Ikkarei Emunah

The Rambam lists his ikkarim in his introduction to the chapter “Cheileq” in Tr. Sanhedrin. The mishnah states “All of Israel has a portion in the World to Come except…” The Rambam is addressing the question of who is “Yisrael” in this mishnah, which beliefs keep one from their guaranteed portion in the World to Come. (See also Hilkhos Teshuvah ch. 3.)The Ikkarim isn’t. R’ Yosef Albo has three ikkarim from which he derives 8 shorashim (roots). Shorashim are just as mandatory beliefs as ikkarim. However, ikkarim are the postulates, shorashim their theorems. He also derives many anafim (branches), beliefs that are not defining features of Judaism.In fact, R’ Albo points out that all “revealed” religions share the three ikkarim. It’s the shorashim that distinguish Judaism from them. He is seeking the minimal list of primary principles that from which you can reason your way to a complete belief system. They both use the same word “ikkarim”, but to mean different things: necessary belief vs postulate.I thought it would be interesting to line up the Rambam’s ikkarim with those of the Seifer ha’Ikkarim. One point of strong similarity is that in Hilkhos Teshuvah 3, the Rambam defines three types of heretic. I would argue that this is an aspect of the same notion.

  • Ikkar 1- Hashem exists (Rambam ikkar 1) – H”T 3:7 denial makes one a min
    • Shoresh 1.1- Divine Unity (Rambam ikkar 2)
    • Shoresh 1.2- That He has no body (Rambam ikkar 3)
    • Shoresh 1.3- That He is beyond the concept of time (Rambam ikkar 4)
    • Shoresh 1.4- That He is perfect (Rambam ikkarim 2 and 5, see below)
  • Ikkar 2- Revelation
    • Shoresh 2.1- Accepting the nevi’im (Rambam ikkar 6)
    • Shoresh 2.2- Moshe Rabbeinu’s uniqueness (Rambam ikkar 7)
    • Shoresh 2.3- The binding nature of the Torah (Rambam ikkarim 8 and 9)
  • Ikkar 3- Divine Justice (Rambam ikkarim 10 and 11)
    • Shoresh 3.1- Resurrection of the dead (Rambam ikkar 13)

Even further, looking at Rambam’s Hilkhos Teshuvah ch. 3, he lists three kinds of heretic who loses their place in the world to come. Halakhah 7 (15 in Qafeh’s ed.) defines a min exactly in terms of those articles of faith listed above as corresponding to ikkar 1 and its shorashim.

Similarly, the Rambam’s definition of apiqoreis (3.8) includes his ikkarim that address the same issues as R’ Yosef Albo’s 2nd ikkar and its shorashim — the nature of revelation.

However, defying the Torah (shoresh 2.3) is considered a form of kefirah, as would be denying notions of justice or an afterlife (2:6). This is a different line, therefore, between what the Ikkarim calls the ikkarim of Revelation and Justice. Implicitly, the Rambam is saying that informing the people of the law has more to do with G-d’
So their entire debate, once stripped of terminology differences, is on two points:

1- According to the Ikkarim, belief in mashiach (the Rambam’s 12th ikkar) is an anaf, a branch on the Tree of Life, but not necessary for its survival. So, the Rambam declares a person who doesn’t believe in mashiach a heretic and has no place in the World to Come (Teshuvah 3:6), the Ikkarim does not.

2- R’ Albo’s fourth shoresh from his first ikkar is that Hashem is uniquely perfect. The Ikkarim does include the worthiness of Hashem as a focus of worship as part of His uniqueness. I can not tell is this is part of the shoresh, or an anaf of it. (Which would be prohibited, but as idolatry, not heresy.)

Hashem’s uniqueness is part of the Rambam’s second ikkar about His Unity — He is both indivisible and unlike everything else. The Rambam’s fifth ikkar is that no one but Hashem is worthy of prayer, specifically making it about not having no other point of worship. So unlike my inability to determine if the Ikkarim makes this a central belief, the Rambam is clear on this point.

Just tonight I saw a third list of ikkarim, this time also in the Rambam’s sense of the word. The mishnah in Avos (3:15 or in some editions 3:11) gives a different list of people who have no portion in the World to Come.

Rabbi Elazar haModa’i (from Modi’in) said, “Someone who desecrates sacred objects, or who disgraces the festivals, or who pales the face of his peer [by embarrassing him] in public, or who annuls the covenant of our father Avraham a”h, or one who interprets the Torah not according to halakhah — even if he has Torah and good deeds, he has no portion in the World to Come.

The Tif’eres Yisrael (ad loc) explains that each action is demonstrative of a lack of belief in a critical belief. He uses the term apiqoreis to refer to such unbelievers.

