In this section, the Tzemach Tzedek elaborates on a point raised above: How can faith in G‑d be considered a mitzvah when it is the basis of all the mitzvos? He cites the words of R. Yitzchak Abarbanel who attempts to resolve the question by explaining that the mitzvah of faith is not just to believe in G‑d’s existence, but to believe that His existence is the most perfect form of being possible.

The Tzemach Tzedek explains that there is one aspect of G‑d (memale kol almin) which recognizes the limitations of worldly existence; this aspect can be grasped by our minds. Then there is a transcendent dimension of G‑dliness (sovev kol almin) that cannot be known. We relate to this level through faith.


– I –

וְהִנֵּה בֶּאֱמֶת צָרִיךְ לְהָבִין קֻשְׁיַת בַּעַל הֲלָכוֹת גְּדוֹלוֹת

In truth, it is necessary to understand the resolution of the question raised by the author of Halachos Gedolos:

שֶׁהָאֱמוּנָה בִּמְצִיאוּתוֹ יִתְעַלֶּה שֶׁהוּא הָעִקָּר וְהַשֹּׁרֶשׁ

Since faith in the existence of G‑d is the basis and the root of the all mitzvos,

אֵיךְ יִמָּנוּ בְּחֶשְׁבּוֹן הַצִּוּוּיִם

how can it be included in the reckoning of the commandments?

וְכֵן הִקְשָׁה הָרַב חִסְדָּאִי בְּסֵפֶר אוֹר ה' הֱבִיאוֹ הָרַב יִצְחָק אַבַּרְבַּנְאֵל בְּסֵפֶר רֹאשׁ אֲמָנָה פֶּרֶק ד' וְזֶה לְשׁוֹנוֹ

This question was also raised by R. Chisdai in his text Or HaShemas quoted by R. Yitzchak Abarbanel in his text Rosh Amanah,ch. 4:

שֶׁטָּעָה טָעוּת גְּמוּרָה מִי שֶׁמָּנָה אָנֹכִי ה' אֱלֹקֶיךָ מִצְוָה

“One who counted ‘I am G‑d your L-rd’ as a mitzvah committed a great error,

לְפִי שֶׁהַמִּצְוָה הִיא מִן הַמִּצְטָרֵף

for a commandment is something that is an additional element

וְלֹא תְצֻיַּר בְּזוּלַת אֱלוֹהַּ מְצַוֶּה יָדוּעַ

and cannot be conceived of unless there was a known G‑d issuing this command.

To explain by analogy: Before one person gives a command to another, they must share a relationship. Otherwise, the command will go unheeded. First, a relationship must be established and then a command can be given. Accordingly, even when two people already share a relationship, the command does not represent the core of the connection they share, but is merely an additional aspect of their interaction.

וְלָזֶה כַּאֲשֶׁר נַנִּיחַ אֱמוּנַת מְצִיאוּת הָאֵל מִצְוָה

Thus, if one will postulate that faith in the existence of G‑d is a mitzvah,

כְּבָר נַנִּיחַ אֱמוּנַת מְצִיאוּת הָאֵל קוֹדֶמֶת לֶאֱמוּנַת מְצִיאוּת הָאֵל וְכוּ'

he will have postulated that the existence of G‑d is a predicate to the existence of G‑d….

To restate the point: Belief in the existence of G‑d is the basis for the observance of the commandments. Now, if you make that belief a mitzvah, then your belief is the basis for commanding you to have that belief.

וְכָל זֶה בְּתַכְלִית הַבִּטּוּל וְהַגְּנוּת,

All of this is utterly worthless and disdainful.”

אָמְנָם הֶחָכָם הַגָּדוֹל הַשָּׁלֵם בְּדֵעוֹתָיו הָרַב יִצְחָק אַבַּרְבַּנְאֵל הֶחֱזִיק דַּעַת הָרַמְבַּ"ם

Nevertheless, the great sage, possessing perfect character traits, R. Yitzchak Abarbanel, supports the approach of Rambam

בִּפְרָט כִּי כֵן הוּא דַּעַת הָרַעְיָא מְהֵימְנָא

in particular because it is the approach of the Raya Mehemna,a component text of the Zohar, ascribed to Moshe Rabbeinu

מֹשֶׁה אֱמֶת וְתוֹרָתוֹ אֱמֶת,

of whom it is said:1 “Moshe is true and his Torah is true.”

