Friday, March 15, 2013

Rationales for the Primary Mitzvot

All of the following is from Maimonidies:



"...the sacrificial service is not the primary object [of the commandments about sacrifice], whilst supplications, prayers, and similar kinds of worship are nearer to the primary object, and indispensable for obtaining it..."

"We are told to offer up prayers to God, in order to establish firmly the true principle that God takes notice of our ways, that He can make them successful if we worship Him, or disastrous if we disobey Him, that [success and failure] are not the result of chance or accident...For the belief of the people that their troubles are mere accidents causes them to continue in their evil principles and their wrong actions, and prevents them from abandoning their evil ways.  Comp. 'Thou has stricken them, but they have not grieved' (Jer. v. 3).  For this reason God commanded us to pray to Him, to entreat Him, and to cry before Him in time of trouble.  It is clear that repentance is likewise included in this class..."


"I maintain that the food which is forbidden by the Law is unwholesome.  There is nothing among the forbidden kinds of food whose injurious character is doubted, except pork (Lev. xi. 7), and fat (ibid. vii.23).  But also in these cases the doubt is not justified.  For pork contains more moisture than necessary [for human food], and too much of superfluous matter.  The principal reason why the Law forbids swine's flesh is to be found in the circumstance that its habits and its food are very dirty and loathsome.  It has already been pointed out how emphatically the Law enjoins the removal of the sight of loathsome objects, even in the field and in the camp; how much more objectionable is such a sight in towns.  But if it were allowed to eat swine's flesh, the streets and houses would be more dirty than any cesspool, as may be seen at present in the country of the Franks.  A saying of our Sages declares:  'The moth of a swine is as dirty as dung itself' (B.T. Ber. 25a)."


"...we are warned not to adopt any of the practices of the idolaters...'And ye shall not walk in the manners of the nation which I cast out before you' (Lev. xx.23).

Some examples:

The prohibition on rounding the corners of the beard.  "...because it was the custom of idolatrous priests." 
The prohibition on wearing garments made of linen and wool.  "...[because] the heathen priests adorned  themselves with garments containing vegetable and animal material..." 
The prohibition on wearing garments designed for the opposite gender.  "You find it in the book of Tomtom, that a male person should wear coloured woman's dress when he stands before Venus, and a female, when standing before Mars, should wear a buckler and other armour."

"As to the precepts enumerated in the laws concerning the year of release and the jubilee (Hilkot shemittah ve-yobel) some of them imply sympathy with our fellow-men, and promote the well-being of mankind; for in reference to these precepts it is stated in the Law, 'That the poor of they people may eat' (Exod. xxii. 11); and besides, the land will also increase its produce and improve when it remains fallow for some time.  Other precepts of this class prescribe kindness to servants and to the poor, by renouncing all claims to debts [in the year of release], and relieving the slaves of their bondage [in the seventh year].  There are some precepts in this class that serve to secure for the people a permanent source of maintenance and support by providing that the land should remain permanent property of its owners, and that it could not be sold. 'And the land shall not be sold for ever' (Lev. xxv. 23).  In this way the property of a person remains intact for him and his heirs, and he can only enjoy the produce thereof."


"Their reason is obvious.  The actions prescribed by them serve to remind us continually of God, and of our duty to fear and to love Him, to keep all His commandments, and to believe concerning God that which every religious person must believe."


"The precepts of the fifth class, enumerated in the Section 'On Damages' (Sepher nezikin), aim at the removal of wrong and the prevention of injury."


"It will thus be confirmed in the heart of every one of the Israelites that their camp must be like a sanctuary of the Lord, and it must not be like the camps of the heathen, whose sole object is corruption and sin; who only seek to cause injury to others and to take their property; whilst our object is to lead mankind to the service of God, and to a good social order."



"The object of Sabbath is obvious, and requires no explanation.  The rest it affords to man is known; one-seventh of the life of every man, whether small or great, passes thus in comfort, and in rest from trouble and exertion.  This the Sabbath effects in addition to the perpetuation and confirmation of the grand doctrine of the Creation."  [Note:  the Sabbath also reminds of HaShem's deliverance of Israel from slavery]


"The object of the Fast of Atonement is evident.  The Fast creates the sense of repentance; it is the same day on which the chief of all prophets came down [from Mount Sinai] with the second tables, and announced to the people the divine pardon of their great sin; the day was therefore appointed for ever as a day devoted to repentance and true worship of God.  For this reason all material enjoyment, all trouble and care for the body, are interdicted, no work may be done; the day must be spent in confession; every one shall confess his sins and abandon them."


"The Feast of Weeks is the anniversary of the Revelation on Mount Sinai.  In order to raise the importance of this day, we count the days that pass since the preceding festival, just as one who expects his most intimate friend on a certain day counts the days and even the hours.  This is the reason why we count the days that pass since the offering of the Omer, between the anniversary of our departure from Egypt and the anniversary of the Lawgiving.  The latter was the aim and object of the exodus from Egypt, and thus God said, 'I brought you unto myself' (Exod. xix. 4).

"Passover teaches us to remember the miracles which God wrought in Egypt, and to perpetuate their ought to remember his evil days in his days of prosperity.  He will thereby be induced to thank God repeatedly, to lead a modest and humble life.  We eat, therefore, unleavened bread and bitter herbs on Passover in memory of what has happened unto us, and leave [on Sukkot] our houses in order to dwell in tabernacles, as inhabitants of deserts do that are in want of comfort."

"The reason of the prohibition that the uncircumcised should not eat of [the Passover meal] (Exod. xii. 48) is explained by our Sages as follows: -- The Israelites neglected circumcision during their long stay in Egypt, in order to make themselves appear like the Egyptians.  When God gave them the commandment of the Passover, and ordered that no one should kill the Passover lamb unless he, his sons, and all the male persons in his household were circumcised, that only 'then he could come near and keep it' (ibid. xii. 48), all performed this commandment..."


"New-Year is likewise kept for one day; for it is a day of repentance, on which we are stirred up from our forgetfulness.  For this reason the shofar is blown on this day, as we have shown in the Mishneh-torah.  The day is, as it were, a preparation for and an introduction to the day of the Fast, as is obvious from the national tradition about the days between the New-Year and the Day of Atonement."


"The Feast of Tabernacles, which is a feast of rejoicing and gladness, is kept seven days, in order that the idea of the festival may be more noticeable.  The reason why it is kept in the autumn is stated in the Law, 'When thou hast gathered in thy labours out of the field' (Exod. xxiii. 16); that is to say, when you rest and are free from pressing labours."

NOTE:  living temporarily in a nomadic-style hut reminds one to be thankful.


"The use of keeping festivals is plain.  Man derives benefit from such assemblies:  the emotions produced renew the attachment to religion; they lead to friendly and social intercourse among the people."

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