Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah Rambam

Introduction to Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah

They contain ten mitzvot: six positive commandments and four negative commandments. They are: 1

1. To know2 that there is a God

2. Not to consider the thought that there is another divinity aside from God

3. To unify Him

4. To love Him

5. To fear Him

6. To sanctify His name

7. Not to profane God’s name

8. Not to destroy those things associated with His name

9. To listen to a prophet who speaks in [God’s] name

10. Not to test God.

The explanation of these mitzvot is found in the following chapters.

1The foundation of all foundations and the pillar of wisdom is to know that there is a Primary Being who brought into being all existence. All the beings of the heavens, the earth, and what is between them came into existence only from the truth of His being.

2If one would imagine that He does not exist, no other being could possibly exist.

3If one would imagine that none of the entities aside from Him exist, He alone would continue to exist, and the nullification of their [existence] would not nullify His existence, because all the [other] entities require Him and He, blessed be He, does not require them nor any one of them. Therefore, the truth of His [being] does not resemble the truth of any of their [beings].

4This is implied by the prophet’s statement [Jeremiah 10:10]: “And God, your Lord, is true” – i.e., He alone is true and no other entity possesses the truth that compares to His truth. This is what [is meant by] the Torah‘s statement [Deuteronomy 4:35]: “There is nothing else aside from Him” – i.e., aside from Him, there is no true existence like His.

5This entity is the God of the world and the Lord of the entire earth. He controls the sphere with infinite and unbounded power. This power [continues] without interruption, because the sphere is constantly evolving, and it is impossible for it to revolve without someone causing it to revolve. [That one is] He, blessed be He, who causes it to revolve without a hand or any [other] corporeal dimension.

6The knowledge of this concept is a positive commandment, as [implied by Exodus 20:2]: “I am God, your Lord….”

Anyone who presumes that there is another god transgresses a negative commandment, as [Exodus 20:3] states: “You shall have no other gods before Me” and denies a fundamental principle [of faith] because this is the great principle [of faith] upon which all depends.

7This God is one. He is not two or more, but one, unified in a manner which [surpasses] any unity that is found in the world; i.e., He is not one in the manner of a general category which includes many individual entities, nor one in the way that the body is divided into different portions and dimensions. Rather, He is unified, and there exists no unity similar to His in this world.

If there were many gods, they would have body and form, because like entities are separated from each other only through the circumstances associated with body and form.

Were the Creator to have body and form, He would have limitation and definition because it is impossible for a body not to be limited. And any entity which itself is limited and defined [possesses] only limited and defined power. Since our God, blessed be His name, possesses unlimited power, as evidenced by the continuous revolution of the sphere, we see that His power is not the power of a body. Since He is not a body, the circumstances associated with bodies that produce division and separation are not relevant to Him. Therefore, it is impossible for Him to be anything other than one.

The knowledge of this concept fulfills a positive commandment, as [implied by Deuteronomy 6:4]: “[Hear, Israel,] God is our Lord, God is one.”

8Behold, it is explicitly stated in the Torah and [the works of] the prophets that the Holy One, blessed be He, is not [confined to] a body or physical form, as [Deuteronomy 4:39] states: “Because God, your Lord, is the Lord in the heavens above and the earth below,” and a body cannot exist in two places [simultaneously].

Also, [Deuteronomy 4:15] states: “For you did not see any image,” and [Isaiah 40:25] states: “To whom can you liken Me, with whom I will be equal.” Were He [confined to] a body, He would resemble other bodies.

9If so, what is the meaning of the expressions employed by the Torah: “Below His feet” [Exodus 24:10], “Written by the finger of God” [ibid. 31:18], “God’s hand” [ibid. 9:3], “God’s eyes” [Genesis 38:7], “God’s ears” [Numbers 11:1], and the like?

All these [expressions were used] to relate to human thought processes which know only corporeal imagery, for the Torah speaks in the language of man. They are only descriptive terms, as [apparent from Deuteronomy 32:41]: “I will whet My lightning sword.” Does He have a sword? Does He need a sword to kill? Rather, this is metaphoric imagery. [Similarly,] all [such expressions] are metaphoric imagery.

A proof of this concept: One prophet says that he saw the Holy One, blessed be He, “clothed in snow-white” [Daniel 7:9], and another envisioned Him [coming] “with crimson garments from Batzra” [Isaiah 63:1]. Moses, our teacher, himself envisioned Him at the [Red] Sea as a mighty man, waging war, and, at Mount Sinai, [saw Him] as the leader of a congregation, wrapped [in a tallit].

