To know the One
However, the Creator, may He be blessed, He Himself, His knowing, and His living are one, from every side, from every corner, and in every way of unity.
If it were otherwise, that He were alive in a life [that comes from outside Himself] and know with a knowing that is outside Himself, there would be many gods – He Himself, and His life, and His mind. However, this is not the case, but [there is] oneness, from every side, from every corner, and in every way of unity.
As a result, we say that He is the One Who knows, and He is the knowable, and He is the intelligence itself – all unified.*
But this is something that the mouth cannot express, the ear cannot absorb, and is not within the human heart to clearly recognize it.
12. The first Sages commanded [the masters of this knowledge] not to teach the subject except to a student who is wise and already understands [the outline] in his own mind. Even then, the master is only to teach one person at a time. . . .
These things are extremely profound. Not every mind can handle them. Concerning these things, King Solomon, in his wisdom, said by way of proverb, "lambs for your clothing" (Proverbs 27:26). In explaining this proverb, the Sages read the Hebrew word 'lamb' as hidden [since the only difference in Hebrew is the vowel points. What King Solomon is saying is that] the mysteries of knowing the Creator are "for your clothing." That is, for you alone – do not teach them in public. Concerning this, King Solomon also said, "They are for you alone, and not for strangers with you" (Proverbs 5:17). He also said, "Honey and milk under your tongue" (Song of Songs 4:11), meaning, according to the first Sages, that those things [such as the "Structure of the Divine Chariot"] which are tantalizing like honey and milk, should be kept [hidden] under the tongue.
Chapters 3 and 4 expound upon the physics of the cosmos.
10. The things that we have said about this subject are like a drop from a bucket and are profound ideas, although not as profound as the content of the first two chapters.
These third and fourth chapters of this section deal primarily with what is called the "Structure of Creation" * (Ma'aseh Breisheet *). The first Sages commanded [the masters of this knowledge] also not to teach the subject in public. However, they [the masters] may make the subject available to one person [at a time] to teach these ideas.
11. And why do we not teach [these subjects] to the public? Because most people do not have a well enough developed mind to grasp the meaning and explanation of these subjects without distortion.
Therefore the masters of the topics in these four chapters only passed the tradition on to uniquely qualified individuals who had purified their hearts and mastered the practical aspects of Torah first.
So why then does Maimonides teach the rudiments of the "Structure of the Divine Chariot" and the "Structure of Creation" in his Code?
One reason is to encourage Torah study by showing that every topic which philosophers and scientists have wrestled with is in the Torah. Secondly, these topics in the Code promote humility and discipline in the personalities of Torah scholars by reminding them that there is so much that they have yet to understand.
12. When a person meditates on these things [the
topics explained in these four chapters] . . .
and he or she sees
this adds to his or her love for the Almighty,
even to the point of the soul's thirsting and the body's longing to love the Almighty, may He be blessed.
13. The subject of these four chapters has been to teach the observance of five commandments (mitzvot *):
The [full development] of these topics is called Pardeis * (Orchard) by the first Sages.
The Talmud relates an occasion when four Sages entered the Pardeis [to tour the mysteries of the Torah and attain a true knowledge of
G-d](Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Hagigah 14b; also see the Tosefta, Tractate Hagigah 2:3-4).
The outcome was that only one of the four Sages remained intact after the experience. Ben Azzai lost his life. Ben Zoma lost his mind. Acher lost his faith, rebelled against the Torah, and became an informer for the Romans. Rabbi Akiva alone entered in peace and left in peace.
Even though they were the greatest of the Jewish people and greatly wise, not each of them had the strength to know and grasp these topics fully.
So therefore I (Maimonides) say that only someone who has filled himself with bread and meat [what we would call "meat and potatoes"] is fit to tour the Pardeis – Orchard of the Torah.
Chapter 1, Law 1
6. [5.] In European printed editions, this halacha
begins number 6. However, in a Yemenite manuscript, this halacha
is the conclusion of number 5 (Bluming, Rabbi Y. 2001. Rambam
Ha'aruch. "Sefer HaMada." Series, Volume 1. pp.
to know that there is one First
Being . . . - It is not enough to believe.
We are obligated to follow Maimonides' instructions in order to
To believe is an opening for knowledge, but Maimonides does not call this faith a form of wisdom. The human place in the universe is to acquire wisdom. Individual animals know some things, but they are not wise. Moreover, they are not aware of their Creator.
Furthermore, an implicit belief when studying
Maimonides' Code is that he is qualified to teach
us. This is hinted at, I believe, in a verse with which he opens his entire
work. To rephrase this verse, "When I look at all Your
commandments" – which Maimonides has done and has assembled
in the Code – "I will not be ashamed" –
not be falsely humble or be embarrassed to present himself as
someone who can help us "look at all of
Another feature of humility is patience. Maimonides' style of composition demonstrates the patience of a qualified teacher.
everything that exists - things that exist. We speak about how the Almighty exists, but His existence is perfectly unlike anything in His universe that exists. "He was before the creation of things, He is unchanged while the universe of things exists, and He will be as He always was if for some reason He brings an end to creation. He was, He is, He will be." (adapted from the prayer Adon Olam).
