Monday, February 21, 2011

Without In Any Way Moving a Body: A Change in Perspective - The Welfare of The Body and The Soul.

Rambam at the end of MN 1:24 makes a fascinating statement that opens a very intriguing view of Imitato Dei.  The chapter discusses the word Halicha – going as it refers to God. The word at times is used in the context of leaving or going away.

And just as the withdrawal of providence is referred to as the hiding of the face – as in the dictum: And as for Me, I will surely hide my face – it also is referred to as going, which has the meaning to turn away from a thing. Thus Scripture says:  I will go and return to my place.”

As discussed in my previous post on MN 1:23, when we say that God is leaving, we are saying that a person has lost his connection with God, thereby subjecting himself to the random flow and ebb of events. He no longer acts in conformity with providence – Hashgacha.

At other times the word Halicha is used in the context of the spread of a thing. It is similar to the word Yetziah discussed in the earlier chapter, where it means that God’s decree is spreading out.

“As for its dictum, and the anger of the Lord was kindled against them, and he went away, the two significations subsist together in the same passage. I mean the signification of a withdrawal of providence referred to by means of the term “turning away”, and the signification of a spread, diffusion, and manifestation of a thing. I mean to say it was the anger that went and extended toward the two. For this reason Miriam became leprous as white as snow.”

Rambam is talking about the story in Bamidbar 12.

  וַיִּחַר-אַף יְהוָה בָּם, וַיֵּלַךְ.
9 And the anger of the LORD was kindled against them; and He departed.
י  וְהֶעָנָן, סָר מֵעַל הָאֹהֶל, וְהִנֵּה מִרְיָם, מְצֹרַעַת כַּשָּׁלֶג; וַיִּפֶן אַהֲרֹן אֶל-מִרְיָם, וְהִנֵּה מְצֹרָעַת.
10 And when the cloud was removed from over the Tent, behold, Miriam was leprous, as white as snow; and Aaron looked upon Miriam; and, behold, she was leprous.
יא  וַיֹּאמֶר אַהֲרֹן, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה:  בִּי אֲדֹנִי--אַל-נָא תָשֵׁת עָלֵינוּ חַטָּאת, אֲשֶׁר נוֹאַלְנוּ וַאֲשֶׁר חָטָאנוּ.
11 And Aaron said unto Moses: 'Oh my lord, lay not, I pray thee, sin upon us, for that we have done foolishly, and for that we have sinned.
יב  אַל-נָא תְהִי, כַּמֵּת, אֲשֶׁר בְּצֵאתוֹ מֵרֶחֶם אִמּוֹ, וַיֵּאָכֵל חֲצִי בְשָׂרוֹ.
12 Let her not, I pray, be as one dead, of whom the flesh is half consumed when he cometh out of his mother's womb.'

Miriam’s error of comparing Moshe with other prophets, her not discerning the difference between his type of prophecy and the kind of prophecy other prophets experienced, disconnected her from providence. It was such a fundamental misunderstanding of how humans interact with God that she was no longer acting in accordance with providence – Hashgacha. She was therefore left to the vagaries of nature and no longer in control of her destiny, a kind of death represented by the leprosy that appeared on her hand. That change in status is the spread of the decree of God, His will at creation of what a “living” human being is, one who fully employs his free will by taking control of his destiny.[1]

Having established that the term Halicha – whether in its connotation of God “going away” or the “spreading out of God’s decree” – does not have any physical implication, Rambam, in a surprising aside, turns to a human mitzvah and applies the same idea.

The term going is also applied figuratively to living a good life[2], without in any way moving a body. Thus it says: And you shall go in His ways(Devarim 28:9); After the Lord your God you should go(Devarim 13:5); Come and let us walk in the light of God (Yeshayahu 2:5).”

We are talking about the eighth positive commandment.

