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Maimonides #9 - The Uniqueness of Torah

Maimonides #9 - The Uniqueness of Torah

With the understanding that Torah is absolute, there is no time when it becomes inappropriate or irrelevant.

by

Based on a series of lectures by Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg, of blessed memory.

This Torah that Moses transcribed from the Almighty is unique and there will never be another. One must neither add to it nor subtract from it, be it the Written Law or the Oral Law. As it stated: "Neither add to it nor subtract from it" (Deuteronomy 13:1). We have already elaborated upon this Principle in the introduction to this work.
-- Maimonides' 13 Principles of Faith

NEVER AGAIN ANOTHER SINAI

The previous Principle included the tenet that the Torah cannot be changed through prophecy. A prophet has no right to innovate, add, or detract any word or idea from either the Written Law or the Oral Law. Still one asks: What if God Himself would bring the Jewish Nation back to Sinai or to the Temple -- the equivalent of Sinai -- and He Himself, in front of the entire Nation, would amend the Torah?

This possibility was not discussed in the previous Principle but it is addressed by the ninth Principle. Here it is stated that the Almighty Himself will never give another Torah, nor will He add or detract from the Torah we now possess.

Why is this Principle necessary? One can well understand the need for and significance of stating that man cannot amend the Torah. Man, in all his subjectivity, is influenced by the temptations of his heart, societal changes, and peer pressure. If a prophet were empowered to change the Torah, the Jewish People would have a surplus of "prophets" claiming to have received prophecies that would make their lives easier and more convenient. Fortunately, prophets are not so empowered, saving the Jews from this onslaught. However, if the possibility of changing the Torah does exist for God Himself, what threat does this possibility pose to the reality of Torah and the potential of man in serving the Creator?

Why must the revelation at Sinai necessarily be a unique event, never to be repeated?

Remember, in order for a tenet to be included in these Principles, its awareness and acknowledgement must make the difference between the Jew having an absolute Torah or not. Without each Principle, there would be no body of law that would bind him. Thus, each Principle provides his choice: either to submit to the Will of God or not.

Here, the fact that the Rambam tells us that God will never give another Torah is not being questioned. Rather, we are considering why the revelation at Sinai must necessarily be a unique event, never to be repeated. Why must this be part of these Principles?

THE TORAH IS TRUE FOR ETERNITY

The difference between a unique revelation and a revelation which could be repeated is the same as the difference between a Torah that is absolute and a Torah that is relative.

The idea that God could change the Torah would generate the suspicion, the possibility, that the Torah is only true for a particular time, situation, or place. Therefore, it could not be absolute. In this situation, the Torah would no longer be the "blueprint of Creation"; rather, it would be a temporary means to fulfill the needs of society.

Seen in this context, the Torah might not be deemed appropriate for our electronic age. Obviously, the present society differs dramatically from the society that received the Torah 3,500 years ago. And besides, few, if any, Jews live in a desert nowadays. From this perspective, a Torah that was given for an agricultural age -- or even an industrial age -- might be judged totally inadequate and inapplicable to our electronic age. For example, in an agricultural age, in which people perform backbreaking labor, one can appreciate the need for a Shabbat; but in an electronic age, when all that's necessary is the pressing of a few buttons in order to perform a task, doesn't the idea of Shabbat become obsolete?

It is impossible to talk of relevance or irrelevance when you are discussing that which is absolute.

If, however, we know that there will never be another revelation, if God promises that He will never change a word of the Torah, then every word in the Torah mirrors the truth of God Himself, and is therefore the basis of existence. Reflecting on this, it becomes obvious that Torah cannot be affected by any situational change. Lifestyle and environment can never influence the validity or applicability of the Torah, for it is impossible to talk of relevance or irrelevance when you are discussing that which is absolute.

Even the possibility that there could be another revelation, although there has not yet been one, would disturb the Jew. The possibility would lead him to reason that there hasn't been another revelation yet only because the Jewish Nation has not been worthy. He would then be very tempted to rationalize and suggest to himself that if the Nation had been worthy, certainly God would have revealed Himself and adapted the Torah to its present lifestyle. This rationalization would be the beginning of the end, for who would wait for the Jewish Nation to become worthy of revelation? Torah would cease to exist because everything in it that is inconvenient to one's lifestyle would begin to appear irrelevant.

With the understanding that Torah is absolute, it is obvious that there is no time when it becomes inappropriate. As a matter of fact, instead we discover that in the entire history of mankind, Shabbat was never more relevant and needed than it is today. There has never been a time like the present, when Shabbat is so necessary in order for us to retain our Judaism as well as to transcend the materialism and hedonism of the modern "me" society.

