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To continue my quest for understanding Rambam's view on the metaphorical interpretations of Torah passages (Yesodey Hatora 1-2):

...הרי מפורש בתורה ובנביאים שאין הקב"ה גוף וגוייה

...אם כן מהו זה שכתוב בתורה ותחת רגליו כתובים באצבע אלהים יד ה' עיני ה' אזני ה' וכיוצא בדברים האלו הכל לפי דעתן של בני אדם הוא שאינן מכירין אלא הגופות ודברה תורה כלשון בני אדם והכל כנויים הן שנאמר אם שנותי ברק חרבי וכי חרב יש לו ובחרב הוא הורג אלא משל והכל משל

The Gemmorah in Taanis 25b says R' Akiva coined that expression for referring to G-d.

ירד רבי עקיבא אחריו ואמר אבינו מלכנו אין לנו מלך אלא אתה
אבינו מלכנו למענך רחם עלינו וירדו גשמים

I understand perfectly how that can be said when I see humanlike G-d in my imagination, and lots of Talmudic parables refer to G-d in this way (משל למלך בשר ודם וכו', משל למלך שאסר את בנו בבית האסורים).

But I truly fail to imagine G-d as אבינו מלכנו by seeing Him as nonhuman, as an AI, or gravity (natural force), for example.

But how (following Rambam's view) this expression can be understood allegorically without human characteristics?

  • Excellent question. – Turk Hill Jul 23 at 15:11
  • Should I say metaphorical or allegorical? – Al Berko Jul 23 at 15:22
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    Is there something different between אבינו מלכינו and בנים אתם לה' אלוקכם and בני בכורי ישראל or is your question the same on all three? – Yishai Jul 23 at 16:45
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    I'm not sure if you're interpreting Rambam's intention correctly. He says that while they are meant as expressions, a human couldn't understand these expressions unless you were able to think of G-d as being human. That's my understanding of what Ramba"m says. Maybe I'm wrong. Also, more challenging with this particular expression is that Rav AKiva assigns two human characters simultaneously. – DanF Jul 23 at 17:33
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    @DanF those characteristics are like the ones found in the Bible. Because the Torah was written for human understanding. But we should not take them literally (G-d has no body). – Turk Hill Jul 23 at 19:03
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The expression אבינו מלכנו means our source, our King.

This is like is found in Jastrow in the metaphorical usage of אב נזיקין or אב הטומא or אב מלאכות, etc.

(Please note: the link to Jastrow is strange. You have to scroll up slightly from where it links.)

Our existence is from and of G-d, like all things. Like is said in the opening blessing of the Amidah. G-d is קונה הכל.

This is like the Alter Rebbe discusses in section 1, chapter 32 of the Tanya.

Concerning the second half of the expression, it is defining our relationship to our Creator as being a King/servant relationship. To understand this from Rambam’s perspective, see Mishneh Torah, Sefer Kinyan, Hilchot Machirah, chapter 2 beginning at the second law.

  • Comments would be helpful rather than anonymous down votes. – Yaacov Deane Aug 18 at 14:41
  • +1 (making up for the downvoter). הרב קרוי אב, where it's a relationship of giver to receiver, but not a biological one. – Meir Aug 18 at 16:52
  • @Meir You are quoting the Rebbe but it’s much more than simply being an influence. The Rav is the source of the student’s connection to ‘Torat Chaim’. And thank you for the assistance. – Yaacov Deane Aug 18 at 17:04
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The High Holiday services – Avinu Malkeinu, “Our Father, Our King”, is a legend. Yet it is inspiring like the Kol Nidre prayer probably because of the music associated with it. But is the prayer rational? More often than not, people are not drawn to the words but the music. The Kol Nidre has increasingly become controversial when it claims we can retroactively annul vows, and Avinu Malkeinu became controversial when it described G-d in masculine terms.

The Talmud, Taanit 25b, tells the story of a draught. Rabbi Eliezer prayed for rain in “twenty-four blessings.” G-d did not answer. Where was G-d? What did you except, a voice? That G-d would talk to you as He did with Moshe? Rabbi Eliezer knew G-d acted. Rabbi Akiva said three lines.

“Our father, our king, we have sinned before you. Our father, our king, we have no king other than you. Our father, our king, for your sake, have mercy upon us.”

And it worked. It rained. G-d answered him by natural law, what Maimonides calls the “first cause” because G-d did not actually do it, rather it is attributed to G-d because G-d triggered the Big Bang and thus, made it rain when Akiva prayed. G-d knows everything and established that it would rain in advance. No re-adjustments needed. But this anthropomorphic prayer sounds almost disrespectful. Can we tell G-d what is needed in the creation, in this case, more rain? Can humans produce rain with magic? Why does a short prayer works where a long one doesn't? Moshe prayed a five-word prayer to cure his sister of leprosy. It worked. Why?

Today this prayer is celebrated in the significant High Holiday prayers. We stand and sing to this prayer. Beat our hearts with our first to show penitence in this prayer. But most women dislike it. Is G-d only a "He?" Is there any metaphor that can or should be applied in this reading?

In Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman’s six-volume book “Naming God” (2015), he explains how the High Holiday prayers of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur should be understood. I literally read this book to answer this question more thoroughly. In it, the rabbi collected over a dozen prayers, analyzed them, and interpret them to the best of his ability. I think he answered this well. He touches upon the masculine imagery in the Avinu Malkeinu prayer. He explains that feminist have a hard time saying this prayer because it depicts G-d with male features. You would check Rabbi Tony Bayfield’s views on Rabbis’ Ishmael and Akiva, regarding this.

