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Maimonides #9 - The ness of Torah

May 9, 2009 | by Rabbi Mordechai Blumenfeld

With the understanding that Torah is absolute, there is no time when it becomes inappropriate or irrelevant.

Based on a series of lectures by Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg, of blessed memory.

This Torah that Moses transcribed from the Almighty is and there will never be another. One must neither add to it nor subtract from it, be it the Written Law or the Oral Law. As it stated: "Neither add to it nor subtract from it" (Deuteronomy 13:1). We have already elaborated upon this Principle in the introduction to this work.
-- Maimonides' 13 Principles of Faith


The previous Principle included the tenet that the Torah cannot be changed through prophecy. A prophet has no right to innovate, add, or detract any word or idea from either the Written Law or the Oral Law. Still one asks: What if God Himself would bring the Jewish Nation back to Sinai or to the Temple -- the equivalent of Sinai -- and He Himself, in front of the entire Nation, would amend the Torah?

This possibility was not discussed in the previous Principle but it is addressed by the ninth Principle. Here it is stated that the Almighty Himself will never give another Torah, nor will He add or detract from the Torah we now possess.

Why is this Principle necessary? One can well understand the need for and significance of stating that man cannot amend the Torah. Man, in all his subjectivity, is influenced by the temptations of his heart, societal changes, and peer pressure. If a prophet were empowered to change the Torah, the Jewish People would have a surplus of "prophets" claiming to have received prophecies that would make their lives easier and more convenient. Fortunately, prophets are not so empowered, saving the Jews from this onslaught. However, if the possibility of changing the Torah does exist for God Himself, what threat does this possibility pose to the reality of Torah and the potential of man in serving the Creator?

Why must the revelation at Sinai necessarily be a event, never to be repeated?

Remember, in order for a tenet to be included in these Principles, its awareness and acknowledgement must make the difference between the Jew having an absolute Torah or not. Without each Principle, there would be no body of law that would bind him. Thus, each Principle provides his choice: either to submit to the Will of God or not.

Here, the fact that the Rambam tells us that God will never give another Torah is not being questioned. Rather, we are considering why the revelation at Sinai must necessarily be a event, never to be repeated. Why must this be part of these Principles?


The difference between a revelation and a revelation which could be repeated is the same as the difference between a Torah that is absolute and a Torah that is relative.

The idea that God could change the Torah would generate the suspicion, the possibility, that the Torah is only true for a particular time, situation, or place. Therefore, it could not be absolute. In this situation, the Torah would no longer be the "blueprint of Creation"; rather, it would be a temporary means to fulfill the needs of society.

Seen in this context, the Torah might not be deemed appropriate for our electronic age. Obviously, the present society differs dramatically from the society that received the Torah 3,500 years ago. And besides, few, if any, Jews live in a desert nowadays. From this perspective, a Torah that was given for an agricultural age -- or even an industrial age -- might be judged totally inadequate and inapplicable to our electronic age. For example, in an agricultural age, in which people perform backbreaking labor, one can appreciate the need for a Shabbat; but in an electronic age, when all that's necessary is the pressing of a few buttons in order to perform a task, doesn't the idea of Shabbat become obsolete?

It is impossible to talk of relevance or irrelevance when you are discussing that which is absolute.

If, however, we know that there will never be another revelation, if God promises that He will never change a word of the Torah, then every word in the Torah mirrors the truth of God Himself, and is therefore the basis of existence. Reflecting on this, it becomes obvious that Torah cannot be affected by any situational change. Lifestyle and environment can never influence the validity or applicability of the Torah, for it is impossible to talk of relevance or irrelevance when you are discussing that which is absolute.

Even the possibility that there could be another revelation, although there has not yet been one, would disturb the Jew. The possibility would lead him to reason that there hasn't been another revelation yet only because the Jewish Nation has not been worthy. He would then be very tempted to rationalize and suggest to himself that if the Nation had been worthy, certainly God would have revealed Himself and adapted the Torah to its present lifestyle. This rationalization would be the beginning of the end, for who would wait for the Jewish Nation to become worthy of revelation? Torah would cease to exist because everything in it that is inconvenient to one's lifestyle would begin to appear irrelevant.

With the understanding that Torah is absolute, it is obvious that there is no time when it becomes inappropriate. As a matter of fact, instead we discover that in the entire history of mankind, Shabbat was never more relevant and needed than it is today. There has never been a time like the present, when Shabbat is so necessary in order for us to retain our Judaism as well as to transcend the materialism and hedonism of the modern "me" society.

As man's technological accomplishments reach a level of sophistication beyond his greatest expectations, the need to appreciate that he himself is a creation, beholden to his Creator, becomes even greater. Shabbat is the key to spirituality and to the realization that wealth and indulgence are not the totality of human existence.

Yet all of these insights appear only after we accept the premise of the Torah being absolute. The nature of man's personality dictates that if there were any potential for change, man would suddenly awaken to "discover" the irrelevance of Shabbat.

In summation, God Himself guarantees that there will be no changes in the Torah. It is absolute, unchangeable truth, reflecting the very nature of Creation, totally relevant in all situations for all time.


Understanding the absolute, unchangeable nature of Torah grants us insight into the necessity and essence of the Oral Law. (The Oral Law includes all those laws that were given orally to Moshe Rabbeinu at Sinai. It does not include the laws that are derived from the 13 hermeneutical principles. Although these principles came from Sinai, their application involves human minds and is therefore subject to change.) It is the Oral Law which provides the means for the absolute laws and values given at Sinai to be applied to new situations.

How does an unchangeable, written Torah relate to a changeable world?

How can an absolute Torah address the circumstantial needs of the moment? How does an unchangeable, written Torah relate to a changeable world? For example, the laws pertaining to saying a blessing before we eat are not found in the Torah. Their omission attests to the possibility that a Jew could be so aware that everything he has comes from the Almighty that for him blessings would be an unnecessary reminder. They would not be necessary because he would never make the mistake of considering his good fortune to be the consequence of his own hard work. Therefore, since the possibility of such a consciousness exists, at least theoretically, the law of blessing God as the Source of our sustenance before one eats is not absolute and is therefore not found in the Torah.

However, when a significant number of Jews could no longer depend upon themselves to remember that the food they were about to eat was a gift from the Almighty, the Sages legislated the various laws of blessings. They observed the decline in man's awareness of God as the One who sustains humanity, and they deemed it crucial to have these reminders. While the responsibility and the means of legislating such laws are found in the Torah, and are absolute, the particular laws legislated by the Sages are not.

This article is an excerpt from "Fundamentals and Faith: Insights into the Rambam's 13 Principles" by Rabbi Mordechai Blumenfeld.


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