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THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS:
A Study of Axiomatic Systems and Torah Logic
By Gerald Parkoff
טו סיון תשע”ב
June 5, 2012
It is useful to compare the Torah and the way it is traditionally learned to an Axiomatic System. Traditional Jews are within the system. Many outside the system feel they should be within the system but don’t know why. Traditional Jews within the system judge all else through the prism of the system. All evaluation operates from within the boundaries of Halachot and the 613 Mitzvot. This was philosophically a great difficulty for the Reform Platform; namely, that they ignored the logical and epistemological structure of Talmudic thinking . They cast it aside as just so much irrelevance.
Abraham Geiger and Samuel Holdheim were two of the leading figures participating in the Synods held by the Reform rabbis in Frankfort (1845) and Breslau (1846). These synods caused a rift with traditional European Jews, as represented by Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, who was once good friends with Geiger. As described in one source,”…these synods set out to eliminate from Judaism every mark of national uniqueness. Since the goal of modern Judaism was to live a lifestyle that brought holiness into the modern world, a world of science and truth, all outmoded rabbinic legislation had to pass the test of reason, morality, and modernity to be acceptable. If a practice separated a Jew from the modern, secular world, then it was a Jew’s religious obligation to renounce it. “
(from Gates of Jewish Heritage as found in the Jewish Virtual Library, internet).
It was an historical irony that just a few years after the occurrence of these synods, in 1851, Georg Friedrich Riemann submitted his Ph.D. thesis at the University of Gottingen to Johann Carl Friedrich Gauss. This was the beginning of Axiomatic Theory in Mathematics but no one could recognize at the time the significance of this event for understanding Torah Study. Traditional Talmudic and Rabbinical thought works very much as an Axiomatic System. This idea can only be understood by reference to certain crucial developments in the history of Modern Mathematics and Logical Theory.
For almost 2000 years, Euclid’s model of geometry as a deductive science was the model for all of human knowledge. Deductive science was the standard of accurate knowledge which could not be challenged or impugned. Hans Reichenbach in The Philosophy of Space and Time writes in this regard:
“In Euclid’s work, the geometrical achievements of the ancients reached their final form: geometry was established as a closed and complete system. The basis of the system was given by the geometrical axioms, from which all theorems were derived. The great practical significance of this construction consisted in the fact that it endowed geometry with a certainty never previously attained by any other science. The small number of axioms forming the foundation of the system were so self-evident that their truth was accepted without reservation. The entire construction of geometry was carried through by a skillful combination of the axioms alone, without any addition of further assumptions; the reliability of the logical inferences used in the proofs was so great that the derived theorems, which were sometimes quite involved, could be regarded as certain as the axioms. Geometry thus became the prototype of a demonstrable science, the first of a scientific rigor which, since that time , has been the ideal of every science. In particular, the philosophers of all ages have regarded it as their highest aim to prove their conclusions “by the geometrical method.”
The status of Euclidean Geometry as the standard and pinnacle of human knowledge was finally toppled when Georg Friedrich Riemann submitted his Ph.D. thesis in 1851. Riemann applied the concept of geometry to a spherical surface – which resulted in different metrical relations from that of ordinary geometry applied to a flat two dimensional surface. The result was the discovery that the axiom of the parallels in Euclidean Geometry had to be modified to accommodate the change in metric relations on the surface of a sphere. Among these changes was the change in the ratio between circumference and diameter of a circle. The diameter of a circle on a sphere is measured not as it cuts through the sphere, but as it lays on the surface of the sphere. Hence the ratio turns out to be a number smaller than pi=3.14….Reichenbach writes in this regard:
“The property of the straight line being the shortest connection between two points can be transferred to curved surfaces, and leads to the concept of straightest line on the surface of the sphere. The great circles play the role of the shortest line of connection, and on this surface their significance is analogous to that of the straight lines on the plane. Yet while the great circle as “straight lines” share their most important property with those of the plane, they are distinct from the latter with respect to the axiom of the parallels: all great circles of the sphere intersect and therefore there are no parallels among those “ straight lines”. (p. 8)
So it turned out that Riemann had in effect discovered or devised a new geometry, the geometry of spheres, in which all of the axioms of the system were identical with Euclidean geometry, the only exception being the formulation of the axiom of the parallels.