וְלָזֹאת תֵּרֵץ שָׁם פֶּרֶק ז'

Hence, in ch. 7 (of Rosh Amanah), he offers a resolution,

וּבֵאֵר שָׁם דִּבְרֵי הָרַמְבַּ"ם

explaining the approach of Rambam,

שֶׁאֵין כַּוָּנָתוֹ כְּפִי שֶׁהֵבִין בּוֹ הָרַב חִסְדָּאִי

that Rambam’s intent is not as it was understood by R. Chisdai,

בְּפֵרוּשׁ מִצְוָה זוֹ שֶׁהִיא אֱמוּנַת מְצִיאוּת הָאֵל

who interprets this mitzvah as faith in the existence of G‑d,

רוֹצֶה לוֹמַר שֶׁהוּא נִמְצָא בִּלְבָד

meaning only the belief that He exists,

אֲשֶׁר סוֹתְרוֹ הוּא הַנֶּעְדָּר חַס וְשָׁלוֹם

the opposite being that He does not exist, Heaven forbid.

אֲבָל עִם הָעִיּוּן הַטּוֹב וְהַיָּשָׁר יֵרָאֶה שֶׁאֵינוֹ כֵן

After thorough and proper contemplation, it appears that this is not Rambam’s intent

אֲבָל כַּוָּנַת הָרַב הַגָּדוֹל בְּכָל דְּבָרָיו הוּא

Instead, the intent of the great master, Rambam, in all of his words is

שֶׁהָעִקָּר הָרִאשׁוֹן וְהַמִּצְוָה הָרִאשׁוֹנָה הוּא שֶׁנַּאֲמִין

that the first essential belief and the first mitzvah is that we believe

שֶׁהָאֱלוֹהַּ בָּרוּךְ הוּא שֶׁכְּבָר יָדַעְנוּ שֶׁהוּא נִמְצָא,

that the G‑d Whose existence we already know,

מְצִיאוּתוֹ הוּא הַיּוֹתֵר רִאשׁוֹן וְיוֹתֵר שָׁלֵם אֲשֶׁר בְּכָל הַמְּצִיאוּת,

exists as the first and most perfect of all existence, without any blemishes, faults, or deficiencies, as will be explained.

שֶׁמְּצִיאוּתוֹ אֵינוֹ אֶפְשָׁר מִצַּד עַצְמוֹ כְּיֶתֶר הַנִּמְצָאִים

His existence is not merely possible in and of itself as is the existence of all other entities,

Other entities need not exist. i.e., there is no logical imperative that they exist. Had G‑d not desired to create them, they would not have existed.

אֲבָל הוּא מְחֻיָּב הַמְּצִיאוּת מִצַּד עַצְמוֹ כוּ'

but instead, His existence is mechuyav hametzius (“of absolute necessity”) in and of itself, i.e., in contrast to all other existence which need not have been created, G‑d must exist.

וּכְבָר הִתְבָּאֵר שֶׁהַמְּחֻיָּב הוּא

It has already been explained that an existence that is of absolute necessity

כִּי הוּא אֵינוֹ צָרִיךְ בִּמְצִיאוּתוֹ לְזוּלָתוֹ

is one that does not require any other existence outside of it

וְכָל מַה שֶּׁזּוּלָתוֹ צָרִיךְ בִּמְצִיאוּתוֹ אֵלָיו

and every existence outside of it requires it,

לְפִי שֶׁהוּא נוֹתֵן הַמְּצִיאוּת וְקִיּוּם לְכָל הַנִּמְצָאִים כוּ' יְעֻיַּן שָׁם:

for He generates existence and continuity to all being. Consult that source.

This term mechuyav hametzius is explained by R. Yosef Albo (in his Sefer HaIkkarim) as follows: “His existence must be, i.e., His existence is from Himself, and is not the result of any other cause which preceded it.”

Every other being was created; brought into existence from utter nothingness. In other words, the truth of every other entity’s existence is non-being. Since there was a time when it did not exist, even now when it does exist, its fundamental state is non-being. Although it can exist, there is no necessity that it exists. Instead, it exists only because G‑d wills that it be.

