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I was wondering what the Jewish tradition teaches about the implications of the belief in the infinity of G-d. Whilst it obvious to me that a human being cannot relate to the infinite, it also seems that a belief in G-d’s infinity also makes relating to His self-revelation impossible too. After all, one cannot relate to something one regards as a mere appearance or ‘emanation’. To be blunt, my faith is on the rocks: I want to relate to G-d as Father and Lord but cannot square those attributes with His attribute of infinity.

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    please clarify what you mean by "makes relating to His self-revelation impossible too". Thanks.
    – rosends
    Commented Nov 19, 2019 at 11:45
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    Tzimtzum.......
    – Joel K
    Commented Nov 19, 2019 at 12:15
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    @Turk Hill - yes that’s basically it. After doing a bit of research (at Joel K’s instigation) I am happy with the idea of tzimtzum as the best explanation for why G-d is comprehensible to us at all.
    – Tom W
    Commented Nov 19, 2019 at 15:31
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    @AlBerko pi is very much finite
    – Heshy
    Commented Nov 19, 2019 at 17:07
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    natural numbers are infinite but we deal perfectly with a small subset of it.
    – Al Berko
    Commented Oct 16, 2020 at 12:37

4 Answers 4

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While we accept God's Infinity and Transcendental existence as theological truths, we also see that in the Torah God is presented as close and accessible, almost anthropomorphic.

The Torah is not coming to teach us abstract truths, but to teach us how to relate to God and His Ways. It has no interest in discussing God's inaccessibility. Instead, it shows us how to approach Him.

I do not deny that God is Infinite, Unknowable, Transcendent, etc... But while that is of theological interest, there is no personal value to knowing that. That is why the Torah makes no mention of these concepts, but it does enjoin us (my translation)

To Love God, your Lord, to listen to His words and to connect to Him, for that is your Life, and the extent of your days.

Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch writes in many places about the impotance of relating to God in a very personal way. From Horeb:

Your idea of God may be something more than the mere result of a chain of reasoning pursued in total abstraction from the outside world. You may have beheld God directly in Nature or perceived Him in history. Holy Writ may have spoken to you as it did to generations before you in its God-revealing narratives. But you may have grasped all this only with your mind and stored it in your memory. This is not enough. So long as you do not receive God into your heart as your God, and embrace Him with your whole being as your God, so long as this concept is a mere denizen of your brain, so long will this sovereign idea be without influence on your actual life (1:2)

But above all, the most vital lesson to lay to heart is that this One God is your God, and that you have acknowledged Him in order to live rightly.... You must comprehend you life with all its diversity as proceeding from this One and you must direct it towards this One, in order that your life may be a unity just as your God is one. (2:7)

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Whereas I, in contrast, think that it's G-d's very infinitude that makes revelation possible.

If you have a class of 5 students, the teacher can pay attention to each student. If we up the number to 10, there typically still isn't a problem. But class sized of 25 or 30? At some point you're talking about college lectures, where the teacher just puts a "one size fits all" message out there, with nothing specific to any one student. In a college class of dozens, most of their names will even go unknown.

It is the fact that G-d is Transcendent that gives Him the "Time" and "Patience" to "Attend" to each of us.

And I think this is why the name of G-d that denotes Divine Transcendence, Y-HV-H, a contraction of Will Be, Is and Was, the name so tied to His Transcendence we don't even pronounce it, is the one our Sages say is used in stories in the Torah in which it is easier to see Divine Compassion.

E-lokim, the Law Giver, Master of All Forces, is used in stories where Divine Justice is easier to pick out. But justice is one rule for everyone. Wholesale.

Compassion is retail. Only the Truly Infinite could be "Aware" of each of us and give each of us what we need.

Of course, your question seems to be more about the problem that forced me to write "'Time'" or "Aware" instead of just lower-case "time" without quotes.

And as Hashem tells Moshe, "A person cannot see Me and live."

But that's not a denial of Divine Revelation; it's a denial of a person being capable of full revelation. It doesn't mean we cannot experience a human-sized slice of His Reality.

After all, there is a huge difference between Moses' prophecy and experiencing G-d in our lives.

Although Maimonides said what you are asking for is indeed impossible. That the most a human can comprehend about G-d, other than His Action, is what He isn't. When we say G-d is everywhere we really mean that the concept of location has no relevance. Similarly, Omnipotence doesn't mean infinite power, but that the events G-d causes to happen within the created universe(s) isn't through power, so finite power is a non-issue.

But fortunately, if you need some kind of experiential relationship with G-d, Maimonides isn't the only word on the subject.

