Friday, July 15, 2011

The Nature of G-d

I gave a shiur last night. this shiur is l'ilyi nishmat Menya bas Hertzel.

I discuss two approaches in the Rishonim about how a person should come to understand G-d. Kuzari, Rav Sadiah Gaon, Rambam and others hold that the only way to understand G-d is to use rational thought to investigate His nature. Anyone who speaks about G-d,simply based on what he heard from others or based on the words of Tanach and Chazal, without thinking about the nature of G-d is "still outside the palace".

One case where this is expressed is in Rambam's third principle - that G-d has no physical form. If a person believes the simple words of Tanach or Chazal, without using philosophy to clarify, could come to believe that G-d has a body. Such a belief is heretical according to Rambam.

On the other hand, we find Raavad and Ohr Zaruah who argue that this is not a heretical belief. Furthermore, they both claim that there were many greater than Rambam who held this belief, including (according to Ohr Zaruah) some of Chazal. They explain the reason for this mistaken belief is following the simple reading of Tanach and Aggadata.

I then look at Rav Moshe Taku's book 'Kesav Tamim' where he argues that to deny G-d any physicality is heretical. If G-d is unable to appear in physical form, He is not omnipotent. Furthermore, he claims that Rav Saadiah was the first person to use philosophy to reinterpret the words of Tanach and Chazal and this is not the traditional Jewish view. How can we possibly use our limited logic to understand anything about G-d who is beyond logic?

Rashi also seems to say that G-d can appear in physical form if He wants to. This seems to me the correct reading of Rashi in Sanhedrin, and is explicit by Tosefos Rid in a comment he makes about Rashi.

I think the underlying issue is the omnipotence paradox. Can G-d create a rock which is so big that he cannot lift it?

There have been many answers to this type of question over the past 2000 years. But to simplify - some say that G-d is also bound by the laws of logic. Yet this does not limit His omnipotence. Others say that G-d can do absolutely anything, and the fact that it apears to us to be illogical is not a reason to lmiit G-d's omnipotence.

Rambam, Rav Saadiah etc take the first view. Rav Moshe Taku and Rashi take the second.

Today all Jews know that G-d has no body, and it is heretical to think that He does. Why did the Rambam's view become so pervasive that we cannot even contemplate the alternative? I quote from Rav Profiat Duran, who shows that belief in a physcial G-d is one of the essential differences between Judaism and Christianity. Jews don't believe that G-d could appear in physical form!

Here is the shiur

Or if you prefer to download it here is the link:
Nature of G-d (right click and 'save as')

and here are the source sheets to go with it
Download Source Sheets

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1 comment:

  1. I wonder how much we can know about Rashi's philosophy from his peirushim. Rashi goes for "peshat". Admittedly in the case of Tanakh, his notion of peshat is pretty broad. Rashi appears to include aggadita that allows us to answer textual (eg grammatical) anomolies as "peshat". But he does limit himself to whatever his definition of peshat is.

    Similarly in gemara -- Rashi must have known the cross-gemara issues Tosafos raise. (After all, he wrote on those gemaros too.) But he apparently didn't consider addressing those conflicts or apparent contradictions as part of his task to give peshat on the text before us.

    MAYBE (emphasis intentional) Rashi does not include expanding anthropomorphications as part of peshat. It's possible Rashi truly believed these were metaphoric, but didn't consider explaining the metaphor was part of his project.

    I originally had this doubt with respect to Rashi's discussion of the 7 days of creation. If he believed that Genesis chapter 1 from tohu vavohu to Adam took 6 days as we currently experience the concept, he would be a rarity among rishonim. He would also have a conflict with his interpretation of "bayom asos H' E-lokim shamayim va'aretz" (Bereishis 2:4) and either approach given on "bereishis bara" (1:1).

    BTW, I hope my repeated disagreement doesn't fool you -- I'm enjoying the recordings very much.