The discovery that axioms could be discarded or modified freed geometry and mathematicians from a two thousand year old bondage – and the imagination was allowed to work, unfettered by previous conceptions and rules of thought.
According to Aristotle’s understanding of deductive science,
“any axiom underlying a deductive theory must be so obvious as to be accepted by everybody without any previous justification, as any attempt at such a justification would involve an appeal to other truths and so would imply either a vicious circle or an infinite regression.” (Evert Beth: The Foundations of Mathematics).
Now Mathematicians discovered that this postulate of self-evidence can no longer be maintained. Every system of axioms involves unproved statements or undefined terms. To define such terms, we would require another statement, a statement of definition, and so on without end. Hence mathematicians found it convenient to set up Axiomatic Systems, based on an arbitrary collection of axioms. Since D. Hilbert’s The Grounds of Geometry, it has become the practice to require the following three characteristics for every axiomatic system:
1. THAT IT BE COMPLETE –meaning that either we can prove all true statements within the system by reference to the axioms – or that one of any two contradictory statements within the system could be proved. by reference to the axioms.
2. THAT THE AXIOMS BE INDEPENDENT OF EACH OTHER – meaning that no one axiom can be derived from any other axiom or set of axioms. If axiom C could be proven from A and B, then axiom C drops off the list of axioms – it is now a derivative.
3. THAT THE SYSTEM BE CONSISTENT AND NON-CONTRADICTORY. This requirement is actually a requirement for all intelligible discourse – and of course would be a requirement for any axiomatic system.
THE TORAH AS AN AXIOMATIC SYSTEM
Classical Talmud and Halachic study operate within the realm of an axiomatic system, as classically defined by Hilbert. The 613 mitzvot, in any of their enumerations together with the Halachot Le Moshe MiSinai can in this case be seen as the axioms of the system. The 13 Middot or Principles of Logic of Rabbi Yishmael together with the 32 Rules of Rabbi Eliezer the son of Rabbi Yosi HaGalili, can be seen as the logical moves and inferences that are permitted within the system. But a system it is – and if one chooses to disregard any one of the axioms of the system or any one of the moves or inferences which are permitted, then by definition, he is outside the system. He can do this – but just as in Chess, if you disregard a rule governing the movement of the pieces, you are not playing Chess. Likewise if you disregard the 613 axioms of the Torah or the rules of inference determining how we use those axioms, you are no longer within the realm of Torah scholarship or practice. You can do that, you can make changes, but you are now in a different game and in a different activity.
The Reform have thrown out the system without even knowing that there was a system. The Torah tells us: לא תְבַעֲרוּ אֵשׁ בְּכל משְׁבתֵיכֶם בְּיוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת: (שמות לה: ג) “Do not light a fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath day.” According to Rabbi Yosi (Shabbat 70a) the Torah specifies a distinct prohibition for kindling in order to remove it from the general classification of the other Sabbath melachot, designating it merely as a prohibition subject only to lashes. (Rashi). Rabbi Natan argues that just as kindling is an Av Melacha, which carries separate liability; So too all of the Melachot each carry a separate liability (Rashi). What are Rabbi Yosi and Rabbi Natan arguing about? They are not arguing against the System of the Torah – they are arguing within the System – to explore and define its architecture.
Again, in Chagiga,(3b), the arguments and disagreements we find throughout the Gemara are not meant to dissuade the student from the legitimacy of the System, but rather to encourage exploration and discovery. In fact, this Daf comes to explicitly remind us of the unified nature of The System of Torah – it is all one thing and from one Shepherd. It is for us, the Jewish People, Knesset Yisroel, to put the pieces together – to see how the whole thing works – to interconnect the parts. Chagiga 3:b is a directive to the student of Torah, not to give up hope because of the complexity of the System; but rather to persist, to recognize the complexity, and to unify via the human intellect. In the words of Rabbi Yosef Epstein,
נתמזגה תורה הכרתו של אדם עם תורת השמים-צורה חדשה.
( 22מצות הבית הקדמה דף )
“The Torah of human understanding and obligation is mixed with the Torah of the Heavens to form a new creation.”
When the Rambam and the Ramban argue over what the sum of Mitzvot are, and what is to be included in the 613 mitzvot; what commandment is Deraita and which is DeRabbanan, they are not outside the system – but rather arguing over what the system is – what the general features and structure of the system in fact is.
