Introduction to Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah
They contain ten mitzvot: six positive commandments and four negative commandments. They are: 1
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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?”
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.”
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.”
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.”‘