THERE are persons who find it difficult to give a reason for any
of the commandments, and consider it right to assume that the commandments and prohibitions
have no rational basis whatever. They are led to adopt this theory by a certain
disease in their soul, the existence of which they perceive, but which they are
unable to discuss or to describe. For they imagine that these precepts, if they
were useful in any respect, and were commanded because of their usefulness, would
seem to originate in the thought and reason of some intelligent being. But as things
which are not objects of reason and serve no purpose, they would undoubtedly be
attributed to God, because no thought of man could have produced them. According
to the theory of those weak-minded persons, man is more perfect than his Creator.
For what man says or does has a certain object, whilst the actions of God are different;
He commands us to do what is of no use to us, and forbids us to do what is harmless.
Far be this! On the contrary, the sole object of the Law is to benefit us. Thus
we explained the Scriptural passage, “for our good always, that He might preserve
us alive, as it is this day” (Deut. vi. 24). Again, “which shall hear all those
statutes (hukkim), and say, surely this great nation is a wise and understanding
people” (ibid. iv. 6). He thus says that even every one of these “statutes” convinces
all nations of the wisdom and understanding it includes. But if no reason could
be found for these statutes, if they produced no advantage and removed no evil,
why then should he who believes in them and follows them be wise, reasonable, and
so excellent as to raise the admiration of all nations? But the truth is undoubtedly
as we have said, that every one of the six hundred and thirteen precepts serves
to inculcate some truth, to remove some erroneous opinion, to establish proper relations
in society, to diminish evil, to train in good manners or to warn against bad habits.
All this depends on three things: opinions, morals, and social conduct. We do not
count words, because precepts, whether positive or negative, if they relate to speech,
belong to those precepts which regulate our social conduct, or to those which spread
truth, or to those which teach morals. Thus these three principles suffice for assigning
a reason for every one of the Divine commandments.