“Any dispute that is for the sake of Heaven will have a constructive outcome; but one that is not for the sake of Heaven will not have a constructive outcome.”
Rabbi Nachum Rabinovitch of Yeshiva Birkat Moshe, a Hesder Yeshiva in Maaleh Adumim, writes as follows:
“…all scriptural statements are regarded as independent axioms and this independence is to be proved….it is assumed that the text of the Pentateuch is irreducible, and it is an exercise in logic to demonstrate it.” (Probability and Statistical Inference in Ancient and Medieval Jewish Literature., p. 12.)
Of course, we know that Torah is not just an Axiomatic System – The goal of the Rabbanim is to achieve a balance between Din and Rachamim, between Justice and Mercy. There are many “outs” or exceptions built into the system to ensure elasticity. We may call this “wiggle room.” It is this “wiggle room” which allows the Rabbanim to achieve a measure of Rachamim – and Equity in their decisions. The model of an Axiomatic System is meant to highlight the foundations of Torah Reasoning. Modern scholarship – in Math and in Philosophy in this case – have enabled us to make new observations in this regard. Again, the Axioms are from the Torah sheh bichtav. But the use of the system, the way inferences are made, this is Torah sheh b’al peh – The Rabbanim were committed to a system of consistency, completeness, and independence. With the growth of science and mathematics in the 20th century, we have this new/old paradigm and model which enhances our understanding of traditional Torah scholarship.
THE PLAY ELEMENT IN HUMAN CULTURE
An alternate model for the system of Torah and Halacha could be found in the the work of Johan Huizinga.. Huizinga was Dutch and wrote a book titled Homo Ludens, A study of the Play Element in Culture. He defines play as follows three times in the course of his writing:
“Summing up the formal characteristics of play, we might call it a free activity standing quite consciously outside “ordinary”life as being “not serious”, but at the same time absorbing the player intensely and utterly. It is an activity connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained by it. It proceeds within its own proper boundaries of time and space according to fixed rules and in an orderly manner.” (p. 13)
Elsewhere, Huizinga described play as:
“ an action accomplishing itself outside and above the necessities and seriousness of everyday life.” (p. 26)
“Play is a voluntary activity or occupation executed within certain fixed limits of time and place, according to rules freely accepted but absolutely binding, having its aim in itself and accompanied by a feeling of tension, joy and the consciousness that it is “different” from “ordinary life.” “ (p. 28.)
The concept of Torah study as play might sound odd, but Huizinga would say that any rule following system comes under the category of play to some degree. However, he concedes the seriousness of play, as we see in the case of children, chess players, and great athletes.. It is a serious matter and the rules cannot be broken:
To our way of thinking, cheating as a means of winning a game robs the action of its play-character and spoils it altogether, because for us the essence of play is that the rules be kept – that it be fair play“” (Homo Ludens, p. 52)
You can break the rules of chess but you are no longer playing chess. You can break the rules of Torah study but you are no longer studying Torah. You have veered from the Mesorah which includes the text and the way to approach the text.
Talmudic Learning as Play – is the way that Chazal explore a system of thought – to see how far an idea can be stretched – what are the limits and boundaries of a halachic category or ruling?
So we have two models which merge into one – an Axiomatic System – and a Play System. Both follow fixed rules and proceed in an orderly manner within its own proper boundaries.
As Axiomatic Theory developed, it was recognized that the axioms of any system involve unproved assumptions and undefined terms. Rabbi Nachum L Rabinovitch of Yehivat Birkat Moshe in Maaleh Adumim, once remarked in a correspondence to me:
“Of course, your contention that Chazal see the whole Torah as a single system is true. However, this alone is not sufficient to refute those who wish to drop some of the axioms, whether through ignorance or some other motive. After all, a non-Euclidean geometry is also a consistent system, even though it replaces Euclid’s parallel axiom.”
Logically cogent arguments substantiating the coherency and consistency of Torah as a unified system will not, by themselves, bring about adherence to its precepts. The motivation for adherence to the Laws of the Torah and to the Rabbanim can only arise from with the Community of Israel, from Knesset Yisroel as a Metaphysical and Historical entity, a community of practicing adherents. “Naaseh ve nishma,” – “we will do and then we will come to understand” – understanding derives from observance. Understanding cannot be a one dimensional activity of study confined to a printed text without the three dimensional workings of a community practicing Tzedaka and Mishpat.
