Three shocking Maimonides lessons


Maimonides reveals three significant secrets in his Guide of the Perplexed 3:28 that will surprise many people, many of whom will disagree with him. (1) The Torah does not teach everything that people should know, (2) some teachings in the Torah are not true, and (3) Torah laws are practical, not spiritual.[1]

  1. “Scripture only teaches the chief points of those true principles which lead to the true perfection of man” (about God, how the world functions, and how humans should act in the world). People can only learn the truth by studying the sciences. Learning the truth is “only possible when we comprehend the real nature of things, and understand the divine nature displayed therein.”[2] Unfortunately, not all people are capable of learning the truth or living with truths.[3]
  2. Because of human nature, the Torah had to teach untruths which are “indispensable in regulating our social relations, such as the belief that God is angry with those who disobey Him, for it (this untruth) lead us to the fear and dread of disobedience,” restrains people from doing wrong, and aids social harmony. Similarly, the Torah teaches the belief “that God hears the crying of the oppressed and vexed, to deliver them” from oppression, an essential untruth to remove human fears.[4]
  3. Thus, Torah laws are practical, down-to-earth, useful practices designed to aid the development of humans and society: “to impart some truth, to teach some moral (proper behavior), and to remove injustice.”[5]


[1] The quotes are from the translation of M. Friedlander which are in many ways clearer that the translation of Pines.

[2] This lesson is also in Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah, Yesodei Hatorah 2:2.

[3] The mystic Nachmanides agrees with Maimonides that the Torah needs to hide many ideas from people, even the most important ideas. However, Nachmanides is speaking about mystical notions, while Maimonides is talking about rational ideas. For example, the most significant teaching for Nachmanides is that God is involved daily in performing hidden miracles. Nachmanides states in Genesis 17:1, 46:15, Exodus 13:16, and Leviticus 26:11 that this world does not function through the laws of nature. God is constantly and directly involved in every occurrence of humans and matter and frequently interferes, and even controls human thoughts and behavior. He calls these divine manipulations “hidden miracles.” This idea is not in the Torah.

[4] he famous Greek philosopher Plato called these “noble lies.” Nachmanides may agree with this idea. He feels that people need to learn about mysticism and approach God in a mystical manner. Yet, the Torah not only does not teach mysticism or hint about its practice, the Torah is written in a down-to-earth manner.

[5] Nachmanides disagrees. As stated in the prior footnotes, Nachmanides felt that Jews should live a life devoted to mysticism, recognize that God is operating everywhere, and have as their goal cleaving to God.