By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
We shall continue to discuss the 13 principles of Jewish belief.
Maimonides writes: “The tenth principle is that God knows all that men do, and never turns His eyes away from them. It refutes the opinion of those who say ‘God has abandoned His world’ [God does not see], (Ezekiel 9:9). This principle is taught by the prophet when he says that God is ‘great in counsel, might in insight, whose eyes are open to all the ways of man’, (Jeremiah 32:19). We also find this in the Torah … ‘God saw that the evil of man on earth was very great’ (Genesis 18:20) … (he further cites other sources in the Torah).”
The “Ani Maamin” recital during worship services sums up this principle succinctly: “I believe with perfect faith that God knows all of man’s deeds and thoughts. It is thus written, ‘He has molded every heart together, He understands what each one does’ (Psalms 33:15).”
The “Ani Maamin” brings out an important point in understanding Maimonides: When God knows “all that men do,” it includes not only the actions of man, but even one’s thoughts.
God’s knowledge of man’s deeds and thoughts is the underlying theme of the Torah. The entire system of responsibility, reward and punishment would not be possible if not for God’s knowing all we do. This is the meaning of the Sages statement “all of one’s actions are recorded in a book.”
Let’s go one step further. In the previous principles we learned that God is the source of all life. This does not just mean life in general; it includes the smallest aspect of life. The Talmud says we should praise God for every breath we take; each and every breath needs God’s infusion of His will that that breath should, indeed, take place. We could imagine ourselves as a machine that is “plugged in” to God! His energy is necessary for every facet of our existence. This includes even our thoughts; we could not process our thoughts without God constantly infusing us with the ability to do so. Hence it becomes obvious He knows what those thoughts are that He, Himself is lending support to take place.
The Kabbalists explain that, even while we are sinning, God supplies us with the energy to do so as part of His decree to give us free choice. He even puts up with us “slapping Him in the face” at the very moment He provides us the life force to do so!
This knowledge of our deeds and thoughts is a central theme in the Rosh Hashanah prayers, (Musaf, Blessing of Zichronos). We recite: “You remember the deeds done in the universe and You recall all the creatures fashioned since earliest times. Before You all hidden things are revealed and the multitude of mysteries since the beginning of Creation, for there is not forgetfulness before your Throne of Glory and nothing is hidden from before Your eyes. You remember everything ever done and not a single creature is hidden from You. Everything is revealed and known before You, Hashem, our God, Who keeps watch and sees to the very end of all generations, when You bring about a decreed time of remembrance for every spirit and soul to be recalled, for abundant deeds an a multitude of creatures without limit to be remembered.”
To conclude this discussion of the 10th principle, I’d like to share the story of the holy sage Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan of Radin, better known as the Chofetz Chaim, (d. 1933), when the record player was first invented. A group of people brought a player to the rabbi and they played for him a recorded symphony. The elderly rabbi was first impressed, then burst into tears. He exclaimed, “My kinderlach (children), listen to this! Even though it’s well past the time this orchestra played, it sounds as if they’re playing today! Now we understand what the sages say that when one leaves the world all his actions will be played back to him as if he did them that day!”
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.