GODEL ON THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF AXIOMATIC SYSTEMS
Kurt Godel attacks the possibility of axiomatic systems because completeness and consistency can never be definitively proven. A summary of Godel’s work follows:
“In 1931, the Czech-born mathematician Kurt Godel demonstrated that within any given branch of mathematics, there would always be come propositions that couldn’t be proven either true or false using the rules and axioms of that mathematical branch itself. You might be able to prove every conceivable statement about numbers within a system by going outside the system in order to come up with new rules and axioms, but by doing so you will only create a larger system with its own unprovable statements. The implication is that all logical systems of any complexity are, by definition, incomplete. Each of them contains at any given time, more true statements that it can possibly prove according to its own defining set of rules.
Godel showed that within a rigidly logical system such as Russell and Whitehead had developed for arithmetic, propositions can be formulated that are undecidable or undemonstrable within the axioms of the system. That is, within the system, there exist certain clear-cut statements that can neither be proved or disproved. Hence, one cannot, using the usual methods, be certain that the axioms of arithmetic will not lead to contradiction. It appears to foredoom hope for mathematical certitude through use of obvious methods.
He proved it impossible to establish the internal logical consistency of a very large class of deductive systems – elementary arithmetic, for example – unless one adopts principles of reasoning so complex that their internal consistency is as open to doubt as that of the systems themselves … Second main conclusion is … Gödel showed that Principia, or any other system within which arithmetic can be developed, is essentially incomplete. In other words, given any consistent set of arithmetical axioms, there are true mathematical statements that cannot be derived from the set… Even if the axioms of arithmetic are augmented by an indefinite number of other true ones, there will always be further mathematical truths that are not formally derivable from the augmented set. “ (http://www.miskatonic.org/godel.html)
Godel appears to have challenged Hilbert’s requirements of completeness and consistency. Godel may have proven that Hilbert’s description of axiomatic systems just doesn’t work.
That the Torah is an axiomatic system as Hilbert understood it is too simple a description of it. True, Torah logic has certain formal characteristics. This is assumed ubiquitously on every page of the Talmud. Although obvious to the Talmud Chacham, it nevertheless must be stated to the student of Torah to delineate the Halachic framework in which we operate.
To recap, the formal requirements of Torah study include:
1) There can’t be contradictions. Apparent contradictions must be resolved by reference to changes in time and place.
2) Assumptions and basic halachot have to be independent of each other. Each possuk of the Torah stands alone and is independent of the next in regards to formulating a specific Halachic Ruling. Each mitzvah from the Minyan HaMitzvot of the Rambam must be independent of the next; it must give us a new piece of information not contained in a previous halachic statement.
3) The system must be complete in the sense that all Halachic decisions must be able to be made from this body of material.
How does one arrive at conclusions in Psak? Rav Moshe Feinstein ztz’l in his Hakdama to Iggeret Moshe dispels the idea of an arbitrary logical system . He writes that after having learned the entire Gemara, Rishonim, Acharonim, and the Responsa Literature, a Chacham must proceed to psak based on some internal mechanism which intuitively builds upon everything he knows. Man and Law are intertwined and cannot be separated.
In the Hakdama of Mitzvat HaBayit by Rabbi Yosef Epstein ztz’l, section two, outlines in detail the transition from the Intellect and Intuition of the Avot to the requirement to observe the Mitzvot because of Kabbalat HaTorah, (the formal acceptance of the Torah by the Jewish People). Rabbi Epstein concludes that human intellect is still an intermediary between G-d and Man, but there is now a more fluid situation, a mixture :
נתמזגה תורה הכרתו של אדם עם תורת השמים-צורה חדשה.
(מצות הבית הקדמה דף 22)
“The Torah of human understanding and obligation is mixed with the Torah of the Heavens to form a new creation.”
P.F. Strawson calls his work Individuals an essay in Descriptive Metaphysics. He describes the conceptual system which we implicitly use in all human thought processes. This system has very general features which we all take for granted but do not bother to take notice of. Delineating concepts such as Space, Time, Physical Objects and the possibility of individuation, singling out individual objects, are part of this description. It is probably the best modern introduction to Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. ( Strawson also wrote The Bounds of Sense, a more technical and in depth analysis of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason.)
