Yearning for greatness is the prerogative of every Jew, no matter her or his position, communal standing, or wealth. When the yearning (through Torah study) is accompanied by a long-term investment of disciplined effort, it is rewarded with experiences that often spill over into joy.
There are, wrote Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (known as the Rambam, or, to the secular world, as Maimonides), certain things that every Jew has to believe. Just as God expects Jews to keep the commandments, so too are they required to believe thirteen basics. These, the beliefs of Jewish orthodoxy, stand sharply distinct from the teachings inspired by many of the ideological trends that Judaism has witnessed over the past 2 centuries. In fact, these beliefs go some distance to define orthodoxy.
The First Principle
A Jew must believe that the existence of the world or any part of it is impossible without the existence of the single, unique Creator, but that He, the Master of the world, requires nothing for His existence.
The Second Principle
A Jew must believe that there is only one God, and that He is unique and without any divisions. There is nothing in the universe with which this oneness can be compared. This aspect of God's existence is, according to the Rambam, clear from the verse "Shema Yisrael . . ." "Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one" (Deut. 6: 4).
The Third Principle
A Jew must believe that God has no body or any physical aspect, nor is His power the power of a physical body. This basic concept builds on the logic of the previous one: If God were to have a body, it would limit Him to the confines of that body, and therefore He would not be infinite and incomparable in the same way. The many places in where God is described as "stretching out His hand" or some similar physical action are, according to the Rambam, only figures of speech (anthropomorphisms) for sublime actions couched in words that humans can understand.
The Fourth Principle
A Jew must believe that God has always been in existence and always will be: He is eternal. Again, if this were not true, and God was limited (by time), then He would no longer be "infinite."
The Fifth Principle
A Jew must believe that there is no individual or power besides God whom it is fitting to worship or serve. To worship (or attribute independent power to) intermediaries (like angels, other human beings, or stars and planets) is forbidden. Such worship is in the category of idolatry. God created the universe and every single one of its parts; it is to Him that we owe all of our gratitude and subservience.
The Sixth Principle
A Jew must believe that God grants prophecy to people who have previously perfected their personal character and intellect and who follow all the commandments of the Torah. Prophecy does not come to simple, unlearned, and unprepared people.
The Seventh Principle
A Jew must believe that the prophecy of our teacher Moses (through whom the Torah was transmitted) was greater than all other prophecy in four ways: (1) it was not "heard" through any intermediary (i.e., an angel, a cloudy vision), but was direct; (2) it was always given while Moses was wide awake, in complete control of his faculties; (3) Moses was not overcome with shaking and dread as were other prophets, but was calm and alert; and (4) Moses had the ability to summon prophecy at will. Other prophets had to prepare and wait until God chose to appear. The Rambam also writes that Moses was different from any other human being before or since in that he was pure intellect. All of this is vital to belief in the validity of the Orthodox tradition, because it all comes through this one man. If there were any suspicion that he erred, then the entire Torah would come into question.
The Eighth Principle
A Jew must believe that the whole Torah is the true and completely accurate word of God as dictated by God to Moses. There is no difference between the verse "Shema Yisrael . . ." and any one of the (apparently trivial) lists of names and places that lie scattered throughout the Torah. They all come from God and there is great, limitless wisdom to be found in every word. This has implications concerning the oral Torah as well.
The Ninth Principle
A Jew must believe that since the entire Torah comes from God, one may not add to it or take away from it (i.e., add or subtract commandments, such as saying that there is no Sabbath commandment).
The Tenth Principle
A Jew must believe that God is aware of each of our actions.
The Eleventh Principle
A Jew must believe that there is reward and punishment for our actions.
The Twelfth Principle
A Jew must believe that the messiah, the descendant of King David and of King Solomon, will come and could come at any time, and that he will be for us a king greater than any other human king.
The Thirteenth Principle
A Jew must believe that in its proper time, there will be a revival of the dead-for those righteous individuals who deserve it.