Saturday, July 07, 2007

Man Atoning for God!

In my last post I talked about the Korban of Rosh Chodesh being singled out as
Being to Hashem. Over Shabbat, I happened to read a chapter in a book by David Hartman, Misinai leZion, and it referred me to Halachik Man by RYBS. On page 107 of the Lawrence Kaplan translation, the Rav says as follows:

When a Jew goes outside and beholds the pale moon casting its delicate strands of light into empty reaches of the world, he recites a blessing…. He contemplates this spectacle of the waxing and waning of the moon and sees in it a symbol of defectiveness and renewal. Just as the moon is “defective” and then “renewed” so creation is “defective” and will be “renewed”, “replenished”….

Man is obliged to perfect what his Creator “impaired”. Resh Lakish said: Why is the new moon goat offering different, in that [the phrase] “a sin offering unto the Lord” is used in connection with it [whereas ordinarily the phrase “a sin offering” is used without the additional “unto the Lord”}? Because the Holy One, blessed be He, said: This goat shall be atonement for my diminishing the moon [i.e. it is as if the moon offering is not “unto the Lord” but “on behalf of the Lord”]. The Jewish people bring a sacrifice to atone as it were for the Holy One, blessed be He, for not having completed the work of creation. The Creator of the world diminished the image and stature of creation in order to leave something for man, the work of his hands, to do, in order to adorn man with the crown of creator and maker.

What is fascinating about the Rav’s take is that we do God’s work by atoning for Him! Not only are we granted the mission to perfect and improve the world, we atone for God demanding this from us! We connect with God, in a sense becoming God’s surrogate, His Shaliach. Connecting is not enough, we also have to emulate Him and create, perfecting what he has not finished. Intellectual cognition is not enough. We are required to take that search for God into the realm of action and practical deeds. The Rav had no doubt the beautiful last chapter in MN in mind when he wrote this.

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.” (MN 3:54)

I repeat this constantly because it belies the popular belief that Rambam saw intellectual perfection as the ultimate goal. Here we see that only when acting on that intellectual insight does man gain real perfection. In Halachik parlance it is the "Ma’aseh Hamitzvah”.

Shavua Tov.


  1. But the intellectual foundation is ultimately the essence of one's perfection, Talmud Torah K'neged Koolam. Failure to translate it into action simply reflects a defect in one's understanding, a lack of appreciation for the darchei Hashem.

  2. RJM, true. But translating intellectual cognition into action is not automatic and requires energy and will.

    Even at Sinai, the height of cognition, the next day they went for the egel. And I am talking about acting positively never mind regressing.

  3. Reading that particular snippet from the Moreh happens to have made a huge difference to me at a very difficult moment. (I often enjoy the human tone you bring to difficult subjects that others make "cold".) Quibbles later. Thanks for this post, and for your pleasant blog.

  4. The Rav's comments perfectly paraphrase the Ishbitza's idea that the diminishment of the moon reflects (no pun intended) the inherent imperfection of creation. That idea is not at all evident in the selection from Moreh that you cite.
    The Rambam write in Hakdamah to Peirush haMishna "tachlis heyos ha'adam l'tzayeir b'nafsho muskalos". The Rambam then goes on to ask why G-d bothered to create stupid people! If that is not the definition of intellectual elistism, I don't know what is. The avodah of a simpleton has little merit acc. to Rambam's view.

  5. Achad Ha'umah Thank you it feels good to communicate.

    R. Chaim B. I agree that Rambam has nothing to do with the Rav's understanding and he (as far as I can remeber though I have nagging feeling in the back of my mind that I forgot something)does not have this idea of tikun.

    It is true that without intellectual development Rambam does not see a man, however intellectual greatness that does not lead lema'asseh is not the ultimate. Read the last perek in Moreh, which to me is one of the most beautiful pieces of intellectual literature ever written.

    The smae Mitzvah of Chesed for example done before full intelectual growth and after are two different mitzvot. One is kiyum of veahavta lere'acha the other adds in the mitzvah of Vehalachta biderachav. ( the issue of it being a mitzvah kolelet see the teshuivah of Rabbeinu Avraham on Mitzvah 8 in frankel's Sefer hamitzvot.)

  6. David: A bit offtopic but I need to ask you.

    How would you respond to a blog like

    Secondly how would you respond to someone who reads a blog like that.

    Thank you.

  7. David: I will quote a part of Moreh for you:

    "Such being the nature of this theory, how can we employ it as an axiom and establish on it the existence of the Creator? In that case the existence of God would be uncertain: if the universe had a beginning, God does exist: if it be eternal, God does not exist; the existence of God would therefore remain either an open question, or we should have to declare that the creation had been proved, and compel others by mere force to accept this doctrine, in order thus to be enabled to declare that we have proved the existence of God. Such a process is utterly inadmissible. The true method, which is based on a logical and indubitable proof, consists, according to my opinion, in demonstrating the existence of God, His unity, and His incorporeality by such philosophical arguments as are founded on the theory of the eternity of the Universe. I do not propose this method as though I believed in the eternity of the Universe, for I do not follow the philosophers on this point, but because by the aid of this method these three principles, viz., the existence of God, His unity and His incorporeality can be fully proved and verified, irrespectively of the question whether the universe has had a beginning or not. After firmly establishing these three principles by an exact proof, we shall treat of the problem of creation and discuss it as fully as possible."

    If this was a discussion about the theory of creation then I would say you are in the "declare that the creation had been proved" boat. I would say the blog in question is the one who builds his arguments on uncertainty.

    Making you a radical and the blog a fool.

    Another offtopic question:
    Why in 1:62 does the Rambam say "bad and foolish men" as apposed to "foolish men." The pasuk he uses to only talks about a fool not a bad person.

    I am think the Rambam didn't put too much thought to the word bad and just added it in the spirit of the context. Unless the usage of the word bad can be explained?

  8. >Making you a radical and the blog a fool.

    I am not sure what you are trying to say. Rambam is saying that one should not prove God's existence based on the world needing a Creator as that is not provable. There is no proof that the world is not eternal. What this has to do with the messianic website I don't know.

    In 1;62 they are bad because they are misleading others and foolish because they are saying nonsense which the non discerning cannot catch.

  9. Ok. Please forgive me. I just wanted to say you will get no where without spelling out your reasons to others. I overlooked the messanicness of the site focusing on its irrationality and misleading, etc... I now understand why you wouldn't respond to it because I never explained what of it to respond to.