G‑d’s existence, by contrast, has no reason and no motivating rationale. He just is. And He always was and always will be. The very definition of Him as G‑d implies that He was not brought into being at any time or by any other cause. Instead, He exists independently. He must be, for He is the truth of existence. This is implied by the term mechuyav hametzius.2

וְהָעוֹלֶה מִדְּבָרָיו שֶׁצִוּוּי הַהַאֲמָנָה אֵינָהּ עַל מְצִיאוּת הָאֵל

The conclusion resulting from the explanation of R. Yitzchak Abarbanel is that the commandment to have faith in G‑d does not focus only on the fact of G‑d’s existence,

כִּי עַל זֶה לֹא נִצְרָךְ לְצִוּוּי

for there is no need for a commandment concerning that,

כִּי כְּבָר יָדַעְנוּ שֶׁהוּא נִמְצָא כְּמוֹ שֶׁיִּתְבָּאֵר

since we already know that He exists, as will be explained.

רַק הַצִּוּוּי הוּא הַהַאֲמָנָה שֶׁמְּצִיאוּתוֹ הוּא הַיּוֹתֵר שָׁלֵם כוּ',

Instead, the commandment to have faith is to believe that His existence is the most perfect.

אָמְנָם מַה שֶּׁבֵּאֵר הֶחָכָם הַנִּזְכָּר עִנְיַן שְׁלֵמוּת מְצִיאוּתוֹ

Nevertheless, what the sage, R. Yitzchak Abarbanel explained with regard to the perfection of G‑d’s existence

שֶׁהוּא מְחֻיָּב הַמְּצִיאוּת

– that He is mechuyav hametzius

הִנֵּה עַל פִּי דֶרֶךְ הַקַּבָּלָה הוּא בְּעִנְיָן אַחֵר כְּמוֹ שֶׁיִּתְבָּאֵר לְפָנֵינוּ אִם יִרְצֶה ה'

is explained according to Kabbalah in another manner, as will be elaborated below.

כִּי גַם עַל הֱיוֹתוֹ מְחֻיָּב הַמְּצִיאוּת אֵין צָרִיךְ לֶאֱמוּנָה

For the concept that He is mechuyav hametzius also does not require faith;

כִּי הוּא נִכְלָל בִּכְלַל הַיְדִיעָה שֶׁכְּבָר יָדַעְנוּ זֶה שֶׁיֵּשׁ בּוֹרֵא הַמְחַיֶּה הָעוֹלָם

it is included in the knowledge that we already possess that there is a Creator Who grants life to the world.

וּמִמֵּילָא שֶׁהוּא מְחֻיָּב הַמְּצִיאוּת

Since He is identified as the Creator, it follows that He is mechuyav hametzius, existing independently of His creation rather than being defined in its context.

The realization of this truth can be appreciated by logic. It does not require faith.

כְּמוֹ שֶׁבֵּאֵר בְּעַצְמוֹ עִנְיַן מְחֻיָּב הַמְּצִיאוּת שֶׁהוּא זֶה

Indeed, R. Yitzchak Abarbanel himself defines mechuyav hametzius in this manner.

אֶלָּא הָאֱמוּנָה הִיא שֶׁהוּא יִתְבָּרֵךְ רָם וְנִשְׂגָּב לְמַעְלָה מַּעְלָה מִמַּדְרֵגַת הַחָכְמָה

Instead, the faith that is referred to in the commandment is that He is uplifted and exalted far above the level of Chochmah (wisdom),

Chochmah, wisdom, is the first of the Ten Sefiros, and is the most elevated plane of limited existence. G‑d’s being transcends that level entirely.

וּכְמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בְּמִצְוַת הַנְּדָרִים (מִצְוָה ת"ו)

as explained3 with regard to the mitzvah of vows (Mitzvah 406 according to Sefer HaChinuch).

