Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Where is the king?

Is it it OK to lie if it brings people closer to God? Is heresy allowed if it encourages prayer and repentance?  These are some of the sacrilegious thoughts that dance through my head whenever we reach Ellul, and the corprealist Rabbis start shouting "The king is in the field."

If God is omnipresent, isn't he always in the field? And if the Rabbis are speaking anthropomorphically for the purpose of poetry, aren't the worried a Jew might be mislead? If you hear people you admire say again and again that God wants our prayers or that He comes closer to us during the weeks before Rosh Hashana and you'll start to believe it. Though a Rabbi who says "The king is in the field" may mean it non literally, his listeners won't necessarily take it that way. They might not realize the Rabbi is speaking figuratively and come to embrace forbidden ideas. Shouldn't we be more careful?

You can make the same sort of point about the Torah itself. In fact, one of the Rambam's opponents (forget who; check Shapiro) argues that though it may be wrong  it can't be heresy to say that God has a body. After all, in the Torah God talks about His own hand (which He says he used to cover Moshe's face) among many other anthropomorphic expressions.  If such expressions are heretical God would not have used them. He would not have led the non-philosophers astray. And yet, God did use such expressions. He did plant in our minds the idea that He has a hand and a brain and moods. Why did he do this? If the point of the Torah is to lead us away from errors and into the grandeur of truth, why is it littered with so many land mines?

No comments: