Thursday, August 10, 2006

Hashem is here, Hashem is there


This post got me so worked up that it motivated me pry the keys to this blog from DovBear's cold dead hands. [DB: Reports of my death are greatly exagerated] In it, DovBear contends that the Rambam would call MoChassid's daughter ("MiniChassid"?) a kofer ("koferet"?) for pointing upwards in response to the qestion "where's Hashem". On this logic, the Rambam may as well throw in the composer of Psalm 91 ("Yoshev B'Seser Elyon"), the composer of Alenu ("u'Moshav Yikaro BaShamyim M'Ma'al, u'Schinas Uzo B'Givoah M'Romim"), every Young Israel gabbai on Shabbos morning ("Avinu Shebashamayim..."). Ok, you get the point. The problem is that the Rambam's position (as expressed by DovBear) creates lots of problems for us Jews. So what's the answer? [DB: The Rambam might indeed toss the composer of aleinu and the YI gabbai under the kefira bus. I can't say for sure, but its certainly not impossible. As for Pslam 91, the problem is explained away in the Moreh (chapter 51 part 5)]

Louis Jacobs, a'h, wrote a wonderful essay called Holy Places which nicely digests the views of different Jewish thinkers on the conflict. First, Saadya Gaon:
As for the assertion of the prophets that God dwells in heaven, that was merely a way of indicating his Greatness and His elevation, since heaven is for us the highest thing we know of. This is borne out by such explanations offered by Scrupture as "For God is in heaven, and thou upon the earth," as well as "Behold heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee." The same applies to statements that God dwells in the Temple, such as "And I will dwell amoing the children of Israel, and "the Lord dwelleth in Zion". The purpose of all this was to confer honour upon the place and upon the people in question. Besides that, it is to be remembered that God had also revealed in that place His specially created light of which we have made mention previously, that was called shekhina and glory."
The Rambam takes a similar approach:
Thus also" The glory of the Lord filled (male) the tabernacle" (Exod. xl. 34): and, in fact, every application of the word to God must be interpreted in this [as the space containing evidence of God's perfection]; and not that He has a body occupying space. If, on the other hand, you prefer to think that in this passage by" the glory of the Lord," a certain light created for the purpose is to be understood, that such light is always termed" glory," and that such light" filled the tabernacle," we have no objection.
And elsewhere:
The same is the case with" The glory of the Lord." The phrase sometimes signifies" the material light," which God caused to rest on a certain place in order to show the distinction of that place, e.g, "And the glory of the Lord (kebod adonay) abode upon Mount Sinai and the cloud covered it" (Exod. xxiv. 16):" And the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle" (ib. xl. 35).
R' Yitzchack Arama (the Akeidas Yitzchak) has an interesting approach. He embraced the clean rationalist doctrines of Saadiah and Rambam but de-emphasizing the importance of absolute theological correctness, recognizing that other values, like being aware of His closeness to the world, are sometimes more important:
He allowed Israel to believe three things that are really impossible for the One who is beyond all these. When He said: "And Moses was not able to enter into the tent of meeting" He surrendered the idea that anthropomorphism must be rejected, asif something tangible were really there. When He said: "because the cloud abode therein" he allowed them to believe that He moves from one place to another. And when He said: "and the glowry of the Lord filled the house of the Lord," He allowed them to believe that He occupied space."
So if you asked MiniChassid how she can suggest that the Infinite One takes up a physical location, I am sure she will answer "I hold like the Akeidas Yitzchack."

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