(וּבִכְלַל זֶה שֶׁהוּא יִתְבָּרֵךְ מְחַיֶּה אֶת הָעוֹלָם בְּאֹפֶן שֶׁהֵם בְּטֵלִים בִּמְצִיאוּת לְגַמְרֵי

(Included in this understanding is also that He gives life to the world in a manner that causes all existence to be entirely batel

The adjective batel implies that an entity is subsumed in a greater whole. It takes on the identity of that collective entity and does not see itself as an independent being.

לְגַבֵּי דְבַר ה' וְרוּחַ פִּיו יִתְבָּרֵךְ

in relation to the word of G‑d and the spirit of His mouth

The Torah states that G‑d created the world through speech. Hence, “the word of G‑d” is an analogy for the life-force that vitalizes existence.

כְּבִטּוּל אוֹר הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ בְּשֶׁמֶשׁ

like the light of the sun as it exists within the sun itself,

Since the sun’s light shines outside the sun, that light must exist within the orb of the sun itself. Nevertheless, in the orb of the sun, the light does not appear as an independent entity. It is not seen as light. All one sees is the sun.

כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בְּלִקּוּטֵי אֲמָרִים (חֵלֶק ב' פֶּרֶק ו')

as explained in Tanya, Shaar HaYichud VehaEmunah,ch. 6,

וּכְמוֹ שֶׁנִּתְבָּאֵר מִצְוָה י'

and as elaborated upon in the maamar concerning eating matzah,4 which explains Mitzvah 10 of Sefer HaChinuch.

אֶלָּא שֶׁיֵּשׁ לוֹמַר שֶׁאֱמוּנָה זוֹ נִכְלָל בְּמִצְוַת הַאֲמָנַת הַיִּחוּד

It is, however, possible to say that faith in the world being batel is included in the mitzvah of believing in His oneness.

וּבְזֶה יִתָּכֵן דְּלִכְאוֹרָה קָשֶׁה

It seems that such an explanation is necessary because, on the surface, there is a difficulty that requires explanation.

שֶׁגַּם עַל הַיִּחוּד אֵינוֹ נִצְרָךְ לְצִוּוּי כְּלָל

It would appear that there is also no need for a commandment concerning His oneness,

כִּי מִמֵּילָא מֻשָּׂג

for it is also understood as a matter of course.

וּכְמוֹ שֶׁהוּא דַּעַת הָרַב חִסְדָּאִי שֶׁלֹּא לִמְנוֹתוֹ גַם כֵּן בִּכְלַל הַצִּוּוּיִם הוּבָא שָׁם פֶּרֶק ד'

Thus, it is Rav Chisdai’s opinion that it should not be counted among the mitzvos, as stated in Rosh Amanah, ch. 4.

Instead, the commandment concerning G‑d’s oneness refers to developing the awareness that the world is batel, subsumed with His Being.

אֶלָּא שֶׁהַצִּוּוּי שֶׁל הַהַאֲמָנָה הוּא כַּנִּזְכָּר לְעֵיל)

while the mitzvah of faith focuses on His transcendence, as explained above.)

וְעִנְיָן זֶה

This concept,

that G‑d’s existence is above the level of Chochmah, meaning, it is above Seder HaHishtalshelus, the framework of existence brought into being with a “measured” light,

הוּא הַנִּקְרָא בַּזֹּהַר סוֹבֵב כָּל עָלְמִין

and that He is described as sovev kol almin in the Zohar,5

The term sovev kol almin literally means “surrounding all the worlds.” As explained in Chassidus,6 the intent is not surrounding spatially, but rather that this light is transcendent in nature; too high to be perceived. To cite a parallel, when confronted with a difficult or lofty concept, a person will frequently say: “It went over my head.” Similarly, this light is present within the worlds, but cannot be comprehended by the created beings.

שֶׁעַל זֶה הִיא מִצְוַת הָאֱמוּנָה

is the focus of the mitzvah of faith.

Faith is not an intellectual attribute, but rather an expression of the fundamental G‑dly nature of the soul, the spark of G‑d that exists within every Jew. As such, it relates to the infinite dimensions of G‑dliness, His light that is sovev kol almin.

אֲבָל בְּחִינַת מְמַלֵּא כָּל עָלְמִין

The conception of G‑d as memale kol almin, by contrast,

Memale kol almin literally means “filling all the worlds.” This refers to the G‑dly life-force that invests itself in the created beings to give them life. Accordingly, it must adapt itself to the limitations of those created beings.