Rabbi Ishmael rightly assumed that G-d - as Maimonides explained - is transcendental and incorporeal. And although the Torah “speaks in the language people use,” it is because people have a hard time comprehending a G-d which has no body. The Torah, like sacrificers, allows G-d to be depicted in human form. For people to understand or get the message across. But people should realize that this is not literally. The corporeal language of the Torah, as with all the repetitions, were recorded in the way that people talked. For example, many people reinstate themselves for emphasis or to make more of a flowery point, and the Bible’s no exception. Though one could try and disprove the Bible for being written in such a fashion, Maimonides contends that it was done for humanity’s sake. Maimonides and people who are likewise as rationally-minded would agree with Rabbi Ishmael’s view. Though neither he nor Maimonides perfectly addressed this issue, we can deduce that this was the case because this was how people talked. Naturally, every culter/civilization has associated G-d with a “He."

Rabbi Akiva agrees that G-d has no body and is one. Yet, he saw the apparent repetitions in the Torah as teaching a new idea. G-d does not repeat Himself. He saw G-d approaching, willing to change natural law at any moment’s notice. G-d is always involved in the world and commands a leaf to fall, keep falling, keep falling, stop. His prayer for rain demonstrated that G-d is active and involved in prayer and responds to human needs. The Avinu Malkeinu prayer, a legend of the great Rabbi Akiva, reflects his poison when he metaphorically calls G-d a father and a king. But people who prefer Rabbi Ishmael's G-d concept or those who are feminist may struggle with this prayer.

  • Thank you, this looks like a great preface. I still can't understand, what Rambam had in mind saying אבינו מלכנו? let me give you an example - think about an all-knowing, all-controlling, all-virtual AI system (Transcendence type). Is it the closest to Rambam's view? Can we call it א"מ? What should we have in mind then? – Al Berko Aug 18 at 10:07
  • "The Kol Nidre has increasingly become controversial when it claims we can retroactively annul vows". That is not a controversial claim. sefaria.org/Mishneh_Torah%2C_Vows.4.5 Whether Kol Nidrei actually accomplishes that is another story. – Heshy Aug 18 at 14:40
  • @AlBerko (1) an AI system would still be a creation of human hands and (2) since it is a creation, how can a machine be transcendence? For it to be transcendent, it would need to not exist. It would have to be beyond the domain of existence. G-d. It isn’t just a creator. It is beyond time and space. Since G-d does not exist it follows that atheist will never find Him. Similarly, we can’t prove G-d exist. Though Maimonides tried to do so. (If it matters to to, G-d does exist though we cannot prove.) – Turk Hill Aug 18 at 18:34
  • Because G-d is separate from this universe, it follows that there is no interaction with G-d, directly. (G-d talking to prophets in he Bible were vision or dreams). Prayer is a moment of self-reflection. G-d already knows what you will say because G-d. Knows everything. – Turk Hill Aug 18 at 18:34
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The correct view of the Rambam is that we cannot know anything abut G-d except for what G-d is not. G-d does not listen to prayers because He already knows them in advance (Gd knows everything).

The characteristics such as wisdom are like the ones found in the Bible. Because the Torah (as Rabbi Ishmael says, it [Torah] “speaks in the language people use,”). It follows that he Torah was written for (in) human language (understanding,) thus we should not take G-d’s emotions literally (G-d has no emotions). It follows that G-d does not really becomes angry when you miss the mark and make a sin. Yet G-d’s wisdom (or chachmah) cannot be compared. Think of our DNA. Someone had to be very intelligent to create that. “For your ways are not My ways,” says Hashem.

Rather than put G-d to an image (humanly) we should try and imitate Hashem. G-d gave us the mitzvahs for this very purpose. When one studies Torah, they experience perfection. You could boil it down some more. Man has a purpose. This is what is meant when we say the Will of G-d. King David primary insisted that the world gives praise anthropomorphically to G-d. That is, that our praise should reflect the impressive brilliance of the design and magnificence of the world. That is to our understanding of Him. Maimonides says, “In accordance with one’s knowledge [of G-d] is one’s love of G-d.” Thus, we should center our praise to the Name of Hashem because we cannot know anything about G-d except for what G-d is not (G-d has no body and is one). All we can know is G-d's creations, natural law. Therefore, people should develop their intellect and learn from the laws of nature (science). For example, when the Bible speaks about the parable of G-d talking to Moshe, it is to be understood that people cannot fathom the divine, but see His back after He passes. It is referring to the impact of natural law that G-d created.

For “Man cannot know Me while alive.” Thus, we can only praise G-d through His name, acts, and fame. Though we cannot picture an image of letters while praising. We should not draw an image of G-d in our head. G-d should not be a person, a character, or an angel when we pray rather, G-d should be viewed as nothing because G-d does not exist. In other words, G-d is beyond the domain of existence. In order for G-d to exist, He would have to be made of some kind of material or substance, and hence a form that can be discovered. (Abraham discovered G-d by studying the heaven but this is metaphorical). G-d's essence is nothing, so you can and should picture nothing when you pray.

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    Thank you for this long answer. I truly appreciate your effort. I feel that it is full of meaningless slogans/dogmas people keep saying without understanding. The question was about אבינו מלכנו - where do you relate to the actual question? – Al Berko Aug 17 at 21:27
  • @AlBerko Did you even read the whole answer? In it, all your questions are answered. – Turk Hill Aug 18 at 3:58
  • @AlBerko Please see my new answer to your question above. I think - indeed hope, it will answer all your questions therein. – Turk Hill Aug 18 at 7:40

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