21. This and similar subjects afford proper points for research, comprising as they do the character of the divine decrees concerning man, as intimated in the prophetic words: 'He visits the sin of the fathers on the children . . . of his enemies . . . and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love Him and keep His commandments' (Exod. xx. 5 sq.). This means that every iniquity is remembered till the time of punishment comes, as laid down in the Tōrāh and the teachings of the Sages; that some punishments can be warded off by repentance, and some not. It further includes the conditions of repentance, the trials, tribulations, and punishments for past transgressions winch visit man as retaliation in this world, or the next, or for paternal transgressions, and, finally, the good fortune which we enjoy as a reward for former pious actions, or the 'merit of the fathers,' or which are sent to try us. These points of view are complicated by others and deeper ones, and there remains some doubt whether an examination will disclose the majority of causes of the misfortune of the just and the prosperity of the wicked. That which we cannot discover may be confidently left to God's omniscience and justice, and man must admit that he does not know the reasons, although they may
lie on the surface, and still less can be known those which are really hidden. If man's contemplations lead him to the Prime Being and to the necessary attributes, he withdraws from it, because he sees a curtain of light which blinds the eye. We are debarred from perceiving it on account of our defective sight and narrow minds, but not because it is hidden or faulty. To those endowed with prophetic vision it appears too bright and resplendent to require any other proof. The culminating point of our appreciation of His nature is that we are able to distinguish supernatural causes in natural occurrences. This we ascribe to a non-corporeal and divine power, just as Galen, speaking of the forming power, places it above all other forces. In his opinion it did not arise out of certain combinations, but miraculously, by command of God, and we see substances changed, the course of nature altered, and new things produced without craft. This is the difference between the work of Moses and that of the magicians whose secret art was open to discovery, just as Jeremiah says: 'They are vanity, the work of errors' (chap. x. 15). He means to say that when they are closely examined they appear vain as any contemptible thing. The Divine Influence, however, if investigated, appears as pure gold. If we have reached this degree, we say, that there is surely an incorporeal being which guides all corporeal substances, but which our mind is inadequate to examine. We therefore dwell on His works, but refrain from describing His nature. For if we were able to grasp it, this were a defect in Him. We take, however, no heed of the words of philosophers who divide the divine world into various degrees. As soon as we are free from our bodies there is for us only one divine
degree. It is God alone who controls everything corporeal. The reason why philosophers adopted many gods is to be found in their investigations of the movements of the spheres, of which they counted more than forty. They found for every movement a separate cause, from which they concluded that these movements were independent rather than necessary or natural. Each movement, therefore, originated with a soul. Every soul has intellect, and this intellect is an angel severed from material substance. They called these intellects, or angels, or secondary causes and other names. The nethermost degree, nearest to us, is the Active Intelligence, of which they taught that it guided the nether world. The next is the Hylic Intellect, then comes the soul, nature, the natural and animal forces, and the faculties of each [human] organ. All these, however, are subtleties, and pleasant for investigation. He who is deceived by them is in any case a heretic. Leave also alone the argument of the Karaites, taken from David's last will to his son: 'And thou, Solomon, my son, know thou the God of thy father, and serve Him' (1 Chron. xxviii. 9). They conclude from this verse that a complete knowledge of God must precede His worship. As a matter of fact, David reminded his son to imitate his father and ancestors in their belief in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, whose solicitude was with them, and who fulfilled His promises in multiplying their descendants, gave them Palestine, and caused His Shekhinah to dwell among them. It is also written: 'Gods which ye did not know,' but this does not allude to the real truth, but those objects from which neither good nor evil can issue, and deserve neither confidence nor fear.--
22. The Rabbi was then concerned to leave the land of the Khazari and to betake himself to Jerusalem. The king was loth to let him go, and spoke to him in this sense as follows: What can be sought in Palestine nowadays, since the divine reflex is absent from it, whilst, with a pure mind and desire, one can approach God in any place. Why wilt thou run into danger. on land and water and among various peoples?
