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Thought for the Day: The Ein Sof Can't Be Imperfect

Here's the "sting" we used to run in college.  We'd find someone who claimed to believe in G-d; either they owned a bible or went to catholic high school (we had one in each category when I was in the dorms).  We'd ask him/her, "So... according to you G-d can do anything, right?"  Of course he/she would agree; usally with conviction since they enjoyed the opportunity to demonstrate how faithful they were.  Then we'd ask, "So can G-d make a rock so heavy that He can't move it?"  Yes or no, it was another victory for the atheists.  We'd celebrate with much laughter and have another beer.  (It doesn't take much to get the intelligentsia in the dorms to laugh and drink beer.)

The question itself, of course, is built on a false premise.  Our poor victim was lost once he/she agreed that G-d could to anything.  G-d, in fact, cannot do anything.  Don't be shocked; I'm still wearing my yarmulka and tzitzis.  The correct assertion, as I learned from a shiur by R' Dr. Dovid Gottlieb of Ohr Sameyach is that G-d can do anything that is not a contradiction to His perfection.  That's step one.  The second step in answering the challenge is that the question is not well formed.  Let's go through that in more detail.

Here are some more things that G-d can't do.  He can't be surprised.  He can't learn something new.  Even better.  Suppose you want to play chess with G-d. Since He's G-d, He'll spot you some pieces; He'll keep just His king, you get to keep all your pieces.  G-d can't win that game of chess.  Maybe you'll push back: maybe there is some way he can figure out a way to make things different enough so He can win.  Maybe, but then He's not playing chess anymore.  (I used that as a way to explain how the reform religion is just not Judaism; see here, if you like.)  Bottom line, though... G-d can't do anything.

Now for step two.  Suppose I ask you if G-d can make a square circle.  The answer is: You haven't asked a question.  Yes, it has all the right parts of speech, but it carries no content.  (Politicians use this all the time to talk a long time without conveying information.)  I don't know what a square circle is, so I can't say if G-d can do it or not.  Since I have already "admitted" (actually, "asserted") that there are lots of things G-d can't do, you can't say that the definition doesn't matter; as he could have done when our victim (aka, "mark") fell into the trap of saying G-d can do anything.

The original question, therefore, is something like asking if the guy who programmed Super Mario can create a rock in the game that he, the programmer, can't move.  The answer is that "an object in the game that the programmer can't move" is basically a square circle; there is no such thing.

I know some people think that slowing down, being careful with arguments and assumptions, and sticking to the facts takes all the fun out of these discussions.  I have found that watching the frustration of people who think that way to be a much more satisfying dimension of fun, actually.


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