Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides)

 

(1135-1204)

 
MAIMONIDES, COMMENTARY ON THE MISHNAH, SANHEDRIN 10 (HELEQ). THE THIRTEEN FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES OF THE JEWISH FAITH



The basic tenets of our Torah and its fundamental principles are thirteen in
number:
  The first fundamental princIPle is the existence of the Creator. There is a
being who exists in the most perfect mode of existence, and he is the cause of the
existence of all other beings. In him is the source of their existence, and from
him their continued existence derives. Ifwe could imagine the elimination of his
existence, then the existence of every other being would be annulled and
nothing would remain in being. But if we could eliminate the existence of all
other beings, then his existence would not be annulled or diminished, for he
depends for his existence on none beside himself. Everything apart from him,
the Intelligences (that is, the angels), the bodies of the spheres, and whatever is
beneath them -all depend for their existence on him. This first fundamental
principle is taught in the verse: 'I am the Lord your God' (Exod. 20:2). [1
  The second fundamental principle is the unity of God. The Cause of all
things is one, not with the oneness of a genus or a species, nor with the oneness
of a single composite human being who may be divided into many discrete
elements. Nor is his oneness like that of a simple body which is numerically one,
but capable of infinite subdivision and fragmentation. Rather he is one with a
oneness that is absolutely unique. This second fundamental principle is taught
in the verse: 'Hear, 0 Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is One' (Deut. 6:4). [2
  The Third fundamental principle is the denial of corporeality to God. This
One is neither a body nor a force in a body. None of the accidents of bodies, such
as motion and rest, appertain to him either by essence or by accident. That is
why the Sages denied to him composition and separation when they said: 'In
heaven above there is neither sitting nor standing, neither oref nor ippui"
(Babylonian Talmud, Hagigah 15a); that is to say, neither 'separation [oref],
nor 'composition' [ippuz], for the sense of ippui may be determined from the
verse Ve-afu be-khatefpelishtim (Isa. 11:14), which means: 'They shall push
them with their shoulders so as to mass them together'. The prophet said: 'To
whom will you compare God?' (Isa. 40:18); and again: 'To whom will you
compare me, whom do I resemble?' (Isa. 40:25). If God were a body, then he
would be like other bodies. Wherever Scripture describes him as having the
attributes of bodies, such as movement, standing, sitting, speaking and so on, it
speaks metaphorically, as the Sages have said: 'The Torah speaks in the
language of men' (Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 31b). People have already
had much to say on this subject. This third fundamental principle is taught in
the verse: 'You saw no image' (Deut. 4:15), which means: 'You did not perceive
him as having an image', for, as we have stated, he is neither a body nor a force
in a body. [3
  The fourth fundamental principle is God's pre-existence. This One whom we
have descrIbed precedes all thmgs absolutely. No other being has pre-existence
in relation to him. The proofs of this in Scripture are numerous. This fourth
fundamental principle is taught in the verse: 'The pre-existent God [Elohei
qedem] is a refuge' (Deut. 33:27). [4
  Know that one of the great principles of the Torah of Moses our Teacher is
that the world is originated: God brought it into being and created it after
absolute non-existence. The reason you see me dwelling so much on this
question of the pre-existence of the world as taught by the philosophers, is to
make possible the demonstration of God's existence, as I have explained and
made clear in the Guide of the Perplexed [II 15-19]. [5
  The fifth fundamental principle is that God is the one who should be
worshipped and exalted, whose greatness should be proclaimed, and whom men
should be called on to obey. We should not act thus towards anything beneath
him in existence, whether angels, or stars, or spheres, or elements, or things
compounded of them, for all these have been imprinted with their functions:
they have no independent judgement or free-will, but only love for God. We
should not adopt intermediaries through whom to approach God, but should
direct our thoughts towards him and turn away from whatever is beneath him.