We pay a huge penalty for the fact that our brain and our heart aren't always in sync. Many times we make decisions we logically know are dumb, but we cave in to desire or the short-term.

But here, that disconnect has a payoff. Our intellects can know all about and agree with Maimonides' despiction of G-d, and yet still on the experiential level we can relate to a Personal G-d.

Even if that Personhood may be more something G-d is doing for our benefit than His True Inherent self. But analyzing that split... That's where Qabbalah begins.

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  • Your definition of transcendent is off. transcendent means that G-d is separate, which means holy. Also, Qabbalah is where you suspend all reason.
    – Turk Hill
    Commented Nov 19, 2019 at 16:31
  • @Turk, read the Ramchal's Derech Chochmah. (I admit that it is hard to find.) In there he states that learning formal logic is essential to learning kabbalah. He goes as far as saying that it is more of a direct requirement to knowing G-d than most study of Torah.
    – Mordechai
    Commented Nov 19, 2019 at 21:14
  • @Mordechai I agree that knowing G-d is very important. One way to learn about G-d is to read the Torah. Another path (usually chosen by secular people) is to study G-d's creations, the heaven (or natural law). Maimonides equated the command to love G-d to knowing G-d. Since it is impossible to know and love G-d, we must study His creations. Thus, even Jews should study biology, physics, philosophy, and metaphysics as a prerequisite to Torah study.
    – Turk Hill
    Commented Nov 19, 2019 at 21:52
  • Maimonides informs his readers at the introduction of the Guide that he will be revealing 'secret' knowledge kept hidden for generations. He mentions nothing about Kabbalah. Mysticism is baseless in the Torah. the Zohar was not revealed at Sinai. Moses d’ Leon made it up. Worst, Rabbi Simeon bar Yochai was not interested in mysticism.
    – Turk Hill
    Commented Nov 19, 2019 at 21:52
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat.
    – Turk Hill
    Commented Nov 19, 2019 at 23:23
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The Ramchal in Daas Tevonos deals with this issue, if I understand the OP and his own answer correctly:

(לב) אמר השכל - ראשונה צריך שתדעי, שאף על פי שאמרנו כבר שרצה האדון ב"ה לתת השגה מיקר שלמותו אל נבראיו, ודאי הוא שלא היה הרצון בזה לתת להם השגה מכל שלמותו אשר אין לו סוף שיעור ותכלית כלל; אלא אדרבה, רק קצה קטן ממנו רצה לגלות להם, ובו יהיה כל תענוגם בהשיגם אותו, כמו שביארנו. וזה דבר פשוט ונרצה מאד, מן הטעם כי אי אפשר לעלול ונברא אשר כמונו להשיג כל שלמות הבורא ית"ש, וכענין שנאמר (איוב יא, ז), "החקר אלוה תמצא, אם עד תכלית שדי תמצא". ונמצא, שכל מה שיוכלו להשיג הנבראים, לא יהיה אפילו כטפה מן הים הגדול מן השלמות של הבורא ית"ש:

(32)Said the Intellect - First you need to know that even though we already said that the Master may he be blessed wanted to give comprehension of his precious completeness to his creations, it is certain that it was not his desire in this to give them a comprehension of all of his completeness which has no end, measure or limitation at all; rather just the opposite, he only wanted to reveal to them a small periphery of it, and in this would be all of their enjoyment in the grasping of it and we explained. And this is a simple matter and very desired, for the reason that it is impossible for creations like us to grasp all of the completeness of the creator may he be blessed, and like it is said (Job 11:7), "Will you succeed in examining haShem, will you discover the limits of Shad-dai?". And we will find, that everything that the creations can grasp, will not be even a droplet from the great sea of the Creator's completeness and his name be blessed.

(לג) אמרה הנשמה - זה פשוט אצל כל חכמי לב, וכבר נאמר (תהלים קו, ב), "מי ימלל גבורות ה'" וגו':

(33) Said the Soul - This is simple before any who are wise of heart, and it already says (Psalms 106:2), "Who will tell the great actions of haShem...":