23. The Rabbi answered: The visible Shekhināh has, indeed, disappeared, because it does not reveal itself except to a prophet or a favoured community, and in a distinguished place. This is what we look for in the passage: 'Let our eyes behold when Thou returnest to Zion.' As regards the invisible and spiritual Shekhināh, it is with every born Israelite of virtuous life, pure heart, and upright mind before the Lord of Israel. Palestine is especially distinguished by the Lord of Israel, and no function can be perfect except there. Many of the Israelitish laws do not concern those who do not live there; heart and soul are only perfectly pure and immaculate in the place which is believed to be specially selected by God. If this is true in a figurative sense, how much more true in reality, as we have shown Thus the longing for it is awakened with disinterested motives, especially for him who wishes to live there, and to atone for past transgressions, since there is no opportunity of bringing the sacrifices ordained by God for intentional and unintentional sins. He is supported by the saying of the Sages: 'Exile atones for sins,' especially if his exile brings him into the place of God's choice. The danger he runs on land and sea does not come under the category of: 'You shall not tempt the Lord' (Deut. vi. 16); but the verse refers to risks
which one takes when travelling with merchandise in the hope of gain. He who incurs even greater danger on account of his ardent desire to obtain forgiveness is free from reproach if he has closed the balance of his life, expressed his gratitude for his past life, and is satisfied to spend the rest of his days in seeking the favour of his Lord. He braves danger, and if he escapes he praises God gratefully. But should he perish through his sins, he has obtained the divine favour, and may be confident that he has atoned for most of his sins by his death. In my opinion this is better than to seek the dangers of war in order to gain fame and spoil by courage and bravery. This kind of danger is even inferior to that of those who march into war for hire.
24. Al Khazari: I thought that thou didst love freedom, but now I see thee finding new religious duties which thou wilt be obliged to fulfil in Palestine, which are, however, in abeyance here.
25. The Rabbi: I only seek freedom from the service of those numerous people whose favour I do not care for, and shall never obtain, though I worked for it all my life. Even if I could obtain it, it would not profit me--I mean serving men and courting their favour. I would rather seek the service of the One whose favour is obtained with the smallest effort, yet it profits in this world and the next. This is the favour of God, His service spells freedom, and humility before Him is true honour.
26. Al Khazari: If thou believest in all that thou gayest, God knows thy mind. The mind is free before God, who knows the hearts and discloses what is hidden.
27. The Rabbi: This is true when action is impossible. Man is free in his endeavours and work. But he deserves blame who does not look for visible reward for
visible work. For this reason it is written: 'Ye shall blow an alarm with the trumpets, and ye shall be remembered before the Lord your God (Num. x. 9) . . . They shall be to you for a memorial (ver. 10) . . . A memorial of blowing of trumpets' (Lev. xxiii. 24). God need not be reminded, but actions must be perfect to claim reward. Likewise must the ideas of the prayers be pronounced in the most perfect way to be considered as prayer and supplication. Now if thou bringest intention and action to perfection thou mayest expect reward. This is popularly expressed by reminding, and 'the Tōrāh speaks in the manner of human beings.' If the action is minus the intention, or the intention minus the action, the expectation [for reward] is lost, except in impossible things. It is, however, rather useful to show the good intention if the deed is impossible, as we express this in our prayer: 'On account of our sins have we been driven out of our land.' This sacred place serves to remind men and to stimulate them to love God, being a reward and promise, as it is written: 'Thou shalt arise and have mercy upon Zion, for the time to favour her, yea, the set time is come. For thy servants take pleasure in her stones and embrace the dust thereof' (Ps. cii. 14 sq.). This means that Jerusalem can only be rebuilt when Israel yearns for it to such an extent that they embrace her stones and dust.
28. Al Khazari: If this be so, it would be a sin to hinder thee. It is, on the contrary, a merit to assist thee. May God grant thee His help, and be thy protector and friend. May He favour thee in His mercy.
Completed is the book with the help of God and His assistance. Praise without end be to the Giver of Help.