This fifth fundamental principle is the prohibition against idolatry. The greater
part of the Torah is taken up with forbidding idolatry. [6
  The sixth fundamental princIple is prophecy. It should be known that there
exist in the human species certain persons of a vastly superior disposition and a
high degree of perfection. If their souls are so trained that they receive the form
of the intellect, then that human intellect will unite with the Active Intellect,
from which a beneficent emanation will flow to it. Such people are prophets;
this process is prophecy; this is the true meaning of prophecy. A full explanation
of this principle would be very lengthy. It is not our intention to offer proofs for
each of the principles or to explain in what ways they are to be understood, for
that would involve the sum of all the sciences. Rather we shall state them in the
form of simple assertions. The verses of the Torah testifying to the prophecy of
the prophets are numerous. [7
  The seventh fundamental principle is the prophecy of Moses our Teacher.
We should believe that Moses was the father of all the prophets, both of those
who came before him and those who followed him: all of them were inferior to
him in rank. He was the one specially chosen by God out of the whole human
species. He comprehended more of God than anyone in the past or the future
ever comprehended or will comprehend. He reached such a state of exaltation
beyond ordinary mortals that he attained angelic status and was included in the
order of the angels. There remained no veil before him which he did not
penetrate; no bodily hindrance stood in his way; no defect small or great marred
him. The imaginative and sensual faculties in his perceptions were neutralised,
his desiderative faculty was inoperative, and he remained pure intellect alone.
It was for this reason it was said of him that he conversed with God without the
mediation of an angel. [8
  I had intended to explain here this extraordInary subject and to open up
secrets locked away in the text of the Torah; to explain the meaning of the
expression 'mouth to mouth' (Num. 12:8), and the rest of the verse where it
occurs, as well as the other verses dealing with the same subject. But I saw that
this subject is very subtle and would require extensive treatment with
introductions and illustrations. It would be necessary first to make clear the
existence of the angels and the difference between their ranks and that of the
Creator. The soul and all its faculties would have to be explained. The circle
would have to be widened to include a discussion of the images which the
prophets attribute to the Creator and his angels. For this subject alone a
hundred pages would not suffice, even if I confined the discussion within the
narrowest possible bounds. For this reason I shall leave it to its proper place,
either in the 'Treatise on the Explanation of the Midrashim (derashot)' which I
have promised, or in the 'Treatise on Prophecy' which I have begun to
compose,3 or in a commentary which I shall write on these fundamental
principles. [9
  I shall now come back to the point of this seventh fundamental principle and
say that the prophecy of Moses our Teacher differs from the prophecy of all
other prophets in four respects.
  The first difference: To every other prophet that ever was God spoke only
through a mediator, but to Moses without a mediator, as Scripture says:
'Mouth to mouth I speak with him' (Num. 12:8). [10
  The second difference: To every other prophet inspiration came only in a
state of sleep, as Scripture says in various places: 'In a dream of the night' (Gen.
31:24); 'He had a dream' (Gen. 28:12); 'By dreams and visions that come in the
night' (Job 33:15); and there are many other verses of similar import. Or if
inspiration came during the day, it was only after a deep sleep had fallen upon
the prophet and his condition had become such that all his senses were
inoperative and his mind was as empty as in sleep. This condition is called
'vision' (mahazeh] and 'apparition' (mar'ah], and is referred to in the phrase
'Visions from God' (mar'ot Elohim] (Ezek. 8:3). But to Moses the word came in
the daytime, when he was standing between the two cherubim, as God had
promised him: 'There I will meet with you and speak with you' (Exod. 25:22).
God also said: 'If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself
known to him in a vision, and will speak with him in a dream. Not so with Moses
my servant. ..with him I speak mouth to mouth' (Num. 12:6-7). [11
  The third difference: When inspiration came to any other prophet, even if in
a vision or through the mediation of an angel, his faculties grew weak, his body
became agitated, and a very great terror fell on him, so that he was almost
crushed by it. This may be illustrated from the case of Daniel. When Gabriel
spoke with him in a vision Daniel said: 'No strength remained in me, my
appearance was altered beyond recognition, what strength I had deserted me'
(Dan. 10:8). He also said: 'I fell unconscious, face downwards on the ground'
(Dan. 10:9). And again: 'At the vision my anguish overcomes me' (Dan. 10: 16).
