Guide for the Perplexed, by Moses Maimonides, Friedländer tr. , at sacred-texts.com
THE reason of all precepts of the first class, viz., of the principles enumerated by us in the Hilkot yesode ha-torah, is obvious. Consider them one by one, and you will find that the lesson which every one of them contains is correct and demonstrable. It is also evident that the precepts which exhort and command us to learn and to teach are useful; for without wisdom there cannot be any good act or any true knowledge. The law which prescribes to honour the teachers of the Law is likewise useful; for if they were not considered by the people as great and honourable men, they would not be followed as guides in their principles and actions. The Law demands also that we be humble and modest [in their presence]. "Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head" (Lev. xix. 32). This class includes also the commandment to swear by the name of God and the prohibition of swearing falsely or in vain. The reason for all these precepts is evident; they aim at the glorification of God: they prescribe acts which lead to the belief in God's greatness. Likewise the commandment to cry to God in time of trouble, "to blow an alarm with the trumpets" (Num. x. 9), belongs to this class. We are told to offer up prayers to God, in order to establish firmly the true principle that God takes notice of our ways, that He can make them successful if we worship Him, or disastrous if we disobey Him, that [success and failure] are not the result of chance or accident. In this sense we must understand the passage, "If ye walk with me by chance" (beḳeri, Lev. xxvi. 21); i.e., if I bring troubles upon you for punishment, and you consider
them as mere accidents, I will again send you some of these accidents as you call them, but of a more serious and troublesome character. This is expressed in the words: "If ye walk with me by chance: then I will walk with you also in the fury of chance" (ibid. vers. 27, 28). For the belief of the people that their troubles are mere accidents causes them to continue in their evil principles and their wrong actions, and prevents them from abandoning their evil ways. Comp. "Thou hast stricken them, but they have not grieved" (Jer. v. 3). For this reason God commanded us to pray to Him, to entreat Him, and to cry before Him in time of trouble. It is clear that repentance is likewise included in this class; that is to say, it is one of those principles which are an indispensable element in the creed of the followers of the Law. For it is impossible for man to be entirely free from error and sin; he either does not know the opinion which he has to choose, or he adopts a principle, not for its own merits, but in order to gratify his desire or passion. If we were convinced that we could never make our crooked ways straight, we should for ever continue in our errors, and perhaps add other sins to them since we did not see that any remedy was left to us. But the belief in the effect of repentance causes us to improve, to return to the best of the ways, and to become more perfect than we were before we sinned. For this reason many things are prescribed for the promotion of this very useful principle: e.g., confessions and sacrifices for sins committed unknowingly, and in some cases even for sins committed intentionally, and fasts, and that which is common to all cases of repentance from sin, the resolve to discontinue sinning. For that is the aim of this principle. Of all these precepts the use is obvious.