Maimonides: The Knower, the Known, and the Knowledge ‎

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			Maimonides was a mystic. Anyone who knows anything about Maimonides knows that he ‎was anything but a mystic. He spent his remarkably deep and complex intellectual career ‎attempting to demonstrate that the true explanation of the world, both the natural and the ‎spiritual, was rational. If a survey was taken on who is the best representative of the rational ‎side of Judaism there is no doubt that Maimonides would be on the top of almost ‎everybody’s list. His approach to Jewish law, his approach to the human mind, and his ‎approach to God and angels, was as rational as could be. ‎
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So how was he a mystic? The amazing thing about mysticism is how rational it can be. The ‎amazing thing about rational philosophy is how mystical it can be. Systems of mystical ‎thought are built up with the same intellectual care as any philosophical structure. Systems of ‎religious philosophy all reach a point that defies logic and which must be accepted as a ‎fundamental truth even though it cannot be proven. It is only at the very deepest point, when ‎all logic fails and something must be accepted as a given even though it may make no rational ‎sense, that mysticism enters the picture. ‎
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Maimonides’ religious philosophy has such a point. It happens towards the beginning of his ‎major work of Halacha called Mishna Torah. In the middle of all the philosophy is a line that ‎makes one suspect it was slipped in by some editor with mystical leanings. ‘The Holy One, ‎blessed be He, recognizes His own truth (his true existence) and knows it as it is. He does not ‎know it with a knowledge that is outside of Him like we know (things). We and our ‎knowledge are not one, but the Creator, blessed be He, and His knowledge and His life are ‎one from every side and every angle and in every manner of oneness. If He lives with life and ‎knows with knowledge that is outside of Himself, there would be multiple Gods – Him, His ‎life, and His knowledge. And this is not so; rather it is one from every side and every angle ‎and every manner of oneness. It comes out that He is the Knower, He is the known, and He is ‎the knowledge itself, all is one. And concerning this matter, there is no way of describing it in ‎words nor is it within the capacity of the mind to understand it fully…’ (Laws of ‎Foundations of the Torah 2:10). ‎
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Analysis ‎
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What is so mystical about all that? It certainly starts off sounding about as dry and as rational ‎as an encyclopedia or a math book. In fact, it is typical of the rational theology of the ‎medieval period in which God was viewed as the absolutely perfect ‘unmoved Mover’ who ‎exists in a dimension that is totally separate from the physical world. It happens that this ‎paragraph focuses on God’s knowledge – a favorite topic of the medieval philosophers. ‎God’s knowledge, we are told is not distinct from God, whatever that might mean. We are ‎given one clue about it though. Divine knowledge works different than human ‎knowledge, which is not ‘one’ with our selves, whatever that might mean. ‎
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So where is the mysticism? It’s in that line towards the end: ‘He is the Knower, and He is the ‎known, and He is the knowledge itself, all is one’. What does it all mean? How could the ‎knower, the known, and the knowledge be the same thing? Doesn’t knowledge, by ‎definition, imply a distinction between the one who knows and the thing being known? The ‎ultimate murkiness of this idea, whatever it might really mean, is only underscored by the ‎statement that ‘there is no way of describing it in words nor is it within the capacity of the ‎mind to understand it fully’. Didn’t he just describe it in words? Didn’t he just introduce the ‎remarkable statement of divine unity with the phrase, ‘It comes out that…’? ‎
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It turns out that we are blessed with a small clue as to how to go about making sense of all ‎this from another section of the same book of the Mishna Torah. In the section dealing with ‎repentance, Maimonides asks the famous philosophical question concerning the apparent ‎contradiction between the complete free will of human beings and the absolutely complete ‎foreknowledge of God. Maimonides himself says that the solution is too deep for human ‎beings to understand, but that there is a solution nevertheless. After leaving us puzzled and a ‎little frustrated by this non-answer to the question, he writes that he has already explained in ‎the second chapter of this book that ‘the Holy One does not know with a knowledge that is ‎outside of Himself like people, whose being and knowledge are two. But God and His ‎knowledge are one and the human mind cannot fathom this matter clearly, just as man cannot ‎fathom the true nature of the Creator, as it says, “For man cannot see Me and live”, so man ‎cannot fathom the mind of the Creator…’ (5:5). ‎
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We are not the same as our knowledge. If we think of something, we sense that the thing we ‎are thinking of is different from us. It is something that is brought into the mind. It is not the ‎mind itself. We sense that in using the mind we are using a tool of sorts, which is also ‎somewhat distinct from the true ‘I’. I think, but I am not the thought, nor am I the thinking. ‎This is not the case with God. God, somehow, overcomes this barrier and is one with His ‎knowledge. If there were some way to grasp this idea we would gain a tremendous insight ‎into the nature of God. ‎
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It turns out that there is such a method. It is the old dream analogy. Imagine that you are ‎dreaming. Imagine that in your dream there are people doing what people do in dreams. Next, ‎try to imagine you, the dreamer, entering into the dream and chatting with the people in the ‎dream. You tell them, among other things, that you are dreaming them up. They are a figment ‎of your imagination. They would not exist if not for your mind conjuring them into existence. ‎
