Regarding the Divine attributes, whether known from reason or from scripture, which are ascribed to the Creator - the intentions in them are numerous according to the numerous creations and the kindnesses bestowed on them.
They (the Divine attributes) divide into two divisions: Essential (in essence) and Active (i.e. from His deeds).
The reason we call them Essential (in essence) is because they are permanent traits of G-d, belonging to Him before the creations were created, and after their creation these attributes continue to apply to Him and to His glorious essence.
These attributes are three:
1. That He (permanently) exists
2. That He is One
3. That He is Eternal, without beginning.
We ascribe to Him these three attributes and speak of them in order to indicate His Being and true existence, to call attention to His glory, to make human beings understand that they have a Creator whom they are under duty to serve.
We must ascribe to Him "existence", for His existence is demonstrated by proofs based on the evidence of His handiworks, as written: "Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who has created these things? He that brings out their host by number: He calls them all by name. By the greatness of His might, and for He is strong in power; not one fails" (Isaiah 40:26).
We must necessarily ascribe existence to Him because it is a principle accepted by our reason that for something which is non-existent no action or result can come. Since His works and creations are manifest, His existence is equally manifest to our intellect.
We ascribe to Him Eternity (no beginning), because rational arguments have demonstrated that the world must have a First (cause) which had no previous cause before it and a Beginning which had no prior beginning. It has been demonstrated that the number of causes cannot be infinite. It logically follows, that the Creator is the First Beginning before whom there is no Beginning, and this is what is meant by His Eternity, as written: "From everlasting to everlasting, You are G-d" (Ps. 90:2), and "before Me there was no god formed, neither shall any be after Me" (Isaiah 43:10).
Regarding declaring of Him that He is One, we have already sufficiently demonstrated this by well known arguments and it has been established by clear evidence, that true Unity is inseparable from His glorious essence. This unity implies absence of plurality in His Being, the absence of change, transformation, incident, origin or destruction, joining or removal, comparison or association or any other properties of things that are plural.
It is necessary for you to understand that these attributes do not imply any kind of change in His glorious essence, but only to denote a negation of their opposite. What the attribution of them should convey in our minds is that the Creator of the world is neither plural, nor non-existent, nor created
Likewise it is necessary for you to understand that each one of these three attributes we mentioned implies the other two, when we analyze them. The explanation of this is as follows:
When true Unity is the inseparable and permanent property of a thing, that thing must necessarily also be Eternally Existing (without beginning), since that which is non-existent cannot be ascribed neither unity nor plurality. Hence if true (absolute) Unity is the attribute of any thing and essentially belongs to it, it logically follows that the attribute of Existence with its implications also belongs to it. It must also be Eternal (eternally existing) because true (absolute) unity neither comes into existence nor passes out of existence, neither changes nor is transformed. Hence, it must be Eternal, for it has no beginning. Hence, that which the matter of true Unity belongs has also the attributes of Existence and Eternity.
So too, we say that the attribute of permanent Existence, attributed to a thing, implies the attribution to it of absolute Unity and Eternity (without beginning).
It implies absolute Unity since that which permanently Exists could not have come into existence from nothing, and cannot pass from the state of existence into that of non-existence. Such a thing is not plural since that which is plural is not permanently existent, as it must have been preceded by Unity. Therefore, that which exists permanently is not plural, and is accordingly, One.
The attribute of Eternity (without beginning) also belongs to it, since that which exists permanently has neither beginning nor end, and is accordingly Eternal.
So too, we assert that the attribute of Eternity, belonging to any Being, also implies in that Being, the attributes of absolute Unity and permanent existence.
It implies Unity, since that which is Eternal has no beginning, and that which has no beginning is not plural, since all things plural have a beginning, namely, a (parent) unity. Therefore, that which is plural is not Eternal, and that which is Eternal can only be One. Therefore, the attribute of absolute Unity is implied in the attribute of Eternity.
Likewise, the attribute of existence is implied in that of Eternity. For the non-existent cannot be described as either Eternal or created.