The first is someone who denies the existence of G-d. He has no reason to acknowledge sanctity.

The second believes in G-d, but believes that the world is eternal. That reality emanates from an impersonal deity and therefore is coeternal with him. (In short, Platonism.) Such a person denies both creation and G-d’s “Hand” in history, and therefore Shabbos and the holidays are meaningless to him.

The third heretic believes in G-d, who created the world and runs it, but denies the human soul. He believes that the mind is merely the mechanics of the brain and people are thus not different in kind to animals. He has no reason to value human dignity, and therefore nothing stands in the way of his embarrassing others.

The fourth believes in souls, but not the convenant with Avraham. An attitude represented by the one who tries to alter himself to hide the beris milah of that covenant.

The last category is the person who believe in all of the above, but not that the covenant includes the Oral Torah. Therefore, like a Fundamentalist or a Qaraite, he would be lead to concluding that any of his own conclusions drawn from the text are as valid as any other, with no mesoretic process relaying proper and improper derivations.

This last list doesn’t correspond to either of the others. But the most notable difference in content is that it doesn’t include any eschatology — it doesn’t require belief in judgment in an afterlife, nor of mashiach and the resurrection of the dead. This is a very different trend than the one I wrote of in an earlier essay:

I would argue that HQBH created the world with a tachlis, a purpose, He placed each of us in it with a tachlis, and what is righteous is righteous because it is in accordance with furthering that tachlis. …
This means that of the Rambam’s ikkarei emunah, perhaps the last three are the most critical. Without an eschatology, without a final state, we have no way of defining which acts advance us to that goal, and which are ra, shattering that which was already built.

Ma’avir al Midosav — the pragmatics

In the previous entry, I tried to discuss the importance of being ma’avir al midosav, and some various approaches to defining this critical but rarely discussed middah. Although I did link to Rav Dessler’s list of possible first-steps to fulfilling this middah, I neglected to explicitly give suggestions for building this middah that someone could actually start doing today.Here’s some suggestions:
1- If you drive in highway traffic daily, you often have to deal with merging lanes. To be ma’avir al midosav is to realize that the other person has as much of a right to get ahead of you as you do of him. Accept upon yourself that at least once a day, you’ll yield to the other party. (This suggestion was made by someone in a room full of New York City drivers.)
2- If, on the other hand, you commute by public transportation, you have a similar situation when boarding or disembarking. Even if people respect the line, there are often times when it is a judgment call as to which one of you actually got on the line first. When getting off a train or bus, there is certainly no natural ordering. Will it make any measurable difference in your schedule if you allowed a person or two ahead of you?

Of Rav Dessler’s suggestions, the following may be easy first-steps. The others strike me more as being good for a second or third qabbalah (exercise), as the middah improves.

3- One conversation a day (perhaps choose your first conversation with your spouse after the children are asleep), make sure to allow the other person to speak about themselves rather than trying to dominate the conversation about “something similar happened to me…”

4- With one person, perhaps an employee, take care not to correct them harshly, but to stress the constructive aspect of your criticism.

5- Each day, find an interaction with another person in which that person showed an ability you lack. Everyone has their way in which they are superior to someone else. Realizing that helps us value others.

If others have their own suggestions, kindly share them in the Comments section.

Ma’avir al Midosav

Whoever is “ma’avir al midosav”, ma’avirin lo, they pass over his sins for him. As it says, ‘… forgiving iniquity and remitting transgression’ (Mikha 7:18). To whom does He forgive iniquity? To the one who remits transgression.- Rosh Hashanah 17a

With such a promise, we would surely be motivated to master this middah, “ma’avir al midosav”! But what exactly does it mean?

The first definition will look at is provided by Rashi (ad loc). It’s one who does not mete out judgment to those who mistreat him. If so, this middah is not only critical to improving our personal fate, but a key factor in causing — and therefore ending — the current exile.

Rav Yochanan said: “Yerushalaim was only destroyed because they judged by Torah law.” What, should they have practiced trial by torture? Rather say: That they upheld their judgments by Torah law, and did not go beyond the letter of the law.

- Bava Metzia 30b

They tell a story about a chassid who was quite wealthy. Every year he would give his rebbe a share of his income, and every year was more prosperous than the last. One year he came to see the rebbe, and found out that his rebbe wasn’t in. His rebbe had gon to see his own rebbe, the Chozeh of Lublin.

This was an education for the chassid. “My rebbe too has a rebbe? Then why should I be giving my money to this rebbe? Shouldn’t I instead give the money to the Chozeh? Wouldn’t that be the greater berakhah?” And so he did.

Very quickly, the chassid’s fortunes turned for the worse. The chassid was quite perplexed, being quite certain of his reasoning, so he went to ask of the Chozeh of Lublin for advice and an explanation.

