Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Spirituality and Mysticism: Love (part 2)

In the previous post, we saw Rambam describing love of God as an emotion that results from following God’s deeds by observing our existence and its causes. This observation triggers a mixture of feelings, awe, fear and a realistic evaluation of our own hierarchical place in relation to everything else and at the same time a pining and thirst to love the Entity that is the cause of all this. We have however not defined exactly what that feeling of love is. As we all know, love is a quite mysterious emotion. Much has been written about it and clearly, there are different kinds of love. What exactly is that feeling of love meant to be when applied to the relationship between man and God? How can there be a command to love? It sounds quite artificial. How can true love be commanded and obligatory?

In Hil Teshuvah 10:1 –
העובד מאהבה, עוסק בתורה ובמצוות והולך בנתיבות החכמה--לא מפני דבר בעולם, לא מפני יראת הרעה, ולא כדי לירש הטובה: אלא עושה האמת, מפני שהוא אמת; וסוף הטובה לבוא בכלל.

A person that worships [God] because of love, is not involved in Torah and Mitzvot nor following the paths of knowledge, because of anything else in the world, not fear of bad things happening nor to gain good things. The only reason he does Truth is because it is Truth. The good things will generally come at the end.

Rambam is telling us that the reason for learning Torah, doing the Mitzvot and studying the sciences [והולך בנתיבות החכמה - following the paths of knowledge] is because it is Truth. Ultimate Truth is non-contingency. When I say it is dark outside, I am making a contingent statement. There is a choice it can be light or dark outside. I am observing that in relation to the possibility of it being light it is dark now. God is by definition uniquely non-contingent. He is “out there” whether there is existence or not. He is independent of anything else. There cannot be another entity that is non-contingent because that in itself is what non-contingency means. That is ultimate Truth. So how is my doing all these things seen as “doing” Truth? Before we can answer that question, we need to define what it means to “worship God because of love”.

ד ומעלה זו היא מעלה גדולה עד מאוד, ואין כל חכם זוכה לה. והיא מעלת אברהם אבינו, שקראו הקדוש ברוך הוא אוהבו לפי שלא עבד אלא מאהבה. והיא המעלה שציוונו בה הקדוש ברוך הוא על ידי משה רבנו, שנאמר "ואהבת, את ה' אלוהיך, בכל לבבך ובכל נפשך, ובכל מאודך" (דברים ו,ה). ובזמן שיאהוב את ה' אהבה הראויה, מיד יעשה כל המצוות מאהבה.

This level [of worship] is an extremely elevated level and not every sage can attain it. It is the level [attained] by Avraham Avinu to whom God referred to as one who loves Him, because he only worshipped out of love. That is the level [of worship] that HKBH commanded us via Moshe Rabbeinu as it says, “You should love Hashem your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might”. When a person loves God with the proper love, he immediately does all the Mitzvot out of love.

I find this Halacha fascinating. First Rambam tells us that worship for love is not attainable by all, even by sages. At the same time, he tells us that we are commanded to do so! Clearly, this Mitzvah is a goal that we have to keep in front of us at all times and strive to attain it. The commandment is to set ourselves a goal and work towards it. In fact, the next verse is וְהָיוּ הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם--עַל-לְבָבֶךָ. The words that I command you today [to set this as a goal] shall be upon your heart [mind].

ה [ג] וכיצד היא האהבה הראויה: הוא שיאהוב את ה' אהבה גדולה יתרה רבה, עזה עד מאוד, עד שתהא נפשו קשורה באהבת ה', ונמצא שוגה בה תמיד--כאלו חולי האהבה, שאין דעתם פנויה מאהבת אותה אישה שהוא שוגה בה תמיד, בין בשוכבו בין בקומו, בין בשעה שהוא אוכל ושותה. יתר מזה תהיה אהבת ה' בלב אוהביו, ושוגים בה תמיד, כמו שציוונו, "בכל לבבך ובכל נפשך" (דברים ו,ה; דברים י,יב; דברים ל,ו). והוא ששלמה אומר דרך משל, "כי חולת אהבה, אני" (שיר השירים ב,ה); וכל שיר השירים משל הוא לעניין זה

What is the proper love? A person should love God with such a greatly exaggerated and intense love that his soul is tied up with the love of God. He finds himself obsessed with it at all times, just like the people who are obsessed with love [literally lovesick]. Their mind does not free itself from the love of the woman they are obsessed with at all times, whether when going to sleep or awakening, whether when eating or drinking. The love for God should be even greater in the heart of his lovers, obsessing in it all the time as we were commanded “with all your heart and all your soul”. It is also, what Shlomo says as a metaphor “for I am sick with love”. All Shir Hashirim is a metaphor for this.

Rambam is describing a state of obsession where one thinks of God at all times and loves Him. This obsession is the manifestation of this great love with which man’s soul is tied up. He still has not told us what this love is. Finally Rambam in Hil Teshuvah 10:10, the last Halacha defines it for us.