But it was not like this with Moses. The word came to him, but no agitation 01
any kind befell him, as Scripture says: 'The Lord spoke to Moses face to face, a~
a man speaks to his friend' (Exod. 33: 11). That is to say, just as a man does not
feel disquiet when his friend speaks to him, so Moses was not disquieted when
God's words came to him, even though it was 'face to face'. This was so because
of the strength of his unioQ with the Active Intellect, as we have said. [12
  The fourth difference: To all other prophets inspiration came not by their
own choice but by the will of God. Sometimes the prophet remained for a
number of years without inspiration coming to him; sometimes the people asked
the prophet to tell them something by inspiration, and he had to wait days or
months to prophesy about it, or else he received no prophecy on the matter at
all. We have seen cases where the prophet prepared himself by delighting his
soul and by purifying his mind, as Elisha did when he said: 'Now bring me a
minstrel!' (2 Kgs 3:15); and then inspiration came to him, though it was not
inevitable that he would receive inspiration every time he prepared himself
thus. But Moses our Teacher was able to say whenever he wished: 'Stand still
and I will hear what the Lord commands you' (Num. 9:8). And God said: 'Tell
Aaron your brother that he may not enter the santuary whenever he choses'
(Lev. 16:2). The Sages commented: 'This prohibition against entering the
sanctuary applied only to Aaron, but Moses was free to enter whenever he chose
(Sifra to Lev. 16:2). [13
  The eighth fundamental princIple is that the Torah is from heaven. We
should believe that the whole Torah which is in our possession today is the same
Torah as was handed down to Moses, and that in its entirety it is from the
mouth of the Almighty. That is to say, that the whole Torah came to him from
God in a manner which is metaphorically called 'speaking', though no one
knows the real nature of that communication save Moses to whom it came. He
fulfilled the function of a scribe receiving dictation, and he wrote the whole
Torah, its histories, its narratives and its commandments, and that is why he is
called a 'copyist' [mehoqeq- Oeut. 33:21].4 There is no difference between such
verses as 'The sons of Ham were Cush, Egypt, Put and Canaan' (Gen. 10:6)
and 'His wife's name was Mehetabel, daughter of Matred' (Gen. 36:39), on the
one hand, and such verses as 'I am the Lord your God' (Exod. 20:2) and 'Hear,
0 Israel' (Oeut. 6:4), on the other. It is all from the mouth of the Almighty, it is
all the Torah of the Lord which is perfect, pure, holy and true. [14
  The Sages regarded Manasseh as the greatest infidel and heretic that ever
was, because he thought that there was both a kernel and a husk to the Torah,
and that the histories and narratives have no value but were composed by
Moses himself (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 99b). The Sages said that he
who asserts that the whole Torah is from the mouth of the Almighty except for
one verse which he claims was spoken not by God but by Moses himself, says, in
effect, 'The Torah is not from heaven' (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 99a).
To such a one may be applied the verse: 'He has despised the word of the Lord'
(Num. 15:31). May God be exalted above all that infidels say! Rather, every
letter of the Torah contains wisdom and wonders for him to whom God has
granted understanding. You cannot comprehend the limit of its wisdom: 'Its
length is longer than the earth, its breadth broader than the sea' (Job 11:9).
Man has only to follow the example of the Anointed of the God of Jacob who
prayed: 'Open my eyes that I may see wonders in your Torah' (Ps. 119: 18). [15
  So too the interpretation of the Torah which we have received is from the
mouth of the Almighty, and the form of the Sukkah we make today, the Lulav,
the Shofar, the Zizit, the Tefillin, and so on, are the very same as the forms
which God told to Moses and which Moses passed on to us. He was a messenger
who was 'faithful' (ne'eman, cf. Num. 12:7] to his message. The verse of
Scripture which teaches this eighth principle is: 'By this you shall know that the
Lord has sent me to do all these works, and that I have not done them on my
own initiative' (Num. 16:28). [16
  The ninth fundamental principle is abrogation. This Torah of Moses will not
be abrogated, nor shall another Torah come from God. Nothing may be added
to it or taken from it, either from the written text or from the oral commentary,
as Scripture says: 'You shall not add to it nor take away from it' (Deut. 13:1). In
the introduction to this work we have already explained what needs to be
explained of this principle. [17
  The tenth fundamental principle is that God has knowledge of the deeds of
men and does not disregard them. The view is not correct which says: 'The Lord
has abandoned the earth' (Ezek. 8:12); rather, as Scripture says, God is 'great
in counsel and mighty in deed, and his eyes are open to all the ways of men' (Jer.
