognized in a similar fashion and cannot be known more.

At the end of the Moreh, when Rambam summarizes his philosophy, he explains that after doing all the contemplation and searching for God, the ultimate goal is to emulate God. In Rambam’s own words:

“ The prophet thus, in conclusion, says," For in these things I delight, says the Lord," i.e., My object [in saying this) is that you shall practice loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. In a similar manner we have shown (Part I.:54.) that the object of the enumeration of God's thirteen attributes is the lesson that we should acquire similar attributes and act accordingly. The object of the above passage is therefore to declare, that the perfection, in which man can truly glory, is attained by him when he has acquired-as far as this is possible for man-the knowledge of God, the knowledge of His Providence, and of the manner in which it influences His creatures in their production and continued existence. Having acquired this knowledge he will then be determined always to seek loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness, and thus to imitate the ways of God.”

After reaching the highest levels of metaphysical speculation man returns to the world he inhabits and works along his Creator emulating Him as to His relationship to the universe and its inhabitants.

This last step is missing in Professor Yeshayahu’s understanding of Rambam. Here man no longer does what he feels obligated to do because of the yoke of heaven only. Here he does it because he has apprehended His creator to the extent a human can, and feels impelled to emulate Him to reach perfection. It is a labor of love not a yoke.

(When we say the 13 midos in davening, they are said as part of teshuvah – repentance. If we want to repent the way to go about it is by changing our ways and contemplating God’s ways to emulate them. That is the meaning of those words not some magical incantation. )

Good Shabbos

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