We have clarified that these three attributes are one in meaning and imply the same thing. They do not imply any change in the Creator's glorious essence, nor do they imply any incidental property or plurality in His being, because all that we are to understand by them is that the Creator is neither non-existent, nor created, nor plural. If we could express His being in a single word which would denote all three of these attributes as they are understood by the intellect so that these three attributes would arise in our mind when the one word was used, we would use that word to express it. But since we do not find such a word in any of the spoken languages which would designate the true conception of G-d, we are forced to express it with more than one word.
This plurality in the Creator's attributes does not, however, exist in His glorious essence but is due to inadequacy of language on the part of the speaker to express the conception in one term. You must understand that, regarding the Creator, there is none like Him, and whatever attributes we speak of regarding Him, you are to infer from them the denial of their opposite. As Aristotle said "negating attributes of G-d gives a truer conception of Him than affirming attributes". For all affirmative attributes ascribed to G-d must necessarily ascribe properties of Etzem (essence) or Mikre (incidental properties), and He who created etzem and mikre has not the properties of His creatures in His glorious essence. But the denial of such properties to Him is undoubtedly true and appropriate to Him. For He is above all attributes and forms, similarity or comparison. Therefore, you must understand from these attributes that they refer to the negation of their opposites.
THE ACTIVE ATTRIBUTES
The active attributes of G-d are those which we speak of the Creator with reference to His works. It is possible, when speaking of them, to associate Him with some of His creations. We were permitted, however, to ascribe these attributes to Him because of the forced necessity to acquaint ourselves with, and realize His existence, in order that we assume on ourselves the duty of His service.
We have already found that the Torah and the books of the Prophets extensively use these active attributes, as also in the Psalms of prophets and saints. They are used in two manners:
One, attributes which denote physical form such as in the verse "So G-d created man in His own image, in the image of G-d, He created man" (Gen. 1:27), "for G-d made man in His image" (Gen. 9:6), "by the word of G-d" (Numbers 9:18), "I, even My hands, have stretched out the heavens" (Isaiah 45:12), "in the ears of G-d" (Numbers 11:1), "under His feet" (Ex. 24:10), "the arm of G-d" (Isaiah 51:9), "who has not taken My soul in vain" (Ps. 24:4), "in the eyes of G-d" (Gen. 6:8), "G-d said in His heart" (Gen. 8:21), and other similar verses regarding physical limbs.
Two, attributes which denote bodily movements and actions, as written: "and G-d smelled the pleasing aroma" (Gen. 8:21), "And the L-ord saw...and the L-ord regretted" (Gen. 6:5-6), "and G-d came down" (Gen. 11:5), "and G-d remembered" (ibid 8:1), "and G-d heard" (Numbers 11:1), "Then the L-ord awakened as one out of sleep," (Ps. 78:65), and many more activities of human beings like these attributed to Him.
Our Rabbis, when expounding the scriptures, paraphrased the expressions used for this class attributes and were careful to render them in an honorable way, and ascribed them all to the "glory of the Creator". For example, the verse "behold G-d stood over him" (Gen. 28:13), they rendered - "the glory of G-d was present with him"; "and G-d saw" (ibid 6:5), they rendered - "it was revealed before G-d"; "and G-d came down" (ibid 11:5)- "the glory of G-d was revealed"; "and G-d went up" (ibid 35:13) - "the glory of G-d departed from him".
They rendered everything in a reverential way, and avoided attributing them to the Creator in order not to ascribe to Him any kind of physicality or incidental property.
The great master, Rabeinu Saadia, already expounded sufficiently at length on this in the Sefer Emunot Vedeot, in his commentary on parsha Bereishis, parsha Vaera, and in Sefer Yetzira, and we do not need to repeat his explanations in this book. What we are all agreed upon is that necessity forced us to ascribe physicality and to speak of Him with the attributes of His creations in order that human beings can have some way to grasp the existence of the Creator. The books of the prophets connoted Him with corporeal terms because these are closer to our mind and understanding.