אֵינוֹ נוֹפֵל עַל זֶה לְשׁוֹן אֱמוּנָה

is not aptly described by the term “faith.” For faith is unnecessary when something can be perceived directly.

אֶלָּא כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב וּמִבְּשָׂרִי אֶחֱזֶה אֱלוֹהַּ (אִיּוֹב י"ט כ"ו)

Instead, concerning it, can be applied the verse (Iyov 19:26): “From my flesh, I see G‑dliness,”

אֶחֱזֶה מַמָּשׁ,

i.e., G‑dliness can be actually perceived.

וְהוּא תַּרְגּוּם שֶׁל רְאִיָּה

Echezeh, the term used by the verse, is the Aramaic word for “see.”

וַהֲגַם שֶׁאֵינוֹ רוֹאֶה בִּרְאִיָּה גַשְׁמִיּוּת מַמָּשׁ דְּעֵינֵי בָשָׂר

Implied is that although one does not see G‑dliness in an actual physical sense with eyes of flesh,

מִכָּל מָקוֹם הֲרֵי זֶה כְּאִלּוּ רוֹאֶה מַמָּשׁ עִנְיָן זֶה

nevertheless, it is as if one can actually see this concept:

שֶׁהַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא מְחַיֶּה אֶת כָּל הָעוֹלָמוֹת

that the Holy One, blessed be He, grants life to all the worlds.

כִּי רְאִיַּת הַשֵּׂכֶל בְּדָבָר שֶׁנִּתְאַמֵּת אֶצְלוֹ עִנְיָנוֹ הֲרֵי זוֹ כִּרְאִיָּה בְּעֵינֵי בָשָׂר

For seeing a concept that one has recognized as true with the eye of the mind is as if one has actually seen it with physical eyes.

וְהִתְאַמְּתוּת זוֹ הוּא מַה שֶּׁכָּתוּב וּמִבְּשָׂרִי אֶחֱזֶה (אִיּוֹב י"ט כ"ו)

The recognition of the truth of G‑d’s existence follows the motif alluded to by the verse (Iyov 19:26): “From my flesh I see….”

כְּמוֹ מַה שֶּׁנִּתְאַמֵּת אֵצֶל הָאָדָם עִנְיַן חַיּוּת נַפְשׁוֹ

To explain: A person recognizes the truth of the vitality of his soul,

שֶׁיֵּשׁ מַהוּת נֶפֶשׁ מְלֻבֶּשֶׁת בְּגוּפוֹ הַמְחַיָּה אוֹתוֹ

that there is a soul that enclothes itself in his body and gives it life.

שֶׁהֲרֵי הַגּוּף אֵינוֹ חַי מֵעַצְמוֹ לְבָד

For the body does not possess independent vitality;

שֶׁהֲרֵי בְּעַצְמוֹ הוּא דוֹמֵם כְּבָשָׂר וַעֲצָמוֹת הַמֻּנָּחִים בִּקְדֵרָה וּבְתַבְשִׁיל,

in and of itself it is like an inanimate object, like meat and bones placed in a pot or in a cooked dish.

אֶלָּא שֶׁהוּא חַי מִצַּד חַיּוּת הַנֶּפֶשׁ הָרוּחָנִיּוּת שֶׁבּוֹ

Instead, it lives because of the spiritual vitality of the soul invested in it

שֶׁהוּא רוּחַ הַחִיּוּנִי הַמְלֻבָּשׁ בַּדָּם

which is the spirit of life enclothed in the blood,

כְּדִכְתִיב כִּי הַדָּם הוּא הַנָּפֶשׁ (דְּבָרִים י"ב כ"ג),

as it is written (Devarim 12:23): “The blood is the soul.”

וְאִם כֵּן הֲגַם שֶׁמֵּעוֹלָם לֹא רָאָה אָדָם מַהוּת הַנֶּפֶשׁ שֶׁבּוֹ אֵיךְ וּמָה הִיא

If so, although a person never saw his soul, nor does he know its how’s and why’s,

עִם כָּל זֶה נִתְאַמֵּת אֶצְלוֹ בָּרוּר מְצִיאוּתָהּ עַל יְדֵי הַשֵּׂכֶל

he clearly recognizes the truth of its existence through his mind.

