2

Ramban has a piece on Devarim 22:6 where he explains at length that it is only humans that benefit from mitzvos but certainly not God.

E.g.

אבל אלו ההגדות אשר נתקשו על הרב כפי דעתי ענין אחר להם, שרצו לומר שאין התועלת במצות להקב"ה בעצמו ית', אבל התועלת באדם עצמו, למנוע ממנו נזק, או אמונה רעה, או מדה מגונה, או לזכור הנסים ונפלאות הבורא יתברך, לדעת את י"י.

The benefit from the commandments is not derived by the Holy One Himself, exalted be He. Rather, the advantage is to man himself, to withhold from him physical harm or some evil belief, or unseemly trait of character, or to recall the miracles and wonders of the Creator, blessed be He, in order to know the Eternal.

הנה מפורש בכאן שבאו לומר שאין התועלת אליו ית' שיצטרך לאורה כמחושב מן המנורה, ושיצטרך למאכל הקרבנות וריח הקטורת, כנראה מפשוטיהם, ואפילו הזכר לנפלאותיו שצוה לעשות לזכר ליציאת מצרים ומעשה בראשית אין התועלת לו, רק שנדע אנחנו האמת ונזכה בו עד שנהיה ראויים להיותו מגין עלינו. כי כבודנו וספורנו בתהלותיו מאפס ותוהו נחשבו לו.

Thus it is clearly stated here that the Rabbis [in this Midrash], meant to say merely that the benefit [accruing from observance of the commandments] is not for His sake exalted be He, [nor] that He is in need of the light of the candelabrum as one might think, or that He needs the food of the offerings and the odor of the incense as might appear from their simple meanings. Even regarding the memorial He hath made for His wonderful works, that He commanded us to perform in memory of the Exodus and Creation, the benefit is not for Him, but so, that we should know the truth and be meritorious enough to be worthy that He protects us, for our utterances and remembrances of His wonders are accounted by Him as things of nought, and vanity.

On the other hand when commenting on Shemos 29:46 he seems to indicate that God does indeed satisfy a need via our mitzvah observance (see R Bechaye there who elaborates on this idea and spells it out more explicitly)

אבל ר' אברהם אמר כי לא הוצאתי אותם מארץ מצרים רק בעבור שאשכון בתוכם, וזהו: תעבדון את האלהים על ההר הזה (שמות ג':י"ב). ויפה פירש. ואם כן יש בענין סוד גדול, כי כפי פשט הדבר, השכינה בישראל צרך הדיוט, לא צורך גבוה, אבל הוא כענין שאמר הכתוב: ישראל אשר בך אתפאר (ישעיהו מ"ט:ג'), ואמר יהושע: ומה תעשה לשמך הגדול (יהושע ז':ט'), ופסוקים רבים באו כן: אוה למושב לו (תהלים קל"ב:י"ג), פה אשב כי אויתיה (תהלים קל"ב:י"ד), וכתוב: והארץ אזכור (ויקרא כ"ו:מ"ב).

But Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra explained [the verse to mean that] the purpose of My bringing them forth from the land of Egypt was only that I might dwell in their midst, and that this was the fulfilment of [the promise to Moses], you shall serve G-d upon this mountain (Shemot 3:12). He explained it well, and if it is so, there is in this matter a great secret. For in the plain sense of things it would appear that [the dwelling of] the Divine Glory in Israel was to fulfill a want below, but it is not so. It fulfilled a want above, being rather similar in thought to that which Scripture states, Israel, in whom I will be glorified. And Joshua said, [For when the Canaanites… hear of it… and cut off our name from the earth,] and what wilt Thou do for Thy Great Name? There are many verses which express this thought: He hath desired it [i.e., Zion] for His habitation; Here I dwell; for I have desired it. And it is further written, and I will remember the land.

What does Ramban really hold?

(The former seems to be in the realm of nigleh [peshat] with the latter nistar [sod] however ostensibly they need to cohere)

1
  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Mi Yodeya Meta, or in Mi Yodeya Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented Feb 22 at 22:21

2 Answers 2

1

There's an explanation of a resolution in the first 4 sections of לא תהי׳ משכלה תשי״ב, which is rather inaccessible for here, so I will try to summarise, and add background and explanation as I've studied the topic, and caution that this is still not sufficient, and encourage those interested to pursue the sources. The (powerful) question asked is actually a question that has been worked on by the Philosophers and Kabbalists, and developed right up until this ma'amar.


In the Moreh Nevuchim I, we learn about the philosophy of essence, which we are told is not composite, and cannot have anything superadded1. He cautions us that Hashem is His Essence (i.e. Himself) and nothing more, and therefore all descriptions in Torah of Him need to be dealt with properly. They are not descriptions of a composite being, but are all Hashem's actions and expression. He talks us through at length how actions can be achieved by Essence2, and do not imply composition in Hashem.

