Thursday, June 08, 2006

Foundation III - an interim summary.

The last two posts dealt with the issue that I understand as the basic foundation of Judaism. Let me now try to put it all into a clearer perspective.

Judaism is built on one, and only one basic conviction – Metzius Hashem – the existence of a transcendent, unique and ultimately unknowable God. That is the most important thing that we are required to know, learn, appreciate and assimilate through our own minds and prove it to ourselves to the best of our ability. It is the sine qua non of all monotheistic religions.
We have discussed the proof that I believe is the one that stands up to the test of time and is the most rational, the one I call by contingency. I will not repeat it as I have posted the very concise Isaac Franck statement several times. As we are proving the existence of a transcendental God, we cannot expect a 100% empirical proof but rather like all sciences, we first propose a theory that makes most sense and then proceed to look for empirical proof. We as a people are still in the process of enlisting humankind to partake in the endeavor.

ט וְהָיָה יְהוָה לְמֶלֶךְ, עַל-כָּל-הָאָרֶץ; בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא, יִהְיֶה יְהוָה אֶחָד--וּשְׁמוֹ אֶחָד.
9 And the LORD shall be King over all the earth; in that day shall the LORD be One, and His name one.
(Zechariah 14)

Once we have established the existence of God, an intelligent person has a need to try to know the Entity that is the basis of our existence. If we want to find an answer to the existential questions of purpose, the why and how of our being, we want to go to the source.

א שִׁמְעוּ אֵלַי רֹדְפֵי צֶדֶק, מְבַקְשֵׁי יְהוָה; הַבִּיטוּ אֶל-צוּר חֻצַּבְתֶּם, וְאֶל-מַקֶּבֶת בּוֹר נֻקַּרְתֶּם.
1 Hearken to Me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the LORD; look unto the rock whence ye were hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye were digged
(Yeshayahu 51:1)

Thus the search of God by man which is the basis of all religion.

Rambam makes quite clear that the existence of God has a special place in thought. The only concept he refers to as the Foundation of all Foundations is the existence of God.

א יסוד היסודות ועמוד החכמות, לידע שיש שם מצוי ראשון

In his listing of the Ikarim in the introduction to Perek Chelek Rambam presents the first five, which deal with God’s existence, uniqueness, transcendence, that He is the First Cause and that He is the only God to worship as facts. That is not a belief but reality that is a known fact.

This knowledge has been with humankind on and off for the longest time and finally established itself for the long term with Avraham, long before Sinai and the Torah. A macro glance at Sefer Breishis makes it clear that it is the message it is trying to send. It starts with Creation which is the idea of First Cause, follows in a summary of man’s periodical awareness of God and how, most of the time, man forgot about Him. Finally with the arrival of Avraham monotheism started to take root among a group of people and stayed.

It became clear that a theological/philosophical concept that requires intellectual commitment cannot survive when it is only in the mind. That is the meaning of the story of Egypt where, when confronted with hardship monotheism could not survive and was almost lost. It became clear that a system of behavior had to be established that would force people to think about God and constantly remind them to search for Him.

Moshe established that system through revelation. Revelation is not a miraculous thing, according to Rambam who disagrees with Kuzari and others, but a trait that all humans can acquire after proper preparation. It is a blend of rational speculation and study of the Universe, intuition and imagination. This can be learned. Great scientific discoveries, leaps in understanding of the universe and its components, were the result of exceptional men making use of this ability, whether consciously or not.

When imagination is part of the mix, subjectivity has a role and is not adequate for creating a fair and rational system of laws and beliefs. We also need a system that is immutable so that it remains constant for a very long time – eternity. Moshe developed that ability and we believe that he is the only person that ever did or will ever in the future have such an ability.

When it comes to prophecy Rambam uses the term “Le'yedah” both in the Yad and in the introduction to Chelek as translated by Rav Kafieh. That is something that has to be learned.

א מיסודי הדת, לידע שהאל מנבא את בני האדם;

When he deals with the prophecy of Moshe he uses “Na’amin”, believe. That is already a matter of acceptance. At Sinai, the greatest accomplishment was that the people were convinced that Moshe is the only prophet that legislates without subjectivity. Only someone who was present and experienced it could know exactly how he or she was convinced. In any case they committed not only for themselves but also for their descendants.