The study and analysis of Torah also assumes a conceptual system
Rav Yosef Soloveitchik, ztz’l, writes:
“To whom may he (Halachik Man) be compared? To a mathematician who fashions an ideal world and then uses it for the purpose of establishing a relationship between it and the real world, as was explained above The essence of the Halakha, which was received from G0d, consists in creating an ideal world and cognizing the relationship between that ideal world and our concrete environment in all its visible manifestations and underlying structures. There is no phenomenon, entity, or object in this concrete world which the a priori Halakha does not approach with its ideal standard.” (Halakhic Man, p. 19).
Continuing at the end of this same chapter:
“Such is also the way of the mathematician! When Riemann and Lobachevski discovered the possibility of a non-Euclidean space, they did not pay any attention to the existential space in which we all live and which we encounter with all our senses. , which is Euclidean from beginning to end. They were concerned with an ideal mathematical construction, and in that ideal world they discerned certain features of a geometric space different from ours. Afterward, physicists such as Einstein and his circle appeared, and they utilized the concept of anon-Euclidean space in order to explain certain physical phenomena. The ideal geometric space then found its actualization in the real world.” (p. 29)
Torah and Philosophy, in the tradition of the Rambam, are once again combined in the epistemological and logical understanding of the idea of System and specifically of Axiomatic System. To satisfy these demands for consistency, independence and completeness is la-asok be divrei Torah, to be busy with Words of Torah. .
The history of Mathematics in the nineteenth and twentieth century is a fascinating epoch for any thinking individual. The abstract idea of System and its logical demands should help dissipate the ignominy and revulsion that so many have had to philosophy. Understanding processes of thought is a neutral (parve) activity, and like driving a car, can be used for good or bad.
Referring again to Rabbi Nachum Rabinovitch’s observation:
“ …in the axiomatization of a theory, one seeks the smallest set of axioms from which the theory as a whole can be deduced. To this end, it is necessary to prove that each axiom is independent of the rest, namely that it is not implied by them. In the Talmud, however, the problem is not to reduce a given axiom-set to the smallest equivalent set. For, it is assumed that the text of the Penetateuch is irreducible, and it is an exercise in logic to demonstrate it.” .” (Probability and Statistical Inference in Ancient and Medieval Jewish Literature., p. 12.)
Although it may be a mathematical ideal to reduce the set of axioms to a minimum number, this was not cited as among Hilbert’s requirements for an axiomatic system. The ideal is really to achieve irreducibility of the axioms as Rabbi Rabinovitch states. That there are many axioms in the system, even as many as 613, it not a problem, except in complexity. The Torah is an enormously complex axiomatic system, within which the Chachamim use Play as a device to explore and map out the terrain.(endnote ix)
BEYOND AXIOMATICS -A SYSTEM OF LAW
Hilbert requires Completeness for an Axiomatic System; that the system itself be the basis for making all inferences and conclusions –But the Torah cannot be reduced to a mathematical, deductive system. It is a system of law. The System can never be incomplete. One must make a Halachic Ruling when practical questions arise.
Furthermore, one of the axioms of the Torah is the possuk that one cannot deviate from what the Rabbis tell us, either to the right or left. This opens the door to Torah Sheh B’al Peh, the Oral Law. Within the framework of Axioms, we literally have an open door into a new world of Psak, which necessarily includes the agency of a human being, a Dayan, an expert in Torah Law, to decide what the Halacha is.
Additionally, it is the nature of the Oral Law that it cannot be written down. “It is not proper to write down the Oral Law because there is no end to the details of the Law.”
Thirdly, Halacha and Halachic Decisions are not arbitrary logical systems, nor are they the product of private interests.
“The Torah was given to the people of Israel. It obligates the Jew to study it and to seek to understand it; it demands of the sages of Israel that they interpret it and teach it as a guidance and law for everyday living. Since the Torah was not given to angels but to human beings, and since it depends on interpretation and understanding by human beings, whatever is discovered in it by human beings who accept the Torah as G-d’s revelation to the Jewish People at Sinai and study it is indeed the truth of the Torah.” (Eliezer Berkovits, Not in Heaven, p 51.)
