1. Certain things are clear to us from the first while others are simply not. We may believe in them, espouse them, and live our lives according to them, but we still and all might not truly “get” them. And that’s certainly true for things about our own religion. For while there are specific matters of the faith that we’re to hold by if we’re to be true to our Torah’s ideals — known as “The Thirteen Principles of the Faith” 1 — some of them are straightforward enough while others simply aren’t. So it would clearly do us well to understand the ones that we can’t quite grasp.
And so it seems that while the Soul who will be raising questions of Reason in Da’at Tevunot certainly believed in all thirteen of the principles, nonetheless, as he put it, some of them “I accept as true but don’t actually understand”. We’ll find that the bulk of this work will set out to solve his dilemma.
2. As the Soul put it, he understands the fact of G-d’s existence as well as His oneness, eternality, non-physical makeup; the idea that everything that exists derived out of sheer nothingness (known as creation ex nihilo) 2 ; the reality of prophecy and the uniqueness of Moses’ prophecy; and the ideas that the Torah we now have is from G-d Himself, eternal, and is the very one revealed to us at Mount Sinai.
For, while these are actually quite knotty and arcane, they’re somehow easier to grasp than the others. Since while these touch upon very abstract notions like how to define G-d, upon the makeup of the Torah and the nature of prophecy, and more, the other ones that he does want to dwell on go deeper-down into our beings. They include Divine providence, reward and punishment, the coming of the Messiah, and the resurrection of the dead. And the Soul cites the following verse as his source for what he wants to dwell on: “Know therefore this day, and consider it in your heart, that G- d is the L-rd, in heaven above and upon the earth beneath: there is none other” (Deuteronomy 4:39). For it underscores the fact that that G-d, and “none other”, is the L-rd of both “heaven above” and “the earth beneath”, which is to say that G-d reigns supreme and single-handedly everywhere and on every level 3.And it asks of us to “know” that and to “consider it in your heart”, which means to say, to internalize it.
3. Why would anyone be especially confused about these four? It seems because unlike the other principles cited, these touch upon our life- experiences, our humanity, our relation to G-d, and upon our very raison d’être. As, “Divine providence” speaks to how we and G-d interact with each other, “reward and punishment” addresses the things that G-d values and what He disparages, “the coming of the Messiah” contends with the direction the world is heading in, and the idea of “the resurrection of the dead” helps define ultimate reality 4. We’d all need to have those things fleshed out for us, for the truth of the matter is that life seems so impetuous, haphazard, disordered, and aimless, that we often don’t quite catch sight of G-d’s providence or of His over-arching aim for the universe. After all, things oftentimes seem to just befall us, to land upon our roofs at night at random and to be beyond us. The outer cosmos seems to pirouette prettily in the vast distance, but — the truth be known — for no apparent reason. As things don’t seem to be leading anywhere, and G-d’s attention seems to be otherwise riveted. There’s also the fact that many good souls often seem to know no peace, while the bad seem to do quite well, which has always puzzled many 5.So allow us now to explore these principles of the faith — and our own souls in the process6.
1See Maimonides’ comments to the first Mishna in the tenth chapter of Tractate Sanhedrin.
2 Maimonides doesn’t actually include creation ex nihilo among the fundamentals of the faith (suggesting instead the idea that only G-d is to be worshipped and not the angels, which Ramchal might have considered self-evident in light of the discussion of G-d’s absolute sovereignty). Nonetheless, see Rabbi Yoseph Kapach’s note 34 to his Hebrew translation of the original Arabic rendition of the principles, where he cites this statement as coming from a note written by Maimonides himself along the margins later on in life. Ramchal might also have included it on the strength of what Maimonides himself said about the essential nature of belief in creation ex nihilo in The Guide for the Perplexed 2:13-35.
3 Also see Exodus 8:6 (“… in order that you know that there is none like the L-rd, our G-d”), 8:18 (“… in order that you know that I am the L-rd in the midst of the earth”), and 9:14 (“… in order that you know that there is none like Me in the entire earth”).
4Though Ramchal did in fact explicate Divine providence, reward and punishment, the Messiah, and the resurrection of the dead at length in Da’at Tevunot, the truth of the matter is that they are actually not his main focus. The key and upending revelation of G-d’s overarching Sovereignty (His “Yichud”) and the ramifications of all that will prove to be his major themes (see Shriki, p. 5), as it explains all the rest.
5 As Jeremiah the prophet put it, “Why has the way of the wicked prospered, (and why do) all who deal with treachery have peace?” (Jeremiah 12:1). See Berachot 7a for a seminal discussion of the topic.
6As we’d indicated in our Prologue, Da’at Tevunot is based upon a number of difficult Kabbalistic premises. While we won’t expand upon them much here, we will allude to them so that more advanced readers could explore them. As such, we’re told that the four principles of the faith that we’ll be expanding on here — Divine providence, reward and punishment, the coming of the Messiah, and the resurrection of the dead — allude to the four Partzufim of the world of Atzilut (see Goldblatt pp. 18- 19, 473), which will be expanded upon later on in the book.
Rabbi Yaakov Feldman has translated and commented upon “The Gates of Repentance”, “The Path of the Just”, and “The Duties of the Heart” (Jason Aronson Publishers). His works are available in bookstores and in various locations on the Web.