(לד) אמר השכל - עתה כשנשיב אל לבנו כל סדרי מעשיו ית', כל המעשה הגדול אשר עשה מני שים אדם עלי ארץ, וכל אשר הבטיח לנו לעשות ע"י נביאיו הקדושים, הנה מה שמתברר לנו מכל זה בירור גמור - הוא עוצם יחודו יתברך. ותראי שכל שאר מעלות שלמותו הבלתי בעלת תכלית אינם מתבררים אצלנו כלל, שאין בנו כח להשיג אותם. דרך משל, ידענו שהוא חכם, אבל לא השגנו סוף חכמתו; ידענו שהוא יודע, ולא השגנו ידיעתו. ועל כן אמרו ז"ל (תפלת אליהו, תיקוני זוהר, הקדמה שניה), "אנת הוא חכים, ולאו בחכמה ידיעא, אנת הוא מבין, ולאו בבינה ידיעא". וכיון שאין אנו יכולים להשיג המעלות האלה, נמשך לנו מזה איסור החקירה בהם, כי על כל כיוצא בזה נאמר (חגיגה יג. בשם בן סירא ג, כא), "במופלא ממך אל תדרוש, במכוסה ממך אל תחקור"; וכן אמרו (ספר יצירה, פרק א), "אם רץ לבך - שוב למקום":

(34) Said the Intellect - Now that we have returned to your hearts the order of HaShem's actions may he be blessed, All of the great actions He has done since placing man upon the earth (Job 20:4), and everything that her promised us to do through the holy prophets, behold that which is clear to us from this with complete clarity - is the might of His singularity may He be blessed. And you will see that all of the other characteristics of his completeness which is without limitation, are not clear to us at all, because we do not have the strength to grasp them. By example, We know that he is wise, but we cannot grasp the ends of his wisdom; we know that he is knowing, but we cannot grasp his knowledge. And therefore the Rabbis may their memory be blessed said (Prayer of Eliyahu, Tikunei Zohar, second introduction), "You are wise, and not with knowable wisdom, you are understanding and not with knowable insight", and since we are unable to understand these characteristics, a forbidding of examination of these emerges for us, for in regard to all like this it says (Chaggigah 13a in the name of Ben Sirah 3:21) "In that which is beyond your comprehension do not seek, in that which is hidden from you do not examine"; and similarly they said (Sefer Yetzira chapter 1), "If your heart runs - return to your place":

אבל יחודו, אדרבא, זה מתגלה ומתברר לנו בירור גמור. ונמשך לנו מזה שלא די שהוא מתברר לנו, אלא שחייבים אנחנו להשיב אל לבנו הידיעה הזאת, לתקוע אותה בלבבנו בישוב גמור בלי שום פקפוק כלל. והוא מה שמצוינו משה רבנו ע"ה מפי הגבורה (דברים ד, לט), "וידעת היום והשבות אל לבבך כי ה' הוא האלהים בשמים ממעל ועל הארץ מתחת אין עוד". ופי עליון מעיד בעצמו ומודיע כי כל הנלקט מכל מסיבותיו הגדולות אשר הוא מתהפך בעולמו, הלא הוא גילוי יחודו הגמור הזה; כענין אמרו (דברים לב, לט), "ראו עתה כי אני אני הוא ואין אלהים עמדי", ומקרא זה נאמר אחר שכלל כל סיבוב הגלגל, שהיה עתיד ומזומן להיות סובב בעולם, שנכלל הכל בדברי השירה ההיא של האזינו, וכמו שפשטן של כתובים עצמן מוכיח, והנה חותם החזון שלו חתם בלשון הזה, "ראו עתה כי אני אני הוא" וגו'. ובדברי הנביא ישעיה נתבאר בהדיא (ישעיה מג, י יא), "למען תדעו ותאמינו לי ותבינו כי אני הוא, לפני לא נוצר אל ואחרי לא יהיה. אנכי אנכי ה' ואין מבלעדי מושיע"; וכמו שכתוב (ישעיה מד, ו), "אני ראשון ואני אחרון ומבלעדי אין אלהים"; וכמו שכתוב (ישעיהו מה, ו ז), "למען ידעו ממזרח שמש וממערבה כי אפס בלעדי אני ה' ואין עוד. יוצר אור ובורא חשך עושה שלום ובורא רע, אני ה' עושה כל אלה". והנה "למען ידעו", "למען תדעו ותבינו" כתיב, משמע שרוצה שנדע בידיעה והבנה. ותכלית כל ההצלחה שהוא מבטיח לישראל הוא התברר יחודו לעיני הכל. ודבר זה נזכר פעמים אין מספר בדברי הנביאים ע"ה (ישעיהו ב, יא), "ונשגב ה' לבדו ביום ההוא"; (זכריה יד, ט), "והיה ה' למלך וגו' ביום ההוא יהיה ה' אחד ושמו אחד"; (צפניה ג, ט), "כי אז אהפוך אל עמים לקרוא כלם בשם ה' לעבדו שכם אחד". וסוף דבר, הלא זה עדותנו בכל יום תמיד (דברים ו, ד), "שמע ישראל ה' אלהינו ה' אחד":

