© 2020 by Rabbi Zvi Aviner
IDOLATRY-2/How to Believe and Know that God exists?
Know your CREATOR, know yourself, and know the difference
1: A Commandment or an Advice?
We are learning about the IDOLATRY Commandment from the first two of Moses Ten Commandments that say
The First of the Ten Commandments
”I Am the LORD your GOD
Who took you out of Egypt land.”
The Second of the Ten Commandments)
”Thou shall not have another G-d, over my face,
“Thou shall not make yourself any carved statue or any image
of anything in the Heavens above and in the Earth underneath,
and in the waters that are under the Earth.
Thou shall not bow to them and shall not serve them…” (Exodus 20:1)
We’ve discussed the Second one. It is a Negative Commandment that prohibits on us to worship idols. It lists all the possible idols that Man has ever conceived and worshiped.
We move now on to discuss the Positive aspect of the same Commandment, the other side of the coin, that tells us whom we SHOULD worship- the God of Israel. It is Positive Commandment because it tells what TO DO.
In fact, since the ancient idolatry has gone form us- no one in his mind would worship the Sun or the Moon or wood and stone statues – the Positive part has become paramount.
What exactly is the First Commandment?
Some see it as INTRODUCTION to the Ten Commandments, rather than a Commandment by itself. Here the Speaker – GOD- introduces Himself to Israel at Mount Sinai. As such, it does not obligate us to do anything.
But others, like Maimonides, see it as a COMMANDMENT, the first of the Ten. As such, it obligates us TO DO something.
Maimonides explains what TO DO. In the “Book of Commandments” he says that here GOD obliges Israel (to who He speaks) to believe in His existence
Some philosophers (Karkash, 16 century Spain) argued against Maimonides, saying: How could anyone COMMAND me to believe in His existence? It is an obvious paradox! You may see it as an ADVICE – for our goodness.
But in fact, Maimonides himself writes – in the Book “Mighty Hands” – that the COMMANDMENT is to know that God exists, as well as to know His Names and Deeds .
Moreover, as a Commandment, we are obligated – he says – to do our best to arrive at Knowing Him
So in one place he writes that the obligation is to Believe, whereas in another place he writes that the obligation is to Know.
What’s the difference between To Believe and To know?
2: To Believe and To Know
What is the difference between “To Believe that He exists” and “To Know that He exists?”
When I say for instance “I believe that the table exists” I infer that I still have some doubts whether or not it exists. Maybe it is too dark and I can’t see the table, or maybe it is standing to far away. Yes, I have good reasons to believe that the table is here. I was told about it or suspected it, yet I need more facts to know better. .
But saying “I know that the table exists” I infer that I’m pretty sure about the existence of the table. I’ve taken some actions to assure me. I’ve touched it, kicked it, banged on it and I am sure as it is humanly possible- the table exists. . .
Hence believing remains in the realm of faith. Knowing lies in reality. Note that we need to take some actions to elevate our faith from Believing to Knowing.
As an illustration, Maimonides gives the story of the Exodus. The Children of Israel, he writes, did not come to Believe in GOD before the Splitting of the Reed Sea Miracle. The entire ten plagues that GOD had afflicted on Egypt earlier were not enough to make them believing in Him. For every plague- he writes- there could be a natural explanation. Only at the awesome miracle at the Sea could bring them to believe in “Him and in Moses His slave.” They were fascinated, overwhelmed, and they chanted songs – Hallelujah.
But “believing’ means that even then they still had some doubts. Maybe a tsunami wave came and washed the Egyptians away. Maybe there were other natural explanations to the miracle. So three days later when they had no more water, they complained. The effect of the miracle evaporated.
And that is true for every miracle. A logical person would always suspect their truthfulness.
Indeed, going back to the Exodus- three days later when GOD made another miracle and gave them water, they were happy and they believed in Him. Yet, it did not hold for long. Believing means that they still had some doubts. Indeed, few days later they had no bread so they complained again. Their faith evaporated.
So GOD made them a greater miracle than before and gave them the daily Manna. It was an awesome miracle and they were happy and believed in GOD. Yet Believing leaves you with doubts. Maybe the Manna was just a desert phenomena, a natural event? So few days later when they had no meat they complained and wished to go back to Egypt.
And so on. Maimonides writes that all the miracles that happened to Israel either in Egypt or in the Desert were not enough to establish a long therm faith in GOD. Because- again- every miracle may have a natural explanation. Believing still lacks assurance.
All that came to an end- he writes – at Sinai Revelation. There, hearing GOD’s voice in public, seeing the Torah in their hands- only there they KNEW that GOD exists.
And now, when we are not facing Mount Sinai, the Torah in our hands is the only miracle that leads us – not only to believe in GOD, but to know that He exists.
3: The path to know that GOD exists
Can Man ever Know for sure that GOD exists – like the table in front of me? After all, GOD is inhuman and beyond our conception!
The goal seems impossible to reach. Yet, the fact that GOD COMMANDS on us to achieve that level of faith in Him indicates that yes, it is humanly possible!
Maimonides, indeed, lays out a path for us to achieve KNOWING GOD. In the “Mighty Hands,” where he talks about Knowing GOD, he points out on two paralleled roads- :
One road is to study Nature and its Wisdom. This would lead us to believe in a CREATOR.
The Second road is to study Torah and its Wisdom. From here we would come to recognize the Heavenly source of the Torah and believe in its Giver, the GOD of Israel. .
Note that either road alone wouldn’t be enough. One may study science and yet would not believe in a CREATOR, and one may also study Torah and still reject GOD.
It is only taking the two roads together that would lead us to believe and even know that GOD exists
Amazingly, Maimonides includes the study of science as an essential ingredient in developing our faith in GOD. This is in contrast to what people usually assume. They usually see Science as negating the concept of GOD
But Maimonides warns us- science without Torah is futile. You need both to arrive at the highest levels of faith .
In our class, we’ll follow the Maimonides advice. We will use both science and Torah to strengthen our faith.
4: Know Him by His Names
In what way does He want us to KNOW him?
Had he wish us to know Him as a CREATOR, He should have said –
The CREATOR of the world
Instead He says
LORD your GOD
Who took you out of Egypt
He wishes us to know Him in this very fashion. Why? Apparently for good reason. .
Let’s note that the monotheistic religions that sprung off Judaism- Christianity and Islam- have both eradicated the ancient types of idolatry. In that aspect, both have done a good job. They do differ from Judaism when it comes to identify the GOD of Israel.
In fact, as you will see soon, they deviated from the Torah by misreading the send line- LORD GOD. This error has caused the tectonic shift of humanity between the tow religions. Am I exaggerating? – You will soon see.