Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Hakirah 10 Is On Its Way to Subscribers

Hakirah 10 has just arrived at the distributor and is being mailed. This issue is full of exciting and intersting articles:

Entering the Temple Mount—in Halacha and Jewish
Gedalia Meyer and Henoch Messner

Drafting a Halakhic Will
A. Yehuda Warburg


A Righteous Judgment on a Righteous People:
Rav Yitzhak Hutner’s Implicit Theology of the Holocaust
Lawrence Kaplan

Daily Prayer: Seeking Clarity and a Call for Action
David Guttmann

Israel’s Inheritance: Olam Haba
Asher Benzion Buchman

Jewish Thought in Dialogue
Heshey Zelcer


Wine from Havdalah, Women and Beards
Ari Z. Zivotofsky

Reciting Al Tira After Aleinu
Zvi Ron


Divorce: It’s Not About You, It’s About the Children
David Mandel

Leib Glantz: The Man Who Spoke to God
Daniel B. Schwartz


 A Letter to Almeda: Shadal’s Guide for the Perplexed
Daniel A. Klein

Two Controversies Involving
R’ Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook
Chaim Landerer

Cumulative Index of English Articles in
Hakirah Volumes 1 through 10

רבנו משה אמת ותורתו אמת והם בדאים – חלק שני
יצחק גאלד

בענין גילוח בחול המועד (ועל דרך הפוסק בפסיקתו):
תשובה מהגאון רבי מנחם מענדל כשר
הובאה לדפוס ע"י מלך שפירא

שיר בראשית

 יעקב בלזם

מפתח קומולטיבי של המאמרים בעברית 10 - בחקירה כרכים 1

Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Rationale For Mitzvot - Feeling The Presence Of God.

I have been planning for some time to write about the reason for Mitzvot and have procrastinated. The subject is very complicated, probably the most complicated subject discussed in MN and one of the most misunderstood.

Rambam starts the discussion of the reason for Mitzvot systematically in MN 3:26 and it is the lengthiest discussion of a subject as it continues until the final three chapters of the book. It is placed at the end of MN as if it were the culmination and end goal of the whole Moreh, which in truth it is. In fact, the way I read them, and I will expand on this later in the series, the last three chapters are still part of that discussion though at a much more advanced level.

What is the overall purpose of Mitzvot? What are they trying to accomplish? Rambam in MN 3:52 -

We do not sit, move, and occupy ourselves when we are alone and at home, in the same manner as we do in the presence of a great king. We speak and open our mouth as we please when we are with the people of our own household and with our relatives, but not so when we are in a royal assembly. If we therefore desire to attain human perfection, and to be truly men of God, we must awake from our sleep, and bear in mind that the great king that is over us, and is always joined to us, is greater than any earthly king, greater than David and Solomon.”

If we can train ourselves to, at all times, be cognizant of being in the presence of God, we will act responsibly. As I have shown many times, that cognizance and acting according to it, is referred to as living under Divine Providence or Hashgacha. When we say that God watches over us we are really saying that we are acting in a way that fulfills our purpose in existence, our role as part of God’s universe and its continuity. We are not just a component of that universe that acts randomly, but the only one that has the freedom of choice to act with a specific purpose. How do we develop that cognizance?

What I have here pointed out to you is the object of all our religious acts. For by [carrying out] all the details of the prescribed practices, and repeating them continually, some excellent men my attain human perfection. They will be filled with dread and awe of God and know who it is that is with them and as a result act subsequently as they ought to.”

The overarching reason that we have Mitzvot is to help us develop this constant cognizance of God’s presence and the responsibility this awareness brings with it. Whether we perform a commandment or refrain from indulging ourselves with a prohibition, we perforce ask ourselves why we are submitting to this rule realizing that it is God who commanded us and we are following His edict. This heightens our awareness of god’s existence and leads us to feel His presence.
The king that cleaves to us and embraces us is the Intellect that influences us, and forms the link between us and God.”

When we say that we ought to be aware of God’s presence, we are saying that our mind is thinking about and connecting with God. In medieval philosophic parlance, that connection is understood to be through the Active Intellect which in contemporary modern language I like to call the Divine concept underlying existence. This understanding of the end goal of Mitzvot as a tool to make us aware of God’s presence transforms a physical act into a catalyst for transcendental awareness. The physical act now is deemed holy.
This is the overall reason for commandments, but is there a rationale for the kind of commandments chosen as tools for this purpose? Is there a rational reason for how they are performed? Those questions, indeed, whether such question can even be posed, will be addressed in follow up posts.