The Chozeh answered, “As long as you weren’t exacting about whom you gave your tzedaqah too, Hashem wasn’t too exacting about whether or not you deserved the money he gave you. Once you started taking careful score about who got the money, Hashem began examining your actions carefully as well.”

This points out the obvious justice in our first quote. It’s measure-for-measure, being repaid in kind, for someone who forgives others to be forgiven by G-d. Rav Dessler (Michtav meiEliyahu vol V pg 70) writes that in addition to this, there is a second reason why heaven “passes over his sins”. Someone who is ma’avir al midosav connects himself to the community. He therefore is judged as part of that community, which is always more meritorious than having to stand on his own.

Rav Dessler continues by contrasting ma’avir al midosav with situations when we are called upon to act in a manner that is at the opposite extreme. We are obligated to hate evil. However, Tosafos write (Pesachim 113b “shera’ah”) that one still may not reach a point of “sin’ah gemurah” (complete hatred). Complete hatred would engender hatred in return, and he is presumably not permitted to hate you!

Another example, Pinechas, when he saw a leader of Shim’on acting immorally with a Midianite princess, is called a qana’i, an extremist, “beqan’o es qin’asi — when he avenged My vengeAnce”. Since he did so, he got a berakhah of shalom. However, the word is spelled with a broken vav; the complete letters spell only “shaleim”, whole. In the short run, his actions were shaleim, whole, performed for the right reasons. In the long term, this will bring shalom, but in the short term, there is no peace without someone being willing to be ma’avir al midosav.

This is directly connected to a point raised in an earlier entry on “Rights and Duties” (updated version 11/25/2009). American law is based on the Lockian notion that the purpose of law is to protect rights. Halakhah, while it occasionally directly implies the existence of rights (e.g. when speaking of “stealing sleep” or “stealing knowledge”), is based on a language of issur (prohibition) or chiyuv (obligation). Often, the pragmatic law is identical; the thief violates the law whether we phrase it as his abrogating his neighbor’s right to property, or as his violating the prohibition against theft. However, there is a difference in attitude:

Rights are about protecting “my own” from being encroached upon by others. Rather than looking at what I’m supposed to do, the system is set up to encourage me to make sure I got mine. From which the current culture of entitlement, and the insane abuse of tort law, are a minor step — “Do I still got mine?” to “How can I get mine?” The culture is set up to encourage such a progression.

But doesn’t a duty-based law carry its own dangers? If I am to only worry about the other getting theirs, but to be ma’avir al midosai, to forego my rights and not always demand justice when it comes to myself, aren’t I inviting myself to be abused? Does the Torah really expect up to be a nation of doormats, allowing ourselves to be stepped upon and mistreated?

Rabbi Eliezer once went before the ark [as chazan on a fast day enacted because of a drought] and recited twenty-four berakhos and was not answered. Rabbi Aqiva went [as chazan] after him and said, “Avinu malkeinu — our Father, our King, we have no king other than You! Our Father, our King – for Your sake have compassion for us!” and it started raining. “The rabbis started speaking negatively [about Rabbi Eliezer]. A Heavenly voice emerged and declared, “It is not because this one [Rabbi Akiva] is greater than that one [Rabbi Eliezer], but because this one is ma’avir al midosav and this one is not ma’avir al midosav.”

- Ta’anis 25b

Rav Yisrael Salanter (Or Yisrael #28) elaborates. If being a ma’avir al midosav is so important, wouldn’t that mean that Rabbi Aqiva greater than Rabbi Eliezer after all? Rather, there are two equally valid approaches to serving Hashem. Rabbi Aqiva, being from Beis Hillel, was ma’avir al midosav. Rabbi Eliezer was a member of Beis Shammai (Tosafos Shabbos 130b), and therefore stood upon strict justice (Shabbos 31a). Both approaches are equally valid, and until the ruling that we are to follow Beis Hillel, both Rabbi Aqiva’s approach and Rabbi Eliezer’s were equal paths to holiness. However, at a time when we can’t stand under the scrutiny of justice, it’s Rabbi Aqiva’s approach that is more appropriate.

This is akin to what we already saw in the words of Rav Dessler — there is a time for qana’us and a time to be ma’avir al midosav. Knowing when to use each is knowing whether it is time to seek shalom in the short-term, or to work for longer-term goals.

Until now, we’ve looked at the subject based upon Rashi’s definition, that the issue is knowing when not demanding strict justice is the greater good. However, this definition is different than one found in the actual gemara. The gemara (Yuma 23a) says it’s someone who forgives others when he is slighted.

