Kingdom of Priests

Kingdom of Priests

God’s Body? II

Following up on yesterday’s post, here’s an example of why maybe it’s forgivable that Jews reading the Hebrew Bible and its traditional commentators and elucidations could be forgiven for wondering if God at times in fact takes on at least the appearance of physical form. On the Ten Commandments, Rashi explains the first commandment’s reference to God as He “who took you out of the land of Egypt” (Exodus 20:2) this way:

The taking [you] out [of Egypt] is sufficient reason for you to be subservient to Me. Alternatively, [God mentions the Exodus] since He revealed Himself on the sea [i.e., at the splitting of the Sea of Reeds] as a valiant warrior, and here He revealed Himself as an old man full of mercy, as it is said: “and beneath His feet was like the form of a brick of sapphire” (Exod. 24:10). That [brick] was before Him at the time of the enslavement [to remember the Israelites’ suffering when they made bricks as slaves], “and like the appearance of the heavens” (Exod. 24:10) [i.e., there was joy before Him] when they were redeemed. Since I change in [My] appearances, do not say that they are two [Divine] domains, [but] I am He Who took you out of Egypt and [I am He Who performed the miracles] by the sea.

So not only does God have “appearances” but His appearance changes. If by “appearances” it was only meant that God acted differently at different times, why the need for the first commandment to cement the understanding of His unity nevertheless? It’s not hard to grasp that a Being with no physical manifestation would act in different ways depending on circumstances. In that case, why the need for a separate mitzvah, with all the weight that carries as being one of the Ten Commandments?

Rashi is citing here the Mechilta, a much earlier midrash on Exodus.
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posted August 27, 2009 at 11:04 am

“…here’s an example of why maybe it’s forgivable that **Jews** reading the Hebrew Bible and its traditional commentators and elucidations could be forgiven for wondering if God at times in fact takes on at least the appearance of physical form.”
I thought for sure you’d mention Deuteronomy 4:15. “You saw no form…” Can we forgive these Jews for skipping over that verse?
What would be the purpose of God “taking on” some form temporarily if people can’t even see it?
Also, /which/ Jews are you talking about. Ones who were greater than the Rambam (according to Ravad)?
“Since I change in [My] appearances”
Could it be that the word that’s translated as “appearances” would be better translated as “manifestations”?

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posted August 27, 2009 at 6:27 pm

As was clear from the statement of the Raavad, there are many such Rabbinic statements which could be misunderstood in this manner. Yet, the Raavad and the Rambam would both agree that such an interpretation is wrong, even if – perhaps – forgivable.
In any event, the midrash quoted by Rashi is clearly referring to mystical visions that were experienced by the entire nation. The Talmudic and kabbalistic literature is has many warnings on the dangers of misintepreting mystical visions in a corporeal fashion. The Talmud states that it was such an error that led Elisha ben Avuya (the famous “Acher”) to heresy.

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David Klinghoffer

posted August 27, 2009 at 7:03 pm

I don’t think Rambam would find it forgivable at all! On the contrary, and that was the point of the critical comment. On the other hand, you’ve convinced me that spelling it Raavad somehow looks better and more correct.

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posted August 27, 2009 at 7:24 pm

I guess what you mean is acceptable or tolerable. Almost any sin is forgivable, if the sinner expresses regret and desires forgiveness.
As for the spelling, I’m not sure where I picked that up.

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David Klinghoffer

posted August 27, 2009 at 8:17 pm

LazerA, I mean literally unforgivable — in the absence of teshuva — since it can’t be worked off after death, in Rambam’s view.

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