But His singularity, is just the opposite, it is revealed and clarified focus in complete clarity. And it emerges for us from this that it is not enough that it be clear to us, but that we are obligated to return this knowledge to our hearts, to embed it in our hearts completely settled without any doubt. And this is what we were commanded by Moshe our teacher may he rest in peace from the mouth of The Mighty One (Deuteronomy 4:39), "And you shall know today and return to your hearts that HaShem He is the G-d in the heavens above and on the earth below, there is no other". And the mouth of the One on high himself testifies and informs us that everything that is gathered from all the great occurrences that He overturns in his world, is it not the complete revelation of this - His singularity; as it says (Deuteronomy 32:39) "See now that I, I am He and there is no other G-d with me", and this passage is said after He included all the future revolutions of the globe that are planned to occur in the universe, that include everything in the words of this song of HaAzinu, and like the straightforward meaning of these writings themselves prove, and behold the ending of His vision ends with this language, "See now that I, I am He" etc. And in the words of the prophet Isaiah it is described explicitly (Isaiah 43:10-11), "In order that you know and believe me and understand that I am He, before me no G-d was created and there will be no other after me. I, I am hashed and there is no savior other than me"; and as it is written (Isaiah 44:6), "I am first and I am last and there is no G-d other than me"; and as it says (Isaiah 45:6-7), "In order that you know from the the east and the west that there is nothing other than me, I am HaShem and there is no other. The maker of light and creator of darkness making peace and creating the negative, I am hashed the maker of all of these". And behold, it is written "In order that you know", In order that you know and understand", meaning that He wants us to know with knowledge and understanding. And the purpose of all of the success that He promises to Israel is the explanation of His singularity to the eyes of all. And this matter is mentioned innumerable times in the words of the prophets may they rest in peace, (Isaiah 2:11), "...and haShem will be exalted on that day."; (Zechariah 14:9) "And haShem will be king [on all the earth] haShem will be one and His name will be one"; (Zephania 3:9) "For then I will overturn the peoples to all call in the the name of haShem and to worship him as one accord". And in the end, is this not always our testimony every day (Deuteronomy 6:4) "Hear O' Israel HaShem our G-d HaShem is One":

To summarize, God wants us to understand Him, but this is impossible because of His infinity. The only aspect of His that we can correctly perceive is His Oneness. And that is presented to us and made clear over the course of history, with the end of the process being that His Oneness will be made perfectly clear to all of mankind.

Therefore, we are not supposed to relate to God's infinity, for that is beyond us. We are supposed to try to fathom, through much thought and effort, that He is the absolutely singular Power in the world. (See the continuation; the quote is already too long.)

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After many months reflecting on this, my own question, I have concluded, on the basis of Zech. 14:9, that a certain disunity in Man’s conception of G-d is inevitable in this age, and that Zech. 14:9 is the ‘antidote’ (in the sense that Hashem here acknowledges the problem and promises to solve it). I think the main points of disunity are: (1) Hashem’s own self-Revelation at Sinai and elsewhere, (2) The size of the universe, and (3) Our idea of Infinity. I believe that when the aforementioned prophecy is fulfilled, all these things will fit together nicely in our minds, and the problem of doubt / mistrust will go away. As I say, the fact that Zech. 14:9 seems to acknowledge this problem ought to secure our faith until the Time comes.

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    וְהָיָ֧ה יְהוָ֛ה לְמֶ֖לֶךְ עַל־כָּל־הָאָ֑רֶץ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֗וּא יִהְיֶ֧ה יְהוָ֛ה אֶחָ֖ד וּשְׁמ֥וֹ אֶחָֽד׃ And the LORD shall be king over all the earth; in that day there shall be one LORD with one name. Zecharia 14:9
    – Mordechai
    Commented Dec 13, 2020 at 20:33
  • @Mordechai - apologies bro, I defer to your knowledge of Hebrew. I’ll have to get back to the drawing board on my ‘disunity’ problem. If you think I ought to vote to delete this answer, just let me know.
    – Tom W
    Commented Dec 13, 2020 at 21:28
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    I'm saying that you stumbled upon the Ramchal. You struck gold! Don't take it back.
    – Mordechai
    Commented Dec 13, 2020 at 21:35
  • @Mordechai - thank you, many blessings to you :)
    – Tom W
    Commented Dec 13, 2020 at 21:39

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