Nothing in the universe was, is, and will be. On the human scale we all know this. Someone makes something and it begins to fall apart, whether slowly or quickly. Scientists teach us about the large scale of solar systems and galaxies. Stars, for example, are born, they shine for a long while, and then they die. We are taught that the heavier elements in the universe (heavier than hydrogen and helium) are "recycled" byproducts of galaxies and stars which have exploded and ceased to exist.
Chapter 2, Law 10
To know the One G-d - Maimonides' Code is a
book of laws – halachot (hah lah KHOHT). The
translation of halachot is "ways of going" – the laws
of the Torah to follow and observe at their time and in their
place. Maimonides rarely addresses the ease or difficulty of
fulfilling a law. But since "the greatest of the Jewish
people and [the] greatly wise" like the four Sages who entered the
Orchard of the Torah did not have the soulful strength to gain a
true knowledge of
"Most people do not have a well enough developed mind to grasp the meaning and explanation of these subjects without distortion." According to the Code, though, the soul's thirsting and the body's longing to love the Almighty is fulfilled "when a person meditates on the topics explained in the first four chapters."
"Structure of the Divine Chariot" - A mystical system for
gaining a knowledge of
The Holy One, blessed be He - A true knowledge of
In the system of really knowing G-d, another way to describe Him is to use the expression 'King of the kings of kings'. A king of kings ordinarily calls himself an emperor (in his own language, of course). The Holy One, blessed be He, rules over all these emperors. The essence of true knowledge of the One and only Creator of the universe is to recognize how His qualities are essentially beyond the highest levels of human comprehension.
He is the One Who knows - the One Who knows things, including humans as things.
He is the knowable - by us humans within our limitations. He already knows Himself.
He is the intelligence itself - the source of intelligence. Our potential to be intelligent and wise is a dim reflection of Divine intelligence.
all unified - unlike us. Our intelligence is only in potential – our ability to know. Without proper education, which comes from outside ourselves, we grow up with an inability to really think clearly. This clarity of thought is the skill system known as "critical thinking."
What is knowable for us is outside
Our knowing, as such – from study and learning – is an achievement as our intelligence comes out from its potential into actuality. Our knowing is a result of ongoing effort rewarded with knowledge which cannot be taken away from us. Then, we can try to pass on our knowledge to others. Without a doubt, though, we take our knowledge with us to the grave. (I'm discounting the rewards for the eternal human soul which does retain credit for its achievements during life in a body. So, by Divine grace, we do take our knowledge with us as souls into the World of Reward. Please note that when I write "eternal" soul, I am borrowing the word as a reference to how all human souls were created on the Sixth Day of Creation and to how souls exist independently of bodies.)
Chapter 4, Law 10
"Structure of Creation" - based primarily on the first chapter of Genesis and the next three verses in chapter 2. Also translated as "Work of Creation"; "Activity / Action of Creation"
Chapter 4, Law 13
Pardeis - The four Hebrew letters of the word Pardeis also hint at the four dimensions of Torah study:
[It seems to me that the word Pardeis also hints at the Greek/Latin syllables per and para for 'beside', 'alongside', 'near', 'proximity' and 'experience' fused with the Latin word
De-us, G-dAlmighty. These four Sages, Ben Azzai, Ben Zoma, Acher, and Rabbi Akiva, wanted to elevate themselves as near to the Divine as humanly possible by divesting themselves of their physicality. See the above five commandments which these Sages wished to experience. Only Rabbi Akiva left this state in peace, and then he became the pillar of transmission of the Oral Torah for all generations to come, including such secret mysteries as the Book of Formation (Sefer Yetzirah).
[One reason that I am pursuaded to see this hint is that most students of Torah, especially the mature ones, study the above four dimensions of Torah – plain meaning, hints, allegories, and secret mysteries – as a matter of course. If so, then why focus on these four Sages, who specifically entered the Pardeis as if they were unique? And why would only Rabbi Akiva leave in peace if it were "a stroll in the park"?
[Therefore, the experience of these four Sages was described as "entering into proximity to
G-d"for those who would detect the sound resemblance to Greek and Latin words. Also, Hebrew is not written with vowels. A sophisticated student could read the word Pardeis as Paradeis. However, by saying this expression with Hebrew tonality, the experience of four Sages was couched in a way to divest itself of any association with Roman or Greek ideas about what it meant. So, the Talmud tells us about this occasion by using a surface metaphor of strolling in an orchard.
[By the way, it is not unusual for the Sages of the Talmud to disguise their full meanings in order not to confuse the ordinary student.]
Ma'aseh Merkavah - mah ah SEH mehr kah VAH; MY seh mehr KUH vuh
Ma'aseh Breisheet - mah ah SEH bray SHEET; MY seh BRAY shees
mitzvot - mits VOHT
Pardeis - PAHR dayce; another spelling: Pardes
This section – "The Fundamental Laws of the Torah" – contains ten commands for Jews:
Six positive commandments [what we should do], and
four negative commandments [what to refrain from doing]:
- To know that there is one First Being,
- To not think that there is another god except for the L-rd,
- To unify Him (in speech),
- To love Him,
- To fear Him,
- To sanctify His Name,
- To refrain from desecrating His Name,
- To refrain from tossing away things that His Name is associated with,
- To pay attention to what a prophet says in G-d's Name, and
- To refrain from testing him [the prophet].
* I've only selected excerpts from four of the ten chapters in "The Fundamental Laws of the Torah".