As man's technological accomplishments reach a level of sophistication beyond his greatest expectations, the need to appreciate that he himself is a creation, beholden to his Creator, becomes even greater. Shabbat is the key to spirituality and to the realization that wealth and indulgence are not the totality of human existence.

Yet all of these insights appear only after we accept the premise of the Torah being absolute. The nature of man's personality dictates that if there were any potential for change, man would suddenly awaken to "discover" the irrelevance of Shabbat.

In summation, God Himself guarantees that there will be no changes in the Torah. It is absolute, unchangeable truth, reflecting the very nature of Creation, totally relevant in all situations for all time.

ABSOLUTE LAWS IN A CHANGING WORLD

Understanding the absolute, unchangeable nature of Torah grants us insight into the necessity and essence of the Oral Law. (The Oral Law includes all those laws that were given orally to Moshe Rabbeinu at Sinai. It does not include the laws that are derived from the 13 hermeneutical principles. Although these principles came from Sinai, their application involves human minds and is therefore subject to change.) It is the Oral Law which provides the means for the absolute laws and values given at Sinai to be applied to new situations.

How does an unchangeable, written Torah relate to a changeable world?

How can an absolute Torah address the circumstantial needs of the moment? How does an unchangeable, written Torah relate to a changeable world? For example, the laws pertaining to saying a blessing before we eat are not found in the Torah. Their omission attests to the possibility that a Jew could be so aware that everything he has comes from the Almighty that for him blessings would be an unnecessary reminder. They would not be necessary because he would never make the mistake of considering his good fortune to be the consequence of his own hard work. Therefore, since the possibility of such a consciousness exists, at least theoretically, the law of blessing God as the Source of our sustenance before one eats is not absolute and is therefore not found in the Torah.

However, when a significant number of Jews could no longer depend upon themselves to remember that the food they were about to eat was a gift from the Almighty, the Sages legislated the various laws of blessings. They observed the decline in man's awareness of God as the One who sustains humanity, and they deemed it crucial to have these reminders. While the responsibility and the means of legislating such laws are found in the Torah, and are absolute, the particular laws legislated by the Sages are not.

This article is an excerpt from "Fundamentals and Faith: Insights into the Rambam's 13 Principles" by Rabbi Mordechai Blumenfeld.

 

Published: August 9, 2003

Article 9 of 12 in the series The 13 Principles


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Visitor Comments: 4

(4) tziporah mandel, August 11, 2003 12:00 AM

wow! this is so clear and leaves no room for any questions or doubts on G-d's absoluteness. thank you so much!

(3) Emmes, August 11, 2003 12:00 AM

Hashem has His Own Plan for All People

Just as we remember the absolute nature of the Torah for us, it is important that Hashem speaks to all the world's people in many different ways.

Just because other nations did not accept the Torah does not mean that Hashem does not love them nor that they do not love Him. It is my opinion that Hashem uses every possible opening to allow the world to love Him. So let us be careful when commenting upon the ways of other religions. While we may not agree with what we see, we must remember that people reach G'd differently and it pays to be respectful of this. Just as we should not judge Judaism by judging individual Jews, nor should we do so with non-Jews and their paths.

By being respectful and loving with our words about our fellow human beings, we help bring Moshiach all the more quickly.

B'Shalom.

(2) Anonymous, August 11, 2003 12:00 AM

other religions making world news

Yehoshua, you MUST realize that there are people who claim to be following the Jewish faith who are also known to be doing things contrary to Torah along the lines you mention. If liberals in other religions doing those same things dictates those entire religions "are now showing their true face," what does that say about Judaism? It says ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about either faith. Their are leaders and followers in those faiths, just as in Judaism that are appalled by such nonsense and believe the same that we are in G-ds image and not G-d in our image. While I admire your zeal for G-d and his Words, it is easy to make a quick response or judgement when you don't flip the coin to imagine what people on the other side might be thinking about you.

Orthodox Judiasm IS the truth, I think, but you can't judge other "religions" based on their liberal branches any more than an outsider could judge Torah abiding Jews by the things done in the by the most liberal branches of Judaism.

(1) Yehoshua Zeller, August 10, 2003 12:00 AM

All other "religions" are now showing their true face.

Dear Rabbi Blumenfeld,

What Rabbi Moshe Ben-Maimon wrote many years ago is still true. G-d's Word IS Absolute Which makes G-d ,The One G-d. All other "religions" that say that their roots are in Torah are making the world news because they Change G-d's Holy Word. Practicing gay Bishops...pedophile catholic priests,etc. ..One World Religion nonsense. G-d Was,Is,and Shall Ever Be...." We are IN G-d's Image ,not G-d in our image. We as a people shall always believe in G-d's Constant and never-changing Words ,simply because G-d Said so
Shalom,
Yehoshua

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