Thursday, January 11, 2007

Acquiring Providence - an arduous task. Part 2.

In my last post on Hashgacha I presented Rambam’s 5 groups that make up the different levels of development that people have to go through to be able to aspire to the highest level, that of prophets. (In total there were eight groups including the prophets. The first two groups are either uninterested or misguided, leaving us with five developmental groups and one utopian.) Group 3 and 4, the first step of development, involve keeping the commandments. Unlike popular understanding that the ultimate goal is to keep the Mitzvot to their minutest detail, here we see that as only a first level stepping-stone to proper understanding. I am not ready here to address Ta’amei Hamitzvot but we already get a sense from Rambam that they are to be seen as part of a development process and not a goal in themselves. Clearly besides pure knowledge, the highest moral and ethical standards are required, if one wants to act on his conclusions about God and his world. Without that strong grounding, personal bias and desires will mislead. Keeping the commandments in the Torah, studying their intricacies and applying the laws to daily life, teach the discipline, moral and ethical underpinnings as well as the theological axioms needed for becoming a bona fide prophet. (I am talking only about the Mitzvot part of the Torah and the study of the Halachot themselves. The Torah itself is much broader and encompasses other necessary areas of knowledge such as metaphysics.) Looked at from this perspective,

י רֵאשִׁית חָכְמָה, יִרְאַת יְהוָה--
10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;

takes on a different meaning. It is a vital component without which all this intellectualization cannot be transformed into action.

Group 6 is made up of those who take the study of Torah a step further. They “have plunged into speculation concerning the fundamental principle of religion”, in other words are trying to understand the meaning behind the Mitzvot and the theology they represent and at the same time are also involved in learning the sciences and observing the universe that surrounds them. As Rambam explains in MN 1:34:

We can only obtain a knowledge of Him through His works; His works give evidence of His existence, and show what must be assumed concerning Him, that is to say, what must be attributed to Him either affirmatively or negatively. It is thus necessary to examine all things according to their essence; to infer from every species such true and well-established propositions as may assist us in the solution of metaphysical problems. Again, many propositions based on the nature of numbers and the properties of geometrical figures, are useful in examining things which must be negated in reference to God, and these negations will lead us to further inferences. You will certainly not doubt the necessity of studying astronomy and physics, if you are desirous of comprehending the relation between the world and Providence as it is in reality, and not according to imagination.”

The sciences are the way of translating the theology one gets from the Torah into imagination free concepts about God.

Those that try to understand the underlying logic of the Mitzvot, addressing the existential issues of life and speculate in philosophy, theology and metaphysics belong to Group 7. When these people are so connected and have absorbed that knowledge making it an integral part of their self, they have approached the level of man qua man, the ultimate human – a prophet.

The true worship of God is only possible when correct notions of Him have previously been conceived. When you have arrived by way of intellectual research at knowledge of God and His works, then commence to devote yourselves to Him, try to approach Him and strengthen the intellect, which is the link that joins you to Him… For it is said, "To love the Lord your God, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul" (Deut. xi. 13), and, as we have shown several times, man's love of God is identical with His knowledge of Him. The Divine service enjoined in these words must, accordingly, be preceded by the love of God. Our Sages have pointed out to us that it is a service in the heart, which explanation I understand to mean this: man concentrates all his thoughts on the First Intellect, and is absorbed in these thoughts as much as possible. … It has thus been shown that it must be man's aim, after having acquired the knowledge of God, to deliver himself up to Him, and to have his heart constantly filled with longing after Him.” (MN 3:51)

It is the people in this last group that enjoy the full force of Providence. Their actions are guided by “correct notions”; they are emulating God’s actions, which they have understood after arduous preparation. They have acquired high levels of ethical and moral standards, they have developed their intellect to its highest capacity and their actions are guided by these considerations. Their actions fit seamlessly into the fabric of the universe and its continuity.

Providence is a function of man’s actions.

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