Reflections on Rambam Yomi – Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah Ch. 1
In Halacha 9 The Rambam quotes a pasuk (Iyov 11:7) in support of the idea that man is inherently unable to apprehend or investigate the true reality of God.
However, looking inside, the Pasuk never says that. Rather the Pasuk quotes Tzofar hanaamati as saying it. Quoting someone does not necessarily indicate agreement (for example, reporting that Pharoah says “Who is God that I should listen to his voice”, does not mean that the Torah supports that idea). In the case of Tzofar, this is the Pasuk which the Rambam in the Moreh Hanevuchim (3:23) views as characteristic of his incorrect view, namely that God acts with arbitrary will, and it is futile to search for any wisdom or justice in His acts.
How can the Rambam use an expression of an incorrect view as support from scripture?
Perhaps these Pesukim exist on two levels, as a statement of the speaker and as a statement of Ruach Hakodesh. The friends in Iyov aren’t absolutely wrong, rather they misapply correct ideas. In this case, Tzofar is using two true premises. 1. God’s essence is incomprehensible. 2. His acts emerge from His essence. Tzofar combines them to arrive at the false conclusion that His acts are incomprehensible.
It is correct that these premises show we cannot understand God’s actions through their cause (since the cause is God’s incomprehensible essence) nor can we use our study of these acts to tell us something about God Himself. But we can still describe the system of the world (i.e. the acts of God) as expressing wisdom and justice. In other words we can say that we perceive wisdom and justice in how the laws governing the universe operate, even though we cannot use that to tell us something about God himself.
One of the challenges of discovering truth based upon authoritative premises, is making sure that we are applying them correctly. A wrong idea built upon a correct foundation is very difficult to identify.
In general we need to keep an eye out to distinguish between the voice of prophecy or Ruach hakodesh in Tanach, from the voice of the speakers quoted in Tanach. And uncover when a phrase carries a dual meaning. (Midrashim which seem distant or even contradictory from pshat are sometimes based on this idea).