Shlomo Ezagui

Maimonides, on the Irrationality of the Mitzvot.

Ojus Jaiswal

Rambam (Maimonides) writes, “Although all of the statutes of the Torah are decrees (beyond rational understanding), as we explained in the conclusion of Hilchot Me’ilah, it is fitting to meditate upon them, and wherever it is possible to provide a reason, one should provide a reason.” The sages of the early generations said that King Solomon understood most of the rationales for all the statutes of the Torah.

It appears that the verse Leviticus 27:10 — “It and the animal to which its holiness will be transferred, shall be consecrated” — shares a similar rationale as the verse ibid. 27:15, “If the one who consecrates it shall redeem his house, he shall add a fifth of the money of the redemption valuation to it.”

The principle behind these laws is that the Torah descended to the bottom of a person’s thoughts and the scope of his evil inclination. Human nature tends toward wanting to increase his property and attach importance to his money. Even though he made a vow or consecrated something, he may reconsider, change his mind, and redeem it for less than it is worth. Hence, the Torah states: “If he redeems it for himself, he must add a fifth.”

Similarly, if he consecrated an animal in such a manner that its physical body becomes consecrated, he might reconsider, and since he cannot redeem it, he might consider exchanging it for a lesser one.

And, if he was given permission to exchange a superior animal for an inferior one, he might exchange an inferior one for a superior one and claim that it was superior. Therefore, the Torah removed that option, forbidding all exchanges, and penalized him that if he made an exchange, “It and the animal to which its holiness will be transferred shall be consecrated.”

These ordinances subjugate one’s evil inclination and improve one’s character. Similarly, most of the Torah’s laws are nothing other than “counsels given from a distance” from “He Who is of great counsel” to improve one’s character and make one’s conduct upright. And so it is written in Proverbs 22:20-21, “Behold, I have written for you in the Torah prominent matters to inform you of the veracity of the words of truth, so that you will respond truthfully to those who seek it out from you” (Temurah, Chapter 4, Hal. 11).

In his introduction to Ethics of our Fathers, Eight Chapters, Maimonides writes, “When it comes to rational commandments, those directives that any human mind can and does appreciate that they are no good, like killing and stealing, a person should always strive to have no attraction to those behaviors, and should always come to the knowledge and feeling of saying ‘I do not find it possible to act that way.'”

Regarding the supra-rational commandments that we observe only because we are commanded to observe them in the Torah — like keeping the dietary laws of eating kosher — the proper mentality and attitude is to say, “Oh, how I wish I could do those (forbidden) things; however I will not, only because my Father in Heaven told me to keep away from them.”

However, according to the law mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, once a person discovers a rationale and purpose for the observance of all commandments, even for the statutes in the Torah, he would be intellectually satisfied and will feel detested by all those things God told us not to do, and will not feel like he wants to do any of those behaviors.

How then will he be able to approach the statutes as Maimonides recommends — feeling as if he would do the transgression, but will not only because God commanded?

In his Guide for the Perplexed, Maimonides explains, “Although there are commandments that make rational sense since God is beyond human intellect commanding us, there are always going to be details in the law that are beyond comprehension. As far as the commandments known as decrees and statutes, the entire foundation and many of the details of the commandment do not lend themselves to logic, even when some of the components can and should be understood.

In both types of commandments, there is the aspect that requires obedience and acceptance of God’s authority, and there is the area where humans can and, therefore, should find a personal, satisfying rationale. “Logical commandments should be observed with the obedience of statutes, and statutes should be observed with the enthusiasm and personal connection of the rational commandments.”

This allows us to enjoy even those statutes that do not make much logical sense and appreciate that even rational commandments are in truth, part of our lives only because they are “counsels given from a distance” from “He Who is of great counsel” to improve one’s character and make one’s conduct upright — they serve to elevate and connect us to a place higher than our finite identities.

Chapter 293

About the Author
Rabbi Shlomo Ezagui is an author and lecturer. "A Spiritual Soul Book" ( & "Maimonides Advice for the 21st Century" ( In 1987, Rabbi Ezagui opened the first Chabad Center in Palm Beach County, Florida, and the first Orthodox Synagogue on the island of Palm Beach, Florida.
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