Maimonides’ 1st Principle: Without God
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim
Maimonides formulated 13 principles that define Judaism’s fundamentals. One who does not accept even one, thereby forfeits his afterlife. We appreciate the gravity of these ideas, and therefore, sharing them with others bestows immeasurable benefit.
The first principle is that God is the cause of all existences. Maimonides makes 3 points:
God is the cause of the existence of all that is found, in Him is their sustained existence, and from Him are they sustained.
It is clear that all else besides God, at one point in time, did not exist. Therefore, God bringing their existence about is understood. But one might assume that once an entity—let’s say the sun—comes into existence, its “continued” existence emanates from its existence. But Maimonides explains this is not so. Had God only created the sun, it would immediately vanish, if God did not also “sustain” its existence. We are conditioned to believe that existences have their own independent ability to endure, without God’s sustained will. But this is impossible, for as the sun once did not exist, its existence isn’t necessary. The sun has no nature to exist on its own, as it required God’s will to come into existence. Therefore, without God’s “continued” will to sustain the sun, the sun would vanish immediately after it was created. “Creation” only means that from non-existence, the sun came into existence for a bleep in time. It would then vanish, had God not also willed its endurance. This is Maimonides’ second point: “in Him is their sustained existence.”
We then wonder what he adds by his third point: “and from Him are they sustained.” Didn’t he say this with his second point?
This third point touches on what we discussed, but is new. Although God must 1) create everything, and then 2) provide His continued will that it exists past its initial arrival, we also must know that the sun’s enduring quality does not exist “in the sun.” Nothing endures by itself. No existence possesses independent existence. It is an error to think that existences endure simply because we see them day after day, year after year. We are conditioned to believe that the universe “possesses” existence. Maimonides’ third point is that “existence” cannot be imparted to anything. Existence does not inhere “in” anything. Existence is not a property. What is “existence?” It is God’s will. Maimonides explains that if one might think God would not exist, nothing else could exist. That is, nothing has existence independent of God.
Maimonides makes this point clear with his very next words, “And don’t entertain in your heart God’s removal.” There is a deep point here. He presents the reader with an impossible imagination. He says that one cannot entertain God’s removal. To think that God no longer exists, is not a possibility…one would also not exist if God were removed, thereby eliminating the possibility of one “sitting in his chair in his home, assuming God is removed.” Meaning, with God gone, you won’t be, nor will your chair, home or universe be. Once you assume God is removed, Maimonides tells the reader that such an imagined scenario cannot occur: “And don’t entertain in your heart God’s removal.”