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Kingdom of Priests

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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