If they had spoken of Him in a more accurate fashion, using words and matters connoting spiritual things, we would not have understood neither the words nor the matters, and it would have been impossible for us to worship something which we do not know, since it is not possible to worship an unknown. Therefore it was necessary that the words and concepts be according to the understanding ability of the listener so that the matter will first be grasped in the listener's mind in an understandable, corporeal sense from the concrete terms. Afterwards, we will enlighten him and explain to him that all this was only metaphorical, to bring the matter close and that the true matter is too fine, too sublime, too exalted, and too remote from the ability and powers of our mind to grasp. The wise thinker will endeavor to remove the husk of the terms and their corporeality and will ascend in his mind step by step until he will reach the true intended meaning according to the power and ability of his mind to grasp.
The foolish and simple person will conceive the Creator in accordance with the literal sense of the metaphor, and if he assumes the service of His Creator, and he endeavors to labor for His glory, he has in his simpleness and lack of understanding, a great valid excuse because a man is held accountable for his thoughts and deeds only according to his ability, intelligence, understanding, strength, and material means. But if the foolish is capable of learning wisdom and he neglects it - he will be held accountable for it and punished for his lacking and refraining from study.
If the scriptures had employed more accurate, truer terminology, then nobody would have understood it except the wise, understanding reader and most of mankind would have been left without religion and without Torah (guidance) due to their limited intellect and weak understanding in spiritual matters. But the word which may be understood in a material sense will not damage the understanding person because he recognizes its real meaning, and it is at the same time beneficial to the simple person so that it will fix in his heart and mind that there is a Creator which it is his duty to serve.
This is similar to a man who came to visit a friend who was of the wealthy class. His wealthy host felt a duty to provide his friend with a meal and also food for the animals which he brought with him. The wealthy man sent to him an abundant quantity of barley for his animals and a small quantity of food fitting for him but only enough for his need.
So too, the scriptures and the books of the pious abundantly employed material analogies when referring to the attributes of the Creator according to the understanding of the masses and according to the common language which the masses converse. Therefore, when referring to this, our Rabbis said "the Torah speaks like the common language of men" (Bava Metzia 31b). And the scriptures gave few hints of spiritual matters which are intelligible only to the (few) wise and understanding men.
In this way, even though all people have different views of G-d's glorious essence, nevertheless, all people are equal with regard to knowing the existence of the Creator.
Likewise we will say for all subtle matters found in the Torah such as the reward in the next world or its punishment.
And likewise we will say for the clarification of the inner wisdom (the duties of the heart) which was our intention to clarify in this book. The Torah was very brief in expounding their matters, relying on the intelligent men. The Torah only hinted at it to arouse one on it, such as mentioned in the Introduction of this book, so that anyone who is able to enquire and investigate them will be aroused to do so until he has understood and mastered them as written: "those who seek G-d will understand all things" (Mishlei 28:5).
The prophet (Moshe Rabeinu) has already warned us against thinking that G-d has a form or likeness as written "Take therefore good heed unto yourselves; for you saw no manner of form on the day that the L-ord spoke unto you in Horeb (Sinai) out of the midst of the fire" (Deut. 4:15), and "And the L-ord spoke unto you out of the midst of the fire: you heard the voice of the words, but saw no form; only you heard a voice" (ibid 4:12). When saying "take good heed", he warned us in our minds and thoughts to not represent the Creator under any form (tavnis) or to conceive Him under the likeness (demus) of anything or any comparison (dimyon) since your eyes never perceived any form or likeness when He spoke to you.
And it is written "To whom will you liken to G-d? What likeness will you compare to Him?" (Isaiah 40:18), and "to Whom will you liken Me that I will be equal to, says the Holy One" (ibid 40:25)
And it is written: "For who in the heaven can be compared unto the L-ord?" (Ps. 89:7), and "Among the mighty ones there is none like You, O L-ord" (Ps. 86:8), and many more like this.