The ma'amar explains that when it comes to His actions and expression, the truth is that Hashem needs us to do the mitzvot. This is the pashut pshat of the Torah - that it is essential to Him that we do the mitzvot, i.e. serve Him3,7.

When it comes to His Essence, we know from the philosophy of essence that essence doesn't need, in that sense of limitation. As the Zohar puts it, Hashem doesn't need a faculty called wisdom to be called Wise4; act wisely. It also says in many places that He doesn't need our mitzvot, they were given for our benefit etc. As the Ramban states in your first quote, Hashem Himself doesn't need the light of the menorah, it is for the sake of our refinement. This is true.

So is this a contradiction? Are we saying that Hashem 'merely' acts in a way that He needs the mitzvot (OP's second quote), but truly doesn't (first quote)? This is the core of the question that's been tackled over the history5. The trajectory has been towards rejecting this, and gradually explain that the truth is indeed that our Divine service is nogeah to Him, Himself.

While He may not need light, what is nogeah to Himself - עצמות ומהות א"ס ב"ה - is that we be refined. The Rebbe arrives at this explanation - having naturally gone with all the build up that came before him - founded on a principle brought from the Ramban's introduction to his perush on Chumash, that the Torah was written in third person, as a narration, rather than from the voice of Moshe or Hashem. The Rebbe explains the Narrator is Hashem Himself, in essence (the whole ma'amar is based around spotting a switch where the Narrator speaks in first person).

The Ramban in your second quote alludes to what's going on. Hashem Himself's true desire is to dwell with us, and this is for His Glory. Therefore, He gave us His precious mitzvot, so we can emulate Him, and be refined, and this is in service of His true desire, and nogeah b'Atzmus; we are nogeah b'Atzmus6. Therefore everything we do refines us and is a true service to Him7. We note that His actions reflect this (are authentic) - as we showed above, the pashut pshat of the Torah is that it is absolutely essential and non-negotiable to Him that we do the mitzvot.


tl;dr: the Rebbe explains a resolution, that would work with Ramban, that the mitzvot refine us, so of course it is for us and our refinement and not His. However, our refinement through the mitzvot, which are essential to Him7, is Hashem's true desire. Therefore it is for Him - no contradition.

Rambam brings the following in the Moreh (3:13), for a little more insight into the depth of this:

״כל פעל יי למענהו״ אפשר שיהיה זה הכינוי שב אל הפעול; ואם יהיה שב אל הפועל יהיה פרושו למען עצמו ית׳ – רצונו לומר: רצונו שהוא עצמו כמו שהתבאר בזה המאמר. וכבר בארנו, שעצמו ית׳ יקרא גם כן ׳כבודו׳ באמרו: ״הראני נא את כבודך״ – הנה יהיה גם כן אמרו: ׳כל פעל יי למענהו׳ כאמרו: ״כל הנקרא בשמי ולכבודי בראתיו יצרתיו אף עשיתיו״ – יאמר כל מה שיוחס לי פעולתו אמנם עשיתיו למען רצוני לא זולת זה

"The Lord hath made everything (la-ma'anehu) for its purpose" (Prov. 16:4). It is possible that the pronoun in la-maanehu refers to the object; but it can also be considered as agreeing with the subject; in which case the meaning of the word is, for the sake of Himself, or His will which is identical with His self [or essence], as has been shown in this treatise. We have also pointed out that His essence is also called His glory. The words, "The Lord hath made everything for Himself", express therefore the same idea as the following verse, "Everything that is called by My name: I have created it for My Glory, I have formed it; yea, I have made it" (Isa. 43:7); that is to say, everything that is described as My work has been made by Me for the sake of My will and for no other purpose.


1. 51-52

2. 54, 57. However, it is best to learn all of I (and similar studies in Chovot Halevavot Shaar Yichud 10 etc. and how it has been absorbed by Kabbalah, e.g. Pardes Rimonim, and Chassidut, e.g. Tanya Sha'ar HaYichud VeHa'emunah), bearing in mind that much is very advanced. The basic facts given are to be accepted if not understood.

3. It is not permitted to ask a servant to do unnecessary service, see Chovot Halevavot 3, Rashi on Vayikra 25:43 (see previous Pasuk, Hashem says explicitly that we His servants), and this is codified in halacha too in Rambam Hilchot Avadim 1:6.