[ו] דבר ידוע וברור שאין אהבת הקדוש ברוך הוא נקשרת בליבו של אדם, עד שישגה בה תמיד כראוי ויעזוב כל שבעולם חוץ ממנה כמו שציווה ואמר "בכל לבבך ובכל נפשך" (דברים ו,ה; דברים י,יב; דברים ל,ו): אלא בדעה שיידעהו. ועל פי הדעה--על פי האהבה--אם מעט מעט, ואם הרבה הרבה.

It is a well-known and clear fact that the love of HKBH does not become tied into a person’s heart other than through the knowledge he knows about him to the point that he obsesses correctly about it [the knowledge] at all times, abandoning everything in the world besides it. That is the meaning of the command “with all your heart and all your soul”. Love is commensurate with knowledge – much knowledge, much love, little knowledge little love.

Note: this Halacha is difficult to read. I have translated it based on Rav Kafih’s comment and my understanding thereof.

Real love, as opposed to just a fleeting love fueled by desire, is an intimate knowledge and appreciation of another person. In a human relationship between man and woman, that intimate knowledge of each other, to know how the other thinks, feels and acts, is a process that takes years and hard work. That is with another human being that we can touch and feel, converse with, exchange information and generally observe and interact with each other. Imagine how much more difficult it is when the other we are trying to get to know cannot be known except through following the traces of the results of His actions. There is only a one-way conversation, from us to Him, without ever a response. The natural human reaction is to ignore this whole issue. The great majority of people, with the exception of a few curious souls, are completely oblivious that there is a transcendental entity out there that is the cause of all things that exist, to even trigger a need to know and understand Him. Those who do talk about God, do so out of terror. They are confronted with the frailty of their existence and look for comfort in an all-powerful entity that their imagination creates. If they love and worship it, it will protect them and punish them if they ignore it. Their interest in knowing it is to try influence it in their favor. Their god is a figment of their imagination.

Torah and Judaism teach that the goal for man is to understand a transcendental God for no other reason except that He is the only Truth, the only non-contingent entity that “exists”. The Torah teaches that this learning to understand is a process of step-by-step development. By keeping the Mitzvot, those commandments that are an integral part of a Jews daily activity, he is asked to think why he is doing it. That brings him to God and when he tries to understand God, he looks at his existence. As he does that, he gets to know a little about Him and starts to experience awe and an urge to know more. This process then feeds on itself until it becomes an obsession that takes over a person’s mind where in every act he sees God in front of him and all his actions are geared towards knowing Him. That person’s mind is now intimately involved at all times with God. That state of mind is true love. When in this state, a person continues to do Mitzvot and know God because God is ultimately and by definition not knowable and the urge to know just grows more, the more he knows. He does the Mitzvot because he needs to know God more intimately and they keep him focused on this path and a way of serving Him by following His commands. His actions are now true worship. They are the physical manifestation of where his mind is – tied up with God who is the ultimate Truth. His actions are therefore doing Truth. (Of course, we have to remember that “knowledge” in this area is negative knowledge in Rambam’s worldview – for discussions see my article Negative Attributes and Direct Prophecy – linked on the side panel.)

יא לפיכך צריך האדם לייחד עצמו להבין ולהשכיל בחכמות ותבונות המודיעין לו את קונו כפי כוח שיש באדם להבין ולהשיג, כמו שביארנו בהלכות יסודי התורה.

Therefore, [to serve God and not a figment of the imagination - DG] a person has to focus himself to know and understand sciences and knowledge that allow him to know his Creator [literally - owner] to the limits that a person has the ability to know and apprehend as we explained in Hil Yesodei Hatorah.

This is of course the most important point. Without proper knowledge, we will not serve God but a figment of our imagination. Love of God is therefore, knowing Him and thinking about Him at all times to the point of obsession. There certainly is an element of spirituality, an awareness of HKBH, but I do not see any Mystical experience as defined. There is no hierarchical process of reaching that awareness. Prof. Blumenthal touches on the Rambam’s quoted here and agrees that as he puts it “in the Mishne Torah Maimonides is much more restrained”.

I will continue with a few more discussions in MT before looking at the Moreh in upcoming posts.

Chag Sameach.

Note: In my translation of Rambam MT on this post I have tried to stay much closer to the original Hebrew, at times causing for some lack of flow. I did this because the subject is very sensitive and I tried to convey some of the texture of the original. I hope I succeeded.


  1. I need a little help here. How does one know according to the Rambam that that the metaphysical beliefs one acquires is knowledge, and not a mistake? Second, how does one know it's the right sort of belief.For example if I understand Kant's ideas about the noumenal world or Hegel's system or Heidegger's ideas on making a place for Being what do I have, are they the sort of beliefs the Rambam is talking about.Each of these views have been endorsed by some rabbinical authority(I.Breuer,Rav Kook sorta, chasidus in the Sefat Emes style) but all can't be true. Again ,how do I know I have come across a muthkalot rather than a spiritualist narishkeit?

