Why Earth Exists
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim
Maimonides indicates that the 13 Principles are essential for one to receive the afterlife; erring in even one principle forfeits it. Therefore, it is vital that one sets time at present for this study.
But understanding Maimonides’ words is only the first step. Like any teacher, limited words can deliver limited lessons and cannot exhaust all derivations. Like all rabbis wishing the best for us, Maimonides leads us to further discover what might be additionally derived through reasoning, and what other truths each principle demands.
For example, we are to wave the lulav north, south, east and west, and we are also to wave it heavenward and downward. But with those facts alone, we don’t arrive at the ultimate lesson of lulav; with additional thought, we can. All 4 directions relate to man’s activities on earth: man travels upon the earth’s horizontal plane in 4 directions of the X axis. He does not fly upward on the Y axis; up and down refers to what is up, and what is down: the heavens are up, earth is down. We now arrive at the lesson. We give thanks to God for His produce (waving lulav, esrog, etc.) as He is the being that 1) created everything (heavens/earth). And we give thanks to God 2) who governs man’s actions (4 directions). He created all and He knows all: the main themes of the High Holidays—Malchyos (omnipotence) and Zechronos (omniscience). Our benefit of produce is due to God’s 1) creation of that produce, and 2) His government of man by supplying worthy societies with that produce. This reasoning uncovers the underlying message of waving the lulav as we do. Let’s apply this analysis to Principle IV.
Maimonides’ Principle IV is that God preceded all else. We grasp that factually, but what is vital in knowing “God came first” that qualifies it as one of Judaism’s fundamentals? Since we forfeit afterlife through ignorance of these principles, these principles must reflect on the greatest of all areas: knowledge of God. What else can we deduce from God being first?
This teaches that the universe is God’s will, not a mere accident of God’s existence, like a shadow (Aristotle). Knowing God intended the universe means the universe has a great purpose; it has such importance that it deserved God’s will to come into existence. Rashi explains (Avos 2:8) that if the Jews don’t follow Torah, the earth will be destroyed. “The heavens are to God, but the earth God gave to man” (Psalms 115:16). Earth was created for man to learn Torah. The rabbis teach that all in earth is to facilitate man’s study of creation and Torah. Earth was not made for inanimate elements, or even living creatures bereft of intellect. Earth was created with wisdom to offer a species the opportunity to be amazed by God’s wisdom. Thereby we further derive that the Creator is most kind, as He created a species that can perceive His wisdom and derive great joy from that knowledge. This is fundamental in understanding God: He desires man to find the greatest satisfaction, and this is only through using his unique intellect, which no other creature possesses. God’s wisdom is the purpose of earth. We derive how essential it is that we prioritize Torah study in our short lifespans.
This principle that God preceded all else teaches us about God’s kindness to His creatures. Earth isn’t an accident, but forms part of God’s plan that man perceives God. This is a fundamental idea about God’s kindness and not merely a statement about who came first.