וְזוֹ הִיא רְאִיַּת הַשֵּׂכֶל

This is what is meant by seeing with “the eye of the mind,”

שֶׁהוּא אִמּוּת חָזָק כִּרְאִיַּת הָעַיִן מַמָּשׁ,

which is as powerful a recognition as actual sight.

וְכָךְ אֶחֱזֶה אֱלוֹהַּ מַמָּשׁ בִּרְאוֹתוֹ כָּל הָעוֹלָם חַי וְקַיָּם

Similarly, one can actually “see G‑dliness” by perceiving how the entire world lives and is maintained,

כָּל נִבְרָא לְפִי עֶרְכּוֹ

each creation on its level.

הַגַּלְגַּלִּים מִתְנוֹעַנְעִים

The heavenly spheres move;

וְהָאָרֶץ יֵשׁ בָּהּ כֹּחַ הַצּוֹמֵחַ לְהַצְמִיחַ עֲשָׂבִים וְאִילָנוֹת עוֹשִׂים פְּרִי

the earth has the power of growth to cause grasses to flourish, trees to produce fruit;

וּבַעֲלֵי חַיִּים מַרְגִּישִׁים

animals feel.

וְכֵן הַנֶּפֶשׁ שֶׁבָּאָדָם,

Similar concepts apply with regard to man’s soul,

שֶׁכָּל הָעוֹלָם בִּכְלָלוֹ הוּא כְּמוֹ גוּף אֶחָד גָּדוֹל מַהֲלַךְ ת"ק שָׁנָה

for the entire world is like a large body a 500-year journey wide.7

וַהֲרֵי גוּף זֶה הוּא בְּעַצְמוֹ דוֹמֵם

Now, this body, in and of itself, is inanimate.

וּמֵאַיִן בּוֹ הַחַיּוּת הַזֶּה שֶׁבְּכָל אֶחָד וְאֶחָד

From where does it derive the vitality that each element of its existence exhibits?

הִנֵּה זֶהוּ חַיּוּת הָאֱלֹהוּת

The vitality we perceive is the Divine life-force

שֶׁהוּא יִתְבָּרֵךְ מֵאִיר וּמַשְׁפִּיעַ בִּכְלָלוֹ

that He shines forth and bestows in a general manner.

וּכְמַאֲמַר רַזַ"ל מַה הַנְּשָׁמָה מְמַלֵּא אֶת הַגּוּף כָּךְ הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא מְמַלֵּא כָּל הָעוֹלָם (מִדְרַשׁ תִּלִּים עַל פָּסוּק בָּרְכִי נַפְשִׁי),

As our Sages comment (Midrash Tehillim on the verse:8Barchi nafshi Let my soul bless”): “Just as the soul fills the body, so too, the Holy One, blessed be He, fills the entire world.”

וְעַל דֶּרֶךְ זֶה הוּא נְשָׁמָה גַם כֵּן לְגוּפוֹת הַמַּלְאָכִים

Similarly, G‑dliness is the soul of the bodies of the angels,

שֶׁיֵּשׁ לָהֶם גּוּפוֹת רוּחָנִיִּים

for they have spiritual bodies

וְחַיּוּתָן הוּא מֵהִתְלַבְּשׁוּת אוֹר ה' בּוֹ

and their vitality comes from the light of G‑d enclothing itself within them.

וְזֶה סוֹד אֶחֱזֶה אֱלוֹהַּ

This is what is meant by saying “I see G‑dliness,”

אֶחֱזֶה מַמָּשׁ בִּרְאִיַּת הַשֵּׂכֶל כְּאִלּוּ רוֹאֶה בְּעַיִן,

to actually see it with “the eye of the mind” as if one sees it with a physical eye.

וְאִם כֵּן לֹא שַׁיָּךְ עַל עִנְיָן זֶה צִוּוּי לְהַאֲמִין

Hence, it is not appropriate for there to be a commandment to believe in this.