Since it is impossible to form a representation of Him with the intellect or picture Him with the imagination, we find that Scripture ascribes most of its praises to the "Name" of G-d, as written: "And they shall bless Your glorious Name" (Nehemiah 9:5), and "that you may fear this glorious and revered Name" (Deut. 28:58), and "Let them praise Your Name, great and revered" (Ps. 99:3), and "of My Name he was afraid" (Malachi 2:5), and "But unto you that fear My Name shall the sun of righteousness arise with healing in its wings" (Malachi 3:20), and "Sing unto G-d, sing praises to His Name, extol Him that rides upon the skies, whose Name is the L-ord" (Ps. 68:5).
All this is in order to honor and exalt His glorious essence because, besides clarifying that He exists, it is impossible for us to clarify in our minds anything about His Being except for His great Name.
But as for His glorious essence and His true nature - there is no picture or likeness that we can grasp in our minds. Therefore, His Name is frequently changed in the Torah and likewise in the books of the prophets.
Because we cannot understand anything about Him except for His Name and that He exists. His glorious Name is also associated with heaven and earth and the Spirits, as Abraham said: "And I will make you swear by the L-ord, the G-d of heaven and the G-d of the earth" (Gen. 24:3), and Yonah said: "I fear the L-ord, the G-d of heaven" (1:9), and Moshe said: "the G-d of the spirit of all flesh" (Numbers 27:16). And the verse proclaims: "Behold, I am the L-ord, the G-d of all flesh" (Yirmiya 32:27).
The reason for this is that He is known to us in the way possible through the traditions of our forefathers from whom we have inherited the knowledge of His ways, as written "For I have known him (Abraham), to the end that he may command his children and his household after him, that they may keep the way of the L-ord, to do righteousness and justice" (Gen. 18:19).
Perhaps, G-d revealed Himself to them because they were the only ones in their generation who took on to serve Him since the people of their generation worshipped other "gods" (idols, sun, moon, money, etc.)
Similarly we will explain for His being called (in scripture) "the G-d of the Hebrews" (Ex. 3:18), "the G-d of Yisrael" (Gen. 33:20), as the verse says "not like these is the portion of Yaakov for He is the Creator of all" (Yirmiya 10:16).
And David said: "O L-ord, the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup" (Ps. 16:5). And if we were able to grasp His true nature, He would not be known to us through other things.
Since it is not possible for our intellects to grasp His true nature, when referring to His glorious essence the scripture describes Him as the G-d of the choicest of His creations, rational or otherwise. Therefore, when Moshe Rabeinu asked G-d "when the Israelites ask me what is His name, what should I answer them?", G-d answered him: "so shall you say to the descendants of Israel: 'Ehe-ye' sent me to you'". And since G-d knew that the Israelites would not understand the true nature of this name (Ehe-ye), He added an explanation and said: "thus should you say to the Israelites: "The L-ord, the G-d of your forefathers, the G-d of Abraham, the G-d of Isaac, and the G-d of Jacob sent me to you, this... (Ex. 3:15)".
G-d's intent (to Moshe) in this was that if the people did not understand these words and their implications through intellectual reason, then tell them that I am known by them through the tradition they received from their ancestors. The Creator did not establish any other way to know Him except through these two ways, namely, (1) that which intellectual reason testifies through the evidence of His deeds which are visible in His creations, (2) and that of ancestral tradition, as scripture says: "Which wise men have told from their fathers, and have not hid it" (Iyov 15:18).
And since our perception of all existing things is through one of three ways:
1. Physical perception, such as through sight, hearing, taste, smell, or touch.
2. Through our reason, by which the existence of something is demonstrated from its indications and effects, until the reality of its existence and nature are established to us as if we perceived it with our physical senses.
This is called in the book of proverbs "understanding and intellectual discipline" (Mishlei 1:2-3).
3. True reports and reliable tradition.
Since it is not possible for us to perceive the Creator through our senses, we can only know Him through true reports or from proofs on Him based on the evidence of His deeds.
And since the proofs drawn from the evidence of His deeds in the creations are established and greatly numerous, therefore the attributes ascribed to Him because of them are also numerous.