This shows that He has no image or form. All these are merely expressions of prophetic vision and imagery and the truth of this concept cannot be grasped or comprehended by human thought. This is what the verse [Job 11:7] states: “Can you find the comprehension of God? Can you find the ultimate bounds of the Almighty?”

10[If so,] what did Moses, our teacher, want to comprehend when he requested: “Please show me Your glory” [Exodus 33:18]?

He asked to know the truth of the existence of the Holy One, blessed be He, to the extent that it could be internalized within his mind, as one knows a particular person whose face he saw and whose image has been engraved within one’s heart. Thus, this person’s [identity] is distinguished within one’s mind from [that of] other men. Similarly, Moses, our teacher, asked that the existence of the Holy One, blessed be He, be distinguished in his mind from the existence of other entities to the extent that he would know the truth of His existence as it is [in its own right].

He, blessed be He, replied to him that it is not within the potential of a living man, [a creature of] body and soul, to comprehend this matter in its entirety. [Nevertheless,] He, blessed be He, revealed to [Moses] matters which no other man had known before him – nor would ever know afterward – until he was able to comprehend [enough] from the truth of His existence, for the Holy One, blessed be He, to be distinguished in his mind from other entities, as a person is distinguished from other men when one sees his back and knows the structure of his body and [the manner in which] he is clothed.

This is alluded to by the verse [Exodus 33:23]: “You shall see My back, but you shall not see My face.”

11Since it has been clarified that He does not have a body or corporeal form, it is also clear that none of the functions of the body are appropriate to Him: neither connection nor separation, neither place nor measure, Neither ascent nor descent, neither right nor left, neither front nor back, neither standing nor sitting.

He is not found within time so that He would possess a beginning, an end, or age. He does not change, for there is nothing that can cause Him to change.

[The concept of] death is not applicable to Him, nor is [that of] life within the context of physical life. [The concept of] foolishness is not applicable to Him, nor is [that of] wisdom in terms of human wisdom.

Neither sleep nor waking, neither anger nor laughter, neither joy nor sadness, neither silence nor speech in the human understanding of speech [are appropriate terms with which to describe Him]. Our Sages declared: “Above, there is no sitting or standing, separation or connection.”

12Since this is so, all such [descriptions] and the like which are related in the Torah and the words of the Prophets – all these are metaphors and imagery. [For example,] “He who sits in the heavens shall laugh” [Psalms 2:4], “They angered Me with their emptiness” [Deuteronomy 32:21], and “As God rejoiced” [ibid. 28:63]. With regard to all such statements, our Sages said: “The Torah speaks in the language of man.”

This is [borne out by the rhetorical question (Jeremiah 7:19):] “Are they engaging Me?” Behold, [Malachi 3:6] states: “I, God, have not changed.” Now were He too at times be enraged and at times be happy, He would change. Rather, all these matters are found only with regard to the dark and low bodies, those who dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is dust. In contrast, He, blessed be He, is elevated and exalted above all this.


As he states in his introduction, the Rambam intended the Mishneh Torah to explain all the various mitzvot which we are obligated to perform. Nevertheless, rather than discuss each mitzvah individually, he has grouped several mitzvot together and explains them in the same halachah. In order to clarify which mitzvot are discussed in each of the halachot, he lists them at the very beginning.


1. Note that the Rambam uses the word “to know”, and not “to believe”. The popular translation of Sefer HaMitzvot (the Rambam himself composed the text in Arabic, the Mishneh Torah being the only text he wrote in Hebrew) begins: “The first mitzvah is the commandment… to believe in God.”

Many other Sages have objected to the latter definition of the commandment. For example, in his text Rosh Amanah, Rav Yitzchak Abarbanel mentions two frequently asked questions:

a) How can the first commandment be to believe in God? He is the one who issued the commandments. Without belief in Him, there can be no concept of serving Him by carrying out His will.

b) How can one command belief? Belief is a state of mind and not an action that is dependent on a person’s will.

By stating that the command is “to know” – i.e., to develop one’s knowledge and awareness of God – both of these questions are answered: Though one believes in God, he must work to internalize that belief and make it part of his conscious processes. Furthermore, the intellectual activity necessary for this process of internalization is an act which can be required of a person. See Derech Mitzvosecha, mitzvas HaAmanat Elokut.

[Note also the Hasagot of the Ramban to Sefer HaMitzvot and the response of the Megillat Esther. Also, it is worthy to mention that Rav Kapach and other modern translators of Sefer HaMitzvot also translate the command there as “to know.”‘