What are Axioms?
Axioms are those most fundamental principles that you never talk about. They are the accepted ‘givens’ that people assume from the start, the truth of which become self-evident as a person continues to live with them.
For example, a child may ask his parents “how did the world get here?’ or “Where was I born?”, but under normal circumstances he would never ask “Am I alive?” The reason is because its truth is self-evident to him through his very existence.
Another example of an accepted truism is when a parent asks a child who is holding an object to put it down, the child would never refuse by saying “But if I let go, maybe it will fall up into the sky”. The reality of gravity is accepted axiomatically by all living beings on this Earth. Its truth is apparent in every human being’s daily function in the world.
In regard to the purpose of our lives, it is not very apparent to us why we are here, what’s our purpose?
In order to get the clarity we’re looking for, first we need to begin with an axiom: Something that is a fundamental truism, the truth of which should become self-evident to us as we continue to live with it. The problem in finding that first axiom in regard to the purpose of our lives is that the scope of human experience is so vast that it is virtually impossible for us to discover the absolute starting point “for everything”.
The sum of all human experience includes all the experiences on the face of this earth, as well as those throughout the universe and even beyond that, on to spiritual experiences. The physical universe alone is so vast that we cannot even define its outermost parameters – it seems to us like it has no beginning and no end. So how can we ever determine an objective starting point within an unlimited reality?
Choosing a starting Point
Yet our minds are finite, and so, as human beings, we must have a “starting point” in order to begin to think about anything.
Precisely because it is almost impossible for us to be able to determine the real, absolute starting point for “everything”, often this “starting point” is chosen by people arbitrarily. It is essentially an unproven assumption that one adopts, “just because” we have finite minds and we have to have a starting point. They may then proceed to build an entire cosmology based upon this first assumption when the first assumption itself is only something that they’ve accepted without any proof at all.
For example, the Copernican principle (that the earth is not the center of the universe) is the foundation for all studies regarding the Big Bang theory (which involve even construction of huge particle accelerators costing billions of dollars). Yet the Copernican principle itself has never been proven and is just an assumption that is used implicitly in many theories of modern physics.
Truth be told, it is unwise and irresponsible for anyone to make important, life-long decisions that will affect him and his family, without first having verified for himself whether the axiomatic foundation upon which he is basing a large part of his life is true or is not. Just as we only build our life around such physical axioms that prove themselves through the reality of our lives, so too we should only build our life around such spiritual axioms that can prove themselves through the reality of our lives.
It is challenging to verify the spiritual axioms, as the only way to properly do so is by means of one’s personal experience. Because of this, many of the spiritual axioms that are accepted by the world at large are subjective. Someone chooses an arbitrary starting point just to be able to start “from somewhere”, and then large numbers of people accept this “starting point” without ever having tried at all to verify the axiom’s validity through their own personal experience.
Traditional Jewish belief teaches that there is an objective “starting point” that applies equally to everyone and everything in the world. It is not subjective and was not chosen arbitrarily. It is one that can be verified through each individual’s own experience. Once we begin to live with this axiom, it is one that does prove itself the more a person continues to live with it. What is this absolute “starting point” that we have passed down, and how does it “prove itself” through our individual experience?
The First Basic Axiom: Who is Hashem?
According to traditional Jewish belief, the objective starting point of everything is: “Hashem”. The torah starts off: “In the beginning, Hashem created heaven and earth” (1:1). G-d’s first words to the Jewish people when giving them the torah were: “I am Hashem, your G-d”.
Maimonides, when enumerating the mitzvot, begins with the very first mitzva as being: “Know that there exists a First Cause (i.e. Hashem) and He Brings into existence everything which exists”.
This is the objective “starting point” that we have passed down in traditional Jewish belief. It is what was revealed to us as being the true spiritual starting point for everything. It is something we would have never been able to guess in this world of ours which seems from our perspective to be endless; it is not something that someone “just chose” arbitrarily. It is something that can be clearly verified through one’s personal experience.
Adapted from “It’s All for the Good” by Rabbi Nachum Chaimowitz. Available at http://www.israelbookshoppublications.com/store/pc/It-s-All-for-the-Good-p1150.htm