The saints and the prophets described His attributes in different ways. Moshe Rabeinu said "The Rock, His work is perfect, for all His ways are justice" (Deut. 32:4), and he also said: "He is G-d of gods, and L-ord of lords, the great G-d, the mighty, and the awesome" (Deut. 10:17), and also "He exacts justice for the fatherless and the widow" (Deut. 10:18). And G-d Himself described His own attributes as written: "And the L-ord passed by before him, and proclaimed: 'The L-ord, the L-ord, G-d, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy unto the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, etc.'" (Ex. 34:6).
(That G-d possesses) these attributes we see from the evidence of His deeds towards His creations and also from the wisdom and power which His deeds reflect. And if we investigate this matter with our intellect and understanding, we will fail to grasp the smallest of the smallest of part of His attributes, as David said: "Many, O L-ord my G-d, are Your wonderful works which You have done, and Your thoughts which are toward us..." (Ps. 40:6), and "Who can utter the mighty acts of the L-ord? who can show forth all his praise?" (Ps. 106:2), and "And blessed be Your glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise" (Nehemiah 9:5). And the Sages said in the Talmud (Berachos 33b):
A certain person led the prayer service before Rabbi Chanina and said: "the great, the mighty, the awesome, the powerful, the glorious, the potent, the feared, the strong, the powerful, the certain, and the esteemed G-d!". R' Chanina waited until he finished. When he finished, R' Chanina said to him: "did you complete all the praises of your Master? What need is there for all of this? even us, these three praises that we say (in the daily prayers), if not for the fact that Moshe Rabeinu said it in the Torah (Deut. 10:17), and the men of the great assembly came and established it in prayer, we wouldn't be able to say them! And you say all these praises and continue? It is analogous to a king of flesh and blood who had thousands upon thousands of golden coins, and they would praise him for possessing silver coins, isn't this a disgrace to him"?
And "to You silence is praise" (Ps. 65:2), to which our teachers said: "the best potion is silence, the more you praise a flawless pearl, the more you depreciate it" (Megila 18a).
Therefore, you should exert your mind until you know the Creator through the evidences of His works and not strive to know Him in His glorious essence. For He is exceedingly close to you from the side of His deeds but infinitely remote in any representation of His essence or comparison with it. As already stated, we will never be able to find Him in this way. When you arrive at the stage where you abandon (trying to find Him) through your thoughts and senses because He cannot be grasped in this way, and you instead find Him in the evidence of His deeds, as though He were inseparable from you - this is the pinnacle of knowledge of Him which the prophet exhorts us on in saying "Know therefore this day, and consider it in your heart, that the L-ord He is G-d in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath: there is none else" (Deut. 4:39).
One of the Sages said: "the more one increases knowledge of the Creator, the more one is awe-struck with regard to His nature".
Others said: "the truly wise person in the knowledge of G-d realizes his ignorance regarding His glorious essence while the ignorant person thinks that he understands G-d's glorious essence.".
One of the Sages was asked on the Creator: "what is He?". He answered: "One G-d". The asker then asked: "What is He like?". He answered "A great King". He then asked: "Where is He?" He answered: "in the mind".
The asker: "I did not ask you on this"
The sage answered: "You asked me on attributes which apply to created things, not to the Creator. And the attributes which can be ascribed to the Creator, I replied to you, the reason we ascribe them to Him is) because otherwise it would be impossible for us to know Him.
It is said of one of the Sages who would say in his prayer: "My G-d, where can I find You, yet where can I not find You. You are hidden and invisible yet everything is filled with You, similar to the verse "Do I not fill heaven and earth says the L-ord" (Yirmiya 23:24).
The pinnacle of knowing Him is to reach the stage where you admit and believe that you are completely ignorant of the truth of His glorious essence.
If you form in your mind a picture or representation of the Creator, strive to investigate His Being.
Then you will clarify His existence.
And you will reject any type of likeness of Him, until you will find Him only through the way of reasoning.
