God: The “Cause” and the “First”
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Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: Maimonides’ 1st Principle is that God exists, and He is the Cause for everything else. His 4th Principle is that God is the “First”, existing before everything else. What is the distinction between these two principles; what does the 4th Principle add?
Aurora: The first principle says that God is the cause of everything else. Now this could be interpreted as regarding just the present. By saying that He is the “First”, existing before everything else. It is made clear that everything was created by Him at any time and that He is eternal.
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: Aurora, I disagree. For if we say that God is the cause of everything in Principle I, then we encompass all times; past present, and Principle 4 remains unnecessary. Think about it and see if you understand my response; if you agree with me, search for another possibility.
Aurora: I understood your response. Now the fact that God existed prior to everything can be figure out from the 1st principle (He is the Cause for everything else), and the fact that God exists after everything can also be figure out from the 1st Principle (And if you could contemplate a case, such that He was not to exist…then all things would cease to exist and there would remain nothing). It seems that Principle IV and all that can be derived from it could be figured out by Principle I. What is that I am missing?
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: Aurora, I believe the answer is this: although from the First Principle we learn that God Caused everything...this does not necessarily mean He came first. An example: a man causes its shadow, but does not precede the shadow. But without the hand, there cannot be any shadow...so the hand “causes” the shadow. But Maimonides wishes to teach that God also came before everything else, not only that He is the cause...and this is a Fundamental of Judaism. Therefore, his Fourth Principle is that God is truly First, in addition to being the cause. If I am not mistaken, Aristotle’s view of the universe was that God was the cause, but that universe existed simultaneously with God, always. The universe to God is like His shadow...both always coexisting. The question: why is this a violation of Torah thought, and reality?
In Genesis, God teaches that He created everything, and there was a time where nothing but He existed. This is a factual answer, but more essentially, if we accept Aristotle, then we diminish the greatness of God, by claiming He could not bring matter into existence from nothingness, which is the Torah’s view. Claiming Aristotle’s view, God did not bring everything into existence from nothingness, and this belittles God. This is why Maimonides classifies this idea of creation ex nihilo (from nothing) as a Torah Fundamental. Without this concept, our view of God is not correct.