Thursday, January 24, 2008

Summaries and Notes on Emunos Ve-Dei'os

This is the first in a series of posts in which I offer summaries and notes on classic texts of medieval Jewish philosophy. The following is from R. Sa'adia Ga'on's Emunos Ve-Dei'os (The Book of Beliefs and Opinions). I started from essay 3 rather than the beginning for no thoughtful reason.

Essay 3: Introduction

The Reason for Creation

It has already been explained that God has no beginning -- He is eternal -- and nothing else is. And that (one of) the (three) reason(s) for God creating the universe was as a kindness on His part. His greatest act of kindness was to give existence to His creations. He also gave them a way to reach great goodness, commandments to follow through which to achieve this goodness. The reason is that someone who acquires something through his own effort receives more than someone who receives the result as a gift.

Click here to read more[What is this good? It must be pleasure, whether physical or spiritual.]

[Is it that someone who achieves something appreciates the reward more or deserves more? It sounds like the latter. But someone who does nothing, and receives reward as a gift, deserves nothing. And if this is a kindness from God, what does it matter what someone deserves? Also, if this pleasure is infinite, how can there be different levels of enjoyment? If it isn't infinite, why not?]

[What about those creations that were not commanded? Why don't they get the great good?]

Essay 3: Chapter 1

Two Types of Commandments: Rational Commands and Obedience Commands

God told us through His prophets that He gave us a religion to follow that has commandments He obligated us to keep.

[It sounds like the commandments are an obligation independent of the revelation at Mt. Sinai. When did that obligation begin? Presumably when we learned about each mitzvah. See the Rambam in Mishneh Torah, Hilkhos Melakhim ch. 9.]

After we accepted and followed the commandments, we realized that they are so logical that we would have come up with them without having been commanded.

[Then why didn't we? Or is this a reference to the Patriarchs observing the commandments without being commanded to do so?]

Logic dictates that you should thank or respond in kind to someone who acts kindly to you. Logic also dictates that a wise man does not give others permission to insult him. [Contrary to the Novardok school of Mussar.] Therefore, God commanded people 1) to thank and serve Him, and 2) not to act improperly to Him. Logic also dicates that 3) people not damage each other, so God forbade it. The first kind (gratitude) includes prayer and worshipping God. The second kind (refraining from insult) includes idolatry and swearing with God's name in vain. The third kind (interpersonal) includes justice and refraining from murder, theft, adultery, gossip, etc. God planted in our understanding that we must refrain from all this.

[Is logic independent or did God create it and plant it in us?]

There is a second type of commandment that logic does not demand but God commanded us in them in order o give us reward for obeying Him. But even these commandments have reasons.

[Does this mean that every single commandment has a reason?]

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