The analogy of this: we realize the truth of existence of the soul without perceiving of it any form or likeness, or appearance or smell, even though its effects are visible and its acts are recognizable in us.
Likewise the intellect whose effects and signs are evident and noticeable, yet the intellect has no form or likeness, nor can we compare it in our thoughts.
And all the more so - the Creator of everything, which there is none like Him. And a philosopher said: "if our efforts to fully know the soul are vain, all the more so for the matter of the Creator".
Since we have reached until here in our discussion, it is not necessary to proceed further.
The reason being, that it is our duty to be in fear and awe, and to guard from it, as some of the Sages said: "that which is beyond you, do not expound, that which is hidden from you, do not investigate. That which is permitted to you - contemplate. Do not have any business with hidden things" (Ben Sira in Megila 13a).
And our Sages said: "whoever is not concerned for the honor of his Creator it is better for him had he not been created" (Chagiga 11b). And they expounded on the verse "Shall it be told him that I speak? if a man speaks, surely he shall be swallowed up" (Iyov 37:20) - Whoever comes to speak the might of G-d will be destroyed (Talmud Yerushalmi Berachos 9a). And the verse says: "And he struck the men of Beth Shemesh, because they had looked into the ark of the L-ord" (Shmuel 6:19) (who stared at it with coarse hearts, without due awe- PL), and "It is the glory of G-d to conceal a thing" (Mishlei 25:2), which means to conceal His secret from men who are not wise, and "the secret of G-d is with them that fear Him" (Ps. 25:14).
Furthermore regarding the physical senses we mentioned and the mental faculties, namely, memory, thought, imagination, counsel/will, recognition, which all refer to one power, namely, the mind which gives them the ability to apprehend things.
THE PHYSICAL SENSES
Each one of the (physical) senses has a distinct ability to perceive certain types of sensations which the other senses lack. For example, form and color can only be perceived by the sense of sight. Voices and music can only be perceived by the sense of hearing. Scent and various odors - only by the sense of smell. Various tastable things - only by the sense of taste. Hot and cold and many matters of quality - by the sense of touch.
Each sense has a power to perceive its relevant sensation to a definite extent, beyond which it is incapable of perceiving further. For example, sight has the ability to perceive something close by, and the further away one goes, the weaker its ability to apprehend it, until eventually it ceases to apprehend it completely. Likewise for the sense of hearing, and also for the other senses.
And it is impossible to grasp a sensation without the appropriate sense designated for it. One who strives to grasp it with a different sense will fail to accomplish his desire. For example, one who strives to grasp a melody with the sense of sight or visible things with the sense of smell or taste with the sense of touch - he will not be able to find them or grasp them, despite that they exist, because one is trying to perceive them without the limbs designated for perceiving these sensations.
Likewise we will say for the mental faculties we mentioned. Each one of them has a distinct power to perceive a specific thing which the others cannot, and a limit to which it can grasp no further, as we mentioned for the physical senses.
Likewise we will say for the mind (in total) which grasps intellectual things by itself or through proofs. For things that are close to it, it will grasp its truth directly through itself, while for things which are remote and hidden, it will grasp it through building proofs which point to it.
And since the Creator is infinitely remote and hidden for us from the side of His glorious essence, the intellect can grasp only that He exists.
And if it strives to grasp His glorious essence or to imagine Him - even His existence will be hidden to it, because it strove to grasp something beyond its ability, as we mentioned for trying to grasp a sensation with the wrong sense.
Therefore, we must seek the existence of G-d through the evidence of His deeds in the creations - and these will be proofs on Him for us. And when His existence is established for us in this way, we must then cease and not seek to liken Him in our thoughts or to try to represent or figure Him in our imagination, or attempt to apprehend His glorious essence. For, if we do this, thinking we will understand Him more closely - even the realization of His existence will disappear from us, because anything we imagine in our minds will be other than Him. And scripture says: "Have you found honey? eat only as much as is sufficient for you, lest you be filled with it, and vomit it" (Mishlei 25:16).
