Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Acharei Mot

I kind of cheated here, because in Israel we read Acharei Mot last week, but outside of Israel it will be read this coming week, so it is still relevant (and I didn't give a shiur last week because of Yom HaAtzma'ut).

In this shiur I try to understand the position of Rabbi Abahu, who seems to hold that G-d has the ability to manifest in physical form.
He also seems to be excluding Christianity theologically from Jewish belief.
And I expain why I don't think Rambam can have a neat explanation for Rabbi Abahu (as opposed to all the other statements of Chazal and p'sukim which he can explain).

I look forward to your comments.

Here is the audio shiur (and the pdf sheets to download if you want).

Acharei Mot

(Right click and then 'download as')

Acharei Mot

Your feedback is welcome and appreciated. If anyone is interested in sponsoring a shiur (either l'ilui nishmat someone, or just for no reason) please contact me.


  1. I'm only partway in. Some comments, so the thoughts don't get blurry over the weekend...

    R Sedley, you said that ani maamin doesn't track the Rambam's original all that much, and therefore we shouldn't trust it. That depends on what's more authoritative -- the Rambam's version because he's the Rambam, or whatever would fit some fusion of the Ani Maamin and Yigdal versions because those are what the masses accepted?

    In general, the Rambam's philosophy doesn't have much following in these days after the trends in thought that led to the Ari's qabbalah, Kant, Chassidus and the Gra, etc...

    Second, the Rambam himself in his introduction to his code puts authority in the hands of what is accepted by the masses. And we are not only talking philosophy, we're talking about the halachic limits of who is in one of the categories of heretic.

    2- The Yemenite version of Yigdal has a 14th line. Not another foundation, but a summary verse, "אלה שלש עשרה הם עיקרים. יסוד תורת משה ונבואתו:" Makes it easier to put to a melody.

    3- Baisusim vs Tzeduqim: In the Y-mi, Baisusim are called "Beis Isiim", which makes me wonder if they are the Essenes, the Stoic-like movement that Josephus describes as being third largest, but Chazal never mention.

    4- Why would a Tzeduqi or Baisusi Kohein Gadol insist on doing things his way despite the likelihood of dying?

    Perhaps they thought that our KG didn't die because we would do it wrong. That doing it the right way reveals the Divine Presence, and if someone were only worthy enough, they would survive the endevor. We had the higher survival rate because the kohein wasn't as exposed.

    After all, this death wasn't (only) a punishment, it was a consequence of trying to "enjoy the sweetness of the Shechinah". This is something one can do in the afterlife, without a body. So, the KG who tries to do so in life ends up departing his body. "Man cannot see me and live" is a matter of fact, not a threat.

    I'm inclined to believe each KG went in thinking they're going to do things right, experience the full punch of seeing the Divine as much as intended on YK, and live through it. But even if they didn't overestimate themselves... Maybe the joy is so great, that someone who knows they aren't going to survive would trade the rest of their life in exchange.

    And a Kohein Gadol might consider

  2. Wow, it stopped mid-sentence. Length limit?

    Still in the middle, one more thought.

    You skim over "Akatriel". You also oversimplified what I wrote. And I think the two missing points combined might be the Rambam's answer.

    According to the Ramban (among others), nevuah is a message from G-d, and so G-d could use a human as a symbol for Himself, no problem. But then he has to have parashas Vayeira involve real vision, and thus angels walking up to Avraham as people.

    According to the Rambam (and R' Saadia Gaon, and others) nevu'ah is seeing what's going on in metaphysical "space". Therefore, Avraham could prophetically "see" angels that are really there, smiting Sedom and saving Lot even while they aren't physical objects reflecting electromagnetic radiation (physical light). That's the Abarbanel's answer to the Ramban on Vayeira, and fits what RSG and the Rambam say about the "Man" on the throne Mishpatim.

    According to the Rambam, the "Man" in Mishpatim and the Merkavah is the Kavod Nivra, the created being that is the reification of Hashem's Glory.

    I think "Akatriel Kah H' Tzevakos", something to do with G-d's "crowning", would also be identified by the Rambam with the Kavod Nivra, not with G-d.

  3. 6- I discussed this recently somewhere. If it was on this blog, I apologize for the repeat. (I don't know how to search comments to check.)

    I understood the Cogito (Descarte's "I think therefore I am") differently than you did. As I understood it, the Cogito is logically necessary to be true. It says that the person making the preposition "I exist" is either correct in that s/he exists, or there is nowhere there to be wrong.

    7- I think the widespread belief in an invisible non-corporeal G-d is older than R' Avohu's day. Jews and early Xians were often accused by the Romans of atheism, because to their mind, our notion of Divinity was too abstract to be referring to a real G-d.

    Pliny: "A race distinguished by contempt of all deities."

    Tacitus: "The Jews perceive their god as one, as by the mind alone... Hence no images are erected in their cities nor even their Temples." (The 3rd diberah is seen as a theological statement that there is no image one could make, not just that it would be chutzapah to make one.)

    So, already back during the fall of the 2nd Temple, the Maimonidian view of G-d was the default.

    I think we need to distinguish between "G-d has a body or form", which we and even the Xians rejected, and "G-d could take on a bodily form as and when He sees fit".

    Much like the difference between pantheism and panentheism. Saying the universe is G-d is heretical, saying the universe is of G-d, we have grown to accept as pretty normative.

    8- Given that the gemara praises R' Avohu's portion in the world to come, I think we can only be left with two possibilities about how the Rambam understood his claim about the Old Man (given the Rambam knew and accepted both pieces of gemara):

    a- R' Avohu isn't talking about G-d. (As per my earlier suggestions, or the like.)

    b- The halachic obligation is to understand G-d as accurately as possible -- which is a moving target. Until Jewish Philosophy progressed to the point that most people could wrap their brains around the idea of the G-d of negative theology, no one was condemned for falling short of the requirements the same halakhah requires of us, who can.

    As per my previous thought (#7): I'm not sure that was true in R' Avohu's day anyway. And while I am sure the Rambam considers the idea false, I'm not sure the Rambam would consider "G-d could choose to assume a body" violation of faith.