שֶׁהָאֱמוּנָה לֹא יִתָּכֵן אֶלָּא עַל דָּבָר שֶׁאֵינוֹ רוֹאֶה בְּעֵינָיו

For it is only fitting to use the term “belief” in relation to something that one does not see with one’s eyes.

וּמֵאַחַר שֶׁעִנְיָן זֶה נִרְאֶה לְעֵין הָרוֹאֶה מַה נִּצְרָךְ לֶאֱמוּנָה עַל זֶה

Since the presence of a G‑dly life-force can be seen by the eye, why is belief necessary for it?

אֶלָּא עַל זֶה נֶאֱמַר דַּע אֶת אֱלֹקֵי אָבִיךָ (דִּבְרֵי הַיָּמִים א' כ"ח ט')

Instead, with regard to this it is said (I Divrei HaYamim 28:9): “Know the G‑d of your father.”

שֶׁדָּבָר זֶה נִתְפָּס בְּדַעַת וְלֹא בֶּאֱמוּנָה לְבָד

For the awareness of the presence of G‑d’s life-force within the world can be grasped through knowledge, not only through faith.

וּפֵרוּשׁ דַּעַת הוּא לְשׁוֹן הַרְגָּשָׁה כְּמוֹ וְהָאָדָם יָדַע וְגוֹ' (בְּרֵאשִׁית ד' א')

Knowledge (Daas) means identifying with an idea, feeling it, as it were, as implied by the phrase (Bereishis 4:1): “And Adam knew Chavah.”9

כִּי הַדָּבָר הַמֻּשָּׂג עַל יְדֵי רְאִיַּת הַשֵּׂכֶל הוּא נִרְגָּשׁ מַמָּשׁ וְלֹא בְּחִינַת אֱמוּנָה

For something that can be comprehended through seeing with “the eye of the mind” is actually felt; it is not merely believed in.

שֶׁהַדָּבָר הָאָמוּן אֵינוֹ בִּבְחִינַת הַרְגָּשָׁה בְּהַמַּאֲמִין

For something that one believes in is not felt,

שֶׁהָאֱמוּנָה הִיא לְמַעְלָה מֵהַשֵּׂכֶל,

for faith is above one’s intellectual understanding.

וְאָמְנָם מִכָּל מָקוֹם נוֹפֵל עַל זֶה לְשׁוֹן צִוּוּי גַּם כֵּן דַּע

Nevertheless, it is also appropriate for there to be a commandment to know G‑d,

Since we are speaking about relating to an aspect of G‑d that can be perceived readily, one might think that there is no need for a command to know G‑d. The Tzemach Tzedek explains that a command is appropriate, for the command obligates deep, concentrated thought,

דְּהַיְנוּ לְהִתְבּוֹנֵן וּלְהַעֲמִיק מַחֲשַׁבְתּוֹ בְּזֶה

i.e., to meditate and to deepen one’s thought concerning this,

וְלֹא שֶׁיַּעֲלֶה וְיַעֲבִיר הָעִנְיָן בְּמַחֲשַׁבְתּוֹ לְבָד בִּלְתִּי עִיּוּן וְהַעֲמָקָה

not merely to raise the idea and let it pass through one’s mind without analysis or deep thought.

שֶׁזֶּה נִקְרָא בְּשֵׁם הִרְהוּר לְבָד

Such fleeting thoughts are called hirhur,

וְיָדוּעַ בַּזֹּהַר דְּהִרְהוּר לָא עָבִיד מִידֵי

and it is known that, as the Zoharstates:10 “Fleeting thought does not accomplish anything.”

אֲבָל הַדַּעַת הוּא שֶׁיַּעֲמִיק מַחֲשַׁבְתּוֹ בַּדָּבָר הַזֶּה

Knowledge, by contrast, implies thinking deeply about a matter.

(וְזֶה שֶׁנִּצְטַוִּינוּ בְּזֶה בְּמִצְוַת עֲשֵׂה לְדַעַת רַבֵּנוּ יוֹנָה בְּשַׁעֲרֵי תְשׁוּבָה

(According to Rabbeinu Yonah, as stated in his Shaarei Teshuvah,we have been commanded concerning this in a positive commandment,

מִפָּסוּק וְיָדַעְתָּ הַיּוֹם וְגוֹ'

as the verse states:11 “And you shall know today that G‑d is….”