I saw fitting to try to bring the matter close to you using two illustrations.
The First of the two will demonstrate that each physical sense perceives its class of sensations and then it reaches its limit whereby the next physical sense picks up where it left off. And afterwards, it will also reach its limit and the next sense will start, and so on for all the senses. When they all reach their limit of perception, the intellect will then start to perceive what is in its power to apprehend. This will be demonstrated by means of one object.
Imagine that a stone was thrown far away. It makes a whistling/crashing noise and strikes a man. The man perceived with his sense of sight the appearance of the stone and its form. Then he perceives with his sense of hearing the whistling/crashing noise, then he perceives with his sense of touch the coldness and hardness of it. Afterwards, the physical senses cease to apprehend any more of the stone. Then the intellect perceives that the stone must have had a thrower who threw it, since it is clear to it that the stone did not move from its place by itself.
That which is normally perceived through the physical senses cannot be apprehended by the intellect without the physical senses. And all the more so, that which is normally perceived by the intellect cannot be perceived by the physical senses.
The second illustration will demonstrate that for spiritual matters, once we are convinced of their existence, it is not proper to investigate their nature because this approach only ruins our intellect. This is like one who tries to understand the sun from observing its light, radiance, shine, and its power to dissipate darkness. If he accepts its existence, he will benefit from it, use its light, and attain all that he seeks from it. But one who strives to study its roundness and focuses his eyes to stare at it - his eyes will dim and (eventually) their sight will be lost and he will not benefit from the sun..
The same thing will happen to us. If we study the existence of the Creator from the evidence of His signs in the creations, the wisdom manifested in them, His power shown in all His creations - we will think and we will understand His nature. Then our minds will be illuminated with knowledge of Him and we will attain all that is possible for us to attain, as written "I am the L-ord your G-d who teaches you for your benefit, who leads you by the way that you should go" (Isaiah 48:17).
But if we exert our minds to understand the matter of His glorious essence, and to try to liken or represent Him in our minds - we will ruin/diminish our intellect and understanding, and we will not grasp even what was known to us, as would happen to our eyes if we stared at the sun. We must be careful in this matter, and remember it when we investigate on the matter of the existence of G-d.
Likewise, we must be careful regarding His attributes, whether those which describe His glorious essence or those the prophets ascribe to Him - not to take them literally or according to what would seem in a physical sense.
Rather, we must know clearly that they are in a metaphorical and incidental sense according to what we are capable of grasping with our powers of recognition, understanding, and intellect, due to our crucial need to know Him and His loftiness. But He is infinitely greater and loftier above all of this, and like the verse says "Blessed be Your glorious Name, that is exalted above all blessing and praise" (Nehemiah 9:5).
One of the philosophers said: "He whose mind is too weak to understand the matter of divesting, he holds fast to the terms in the Divinely given scriptures, and does not realize that the terms in scripture are adapted to the intelligence of those to whom they were addressed, not according to (the intelligence) of the One who addressed them. Rather they are like the whistling call to a herd of cattle at the time of water drinking, which brings them to drink far more effectively than clear and accurate words."
When you master this level of the Unity in your intellect and understanding, devote your soul to the Creator, strive to grasp His existence from (observing) His wisdom, His power, His grace, His mercy, and His abundant providence over His creations. Become pleasing to Him by doing His will. Then you will be among the seekers of G-d (and it is written: "those who seek G-d will understand all" (Mishlei 28:5) - ML), and then you will receive from Him the help and strength to understand Him, and to know His true nature, as David said: "The secret of the L-ord is with them that fear Him; and He will show them His covenant" (Ps. 25:14). I will clarify for you some illustrations in the second gate of this book. When you practice them, and go in their path, the matter will be easier for you with G-d's help.
The things detrimental to the (wholehearted acceptance of G-d's) unity are numerous. Among them, to association of other beings with the Creator. This occurs in several ways.
Among them, believing in multiple gods, worshipping forms, the sun, moon, constellations, fire, plants, animals. Among them, ascribing physicality to the Creator, while understanding the true intent of scripture.