Clearly there are different levels of belief. The existence of God is based on proof. Prophecy is something to be learned and experienced. Everyone can but not every one will. Moshe’s unique prophecy, which is the basis of Torah min Hashamayim, is something we accept.

I have presented an outline of a system which can be visualized as a pyramid with the ultimate goal at the top point and all the tools needed to get to it below, flaring out into a broad base. The goal is to know God as much as one can; the system is the Torah and its commandments. When one looks at the Sefer Hamitzvos and how it is structured, the first commandment is to know God followed by a series of intellectual requirements and only then by active Mitzvos. (My friend Rabbi Buchman is writing a book on the subject. It has been his idea for the longest time.)

Is the Torah way the only one that works? The answer is that individuals can arrive at the same place on their own. Some have without the Torah. The Torah way is the only one that is a system that focuses a large population on this goal of understanding God.

My next posts will deal with the ultimate purpose of knowing God and some of the tools the Torah has given us – Ta’amei Hamitzvos and Veholachto Bidrochov. They will address some of the workings of the system and how they are accomplishing what they were set out to do.

NB: I want to make it clear I am trying to learn and clarify things for myself. I don't have all the answers nor the only ones. I have learned a lot from the comments here and during my visits at other sites. To me these issues are at the center of my thoughts and keep me up at night. I believe that they are the core of Judaism and an obligation for all who can, to pursue them and try to get a grip on them.


  1. jewishskeptic6/08/2006 10:26 AM

    I want briefly to comment on your previous & present posts.

    1)From the Big Bang theory one can't infer there was a Creator.
    The Big Bang coud have originated from a *virtual particle*.
    Modern physics tells us that virtual particles pop up all the time for no reason.It just happens!

    When scientists use the word *created*,they use it metaphorically,for lack of a better word,they don't mean by it that there was necessarly a *Creator*. Similarly,when they use the word Laws they don't mean there is a*Law giver*. It's just that what we observe of nature we named it metaphorically "Laws"
    The idea that the Universe could have been created from a virtual particle or something of similar mysterious nature Is NOT LESS LOGICAL than a Universe created willfully by a conscious Deity. I think on the contrary.

    And how can you ascertain without the Torah (as you write that according to Rambam one could know it ,e.g. Avraham before Matan Torah),that this God of yours created the world intentionally,willfully? HOW?!
    And if you can't,how is this God different from a *virtual particle-God*
    If this God is not willful,intentional & personal-AND YOU CAN ONLY KNOW THIS FROM THE TORAH- how is your God different from a particle God,or for that matter to no God? Call it by whatever name you like! It makes no difference.
    You cite the scientist Frank,the facts are that the majority of top scientists are atheists or agnostics. Einstein used the God metaphorically. He repeatedly stated that he doesn't believe in a personal God.

    2)You keep on saying that we can learn from His actions.I answered you already that from his actions we cant learn anything.
    His actions,if you will, is nature,and it's indifferent.If any thing you might come to the conclusion that it is satanic & created by some demonic entity! Like the Gnostics held.

    You say(or the Rambam) that *existence* is moral.That's debateable .
    Anyhow,I dont see how you can learn from nature,which is a continuous struggle for survival,
    chesed,mishpat or mercy.(not withstanding the derashot of Chazal).
    So you see, if you want to make your God-particle or in Rambam's words *yesod hayesodot* a moral God,you must come to the Torah.
    That's my argument. Without the Torah,all the words of God,Yesod Hayesodot are meaningless,they are impersonal & don't relate to us humans.

    If this is so,& we want a God that hears us & cares about us & you claim that such a God exists,then you can only prove Him through the Torah-& NOTHING ELSE!

    Around this revolves our debate.
    The provenace of the Torah.
    Without it you have no moral God.Maybe a God-particle!

    ps Thanks for the exposure...

  2. ps Thanks for the exposure...

    I hope you are not saying this sarcastically and I did not offend you. I figured as you are anonymous there was no harm. Let me know if you feel otherwise and I appologize. i told you we can talk offline. Myemail is in my profile.

