A manual of Jewish belief (a guide to real Judaism) for the thinking individual.
Copyright © 1977 by R' Avi Shafran
[Web Page Last Revised: Sunday, June 19, 2005 07:43 PM ]
Chapter 2. His Qualities
Though G~d's existence is subject to the philosopher's arguments and can be rationalized and logically proven, all great Jewish thinkers agree that rationalization must stop right there. When it comes to understanding about G~d – His essence, His "attributes", the way He thinks and acts – human logic falls terribly short. The subject under observation is over observation, being unlike anything human logic was created for.
Both Maimonides and R. Yehudah Halevi, who disagree so radically as to the method through which we are to ascertain G~d's presence agree that G~d's attributes are inconceivable and that when G~d is described in the Bible as "angry", "merciful", or "jealous" etc. the intention is simply that the things which G~d causes to come about, to a human, seem to represent such human feelings. Meaning that if a human were to react in such and such a way we would say that he was angry, merciful, or jealous. In G~d there exists nothing but pure Supreme Intelligence, which acts as such only, unswayed by human characteristics.
The only accepted Jewish thinker who goes any deeper into the subject of G~d's qualities is Gersonides (1288-1344) who in effect says that G~d possesses all of the traits found in man, but in a pure primary form. Man, in contrast, possesses these traits in a secondary form. What he means exactly is clearly quite unclear. Very likely he is just describing Ultimate Intelligence in confusing terms.
This admission of our intellectual impotence covers many aspects of G~d. When confronted with a "how does He" or a "why did He", an "is He capable of" or even certain "will He" 's and "when" 's, we must plead ignorance and not let it affect our faith in G~d's existence and His revelation of His will, with which we will deal later on. Our answer is one of steadfast surety: We most definitely, absolutely, without the slightest shadow of a doubt, cannot know at the present time.
To understand why we cannot understand matters pertaining to G~d's essence, let me illustrate with an example. Picture before you a one-dimensional world, flat and absolutely thin, a line floating about in space. Now on (in?) this world lives a one-dimensional man shaped like a short line (about all one can be shaped like in a one-dimensional world) who lives there with his family and pet point. Now imagine our man trying to comprehend a two-dimensional world, where length and width exist, or even more preposterous (to the 1-D man, at any rate), a 3-D world and the concept of depth. He simply cannot.
He may be an extremely intelligent I-D man, but certain concepts are beyond him, and even if we could describe them to him, he would not ever be able to comprehend them.
Much the same is our relationship to G~d. He is infinite dimensions removed from us and any inkling of comprehension of His real essence is above our mortal minds and our common sense which is just that, common.
The above however should not be misinterpreted as saying that our intelligences are not related to that of our Creator; our mind-souls are precisely the bonds which unite our otherwise physical selves with G~d's Absolute Incorporeal Intelligence. (In chapter 12 we will even deal with the highest level of human attainment, the re-fusing of our souls with their Supreme Source.) The point to be made though is that, as regards understanding anything specific about G~d in our present states, we are blind men confronted with a particularly baffling elephant.
As mentioned, one of the things we cannot understand about G~d is His actions. When an event occurs which evades our understanding, we cannot have complaints against G~d. Likewise, when G~d commands us to do seemingly nonsensical things we must do our tasks willingly and unhesitantly, knowing that an intelligence much greater than ours is behind the order. Everything that G~d commands the Jews in the Bible, from the sprinkling of a red cow ash concoction on certain people, to the order to wipe out the people of Amalek, is part of a great master plan. Though we do not understand it, we can and must accept this plan as true and good, it being G~d's will. This point will come up again in chapter 10.
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