4. Parashat Bo.

5. This discussion revolves around the concepts of וְעָשׂוּ לִי מִקְדָּשׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹכָם Shemot 25:8 (see many commentaries there), and צורך גבוה, such as Sotah 38b and Rashi there, Shabbat 131b, Aruch Hashulchan OC 89:8. See Rabbeinu Bachaye on the OP's same pasuk as Ramban, Shemot 29:46, and Chatam Sofer ad loc, Meshech Chochma Shemot 40:5 et al. Trace the discussion through Ma'arechet HaElokut quoted in Igrot Hakodesh vol 2 p.44, and commentary Pirush Hachayit there. See Avodat Hakodesh (R Meir Ibn Gabbai) Sha'ar Avodah ch 3, Shenei Luchot HaBerit Sha'ar Hagadol, Nefesh HaChaim II 4:16, and all the many Chassidic discussions such as Likutei Torah Balak, the Alter Rebbe, Ma’amarim Avadetem Et Hashem Elokechem, Im Kesef Talve, on parashat Mishpatim, Or HaTorah Mishpatim, pp. 1219, 1666, 3025, and Ve’etchanan p.388, and Ba’ahalotecha p.421, Ma’amarim תרכ״ז, Rebbe Maharash. Hemshech Ayin Bet Ma'amar Vayikra in Ayin Hei vol II, Te’ena U’rena תרע״ז, תש״ם, Zot Torat Ha'elah תרע״ח, תש״ם. Finally, see בשעה שהקדימו תשי״ב. Here is a much lengthier answer going through more detail, with links to works with even more discussion and sources.

6. בשעה שהקדימו תשי״ב explains (see also Alshich on Shir HaShirim 7:11) that dwelling among us is the plan, and it means that He wants a close relationship of intimacy and oneness with us, because His inner inner Ratzon is us. See also second Rashi on Bereshit 1:1.

7. I didn't have room to tackle this here, but see this lengthy answer (refined, with footnotes, here) on a key piece of understanding that the mitzvot are not a means to an end, which is why they are not there to give benefit to Hashem. On the contrary, it is the mitzva He wants, lishma - they are the end themselves, which elevates them infinitely above "benefit".

8
  • You're saying that He doesn't need the mitzvos per se (Devarim) but indirectly He does need them in that mitzvos refine us which He does need (Shemos)?
    – Nahum
    Commented Feb 21 at 15:22
  • 1
    " the mitzvot refine us, so of course it is for us and our refinement and not His. However, our refinement through the mitzvot, which are essential to Him, is Hashem's true desire. Therefore it is for Him - no contradiction." Simply stating "no contradiction" does not mean there is no contradiction ;) Commented Feb 21 at 15:52
  • 1
    @Nahum thanks! Interesting, I look forward to looking into and seeing if I can answer your follow up question
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Feb 21 at 15:57
  • 1
    @Nahum As I read it: Hashem's only חפץ and the purpose of the Mitzvot is to know Hashem (see my previous comment, as well as your first Ramban in OP), and be thankful. The purpose of being thankful, he explains, is that we will come to say בריותיך אנחנו. Final paragraph before tl;dr, and footnote 6 show that the החלטת הרצון is us. My Rav puts it that He said אנכי ה׳ אלקיך, "I am yours" and we need to say "בריותיך אנחנו", "we are Yours"...
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Feb 21 at 20:36
  • 1
    ...I think "thankful" is better because it shows we mean it, from the heart, freely. Demand is fine for חפץ imo, as I've stated in ft. 7, this desiring is not for a means to an end, but an end in itself. As I explain in this answer, some things we desire non-essentially. We wouldn't want them if it weren't for the benefit they bring. And some things are themselves what we want, not for anything else. This is חפץ, intrinsic and essential desire. A demand, if you will, as often used in the context of a relationship, which this is. My 2cents
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Feb 21 at 21:06
-2

I believe Rambam's mitzvahs are for us people to improve. God doesn't need anything; he doesn't need humans to serve him, food, water, gasoline, cars, and etc.

Imagine God, the creator the king of the universe depending on a human's emotion to serve him. Doesn't it seem foolish to acknowledge this God which can be swayed by the feeling of his own subjects? God doesn't need, want, or require anything he is the creator and the king of anything in existance.

I source my answer with Rabbi Israel Drazin. https://booksnthoughts.com/ And Maimonides.

3
  • A belated welcome to MiYodeya Steve. Since MY is different from other sites you might be used to, see here for a guide which might help understand the site. See in particular the focus on sourcing your answers. Great to have you learn with us!
    – mbloch
    Commented Feb 22 at 4:01
  • oh thank you. but my sources are too much. it comes from my own studies with rabbi Israel Drazin and studying Maimonides guide for the perpelexed. The conclusions i created and the question i am attempting to answer. Commented Feb 22 at 23:49
  • OK by note this question is about the Ramban (Nachmanides) not the Rambam (Maimonides) - you might be confusing them which is not uncommon
    – mbloch
    Commented Feb 23 at 3:37

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .