Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Reward and Punishment - Part of the natural course of events.

ד הַצּוּר תָּמִים פָּעֳלוֹ, {ס} כִּי כָל-דְּרָכָיו מִשְׁפָּט: {ר} אֵל אֱמוּנָה וְאֵין עָוֶל, {ס} צַדִּיק וְיָשָׁר הוּא.
4 The Rock, His work is perfect; for all His ways are justice; a God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and right is He.

This verse, Devarim 32:4, is addressed nine times in the Moreh. Rambam understanding of this verse gives us an interesting insight into his views on the meaning of reward and punishment and ultimately providence. I will trace the references that I think are pertinent and what I learned from them.

The word Tzur is addressed in MN 1:16. Rambam sees it as a synonym for First Cause. It refers to God when we see Him as the source for everything.

It is in the latter sense that the Almighty is called" rock," He being the origin and the Efficient Cause of all things besides Himself. Thus we read," He is the Rock, His work is perfect" (Deut. xxxii. 4.”

The next words, “Tamim Pe’alo”, are addressed in 2:28 where Rambam argues that the world is eternal “a parte post”, from the time it was created onwards. God’s creation is perfect and therefore will continue to exist eternally without any need for interference on His part.

The fact that the works of God are perfect, admitting of no addition or diminution, has already been mentioned by Moses, the wisest of all men, in the words:" The rock, His work is perfect" (Deut. xxxii. 14). All His works or creations are most perfect, containing no defect whatever, nothing superfluous, nor anything unnecessary”.

God created a world with a system that can sustain itself without any needs for adjustments on His part. And now Rambam ties the first part of the verse with the next;

Similarly all that is being accomplished for and by the created things is absolute justice and is the result of His wisdom, as will be explained in some chapters of this treatise.”

Justice is reward and punishment. Just as nature is preset and does not require God adjust, interfere or micro manage, reward and punishment similarly is the result of the same wisdom, “Chochma” that does not require His interference. One might argue that the comparison is only as to wisdom, but not how He acts when being a judge, so read on.

In 3:12 Rambam discusses “good and bad” as it relates to people. At the end of an interesting and telling discussion which I will address in a separate post, Rambam sums up:

In these two ways you will see the mercy of God toward His creatures, how He has provided that which is required, in proper proportions, and treated all individual beings of the same species with perfect equality. In accordance with this correct reflection the chief of the wise men says," All his ways are judgment" (Deut. xxxii. 4) … for it is an act of great and perfect goodness that He gave us existence: and the creation of the controlling faculty in the living beings is a proof of His mercy towards them, as has been shown by us.”

The fact that nature provides and that men have the faculties to make good or bad use of them is justice. Rambam, as I read it, sees justice, reward and punishment, as the natural result of how the world functions. The words “for all His ways are justice” refer to reward and punishment. God created the universe and as part of that creation He also made living things that operate according to their will. That is nature and “perfect goodness”, which means they have longevity (see MN 2:30 “When the creation of any part of the Universe is described that is permanent, regular, and in a settled order, the phrase" that it is good" is used”). For the universe to exist eternally, perfectly, it needs living organisms that operate according to their free will. It is the combination of what we call unchanging, natural events, and living things that interact with that unchanging element that allow for its longevity.

In 3:49 when discussing the rationale for the punishment the Torah metes out to a person that falsely accuses his wife of adultery, Rambam summarizes:

See how, according to the Law, the slanderer of his wife, who only intended to withhold from her what he is bound to give her, is treated in the same manner as a thief who has stolen the property of his neighbor; and the false witness who schemes to injure, although the injury was in reality not inflicted, is punished like those who have actually caused injury and wrong, like the thief and the slanderer. The three kinds of sinners are tried and judged by the same law. See how wonderful the divine laws are, and admire His wonderful deeds. Scripture says:" The Rock, His work is perfect; for all His ways are judgment" (Deut. xxxii. 4), i.e., as His works are most perfect, so are His laws most equitable; but our mind is too limited to comprehend the perfection of all His works, or the equity of all His laws: and as we are able to comprehend some of His wonderful works in the organs of living beings and the motions of the spheres, so we understand also the equity of some of His laws; that which is unknown to us of both of them is far more than that which is known to us.”

Even the laws that man implements using his own judgment, ultimately it is the judge who decides whether this act is punishable, are seen as God’s justice. He set the rules when He gave the Torah just as He set the rules of nature at Creation. Punishment again is seen as a natural event in the course of human existence. The individual decisions that bring about consequences are not directly controlled by God but are the normal course of events.

Finally in MN 3:53 where Rambam discusses the word מִשְׁפָּט:

The noun Mishpat," judgment," denotes the act of deciding upon a certain action in accordance with justice which may demand either mercy or punishment.

We have thus shown that Chesed denotes pure charity; Tzedakah kindness, prompted by a certain moral conscience in man, and being a means of attaining perfection for his soul, whilst Mishpat may in some cases find expression in revenge, in other cases in mercy.