Among them, hidden association, namely trying to find favor with other people with regard to religious matters. This occurs in several ways. I will clarify them in the fifth gate of this book, with G-d's help.
Among them, turning (excessively) to the physical pleasures. This is subtle association - that a man associates the service of his lusts with the service of the Creator. And the verse says: "There shall not be in you a strange god", to which our Rabbis expound: "what is the 'strange god' which is in the body of a man? - This is the evil inclination" (Talmud Shabbos 105b).
Perhaps the simple and foolish person, when he reads this book and considers what we wrote in this gate will say to himself: "will the matter of unity of G-d be unknown to anyone who reads even one page of the Torah whereby this author needs to stir us and instruct us it?"
I will answer this as the wise man answered: "Answer a fool according to his folly" (Mishlei 26:5). For one who asks this is too weak of understanding to grasp the extent of a universal topic which is addressed to different classes of people. Such a universal topic is grasped differently depending on whether the person understood much of it or little of it, and whether he is of strong intellect or of weak intellect.
The analogy to this - the benefit of the light of the sun which is universal to all men. We find this benefit divides into three classes:
The first class: Those whose eyes are healthy and free from all diseases. They benefit from the sun, use its light, and attain all types of benefit from it.
The second class: The totally blind, whose eyesight is completely lost. The light of the sun does not damage nor benefit them. Their benefit from it is through other people (who guide them).
The third class: People whose eyes are too weak to tolerate the light of the sun, and the sun's light will damage them if they don't avoid it. If they hasten to heal their eyes with medications, potions, and therapeutic diets, and at the same time are careful not to expose their eyes to the light of the sun - it is possible that they will become healthy and they will benefit from the sun which was previously damaging to them. But if they delay healing their eyes, they will quickly lose their eyesight completely and belong to the class of the totally blind.
Similarly, the classes of understanding G-d's unity taught in the Torah divides into three classes. The matter is taught to all rational beings, just like the light of the sun is available to all seeing beings.
The first class: Men of clear intellect and pure understanding.
The second class: Men whose intellect is completely too weak to understand anything of what is written in the Torah.
The third class: Men whose intellect is too weak to grasp what the first class is able to grasp but they have sufficient intelligence to comprehend most of the near and easy matters.
The first class, namely, the men of complete intellect, free from all detriment. When they put to heart to understand what they encountered in the Torah on the matter of the Unity, they will understand it, and its matter will enter their heart through their powerful understanding and pure intellect. They are of those who don't need this book, except to remind them of what has escaped their attention.
The second class do not know G-d's Torah, all the more so the matter of Unity in it. They hear its teaching but do not comprehend its matter. They will have neither benefit nor damage from this book.
The third class who understand the matter of the Unity mentioned in G-d's Torah with some understanding, but they don't have the intellectual power to understand its matter and realize its true meaning. If a teacher instructs them and makes them understand its matter through the way of true proofs and sound intellectual reasoning - its meaning will become clear to them, and its secret will be revealed to them, and they will reach the level of the first class.
But if they shirk from investigating and are lazy in examining in that which will strengthen their understanding and sharpen their intellect - they will sink to the level of the foolish.
To those of this class, this book will be of great and comprehensive benefit, because they are capable of investigating. It will benefit them just like potions benefit those with weak eyesight, who hope to be healed by their application.
Scripture already compared the foolish man - to a blind man, wisdom - to light, and foolishness - to darkness, in saying: "Then I saw that wisdom excels folly, as far as light excels darkness" (Eccles. 2:13), and "The wise man's eyes are in his head; but the fool walks in darkness" (Eccles. 2:14), and "Hear, you deaf; and look, you blind, that you may see" (Isaiah 42:18).
And they compared wisdom and mussar - to a tree of life, as written: "It is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon it" (Mishlei 3:18), and "For they are life unto those that find them" (Mishlei 4:22).
May the Almighty teach us the way to the knowledge Him, direct us to His service, and bestow on us His grace, in His mercy and compassion. Amen.