Home February 2012 The Chicken or the Egg

The Chicken or the Egg

There is debate among Jewish scholars as to whether the first mitzvah, “Anochi” (“I am the Lord, your God”) is, in fact, a commandment.  The Rambam was the first philosopher to enumerate the fundamentals of the Jewish faith.  His “Thirteen Principles of Jewish Faith” correspond to a mishneh in Sanhedrin which gives prerequisites that a Jew must fulfill in order to attain his/her portion in the World to Come.  The Rambam says, “The basic principle of all basic principles and the pillar of wisdom is to know that there is a Primary Being.”  He elaborates further that a Jew is required to attain knowledge of God.
In fact, when the Rambam discusses laws of conversion, he emphasizes that when teaching a ger (convert), it is most important to teach him yichud HaShem (the unity of God) and the ban on idolatry.  Both Rambam and Chazal (the Sages) generally agree that all of Bnei Yisrael heard both the first and second dibrot (commandments) directly from God; i.e., they learned the truth of the principles contained in these two dibrot in the same manner as Moshe and not through Moshe.  In this respect, the prophet had neither advantage nor status over the individual Jew.  Furthermore, Rambam states that Jewish law requires one to know that God exists. Indeed, one must diligently work at pursuing wisdom that will result in attaining knowledge of God and in loving Him as well.
Nevertheless, there are those who argue that “Anochi” is not a mitzvah but a confirmation of faith.  The Spanish philosopher Crescas wrote in “Or Hashem” that a mitzvah by definition is only applicable to matters that are governed by free will.  Faith in the existence of God is not subject to free will or choice and therefore the term “mitzvah” cannot apply.  Although the Ramban appears to agree that “Anochi” is a mitzvah, like Crescas, he asserts that belief in God is not counted as a mitzvah but rather as the source of all mitzvot.  The Ramban holds that by doing mitzvot scrupulously, one comes to a belief in God.  As to why God prefaced His dibrot with “Anochi,” the Ramban compares the Almighty to a king who tells his subjects that before he gives them his laws and ordinances, they must first accept him as their ruler and believe in him.  Belief in God is a prerequisite for all the other mitzvot.
Abravanel shares a similar view and adds that “Anochi” makes known to Bnei Yisrael exactly who is addressing them. Fundamentally, Rambam believes that a Jew’s belief in God is rooted in the intellect while the Ramban contends that a Jew, by actively pursuing a life of Torah, will reach a higher intellectual understanding of God.

It’s Tu B’Shevat:
Have You hugged a tree today?
An apple could have been drab-colored like the potato.  It could have lacked color, taste and fragrance and still be deemed valuable for its life-giving contents.  God arranged the soil, water, air and sunlight into a lusciously-flavored and ready-to-eat delicacy, wrapped in a beautifully-tinted and fragrant wrapper, demonstrating that He wishes that we enjoy the fruit.  (Based on lesson from Sing, You Righteous, Rav. A. Miller)

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