With this definition, it’s not about an antonym to strict justice, but an antonym to neqamah, revenge. “The path of tzadiqim: They are shamed, but do not shame, listen to their insult and do not reply, and are content [even] in their struggles. About them the verse says, ‘And His beloved are like the emergence of the sun in its strength.’ (Shofetim 5:31)” (Shabbos 88b)

Another difference is that justice is objective, whereas being slighted is subjective, depending upon the sensitivities of the person. The Chokhmas Manoach brings this perspective to our gemara about the difference — and yet equal value — of Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Aqiva. Rabbi Aqiva was more of the ma’avir al midosav because he was raised non-observant. He overcame his more natural middos — ma’avir al midosav in a literal sense.

How do we explain Rashi’s willingness to give a different translation to that of the gemara? Perhaps they are not so much defining ma’avir al midosav as giving examples of the behavior of someone who mastered this middah rather than the middah itself. In other words, if we view ma’avir al midosav as an attitude, we cannot see it directly in others, and therefore we look at how the person acts. The actual definition, therefore, would be a character trait that would motivate not demanding exact justice and standing on one’s rights and also motivate forgiving slights to one’s honor. We also know from Rav Dessler that this trait is one that mirrors its reward, getting forgiven for one’s sins, and that it unites one with the community. Last, as per the Chokhmas Manoach, it requires assuming a perspective other than the one that comes naturally.

What’s the difference between a rights-based morality and a duty-based one? The rights-based morality teaches one to guard their own “domain”, whereas duties force one to constantly guard everyone else’s. Such a person is lead to be ma’avir al midosav, because he is constantly focusing his decisions on what others stand to lose or gain.

A ma’avir al midosav, then, is someone who is able to assume the perspective of another. He is capable of forgiving slights when he can see the perspective of the person who made them. He would choose to sacrifice his inch, even if it’s coming to him by law, to avoid the cost of a foot to the other party. The ma’avir al midosav is not the one who seeks compromise or self-sacrifice, but rather one who seeks the win-win scenario, one that maximizes the gain for all.

Rabbi Dessler collected some advice for someone starting to develop this middah. As he cautions, his advice isn’t quite mastery of the middah for its own sake, but it does provide the habits from one can build. There are 10 such actions, perhaps suitable as a basis for a va’ad on the subject. See the page image, or (if necessary) my English translation.

Vetaheir Libeinu

We say in the Amidah for Shabbos and Yom Tov, “Vetaheir libeinu le’avekha be’emes”, usually translated simply as “And purify our hearts to serve You in truth.”"Vetaheir libeinu” provides an interesting contrast to “veyacheid levaveinu li’ahavah ulyir’ah es shemekha — and unify our hearts to love and be in awe of Your name”, said in the last berakhah before the morning recitation of Shema. Libeinu stands distinct from levaveinu, the same two-veis “levav” that we find in Shema, “And you shall love Hashem your G-d bekhol levavekha, with all your heart.” There, Chazal interpret the word as “beshnei yitzrekha — with both your inclinations”. In “veyacheid levaveinu” we speak of unifying the warring urges of a complex heart, which notably has one veis for each inclination, “levav”. Here we ask for surcease from that complexity, that Hashem render the single-veis “leiv” tahor, pure of other inclinations. (While many question the accuracy of “tahor” as being defined “pure”, “zahav tahor” does mean “pure gold”.)

“Le’avdiacha”. Rav SR Hirsch explains the root /ayin-beis-dalet/ as a more intensive form of /aleph-beis-dalet/, to be lost (just as an ayin is like an alef, but is supposed to be voiced). To lose one’s goals to another’s', working entirely for another person. Here we speak of taharah from inappropriate goals so that one can work entirely toward the aims Hashem spelled out for us.

I would think that a Ba’al Mussar would focus on “vetaheir libeinu”, while the Chassid would read them as secondary to the next — le’avdikha. True to the fork in the hashkafic road between Litta’s focus on sheleimus, wholeness and completion, and Chassidus’s focus on deveiqus, cleaving to G-d.

Bi’emes — in/through truth: At first I took this to be an adverb for le’avdekha. However, I want to draw attention back to the first thing I skipped in this quote, the opening letter, “vav — vetaheir”. It begins with a prefix meaning “and”. This makes our phrase part of a list, along with, “qadsheinu bemitzvosekha, vesein chelqeinu beSorasekha, sab’einu mituvekha, vesamcheinu biyshu’asekha”. In all of those cases, the noun at the end of the phrase is the means by which we ask for the thing described by the rest of the phrase; for example “Sanctify us through your mitzvos”. (The mem in “mituvekha” deserves comment. Another time.) So, here too, emes would be the means, not a modifier for le’vadekha.

Taking the phrase all together: We are asking for Hashem to give us emes, by which we will get the taharas haleiv necessary to answer only one calling — His.