32: 19). Scripture also says: 'The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was
great in the earth' (Gen. 6:5). And again it says: 'The cry of Sodom and
Gomorrah is great' (Gen. 18:20). These verses teach this tenth fundamental
principle. [18
  The eleventh fundamental principle is that God rewards him who obeys the
commands of the Torah and punishes him who transgresses its prohibitions.
The greatest of God's rewards is the world to come (ha-olam ha-ha], and the
severest of his punishments is 'cutting off' (karet]. In this chapter we have
already said enough about this subject. The verse which teaches this principle
is: 'And yet, if it pleased you to forgive this sin of theirs. ..! But if not, erase me
from the book that you have written'; and God replied: 'It is the man who has
sinned against me that I shall erase from my book' (Exod. 32:32 f). This is
evidence that God takes cognisance both of the obedient and of the rebellious,
so as to reward the one and punish the other. [19
  The twelfth fundamental principle concerns the Messianic Age. We should
believe and affirm that the Messiah will come, and should not consider him as
tardy: 'Should he tarry, wait for him' (Hab. 2: 13). No date may be fixed for his
appearance, nor may the Scriptures be interpreted in such a way as to derive
from them the time of his coming. The Sages have said: 'May the wits of those
who calculate the end be blasted!' (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 97b). We
should have firm faith in him, honouring and loving him, and praying for his
coming, in accordance with what has been said about him by all the prophets
from Moses to Malachi. Whoever has doubts about him, or makes light of his
authority, contradicts the Torah, which clearly promises his coming in the
section (parashah) of Balaam (Num. 22:2-25:9),~ and in the section Nizzavim
(Deut. 29:9-30:20).6 A general consequence of this principle is that Israel
cannot have a king who is not descended from David, and, more particularly,
from Solomon. Whoever disputes the authority of this dynasty denies God and
the words of his prophets. [20
  The thirteenth fundamental princIPle is the resurrection of the dead. We
have already explained this.
[The resurrection of the dead is one of the fundamental principles of the
Torah of Moses our Teacher. He who does not believe it is devoid of religion,
and has no bond with the Jewish people. However, resurrection is only for the
righteous. As Bere'shit Rabbah says: 'The power of the rain is for both the
righteous and the wicked, but the resurrection of the dead is for the righteous
alone' (cf. Genesis Rabbah 13:6). How can the wicked come back to life when
they are dead even during their lifetime? The Sages said: 'The wicked, even
during their lifetime, are called dead, but the righteous, even when they are
dead, are called alive' (Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 18b). Know that man
must assuredly die and be resolved into his consituent elements.) [21
  When all these principles are held as certain by a man and his faith in them is
firm, then he belongs to the Community of Israel [Kelal Yisra'el), and there is
an obligation to love him, to have compassion on him, and to perform for him
all the acts of love and brotherhood which God has commanded us to perform
one for another. Even if he has committed every possible sin because of lust, or
because his lower nature got the better of him, though he will surely be
punished to the extent of his rebellion, yet still he has a share in the world to
come, and is regarded as 'a sinner in Israel'. However, if a man doubts one of
these principles he has left the Community, has denied a basic principle, and is
called a heretic, an Epicurean, and a 'cutter of plants' (Babylonian Talmud,
Hagigah 14b). There is an obligation to hate and to destroy him, and of him
Scripture says: 'Shall I not hate those who hate you, 0 Lord' (Ps. 139:21). [22





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