לא בַשָּׁמַיִם הִוא The Torah is not in Heaven. Whereas in the development of English and American Law, jurists and theorists would agonize over whether we have a government of men or a government of laws – we see in the nature of Torah Sheh B’al Peh the necessity of men, but not just any layman (hediot), to implement the Law. A Chacham, according to Rav Moshe Feinstein, is one who has encompassed all of the writings of Chazal, the entire Mishneh, Gemara, Rishonim and Acharonim and only after this is he qualified to make Halachic decisions based on his own internal intuitions and understanding of Chazal. Both his integrity and his Fear of Heaven (Yirat Shamayim) qualifies him for this. Therefore his selflessness and devotion to Am Yisroel is recognized by the Tzibbur, the Jewish Community. (notes xiv,xv) At the same time, if a person qualifies to such a degree, according to Rav Moshe, he does not have a right to withdraw from the Halachic decision making process.
There is a transition from intuition to Halacha in Jewish thought. In the Hakdama to Mitzvat HaBayit by Rabbi Yosef Epstein ztz’l, section two, he outlines in detail the transition from the Intellect and Intuition of the Avot to the requirement to observe the Mitzvot because of Kabbalat HaTorah, (the formal acceptance of the Torah by the Jewish People). Rabbi Epstein observes that human intellect is an intermediary between G-d and Man, but it is a fluid situation, a mixture which he describes as : נתמזגה תורה הכרתו של אדם עם תורת השמים-צורה חדשה. ( 22מצות הבית הקדמה דף )
“The Torah of human understanding and obligation is mixed with the Torah of the Heavens to form a new creation.”
ACCEPTANCE OF SYSTEM
When Godel proved the logical impossibility of verifying whether we could ever have a consistent and complete Axiomatic System, he in effect opened the door to intuition. Rudy Rucker in Mind Tools (Houghton Miffflin, p.187) writes about Godel: “above all, Godel’s theorem shows that human thought is more complex and less mechanical than anyone had every believed, but after the initial flurry of excitement in the 1930’s, the result ossified into a piece of technical mathematics…; and became the private property of the mathematical logic establishment …”
Godel’s work concerned the nature of Axiomatic Systems. He showed the limits to which these can be brought. Intuition begins where conscious, methodical thought leaves off. Paradoxically, intuition later becomes the spring board from which conscious systematic thought emanates. Initially, there is an idea or an insight – there is a certainty of correctness without the ability to explain the nature of that correctness of insight. Later, with time and distance, the explanation comes into its own – and what was once intuition now becomes a part of systematic knowledge.
Referring back to R. Epstein’s Hakdama, where he cites the ability of the Avot to recognize G-d and the commandments from within themselves, we see that this is a type of intuition – a perception – an understanding. (Nevua or Prophecy?) But it only became formalized and manageable in communal terms at Matan Torah. There a system was created and given to Am Yisroel. Once the system was in place, it then took thousands of years for Chachamim to work out the implications of the system – which is still happening today. This again by a cycle of intuition and formal reasoning.
We see the recognition and respect for system very clearly in the Rambam. This explains his requirements for the B’nai Noach:
“Any man (i.e., any gentile) who accepts the seven commandments and is meticulous in observing them is thereby one of the righteous of the nations of the world, and he has a portion in the word to come. This is only the case if he accepts them and observes them because G-d commanded them in the Torah, and taught us through our teacher, Moses, that the children of Noah had been commanded to observe them even before the Torah was given. But if he observes them because of his own conclusions based on reason, then he is not a resident-alien and is not one of the righteous the nations of the world, and is not one of their wise men.” Hilchot Melachim (8:11)
The Rambam recognizes that Torah is a systematic unity, consistent and self-contained. The very exactness and organization of his Mishneh Torah reveals this structure. In Moreh Nevuchim, Aristotle’s Theory of the Eternity of the Universe is rejected because it contradicts the Torah. The world had a beginning and was created by G-d. Our world is in a dynamic state of change. The forces of organization and growth battle the forces of entropy and breakdown.
On a national level, the Jewish People accepted this system when they said Naaseh Ve Nishmah., “we will do and we will understand.” This acceptance includes a recognition of the very limits of human thought.
אֲחַזְתִּיו וְלא אַרְפֶּנּוּ
I have grabbed Him and I will not let go.
מָּצָאתִי אֵת שֶׁאָהֲבָה נַפְשִׁי אֲחַזְתִּיו וְלא אַרְפֶּנּוּ עַד שֶׁהֲבֵיאתִיו אֶל בֵּית אִמִּי וְאֶל חֶדֶר הוֹרָתִי:
שיר השירים פרק
I have found Him, whom my soul loveth, I have grabbed Him and will not let go and until I have brought him into my Mother’s House.