    To #1 - I agree wholeheartedly we can only prove the existence of an entity - which could be willful or not. And you are right to prove a willfull God we need revelation. And that is a long discussion. It is based on accepting Revelation, what revelation is what Will means and I will address it at length. In Hakirah an article will appear June 24 approximately, that I wrote and addresses partially this whole issue. I have been working on Rambam's prophecy for a few years and together with my first article the issue should be well addressed .

    Re 2 I will respond later as I was just called away.

  3. >>>The answer is that individuals can arrive at the same place on their own. Some have without the Torah.

    I think the Rambam would reject the assertion that you can get there without Torah. See Moreh III:51 the mashal of the king's palace - philosophy alone without Torah cannot get you into the inner chambers.

  4. וכאשר הבנת את הדברים הטבעיים כבר נכנסת אל החצר ואתה מהלך בפרוזדוריה 20.

    וכאשר תשלים את הטבעיות ותבין את האלוהיות כבר נכנסת אל המלך אל החצר הפנימית 21 ונמצאת עמו בחצר אחד, וזו היא דרגת החכמים, והם שונים בשלמות.

    No mention of Torah,(Chachomim is inclusive Ysroel and Umos Haolam)also see end Shmita Veyovel Kol Bo'ey Olam

  5. > The goal is to know God as much as one can; the system is the Torah and its commandments.

    You keep saying this yet offer no reason or proof. How do you know Torah is THE system? Maybe the Koran is THE system? Maybe THE system hasn't been revealed yet? (i.e. we are pre the real sinai). Maybe God expects us to create THE system ourselves?

    If you can't answer this question they you have NOTHING.

  6. How do you know Torah is THE system? Maybe the Koran is THE system?

    Maybe the Koran is. There are probably other systems too that claim that. i am no expert in koran but those who are tell me that it does not contain the following:

    The true Law, which as we said is one, and beside which there is no other Law, viz., the Law of our teacher Moses, has for its purpose to give us the twofold perfection. It aims first at the establishment of good mutual relations among men by removing injustice and creating the noblest feelings. In this way the people in every land are enabled to stay and continue in one condition, and every one can acquire his first perfection. Secondly, it seeks to train us in faith, and to impart correct and true opinions when the intellect is sufficiently developed. Scripture clearly mentions the twofold perfection, and tells us that its acquisition is the object of all the divine commandments. Comp."

    There is another place he says it clearer but this will do for now. it is ultimately a subjective choice and if you can accept revelation rationally, not supernatural but proper human mental development - which I can help you along, then Torah makes sense. It is as i said a tool to help you focus. it works if used properly, it is a killer if misused. It is also needed to provide a large enough population to cull some real seekers. If it sounds elitist so be it - I don't think it is. BTW if Torah is seen this way it loses the OCD qualities that have been pushed onto it. Keep on reading as I said in the post i am moving along. You can nthen Edit and we can publish A Moreh Nevuchei ....)

  7. JS re #2:

    If you chose to accept the idea of a wilfull God then one needs to look at His actions and infer His will. The fact that in a micro, and Micro could be one person, a nation or even half humanity (Mabul as an example - and lets leave that for another discussion), is destroyed, it is still micro compared to the vastness of the universe, as long as it is constructive in the long run it is not considered bad. We are touching on theodicy and it does not belong in a comment. But asuming you accept that everything in the Universe is contructive from a macro perspective, man who is the only one with free choice, can either be constructive, protect the environment and so on, protect fellow humnas animals etc... or be destructive. The right choice is Veholachto bidrochov. the mitzvos are not the ultimate good act just a tool and at higher level, I'll explain that soon, become Avodas Hashem.But the ultimate worship is emulating God.

    Of course I have not fully explained the revelation, will, choice and theodicy but they all come together. Be a little more patient.

    I promise I will continue to flesh out Rambam's thinking in this area.

  8. You continue to assert statements about the Torah but don't really provide any reasons.

    Please answer the following questions in your own words, without any quotes from the Rambam.

    1. Are you saying the Torah is only A system, not The System?

    2. If the Torah is only A system, is it neccesarily the best system?

    3. If the Torah is only A system, does that mean it's man made?

    4. Even if the Torah is THE system, are you saying its from God, or man made based on Divine Inspiration ?

    5. How do you know the Torah is a good system? Maybe its not?

  9. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  10. jewishskeptic6/08/2006 4:24 PM

    >"I hope you are not saying this sarcastically and I did not offend you. I figured as you are anonymous there was no harm. Let me know if you feel otherwise and I appologize. i told you we can talk offline. Myemail is in my profile"

    No,I didn't mean it sarcastically & I wasn't offended at all.As you note, it's anonymous.There is no need for any apologies.