המצווה השמינית
הציווי שנצטווינו להדמות לו ית' כפי יכלתנו, 
והוא אמרו:
והלכת בדרכיו" (דברים כח, ט). וכבר כפל ציווי זה ואמר: "ללכת בכל-דרכיו" (שם יא, כב), ובא בפירוש עניין זה:
"מה הקב"ה נקרא רחום - אף אתה היה רחום;
הקב"ה נקרא חנון - אף אתה היה חנון;
הקב"ה נקרא צדיק - אף אתה היה צדיק;
הקב"ה נקרא חסיד - אף אתה היה חסיד" - זהו לשון ספרי.
וכבר כפל צווי זה בלשון אחר ואמר: "אחרי ה' אלקיכם תלכו" (שם יג, ה), וגם בפירושו בא, שעניינו להתדמות למעשים הטובים ולמידות הנכבדות שבהם מתואר יתעלה על דרך המשל - יתעלה על הכל עילוי רב

How does one implement practically the Mitzvah of Imitato Dei by being merciful, righteous “Without in any way moving a body”?

The issue becomes even more baffling when we realize that these actions are reciprocal and fall under the rubric of social Mitzvot. Society cannot function without certain ethical rules that are reciprocal in the sense that by treating well your neighbor, he will do the same to you keeping the peace and maintaining a healthy society. This should therefore not be seen as a theological Mitzvah, Bein Adam Lamakom, but rather a humanistic one, Bein Adam Lacheveiro. Indeed Rambam in MN 3:27 makes the point that there are two categories of Mitzvot- those that are aimed at “the welfare of the soul” and those that are meant to deal with the “welfare of the body”.

“As for the welfare of the body, it comes about by their improvement of the ways of living one with another.Know that between these two aims, one is indubitably greater in nobility, namely the welfare of the soul – I mean the procuring of correct opinions – with the second aim – I mean the welfare of the body – is prior in nature and time. The latter aim consists in the governance of the city and the well-being of the states of all its people according to their capacity.”  

It is clear that the Mitzvot that deal with our relationship with the other, are only intermediate goals that help us achieve the ultimate goal of correct theology –“the welfare of the soul”. However, at the end of the Moreh, in chapter 3:54, where Rambam ends his philosophical Magnum Opus with the exhilarating description of the purpose of man in this world, he presents these same Mitzvot as the end goal, seemingly even higher than “the procuring of correct opinions”.

“…For when explaining in this verse the noblest ends, he does not limit them only to the apprehension of Him, may He be exalted…. But he says that one should glory in the apprehension of Myself and in the knowledge of My attributes, by which he means His actions. … He means that it is My purpose that there should come from you loving-kindness, righteousness, and judgment in the earth in the way we have explained with regard to the thirteen attributes: namely, that the purpose should be assimilation to them and that this should be our way of life.”  

In this presentation, emulating God by acting with kindness and righteousness is the ultimate goal and not just an intermediate stage that paves the way for intellectual excellence – the ultimate goal. How are we to understand these seemingly contradictory presentations?

I believe that this seeming contradiction is an important key to Rambam’s thought. Generally, it is accepted that Rambam sees intellectual excellence as the goal of humankind. Perfected man is the intellectual one who contemplates his existence and its relationship with God and his creation. Nothing can be farther from the truth. Rambam’s theology is very much action oriented.

At first blush, it would seem that the social aspects of interpersonal interaction are of paramount importance. However, if looked at carefully, it is more tactic than strategy. When I give alms to a poor man, I acknowledge that fate may put me at some future time into the same predicament and I hope that fellow man will reciprocate. By making Tzedakah – the giving of alms – a Mitzvah, a required social behavior, this improves the odds that this will be the case.  The same applies to all the other Mitzvot categorized as bein Adam lacheveiro. These laws are expedient and make for a healthy society but there is no long-term plan other than the perpetuation of this society or social system. It is in a way narcissistic. Indeed, such an organized, healthy and lawful society has a better chance for it to have individuals who attain great intellectual excellence and perfection, but again that is very narrowly focused on the self, whether the individual or the community. However, an understanding of our personal existence and its relationship to the rest of the universe, a universe created by God with wisdom and purpose, makes us act with a vision that encompasses the whole of our existence. That same Mitzvah of Tzedakah is no longer done with an expectation of reciprocity, but because it is integral part of how God runs His world. By doing the mitzvah, we are fulfilling God’s will and the role he wants us to play in His universe and are responsible for the consequences these actions may bring. By emulating Him, we are partaking in His creation.