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The people in the dream, needless to say, are puzzled by what you are telling them. They ‎refuse to believe that they exist only in your mind. After all, they claim, you are standing right ‎there speaking with them. Are you also a figment of your own mind? Sweeping aside this ‎fairly strong question (it is only an analogy), you insist that what is true is true, regardless of ‎their inability to grasp it. They are indeed a thought in your mind and they must come ‎to terms with that difficult concept. ‎
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You explain that their existence is also a part of you. You, the thinker or dreamer, are not ‎different from your dream. Your dream is not just a part of you, it is you. Their thoughts are ‎your thoughts, having gone through the filters of the different minds of the different people ‎in the dream. Their free will decisions are your decisions, being chosen by the various people ‎you have dreamt up. You are those choices. As they spring up, they are simply another ‎revelation of you. It comes out, that you are the knower (the dreamer), the known (the ‎dream), and the knowledge itself (the process of dreaming), it is all one (all you and not just ‎something that you do). ‎
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The tough part about all this, the part that Maimonides would say is beyond the ability of the ‎human mind to fathom, is that we sense that what goes on in our minds is not identical with ‎us. We sense that ‘we’ are doing a process called ‘thinking’ or ‘dreaming’ which is something ‎that we do occasionally, as opposed to it being the very self. God has no such problems. God ‎is existence, so God’s knowledge, which exists, is identical with God. ‎
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How can God be one with the ‘known’ – a philosophical term for the created world? How ‎can a free will choice be known in advance by God? That is the big mystery. Maimonides, in ‎making this radical statement, reveals his true colors as a mystic of the deepest kind. Those ‎choices are just God in a revealed form. Their apparent distinction from God is only the ‎veneer of the created world overwhelming the subtle reality of God that permeates all ‎existence. That created world is just God in disguise. God’s thinking it up is no different ‎from the thought itself. They are both God, for God is thought and thought is God. ‎
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To exist is to be a thought in God’s mind. But God’s mind, which is God, is existence. This ‎idea, which reaches to the very pinnacle of human perception, lies at the core of Jewish ‎rational theology. However, it actually lies above that pinnacle. At some point we realize that ‎we have to declare our own existence to be a fact of reality. We are unable to ever fully ‎relinquish that toehold of our own existence. It would be those guys in the dream admitting ‎that they don’t really exist except in the mind of this other guy who is calmly shooting the ‎breeze with them. This is just too much to handle and we have to acknowledge that there are ‎limits to our conceptual abilities. We may be able to formulate some words and dream up ‎some analogies, but we cannot come to terms with our own non-existence. ‎
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In the end, God is the Knower, the known, and the knowledge, while we are part of the ‎known. Perhaps other creations do not have this barrier.  But we do, and this may be the ‎reason why we can never really fully grasp this most amazing image of God. God is the ‎Knower and the known. We are not. True oneness only comes when this final barrier is ‎overcome. ‎
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Perceiving the Image ‎
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So is this another of those ‘impossible to ever get there’ images that Judaism seems to have ‎more than its share of? Perhaps, as with other images that were difficult to perceive, there is a ‎way around this problem. The only hope would appear to be through the use of the dream ‎analogy. Analogies, however, all break down at some point. They have to be translated into ‎the real world. How is one to do that in this situation? There must be some way to imagine ‎one’s self as looking at things from God’s perspective. God is the Dreamer. I am the dreamer. ‎What if I were God dreaming the dream? What would I see? I would see creation unfolding ‎right before me. I would see myself conceiving of it to begin with, then I would feel myself ‎in the act of thinking, and finally I would look upon my thought-creation and know that it ‎was a part of me. I would be attempting, to whatever degree possible, to see things from a ‎God’s-eye-view and not from the vantage point of a creation. This is not an easy task, and it ‎can only be described in a limited manner. The one who wishes to experience the image must ‎make the journey on their own. ‎
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This perception lies at the highest levels of human and religious experience. It is so high that it ‎can no longer bit fit into any category of the mind. It goes well beyond anything rational. It ‎really does not fit snugly into any version of religion. In a sense it even goes beyond ‎mysticism in that it is attempting to experience the reality behind the mystery. But it is there ‎waiting for anyone who is willing to embark on this journey out into the unknown. It is truly ‎venturing into the mind of God. ‎
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Reflections ‎
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It is for individual seekers to venture on these paths, where the only obstacles are the ‎limitations of the human will and the fetters of the human imagination. Who is willing to ‎make this journey? ‎


		


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