Monday, July 02, 2007

ta'amei hamitzvot as presented in rambam's yad

Last week in the discussion of ta’amei hamitzvot I focused on the Rambam’s presentation in Moreh Nevuchim. R’ Soloveitchik pointed out that the Rambam in Mishne Torah takes a completely different philosophical approach. One of his examples is the mitzvah of shofar, where the Rambam (Tshuvah 3:4) writes that the mitzvah is a gezeiras hakasuv but contains within it a hint to the concept of tshuvah.

ז [ד] אף על פי שתקיעת שופר בראש השנה גזירת הכתוב, רמז יש בו: כלומר עורו עורו ישנים משינתכם, והקיצו נרדמים מתרדמתכם; וחפשו במעשיכם וחזרו בתשובה, וזכרו בוראכם. אלו השוכחים את האמת בהבלי הזמן, ושוגים כל שנתם בהבל וריק אשר לא יועיל ולא יציל--הביטו לנפשותיכם, והטיבו דרכיכם ומעלליכם; ויעזוב כל אחד מכם דרכו הרעה, ומחשבתו אשר לא טובה.

Instead of finding a reason for the mitzvah based on some external value (the approach the Rambam takes in Moreh), here the Rambam writes that the mitzvah is performed simply because the Torah says so – gezeiras hakasuv. There is no other motivation or reason which we can point to as a justification. However, that does not mean we should turn a blind eye to the effect performing such a mitzvah has on our behavior or ideology. Remez yesh bo… means inherent in the performance of the mitzvah is an obvious effect on our religious consiousness.


  1. Mike S.11:46 AM

    I understand the Rambam as saying that even though we are required unconditionally to do the Mitzvah because it is the commandment of the Almighty, we have to recognize that one of its purposes is to affect our behavior and even though we can fulfill the technical requirements of the commandment without affecting out behavior, we have missed the point if we do so.

  2. The Rav's approach imputes an inconsistency to the Rambam that I think is unjustified. The Rav suggests that the Rambam is assigning a secondary role to "taamei hamitsvot" (in the classic, philosophical sense of the term) here. However, I understand that the Rambam is saying just the opposite - namely, that even though the mitsvah is an unconditional obligation, we should not allow that fact to prevent us from reflecting upon its deeper significance. Otherwise, it is reduced to a rote performance.

  3. 1) I disagree that the ta'am hamitzvah impacts performace. See the story on Halachic Man re: R' Moshe asking the ba'al hatoke'a if he cried when he shook lulav also - the emotion plays no role in the asiyas hamitzvah (at least in RYBS's world). See the Netziv on kibbud av in aseres hadibros (I've discussed this other times on the blog, see Aruch haShulchan YD 240:2).
    2) RJM - in hachi nami, we should reflect on the significance (rambam end of temurah and me'ila), but that is not a reason. Reason answers the question 'why', remez answers the question 'what'. Interesting that RYBS of all people was not concerned with creating an inconsistancy in the Rambam's approach. My ininformed impression is that RYBS was not enamored with Moreh-like metaphysics; his essays convey an existentialist approach, and Briskers are very uncomfortable with 'why' questions and prefer to stick to safe structuralist formulations in lieu of 'reasons'. But I'm out on a limb here with no evidence...

  4. BTW RJM, no posts in awhile...?

  5. Mike S.12:56 PM

    I must confess that I do not understand the distinction you you wish to make between "reason" and "significance". I believe everyone agrees that the kiyum hamitzvah of shofar is independent of whether one thought of the significance, and everyone thinks it is good to draw significance from the mitzvah performance.

    By the way, this would ideally apply to any mitzvah. One should be conscious of doing the Almighty's command even in such everyday matters as refraining from theft and murder.

  6. I agree with your characterization of the Rav's approach. I just don't think his approach is authentically Maimonidean.

    I was out of town for most of last week, and never really finished "catching up". I plan to post something new imminently.

  7. >>>I must confess that I do not understand the distinction you you wish to make between "reason" and "significance".

    Why do I go to work? Because I want to have food to eat and a house to live in. Is my work significant? I guess my boss would like me to think so : ) Two completely different issues. Our real "boss" wants us to think mitzvos are significant, but I don't know if he wants us to do them for any other reason than to fulfill his will. The Rambam-Moreh approach would say 'yes', while the Rambam MT approach would say 'no'.

  8. Mike S.4:02 PM

    If The Holy One, Blessed be He, wants us to find significance in his mitzvot, but requires us to do them whether we find significance or not, how is the significance less of a reason for the mitzvah than to require simple obedience. "Istakel b'oraita u'varah olma" (G-d look at the Torah and created the world) would seem to imply that mitzvot make sense in the context of the world, even if our finite understanding doesn't always encompass them.