Thursday, March 5, 2009

Rambam- To Know G-D is to Love and Fear Him- Yisodei Hatorah perek 2 halacha 2

How does one come to love G-D. When I was younger I used to ask my Rebbeim, "How does one gain love and awe of G-D?" This question seemed so elusive. The Rabbis usually just brushed me off by saying learning, but that was worthless to me at the time. Years later I began to learn the Maharal and Rambam, two of the greatest Jewish thinkers, in my humble opinion. The Rambam in the second halacha of the second perek of Yisodei Hatorah reveals an in depth approach to gaining love and awe of G-D. He Says,

והיאך היא הדרך לאהבתו ויראתו  בשעה שיתבונן האדם במעשיו וברואיו הנפלאים הגדולים ויראה מהן חכמתו שאין לה ערך ולא קץ מיד הוא אוהב ומשבח ומפאר ומתאוה תאוה גדולה לידע השם הגדול כמו שאמר דוד צמאה נפשי לאלהים לאל חי.

"What is the way to achieve love and awe of G-D? [The way to achieve love is] that once a person actually understands G-D through His actions and His creations that are great wonders and a person sees from [these actions and wonders] that G-D's wisdom has no set arrangement or limits, immediately, this person will love, praise, glorify, and have an irresistible yearning to know G-D. And this is like that which King David said, 'My soul thirsts for G-D, for the living Lord.'"

These statements from the Rambam have such a beautiful meaning. The word the Rambam here uses to describe this understanding of G-D is Yisbonain. This word means that a person has some type of actual understanding of G-D and is not just making an attempt to understand Him. A person can attempt to understand physics, but if he doesn't understand it at all then there is no aspect of understanding. The Rambam is telling us that once a person truly understands G-D through understanding G-D's creations, then he will be able to love Him. However, this understanding is not a complete understanding. This is why the Rambam says that this understanding will lead a person to have an unquenchable desire to know G-D. Knowing G-D is the highest connection that a human being can possibly have of G-D and the only way to know G-D is to first love Him and create the desire to want to know Him. Without this love there will not even be an opportunity to know G-D.

The Rambam continues,  

וכשמחשב בדברים האלו עצמן מיד הוא נרתע לאחוריו ויפחד ויודע שהוא בריה קטנה שפלה אפלה עומדת בדעת קלה מעוטה לפני תמים דעות. כמו שאמר דוד כי אראה שמיך מעשה אצבעותיך מה אנוש כי תזכרנו.  

"And when one [starts] to think about these things, [G-D's most wonderous creations], then he starts to recoil in fear and dread. A person then realizes that he is an insignificant and lowly creation that stands with a lowly knowledge before G-D who has supreme knowledge. This is like that which King David said, 'I see your heavens..what is man that you should pay attention to him?'"

The Rambam is telling us that once a person reaches the level to start to know G-D instead of just begin a pursuit to think about G-D, then he will be filled with awe of G-D. A person must realize that he is barely understanding the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all of existence. He sees the heavens and thinks about G-D and immediately he realizes how little he understands. This type of realization would impose upon anyone humbleness and an awe for the creator and His knowledge. It seems like after one achieves love of G-D, this can immediately lead to the emotion referred to in the Rambam as the awe of G-D.

The Rambam now points out what his focus will be in this section, 

ולפי הדברים האלו אני מבאר כללים גדולים ממעשה רבון העולמים כדי שיהיו פתח למבין לאהוב את השם. כמו שאמרו חכמים בענין אהבה שמתוך כך אתה מכיר את מי שאמר והיה העולם
"According to these things, I will explain the general ideas contained within the actions of G-D that will open up [the door] for a person to understand and love G-D. This is like the wise ones said regarding love, that through this [love] a person will be able to recognize the one who said 'And it was the world'(G-D)"

The Rambam can only act as a guide and a guide can only lead a person so far in regards to knowing G-D. This is why the Rambam says that he will open the door to understand and love G-D. He is telling us that he can only give us the essential tools with which to search out G-D, but to truly know G-D, that is up to each and every single one of us. Everyone has their own capabilities in regard to knowing G-D. Moshe Rebbeinu was able to reach the highest level of knowledge of G-D, but most people can not reach that level. We all must contemplate G-D's existence in our own unique way, the way that brings us the closest that we can possibly reach in regards to knowing G-D and thereby we can connect to Him.

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