Following Maimonides

In the Middle East and across the globe, we have begun to leave the Stone Age and enter into the Age of Wisdom.

Solar power (photo credit: REUTERS)
Solar power
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Humanity’s future depends on the interaction between science and morality. Science empowers human beings, morality restrains them. It is the balance between the two which ensures human progress. Science which develops without a moral spine may destroy the world. On the other hand, morality which prevents science from developing may starve the world.
Only a proper balance between morality and science can ensure the continued existence and progress of humanity as a whole.
At the heart of Jewish faith lies the moral compass, and at the center of its historic compass lies the constant aspiration for true knowledge. This essence was written in stone at Mount Sinai, and became known as the Ten Commandments. These represent the moral certificate and wisdom of the Jewish people.
Even though over 3,000 years have passed, not even a single word of these commandments has been changed, and they have become the inheritance, the solid foundation, of Western civilization, most of which had bowed down to idols, submitted to tyrants, ignored justice and spilled blood.
The revolution at Mount Sinai spurred great anger in the old world, where the flag of morality did not fly at the top of the mast. The Jewish people paid a heavy price for adhering to the moral revolution. This became the great contribution of a small nation, whose spirit was greater than its territory. This contribution infused humanity with wisdom and justice.
The Jewish people demanded the integration of morality and science first and foremost for itself. It paid a heavy price, was exiled from its land and distanced from its Torah. It faced desolation and destruction and a third of its sons and daughters were murdered in the Holocaust. As a people, it withstood a double war of survival to defend its moral compass and to preserve its scientific capacity. In the face of destruction, it also knew how to wreak a great transformation through its preference for spirit over power.
Our people has known great spiritual leaders, and perhaps the greatest of them, who fused these qualities in his personality and in his life’s work, was Maimonides, the Rambam, who was born almost 900 years ago.
Moses ben Maimon (the Rambam) revealed the humanist core of the Torah of Moses.
The Torah opens with the statement that all humans were created in the image of God.
Rambam’s philosophy, as presented in his The Guide for the Perplexed, opens with the statement that the image of God which is in man is his reason. In other words, the godly part of man is his reason. Thus, the more human beings develop their reason, the more they enhance the image of God with which each of us is created. The inevitable conclusion is that the development of science not only does not contradict the Torah, but actually realizes it.
In this way, the image of God within man is the source of scientific progress, and it is also the source of our moral obligation, of our moral call – for if all men are created in the image of God, then no man must be harmed.
As a consequence, the belief that man was created in God’s image is the source of both our moral obligation and our scientific inspiration.
It was Rambam who both revealed and represents this union.
He was a man of Halacha (Jewish religious law), a man of thought; a man of science and a man of medicine. He combined contradictions in his thought and proved through his personality that at their core these are not contradictions but harmonies of contradictions, complementing each other.
Zionism and Judaism are the march toward the Promised Land and the commitment to healing the world, putting it to rights (tikkun olam).
The Jews are both ancient and young. On the one hand, the Jewish people is ancient. On the other hand, the State of Israel is a young state. The Jewish people is 4,000 years old, and the Jewish state only just turned 68. It’s a promising and binding combination at the same time. The Jewish nation bears on its back the accumulated moral wisdom of thousands of years, while in the young country a wind of innovative youthfulness blows strong. The combination of the accumulated wisdom with the lively youthfulness reflects the union between ancient morality and fresh science, the need for a morality-based self-restraint alongside the passion for groundbreaking innovations and paving new roads.
For us, the need for scientific progress is not a luxury. It is a condition of our survival.
The State of Israel has no natural resources.
Very little territory, very little water, and many enemies. We have faced starvation and existential threat. These taught us, from the day of its establishment, that Israel’s most important resource is its human resources, human treasure.
And it is within its people, not within the land. Our luck was in our lack.
And what may look unreal – vision and knowledge, is actually what generates great wealth.
The material assets which seem to be the sources of wealth are not the producers of wealth but its beneficiaries. The fate of the State of Israel has been determined by its scientific advancement, which resides and remains within man, and not necessarily by its physical circumstances, rooted in the ground.
Israel, as an ancient nation, has learned that the secret of human existence is moral commitment.
Rambam, who knew how to merge moral obligations with scientific labor, is not only a model ancient Jew, he is also a model contemporary Zionist and a model ideal for humanity as a whole. He represents all the layers upon which Israel’s renewed essence can and must be built. Rambam knew how to think wisely and heal through knowledge.
He taught his people and the world that “the value to the nation of the wise man is greater than the value of the king.”
He forbade deception, of the gentile as well as of the Jew, and called upon Judaism to be universal and tolerant as one unified whole, to judge each person according to his essence, not his lineage. Rambam, the “Great Eagle,” is the deep voice bursting through from the ancient past that granted us the inspiration to march toward the beginning of human morality.
Amos Oz recently remarked upon the question within the Jewish tradition: Do we belong to our heritage or does our heritage belong to us? If we belong to the past, then virtually we are not open to the future. But if the past belongs to us – we can turn our face not to what was, but toward what could yet be.
The real history of the Jewish people is the history of the future. The past shall be treasured; the future shall be created. As an ancient people we know that wisdom does not grow old, as long as we recognize that the future belongs to us and we belong to the future.
This outlook is the greatest promise for the young generation, in Israel and all around the world. For science has no borders, no limits. It can serve man rather than rule him, allowing him to be a good human being and seek the benefit of others, without posing a threat to man or his conscience.
This cannot be taken for granted. It is a fact that even though when people are pessimistic, history remains optimistic.
Peace cannot fly under its own power. War, on the other hand, has inertia and continues to be familiar, and thus easily remembered.
Peace has to soar each time to new and unfamiliar heights. No wonder, then, that most people prefer to remember, even though memory itself has no power to propel us forward. They fear to dream and create, even though innovation was born from a dream and had to escape from the existing mines in the ground to unfamiliar heights and unpaved paths.
We are witnessing how science is slowly taking the place of politics. Politics seeks to avoid dealing with preconceptions rather than banish them. Science wasn’t created to build old walls and distant paths, but rather to remove barriers and travel in new spaces, new spheres with no obstacles, where man can soar with the wings he himself has created.
The past is frozen. It therefore has no creative power. The future will not exist unless we create it. We therefore must work for it. In the Middle East and across the globe, we have begun to leave the Stone Age and enter into the Age of Wisdom. The more we are able to free ourselves of the past and penetrate into the future, the more we will offer peace and prosperity to our daughters and sons following us; following Maimonides.