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Thought for the Day: HaShem Has No Physicality At All

I got a text from my son-in-law one day asking what I had possibly said to my granddaughter that had her asking about the balloons in her body.  (Note: my kids had no doubt that anything crazy their children said like that could surely be traced to their grandfather.)  I told him that we had been discussing the circulatory system and I had explained lungs to her as a type of balloon.  (Yes; I know the lungs are part of the respiratory system, but she was only five and I didn't want to confuse the issue.)  A few weeks later they sent me a picture of a stick figure my little budding physician had drawn of her (then pregnant) mother; complete with two sets of balloon lungs, one for her and one for the fetus.

I have been listening to a series of shiurim on "Intro to Judaism", by R' Aharon Lopiansky, that (judging from the content) he gave to not-frum-but-definitely-interested-and-receptive college aged boys.  One reason I am listening to them is to learn better how to answer questions.  But I am also listening to them because I didn't grow up frum and I am always looking to fill gaps in my education and mistakes in my outlook.

A critical belief of Torah Judaism, of course, is that the Creator is incorporeal.  It is precisely that central belief, in fact, that is at the core of our deep disagreement with Christianity (much wider and deeper than with Islam) and our general nervousness about any movement within Orthodox Judaism that puts too much emphasis on any spiritual leader (yes, this is a thinly veiled reference to the rebbi, a"h).  Of course, on the heels of any such statement, one must deal with the obvious and frequent anthropomorphic statements in Tanach that refer to the Hand, Arm, Countenance and so forth of HaShem.  How does one, after all, say that HaShem is incorporeal when the Torah HaK'dosha itself, as we quote each day, that HaShem took us out of Egypt with an outstretched arm and strong hand?

There are two basic approaches (which are really two sides of the same coin).  The Rambam says that since we have no experience with anything but corporeal, those anthropomorphisms are the only way we can process anything about the way in which HaShem chooses to interact with us.  This is something like describing colors to someone who is blind from birth; you might tell him blue looks cool, red warm, green energizing, etc.  The words don't fit, but the feelings they evoke are similar.  The Zohar looks from the other side, so to speak.  HaShem has Hands, Arms, Countenance, etc, but it is we who do not have those things.  Therefore HaShem gave us things that are something like the real thing so we can experience something like what hands, arms, and countenances really are.  This is something like using iron filings to visualize lines of magnetic field or isobars on weather maps to help visualize pressure zones and storm fronts.  Not the real deal, imparts something about how the real deal operates.

It is worth noting that the incorporeality of the Creator goes beyond the physical.  Any concept that we can express is automatically not the actual concept associated with the Creator.  That is why the mystical texts refer to the Creator simply as אין סוף -- literally: no end/boundary.  To me, the most poignant example of that is the love one feels for a new born infant.  How much does that infant's concept of my love for him reflect the reality and depth of my feelings?  Essentially none.  Yet that infant's nearly non-existent concept of my real feelings for him are infinitely more accurate than my concept of  the Reality and Depth of the Love that the Creator has for me.


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