    The only transcedental truths we know with certainty are mathematical truths, but studying topology is not I think sufficient, or is it?

  2. EJ, Your questions are excellent. In fact we certainly have many beliefs in Judaism by Rishonim and great acharonim that will definitely be contradictory. Not only that but the belief of Ramban in astrology and magic for example would be considered false according to rambam and possibly AZ.

    Raavad makes that point in hil teshuvah in his comment on Rambam who calls a min someone who believes in a corporeal god.

    So clearly one can find himself in a slippery area and what is there to do?

    The answer to me is that we have to be honest and work hard at understanding things as much as our sechel allows. We have a goal which is seeking Truth and we know that we probably will err along the way. We also pick a derech that fits with our personality and stick to it using the thinkers of the past and build on it. it is a lifetime endeavour and the accomplishments of each individual, and the amount of real Truth he apprehends along the way is what we call Olam Haba. See the last two chapters in hil teshuvah.

    Lo aleicha hamelacha ligmor - we just do as much as we can honestly and as diligently as possible.

    Moadim Lesimcha.

  3. Thank you for your thoughtful response.I want to ask some final follow up questions and try to elicit your opinion.

    Mathematical truths, e.g. number theory, algebra are not empirical and are necessarily true in every possible world.If one studies mathematics is one satisfying the Rambam's idea of acquiring metaphysical truths? At the other end if one studies the Zohar or Sefer Yetzirah is that adequate? And finally do you know of any muthkalot other than the 13 ikrim? Clearly knowledge of the spheres , dependent as it is on the Ptolemaic system is not even true,and knowledge of astronomy is not metaphysics , but empirical science.

  4. EJ - Rambam says that we study all sciences to know what God is NOT. Whatever we can imagine or understand can by definition not be God. If one were to study sciences with that goal in mind he would be learning torah. Rambam considers that as part of the mitzvah of talmud torah.I would venture you would need a bracha in the morning before you sat down and studied Mathematics with that in mind.

    Re Sefer Yetzirah, heichalot et al,although the authors were certainly working towards the same goal, Rambam would see them as having strayed and gone off the proper derech. At the same time they see him as being wrong and misguided. I will stake my claim in his camp and those who think similarly [R. Sa'adyah gaon et al] I prefer to be realistic and try to know what God is not and set limits rather than know more by letting my imagination run free.

  5. >And finally do you know of any muthkalot other than the 13 ikrim?

    I am not sure what you mean.

    >Clearly knowledge of the spheres , dependent as it is on the Ptolemaic system is not even true,and knowledge of astronomy is not metaphysics , but empirical science.

    The medieval metaphysics is based on the science of the time and it is our challenge to translate and understand based on our current knowledge. They showed us a methodology of how to address this and we need to develop our own approaches based on the knowledge of our times. RYBS did great work in that area and there is much to learn from him. Rav kook does the same thing with a different slant and tries to integrate the thought of the Kabbalists, maybe even sanitize it. i question how succesful he was but there are many who think differently. I also don't know enough about his Torah.

    It is as I said earlier we have to choose a derech that fits each of us, and there are legitimate gedolei machshava for each approach and work with it. If we approach it honestly and "bechol levaveinu" we trust we will find a kernel of truth. That is already an great accomplishment to my mind.

  6. One last time and I am really finished..I meant to say what metaphysics or philosophical truths are there to learn other than the doctrine of negative attributes and that God created the universe ex-nihilo and the dogmas of the faith? I am back in a way to my original does one acquire more metaphysical knowledge? Is there any book of metaphysics Jewish or not,before or after the Rambam besides the Moreh that you can safely say that in your opinion the Rambam would agree that a study of it would advance one's metaphysical knowledge?

  7. >One last time and I am really finished..

    I am not sure why you appologize. I write and allow comments so obviously i want them as they stimulate my thinking.

    Re metaphysics - If you are looking for modern day writings, besides RYBS I am not aware of any good work in that area. I am not sure the Rav's is really metaphysics but it comes close.

    In medieval Provence there was a group of Rabbis who wrote a lot on the derech Harambam. One of them is the Meiri in chibur Hateshuvah which is excellent and i highly recommend. Malmad hatalmidim by R. Yakov antuli has not been reprinted since 1840. you can find it online at . Prof Kreissel recently published two volumes of Livyat Chen (the man accused by Rashba of explaining Avraham and Sara as metaphors) and Ma'sseh Nissim. Both wre excellent sefarim that were blacklisted quietly by Rashba's followers.

    Scholarly work, Kenneth seeskin's in search of a distant God is good, Jose Faur's Homo Mysticus is excellent. Aviezer ravitzky Al Da'at Hamakom (heb) is good.

    I was thinking over chag to add a book listing to my blog side panel. Now I will have to do it.

    However if you were to ask me honestly nothing beats the Moreh itself. It is a life time endeavour.

    Oh yes Meshech chochma is excellent though his metaphysics is strewn all over and quite hard to understand.