It is the custom of many congregations to recite poetic form of the Thirteen Articles of Faith, beginning with the words Ani Maamin-“I believe”-every day after the morning prayers in the synagogue. In his commentary on the Mishnah (Sanhedrin, chap. 10), Maimonides refers to these thirteen principles of faith as “the fundamental truths of our religion and its very foundations.”
Maimonides’ intention in composing the thirteen rules was not for the Jew to accept the validity of these thirteen principles and reject the rest. A Jew is obligated to believe in every single word and every letter of the Torah, whether it be the Written or Oral Law, and he who does not believe in even the smallest aspect of the Written Torah is halakhically branded a kofer (heretic). This principle itself is included by Maimonides as part of the fifth principle of faith. He writes, “We are obligated to believe that this entire Torah, which was given to us through our master Moses, of blessed memory, emanates entirely from the Almighty. This means that the Torah, in its entirety, was given to us by God.” Thus, it is clear that he who rejects even a single letter of the Torah is halakhically defined as a kofer, a heretic.
Having said this, however, the question arises as to how the Thirteen Principles differ from all the other rules in the Torah? If one must believe in the entire Torah, what makes these thirteen rules so special, and how do they differ from any other Torah law?
Maimonides explains that the Thirteen Principles form the very foundation on which all of Jewish belief and practices rests. A rejection of any of them is not only a rejection of a single tenet of Judaism, but a rejection of the entire structure of Jewish thought.
For example, the Talmud maintains that there are seven heavens. If one were to reject this statement of the Oral Law as being implausible, he would be considered a heretic, not because of his rejection of the existence of seven heavens, but because he is rejecting the truth of the Torah. By disputing the Torah’s claim as to the number of heavens, one is thereby rejecting the fact that the entire Torah is true. The belief in the truth of the Torah constitutes one of the Thirteen Articles of Faith.
There is not a single statement or utterance of the Torah that is not in turn related to, and. supported by, one of the Thirteen Articles of Faith. These Thirteen Articles form the very constitution and fabric of Judaism. Not to know them is not to know Judaism, and not to believe in them is to reject Judaism.
Because of the overwhelming importance of these Thirteen Principles, it is essential that one understand them fully and deeply. A superficial glance, even a familiarity with all of their details, is insufficient. After Maimonides enumerates the Thirteen Principles, he writes: “One should return to them many, many times and meditate upon them with great insight.”
It is indicative of the far-reaching significance of the concept of the coming of the messianic age and the ingathering of the exiles to realize that the rabbis included this theme in the very first benediction of the Shemoneh Esrei, also known as the Amidah, the central portion of every Jewish prayer service, comprising eighteen benedictions and recited silently while standing-“And He will bring the redeemer to their children’s children, for His Name’s sake, with love.” Six of the nineteen benedictions are devoted exclusively to various aspects of this:
1. “Please regard our affliction…. Blessed art Thou, 0 Lord, Redeemer of Israel” (the seventh benediction).
2. “Sound a great shofar for our freedom” (the tenth benediction).
3. “Restore our judges as at first” (the eleventh benediction).
4. “Return in mercy to Thy city, Jerusalem” (the fourteenth benediction).
5. “Cause the offspring of Thy servant, David, to flourish, speedily” (the fifteenth benediction).
6. “May our eyes behold Thy return in mercy to Zion” (the seventeenth benediction).
The fact that this aspect of the messianic era was a primary factor in the creation process itself is alluded to in the Midrash. On the verse “And the spirit of God hovered over the surface of the waters” (Genesis 1:2), the Midrash remarks enigmatically, “This refers to the spirit of the messianic King, [concerning whom] it is written (Isaiah 11:2), And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him’ ” (Genesis Rabbah 2:5). The Etz Yosef commentary observes, “For in his days shall [the following verse] be fulfilled (Isaiah 11:9)-‘And the world shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord.’ Therefore, even though God foresaw the wickedness of some of the upcoming generations, He did not refrain from creating the world.” Thus, the purpose for the creation of the world was that it ultimately culminate in the epoch of the Messiah. Without the messianic age, there would have been no reason for creation. The epoch of the Messiah is the goal and destination to which we are all headed and toward which all of our efforts must be directed.