How can there be arguments over basic, major points in Jewish machshavah? How do we not all agree (and by "all", I mean all major primary sources) over how God works? How did this not come through in a clear line from Sinai? For instance, God's level of providence with this world... Or how God deals with punishment and reward...

How are there such major arguments about these things? Unlike darshaning a pasuk, in which multiple versions are all valid, God either works in one way or another -- not both. Thus, how are there such big arguments over this?

  • Your question doesn't make sense. There are arguments because people forgot or got mixed up like lots of other arguments. Why do you think every side of how God works is valid? – Double AA May 25 '14 at 18:09
  • To paraphrase the Rambam: "If I knew God I would be him". – PixelArtDragon May 25 '14 at 18:23
  • God has free will and can work sometimes like this and sometimes like that, as written "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion" exodus 33:19 – ray May 25 '14 at 18:30
  • Can you give an example of an argument of the type you describe? – WAF May 25 '14 at 18:47
  • 2
    Your question doesn't make sense to me. "Unlike darshaning a pasuk, in which multiple versions are all valid, God either works in one way or another". Sure, but what if we only know how God works from pesukim?? – Shimon bM May 27 '14 at 2:21

The Rambam discusses this in several places, most explicitly in Guide of the Perplexed 1:71 (copied here from the Friedlaender translation):

KNOW that many branches of science relating to the correct solution of these problems, were once cultivated by our forefathers, but were in the course of time neglected, especially in consequence of the tyranny which barbarous nations exercised over us. Besides, speculative studies were not open to all men, as we have already stated (Introd. p. 2, and I. chap. xxxi.), only the subjects taught in the Scriptures were accessible to all... Care having been taken, for the sake of obviating injurious influences, that the Oral Law should not be recorded in a form accessible to all, it was but natural that no portion of "the secrets of the Law" (i.e., metaphysical problems) would be permitted to be written down or divulged for the use of all men. These secrets, as has been explained, were orally communicated by a few able men to others who were equally distinguished. Hence the principle applied by our teachers, "The secrets of the Law can only be entrusted to him who is a councillor, a cunning artificer, etc." The natural effect of this practice was that our nation lost the knowledge of those important disciplines. Nothing but a few remarks and allusions are to be found in the Talmud and the Midrashim, like a few kernels enveloped in such a quantity of husk, that the reader is generally occupied with the husk, and forgets that it encloses a kernel.

(Basically, knowledge was lost because of the hardships of exile as well as the desire of the Sages to keep these 'sciences' secret).

Of course, not everybody agrees with the Rambam. Academics today mostly assume that these philosophical issues just weren't seen as being as important to the Sages and earlier Jews. The Ria"z (Rav Yishayah of Tarani), who, like the Ravad and others, argues on the Rambam that a person who makes a theological mistake loses his share in the afterlife, proves this by saying:

וכן הדבר ידוע לכל חכמי לב, אבל מי שיטעה בכך ולא ירד לעמקו של דבר ומבין המקראות כפשוטן וסבור שהקדוש ברוך הוא בעל תמונה לא נקרא מין, שאם כן הוא הדבר, איך לא פרסמה תורה על דבר זה ולא גילו חכמי התלמוד להודיע דבר זה כגלות ולהזהיר נשים ועמי הארץ שלא יהוא אבודין עולמן. הלא כמה איסורים קלים כגון איסור מוקצה וכיוצא בה חיברו חכמים כמה הלכות והרבו כמה דקדוקין להעמיד כל דבר על מכונו, ועל דבר זה שכל האמונה תלויה בו ויש בו כרת בעולם הזה ובעולם הבא - איך לא הורו חכמים על דבר זה בגלוי! אלא ודאי לא הקפידו לכך אלא יאמין אדם הייחוד כפי שכלו ואפילו הנשים כפי מעוט שכלם שאמר משה ע"ה שמע ישראל ה' אלדינו ה' אחד, ומשמע לשון שמועה ולשון קבלה שעל פי שמועה ועל פי קבלה יאמין דבר זה, ולא נתן משה תורה לישראל אלא בדרך אמונה ובדרך קבלה. וכן חכמי המשנה וחכמי התלמוד לא נתעסקו אלא בדרך קבלה ובדרך אמונה ולא הורו לדרוש ולחקור על ענין האלות ועל ענין שאר החכמות כלל ואם היו יחידים שהיו בקיאין בהם לא היו מורין בהם לרבים שלא צותה תורה להורות על אלה הדברים

Is it not the fact that concerning even light prohibitions, such as Muktzah and the like, the Sages have composed many books and details to establish the matter correctly, and so how could it be that something like this that would be the cornerstone of belief [according to the Rambam], and contains with it the punishment of being cut off in this world and the next, that they shouldn't speak of it explicitly. Rather they clearly didn't care about it, and a person can believe in the unity [of God] according to his ability... similarly the Sages of the Mishna and Talmud believed in this in simplicity, and didn't delve in to these matters, into questions of God and these (similar) form of wisdom, and even if a few of them who were experts in them, they didn't teach them to the public because the Torah never commanded these things to be taught.

(Source: Sefer Rayos Le'Riaz on Sanhedrin 91a, published in Sanhedrei Gedolah vol. 5)


On Vayikra 9:6 the Tiferes Shmuel comments:

Every commandment has countless deeper implications and meanings, and even people capable of discerning some of them must realize that whatever they know is still only a drop in the bucket compared to the wealth of meaning inherent in any one of God's commands.

I believe the same applies to your question. Just like we may attempt to understand the Mitzvos but never fully understand them, so too did the great Jewish Philosophers like the Ramchal and the Rambam attempt to "understand" Hashem. Both of them have only a drop in the bucket of how Hashem works. Therefore, it is obvious that there will be arguments, as each person attempt to figure out how Hashem works.

I hope this helped

You must log in to answer this question.

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