In discussing the impropriety of admitting attributes of God, we stated that the divine attributes which occur in Scripture are attributes of His actions; thus He is called Hassid," kind," because He created the Universe; Tzaddik," righteous," on account of His mercy with the weak, in providing for every living being according to its powers; and Shofet," judge," on account of the relative good and the great relative evils that are decreed by God's justice as directed by His wisdom. These three names occur in the Pentateuch:" Shall not the judge (Shofet) of all the earth," etc. (Gen. Xviii. 25):" Righteous (Tzaddik) and upright is he" (Dent. xxxii. 4):" Abundant in loving-kindness" (Chesed), (Exod. xxxiv. 6).”


Note how Rambam refers to reward as “relative good” and to punishment as “relative bad”. When we discuss good and bad we will see that it is a value judgment based on the personal assessment of the person that experiences an event. (See note 14 in the R. Kafih edition of the Moreh). Again we see Rambam describing Justice as another component of natural events.
The implications of this understanding are far reaching. There are many more indications that Rambam holds this position throughout. I will be addressing them and also the implications as I discuss these issues in future posts.

9 comments:

  1. Jewishskeptic10/18/2006 12:31 PM

    1) >"It refers to God when we see Him as the source for everything."


    That's just an unnecessary assumption.It's pure faith.

    2)>"
    God created a world with a system that can sustain itself without any needs for adjustments on His part"

    Again,why do you need to posit a God behind the system.Since the system doesn't change what difference does it make if there is a God behind it or not?

    3)>"For the universe to exist eternally, perfectly, it needs living organisms that operate according to their free will."

    That's a big leap of faith! What is the logic behind this statement?

    4)>"Even the laws that man implements using his own judgment, ultimately it is the judge who decides whether this act is punishable, are seen as God’s justice. He set the rules when He gave the Torah just as He set the rules of nature at Creation"

    Again,unnecessary assumptions.


    5)>" Again we see Rambam describing Justice as another component of natural events"

    With that I agree,but there is no need for the above assumptions.
    I understand "s'char mitsvah-mitsvah;s'char averah-averah",as 'virtue is it's own reward'.The Laws of Nature are such-& so we have evolved-that for every folly we pay a price.If,for e.g. President Katsav,is guilty of what he is accused,then his choosings brought on the shame upon himsef & his family.(without going into the conundrum whether ultimately his choosings were really based on "free will".This ex.only proves to me there is no such thing as real free will.For how can a person in his position risk everything & to fall 'mibira rama l'vira amikta',for the stupid things he did! "ein adam chote ela im ken nichnesah bo ruach sh'tut" & that's not free will.)
    The Greeks held that that to be a happy man is to be a virtuous man.
    The criminal will always pay for his crimes,one way or another.
    By positing a PERSONAL God who is the cause of these laws,raises more problems than it solves.

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  2. Jewishskeptic10/18/2006 1:46 PM

    Shoud be "meigra rama l'v(b)ira amikta"

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  3. >By positing a PERSONAL God who is the cause of these laws,raises more problems than it solves.

    I will address your questions separately in posts. They are strong and need to be addressed.I just want to comment on this "Personal" God issue. God is only personal if you make Him such. it is the way some people want to see Him. To me God is distant and unnaproachable and whatever i will do will never change anything from taking its natural course. If I err I will bring the consequences on myself and if i do good so too will there be consequences. I can however make God personal in the sense that I try to figure out what is right or wrong by trying to understand Him and emulate Him. that is very difficult and it takes a better person than I or probably anyone alone to do so. that is where religion comes in and makes God personal in a Klal context. On a personal level I make Him personal if I follow that religion and search for God. What I discover within those bounds personalizes Him.

    That only works if I accept that things are as they are because there is Will at creation. That is the meaning of Ratzon and Chefetz. It is an ontological understanding rather than an empirical proof. the only thing that is empirical in religiion is First Cause or as GH calls it the God of the philosophers everything else is ontological.

    It is a lot to say in a comment but I want to answer you and I know you will understand the gist. Vehamaskilim.... :-)

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  4. You've imposed all this about hashgacha on the text. The rambam says god's justice is in nature, and in the torah - so? None of this has anything to do with hashgacha.

    "There are many more indications that Rambam holds this position throughout."

    where?

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  5. Tafkaa, I just reread the post and i see no mention of hashgacha in it only schar ve'onesh. All I am saying is that Schar ve'onesh falls under Teva and not elsewhere.

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  6. Sorry the word providence appears once and yes understanding reward and punishment has implications on hashgacha but I have not yet discussed it.

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  7. "All I am saying is that Schar ve'onesh falls under Teva and not elsewhere."

    also not in the text!( the issues go hand in hand)

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  8. I think the quote from 2:28 is quite clear that both are the result of the original Chochma which is not changing. If that is not nature - what is?

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  9. "Rambam, as I read it, sees justice, reward and punishment, as the natural result of how the world functions."

    that shcar vonesh is naturalistic consequences of actions is not in the texts you cite, 2:28 or 3:12 - it's an alien imposition. Nature is just doesn't mean all justice is natural consequences.

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