וּלְרַמְבַּ"ם נִכְלָל זֶה בְּמִצְוָה זוֹ

According to Rambam,this charge to know is included in the command Anochi.

כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתַב הַחִנּוּךְ לֵידַע וּלְהַאֲמִין כְּמוֹ שֶׁיִּתְבָּאֵר)

Thus, Sefer HaChinuch describes the commandment as being twofold: to know and to believe, as will be explained.)

וִישִׂימוֹ לְנֶגֶד עֵינָיו

This concept must be kept in the forefront of one’s thought.

וְנִצְטַוִּינוּ גַם כֵּן בַּפָּסוּק הִשָּׁמֶר לְךָ פֶּן תִּשְׁכַּח אֶת ה' וְגוֹ' (דְּבָרִים ו' י"ב)

As the verse (Devarim 6:12) states, we have also been commanded: “Take heed lest you forget G‑d,”

שֶׁלֹּא יַסִּיחַ דַּעְתּוֹ מִזֶּה

i.e., we should not divert our attention from this knowledge.

וְלָכֵן נוֹפֵל עַל זֶה לְשׁוֹן שִׁכְחָה כִּי הַדָּבָר נִרְאֶה בַּעֲלִיל לְעֵין הָרוֹאֶה

For this reason, the term “forget” is appropriate, since G‑d’s existence can be perceived overtly.

Only something that was known can be forgotten. If one never knew a concept, it is not appropriate to speak of forgetting it.

אֶלָּא שֶׁהַצִּוּוּי הוּא שֶׁלֹּא יַסִּיחַ דַּעְתּוֹ מִזֶּה

The command is not to divert one’s attention from G‑d’s existence

לַעֲשׂוֹת עַצְמוֹ שָׁכוּחַ חַס וְשָׁלוֹם

and therefore cause oneself to forget, Heaven forbid.

וְהָרַמְבַּ"ן מָנָה זֶה בְּמִנְיַן הַמִּצְוֹת בְּלֹא תַעֲשֶׂה

Rambancounts this as one of the 613 mitzvos in his reckoning of the negative commandments in his Hosafos12 to the negative commandments,

סִימָן א'

Mitzvah one,

אָמַר שֶׁלֹּא לִשְׁכּוֹחַ אֱמוּנַת הָאֱלֹהוּת וְהוּא זֶה,

describing this mitzvah as: “Not to forget one’s faith in G‑d.” That charge is the thrust of this commandment.

וּלְהָרַמְבַּ"ם שֶׁלֹּא מָנָה זֶה בִּכְלַל הַלַּאוִין

Although Rambam does not include this in his reckoning of the negative commandments,

כְּבָר תֵּרֵץ הַמְּגִלַּת אֶסְתֵּר שָׁם

his position can be explained, as Megillas Esther13 states in resolution,

לְפִי שֶׁהוּא מֵהַצִּוּוּיִם הַכּוֹלְלִים יְעֻיַּן שָׁם׃

that he considers not forgetting one’s faith in G‑d one of the comprehensive mitzvos.14


The original question is restated in slightly different terms: How can faith in G‑d be considered a mitzvah when it is the basis of all the mitzvos? R. Yitzchak Abarbanel attempts to resolve the question by explaining that the mitzvah of faith is not just to believe in G‑d’s existence, but to believe that His existence is the most perfect form of being possible. According to Kabbalah, that explanation is accepted, but interpreted differently.

All existence, from the highest spiritual realms to our material world, is brought into being by a level of G‑dliness (the light that is memale kol almin) that relates to this limited frame of reference and enclothes itself within it. Faith is not required to appreciate this level of G‑dliness. Its existence can be known and grasped intellectually.

There is, however, another dimension of G‑dliness (the light that is sovev kol almin) that transcends limited existence. This level cannot be comprehended intellectually and can only be accessed by faith.

The maamar then proceeds to address a secondary issue: whether a commandment to know G‑d is necessary. One might argue that it is not, because G‑d’s existence can be readily comprehended and a commandment is appropriate only when effort is required. On the other hand, it can be said that the mitzvah to know G‑d involves deepening one’s knowledge beyond what is readily comprehensible.