    Actually,I wrote you a long e-mail about 4 days ago using your e-mail box on your profile.After spending 1 hour typing it all out & trying to send it to you it somehow disappeared! I became very frustrated. You see I am not so handy with computers. I type with one finger...

    I am having someone over to show me some of the intricacies involved.
    Or maybe next time I'll just send through my regular hotmail which I know how to use.

  11. GH

    re 1: the Torah is a system, the system for the Jews. Remember the Midrash that God showed it to all the nations and only the Jews took it?

    2:It is the system we accepted for better or for worse.

    3: No. it depends what you mean man made. Was it given to us by a man yes, is it divinely inspired yes. That leaves you with the question what divinely inspired means. Which leads us to next question.
    4: How does man take leaps of knowledge sometimes inspired? We believe and apparently our parents who were present were somehow convinced, that Moshe's inspiration was so great and unique that they committed themselves and us to follow his system eternally without changing it other than through the system itself.

    5: I don't know but i trust it is. I learn it, analyze it, use it to improve myself so that I can think clearly in my quest for God. I also am attached to it because i see that if I understand correctly the goal of all this religion, it has moved us and the nations of the world, at least western civilization and Islam in the direction of monotheism and searching for the One God. Does it go in a straight line, no, but it goes there eventually.

    There is an interesting book by Jose Faur, in the shadow of History where he traces European philosophy from the inquisition forward to Jewish thought and thinkers, of course mostly Rambam. He shows that all dialogued with him whether for, against or neutral. His influence is felt everywhere. you might want to read it. It makes the point that Judaism, that created Rambam and other thinkers, has clearly made the world think.

    More than that I cannot give you. But it does imply the system worked towards its preset goal.

    these answers are summaries and I will elaborate with time but it should give you a starting point.

  12. JS give me your email. I will send you a message and you can then click on reply and save my address in your address book.

  13. I think you're doing a fair job of explicating the Rambam's position (or an interpretation of the Rambam's position). I would like to see it more prominently attributed to him, for two reasons: 1) so people who think the Rambam was just another frum yid can understand how different his thought was, and 2) because there are certainly other interpretations of what Judaism and life is all about that are pretty valid.

  14. >re 1: the Torah is a system, the system for the Jews. Remember the Midrash that God showed it to all the nations and only the Jews took it?

    I'm sure you don't take that Midrash literally, right?

    >2:It is the system we accepted for better or for worse.

    who's this "we" you are talking about? I wasn't there and neither were you. We are not slaves to the past. One generation can not put obligations on another without their consent. Our ancestors were also idol worshipers, are we obligated to do that too? No, because they changed their ways. Likewise, we should change if we realize there is a better way

  15. > if we realize there is a better way

    Pray tell me which is proven better over 3000 years?

  16. >One generation can not put obligations on another without their consent.

    Nobody forces you and you have choices. Ubocharto bachaim

  17. Greg:

    That is my intention it just takes time. That is why I called the post summary.

    Re other interpretation, as long as they are not mystical fine with me. That was the idea behinfd the post about dynamism of Ta'amei hamitzvos.

  18. When the Rambam says 'tavis es Elokiyut' I read that as through the study of Torah. One might very well be a chacham in the Rambam's eyes without belief in G-d, depending on which girsa you have ch 8 hil melachim.

  19. One might very well be a chacham in the Rambam's eyes without belief in G-d, depending on which girsa you have ch 8 hil melachim

    He is not talking about Yedias Hashem but Nevuas Moshe. So whichever the girsa he is nothing without belief in G-d.

    והוא שיקבל אותן ויעשה אותן, מפני
    שציווה בהן הקדוש ברוך הוא בתורה, והודיענו על ידי משה רבנו, שבני נוח מקודם נצטוו בהן. אבל אם עשאן מפני הכרע הדעת--אין זה גר תושב, ואינו מחסידי אומות העולם אלא מחכמיהם.