וְעַתָּה כִּתְבוּ לָכֶם אֶת הַשִּׁירָה הַזּאת וְלַמְּדָהּ אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל שִׂימָהּ בְּפִיהֶם לְמַעַן תִּהְיֶה לִּי הַשִּׁירָה הַזֹּאת לְעֵד בִּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל
דברים פרק לא פסוק יט) (
“Now therefore write ye this song for you, and teach thou it to the children of Israel; put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for Me ( for/against) the children of Israel.”(Devorim, 31:19).
The Torah itself says that it will be the witness – for or against the Jewish People.
The Hebrew term is “ bivnai Yisroel” The ‘bet’ is either for or against. But Knesset Yisroel, the Nation of Israel, will never let go of its Mother’s Torah. It is our appointment to delve and explore and map out its Precepts and organize the life of our People accordingly, with Justice and Righteousness, with Kindness and Compassion .
Let the Torah be our witness. One day the nations of the world will come back to Torah – they will see the truth of the Torah
יְקוָק עֻזִּי וּמָעֻזִּי וּמְנוּסִי בְּיוֹם צָרָה אֵלֶיךָ גּוֹיִם יָבאוּ מֵאַפְסֵי אָרֶץ וְיאמְרוּ אַךְ שֶׁקֶר נָחֲלוּ אֲבוֹתֵינוּ הֶבֶל וְאֵין בָּם מוֹעִיל:
ירמיהו פרק טז פסוק יט) (
“The L-rd is my strength and refuge in the days of trouble – the Nations will come from the ends of the Earth and will say: “Our fathers have given us only lies as an inheritance and there is no value in them.” “
The Rambam describes the historical mission of both Christianity and Islam at the end of the Mishneh Torah in Hilchot Melachim (11:4) :
“Even of Jesus of Nazareth, who imagined that he was the Messiah, and was put to death by the court, Daniel had prophesied, as it is written: And the children of the violent among thy people shall lift themselves up to establish the vision; but they shall stumble (Dan.11:14). For has there ever been a greater stumbling than this? All the prophets affirmed that the Messiah would redeem Israel, save them, gather their dispersed, and confirm the commandments. But he (Jesus) caused Israel to be destroyed by the sword, their remnant to be dispersed and humiliated. He was instrumental in changing the Torah and causing the world to err and serve another beside G-d. But it is beyond the human mind to fathom the designs of the Creator; for our ways are not =His ways, neither are our thoughts His thoughts. All these matters relating to Jesus of Nazareth and the Ishmaelite (Mohammed) who came after him only served to clear the way for King Messiah, to prepare the whole world to worship G-d with one accord, as it is written: For then will I turn to the peoples a pure language, that they all call upon the name of the L-rd to serve Him with one consent (Zeph. 3:9). Thus the messianic hope, the Torah, and the commandments have become familiar topics – topics of conversation (among the inhabitants) of the far isles and many people, uncircumcised of heart and flesh. They are discussing these matters and the commandments o f the Torah. Some say, “Those commandments were true, but have lost their validity and are no longer binding”; others declare that they had an esoteric meaning and were not to be taken literally; that the Messiah has already come and revealed their occult significance. But when the true King Messiah will appear and succeed, to be exalted and lifted up, they will forthwith recant and realize that they have inherited nothing but lies from their fathers, that their prophets and forbears led them astray.”
Hence we express the hope in the Aleinu prayer that all the inhabitants of the world should come to recognize G-d. The Rambam recognizes that the righteous of the world will have a share in the world to come. But what could it mean to say that one recognized G-d without recognizing his laws? How can one recognize a King or a government and not observe the basic laws promulgated by that King or government?
The Rambam, as did all the Rishonim and Acharonim, understood the immense integrity and elasticity of the Axiomatic System of the Torah . It is unique among legal and religious systems and has no parallel. The principles of Justice and Law, Equity and Compromise, Kindness and Compassion are basic themes known to all in their generality but to few in their particular applications and complexities. As men begin to recognize the unique nature of the Torah, its Holiness and Divine Origin, so will the world will come closer to G-d and bring on the Messianic Era.