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The Principles of Faith (1)

Prof. Shalom Rosenberg
In memory of Rabbi Bennett Gold (Rav Dov ben Dovid Meir) z"l.
21.09.2014

 

            David Kaufmann, the great researcher of Jewish philosophy in the last century, demonstrated that Rihal developed a system of principles through his discussion of prayer [3:17].  The principles are described in the recitation of religious truths that we affirm after reciting the Shema: "After this, the pious ought to recite the principles which complete the Jewish faith."  If we juxtapose the prayer and the principles, we will receive the following list:

 

The Prayer                                                                   The Principle

 

1. Truly You are the Lord our God      admission of God's                                                                                          sovereignty

2. Your Name has existed forever                   and His eternal                                                                                                 existence

3. [You have been] the support of       providential guidance of          our forefathers                                     our forefathers

4. Blessed is the man who adheres      He is the giver of the   to Your commandments                                  Torah

5. Truly You redeemed us from Egypt The Exodus from Egypt as

                                                                                    proof of this

 

            This approach to the prayers between the Shema and the Amida (the Silent Devotion) as a summary of the principles of faith is later repeated in the writings of Rabbi Isaac Arama.  He saw these truths as our response to the divine message of the Shema.  We will not develop this direction here.  Instead, we will return to principles two through five in the Rambam's classic formulation.  This section constitutes an excellent summary of the basic elements of the theory of divine attributes.  As you know, the thirteen principles can be divided into definite sections:

1-4: The divine attributes

6-9: Torah as divine revelation

10-13: Reward and punishment and redemption

 

            The fifth principle, as we shall see, is actually an independent section, and it constitutes a sort of practical-pragmatic definition of the essence of the individual's faith.

 

The First Principle: God Must Exist

 

            We will explain the first principle according to the Rambam's ideas in his Code (Sefer Madda) and in the Guide of the Perplexed.  In our previous lectures we noted the Rambam's opposition to the use of positive attributes in relation to God.  Yet despite this, the Rambam "allows" us to use a positive concept which hides a negative concept within it.  This seemingly negative concept is actually the single most significant positive concept: it is the assertion that God must exist.

 

            I will attempt to explain this concept with a simple parable.  When we explained the concept of creation, we used the example of a film to illustrate that idea.  Let us return to this example, and think of ourselves as creatures projected in a film onto a screen.  According to this approach, our world is similar to a three-dimensional film, not the two-dimensional ones we are used to.  We can learn much about the world from this comparison.  We, the characters of the film, are trying to understand our reality.  We develop science, history, psychology, etc., in order to become familiar with the world of the film, which is our reality.  However, even if we succeed in the development of these fields, our perception of reality will be incomplete if we do not realize that there is someone or something "outside" of our film, which is projecting us onto the screen.  We must realize that even if we are capable of action, and can choose to change the screenplay (in other words, if we have "free will") our existence will still be dependent upon the person activating the projector.  We will never truly understand our reality unless we realize that our existence is secondary compared with the existence of the person activating the projector.  If we were to imagine that this person died or that the projector broke, we would disappear.  Yet nothing that occurs in the film can harm the projector.

 

            This relationship differentiates between two types of existence: the world, which is contingent, and God, Who must exist.  The fact that our world is contingent means that our world is a reality which does not have its own independent existence, and it requires something outside itself to make its existence possible.  Through this analysis, we understand something of the philosophical significance of the Tetragrammaton.  This name teaches us not only the eternal nature of God as existing concurrently in the past, present and future, it teaches us also the true essence of God's statement, "I will be what I will be," which means that His existence is enough to sustain Him.  He does not require anything outside of Himself in order to exist.

 

            This concept is described in various forms throughout Jewish philosophical literature.  In Chassidism, we find the astute idea that our existence resembles the spoken word, as opposed to the written word.  The writer of the word may disappear, yet the word remains.  The spoken word exists only as long as the speech continues.  Even if the speaker were to draw out the word for a long time, it would only exist for as long as he was speaking.  In this manner, the Ba'al Shem Tov interpreted the verse in Psalms, "Forever Your word, God, stands in the heavens."  The heavens exist only because they are a manifestation of the divine Word.  The existence of the heavens is thus similar to that of the spoken word.  This interpretation uncovers a deeper meaning in the blessing, "Blessed are You ... our God, at whose word everything came into being."  The divine speech which created our reality did not cease with the completion of creation; that original speech continues to exist through every object and organism in our world.

 

            Our reality is a chain.  Each link is a stage which is dependent upon a previous stage.  It remains suspended, despite its many links.  It remains suspended because of an outside support.  The chain is contingent; the supporter is God, Who must exist.  The proof that something must exist outside of the chain to support it is, in essence, the proof of God's existence.

 

            Another version of the same idea is found in the writings of Rabbi Chasdai Crescas.  In order to explain this idea we will return to the example of the film.  This approach emphasizes the idea that God's relationship with the world does not find its only expression in the creation of the world at one point in history; God is also the reason for the world's continued existence.  The film does not become an independent entity after we begin to project it onto the screen.  We must continue to project it in order for it to continue to exist.  The explosions in the film are not dangerous to the viewers.  In essence, what we are describing here are two levels of existence.  The entire world, with all its physical and spiritual components, needs God in order to exist.

 

(This lecture was translated by Gila Weinberg.)

 

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