Ledah

The Rambam opens the Mishna Torah, Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah, Halacha Aleph, with the commandment Ledah, to know. This commandment has classically been criticized for its circular reasoning: how can there be a command to believe in God—one only follows commands which they feel flow from proper authority and so, one would only follow a commandment to believe if they already did believe. Possible explanations, or partial explanations, include understanding Ledah not as belief itself but as the articulation and in-depth understanding of and the total mental involvement in beliefs one already pledges allegiance to. We could also say the Mitzva is the knowledge of what proper belief entails, while leaving assent to belief a personal matter.

  • Contrast with Ramchal, Derech Hashem, who opens his sefer by expressing a necessity for each Jew to believe (ye’amean) and know (ye’dah) that there is a God.
  • Notice the source for this Mitzva in Halacha Vav—Anochi Hashem Elokicha. Found in Exodus 20:2, this pasuk is the first of the Ten Commandments.
  • Consider how Ramban, and other commentators, understands this command. Notice who counts it as a Mitzva, and who considers it an “introduction.”
  • Look at Mitzva Aleph in Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvot and compare it to Halacha Aleph. Imagine how important the support from T.B. Makot 24a must have been to the Rambam.

The problem with a command to believe begs an answer and demands a proper understanding, but we can question in what way greater clarity on this issue would be significant in the context of the Mishna Torah. Unlike the Morah Nevuchim, the Mishnah Torah is a book of law. Considering this, it seems likely that, regardless of the confusion the commandment provokes, one who does not believe will be met with the consequences imposed on one who breaks the law. Perhaps this is only true for one who rejects the law, and all-possible understandings of the law, outright, due to the circular reasoning, but not as true for one who is perplexed by the commandment.

2005 NISHMA