Is there a practical aspect to this difference in perspective? It is impossible for us to personally point to the difference without it being experiential and looking at the long-term consequences which may be more than one lifetime. In other words, we would have to reach the pinnacle of perfection and act accordingly, to understand the practical implications of this changed perspective. However, the Torah illustrates it very vividly in the story of the Egel, the golden calf, and Moshe’s reaction to it. When Moshe was confronted with the people straying to the Egel after their experience at Sinai he was at a total loss. How was he to proceed and forestall future repeats of the incident? If the Sinai experience was not enough to wean the people from idolatry, what would?

יב  וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל-יְהוָה, רְאֵה אַתָּה אֹמֵר אֵלַי הַעַל אֶת-הָעָם הַזֶּה, וְאַתָּה לֹא הוֹדַעְתַּנִי, אֵת אֲשֶׁר-תִּשְׁלַח עִמִּי; וְאַתָּה אָמַרְתָּ יְדַעְתִּיךָ בְשֵׁם, וְגַם-מָצָאתָ חֵן בְּעֵינָי.
12 And Moses said unto the LORD: 'See, You say unto me: Bring up this people; and Thou hast not let me know whom Thou wilt send with me. Yet Thou hast said: I know thee by name, and thou hast also found grace in My sight.
יג  וְעַתָּה אִם-נָא מָצָאתִי חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ, הוֹדִעֵנִי נָא אֶת-דְּרָכֶךָ, וְאֵדָעֲךָ, לְמַעַן אֶמְצָא-חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ; וּרְאֵה, כִּי עַמְּךָ הַגּוֹי הַזֶּה.
13 Now therefore, I pray Thee, if I have found grace in Thy sight, show me now Thy ways, that I may know Thee, to the end that I may find grace in Thy sight; and consider that this nation is Thy people.'

Rambam in MN 1:54 explains this request as follows;

The second request which he [Moshe] put first is that He should let him know His attributes. … This was Moshe’s ultimate object in his demand, the conclusion of what he says being: that I may know thee, to the end that I may find grace in thy sight and consider that this nation is thy people. That is, a people for the government of which I need to perform actions that I must seek similar to thy actions in governing them”.   

The attributes that Moshe focuses on are mercy, righteousness and other similar ones that are seemingly interpersonal social behavior. Indeed, they are but the perspective that Moshe takes in their performance is a universal one, one focused on the whole universe and the role and place he and the people have in it, emulating God’s ways in governing His world. The results of Moshe’s actions and teachings are still very much meaningful today three thousand years later. That is the real understanding of the eighth positive commandment -  והלכת בדרכיו . The outward act does not change; it is mercy and righteousness but with a different perspective, without in any way moving a body.

[1] For a further discussion, see my article here . Also, see Rambam at the end of Hilchot Tume’at Tzara’at 16:10 where he begins the presentation as Lashon Hara and subtly transits to theological error. That Halacha warrants further treatment as time will allow.
[2] Pines notes in a footnote that literally the translation should be “to going (or walking) a good or virtuous life”.

1 comment:

  1. So when a person understand His ways the person's nefesh shifts in its intent while doing the very same physical motion of body.

    Yet, it seems that it is not the same action of body, there are distinct changes to this change in perspective and purpose. The actions get a new dimension of Kiddush Shemo, something which has clearly new aspects of the physical action itself.

    All of the actions of the Mitdameh are new and changed.

    ועושה בכל מעשיו לפנים משורת הדין--והוא שלא יתרחק הרבה, ולא ישתומם הרבה--עד שיימצאו הכול מקלסין אותו ואוהבין אותו, ומתאווין למעשיו: הרי זה קידש את השם, ועליו הכתוב אומר "ויאמר לי, עבדי אתה--ישראל, אשר בך אתפאר" (ישעיהו מט,ג).