I remember reading once a very clever analogy, which I was sure that I had found in the writings of Yeshayahu Leibowitz (who sourced it, from memory, in the writings of the Rav, R' Yosef Ber Soloveitchik, who himself sourced it in the Rambam), but I can no longer locate it at all. In essence, the analogy stated that God is like fire. Different objects, when dropped into the fire, react differently. Some become hard. Some become soft. Some let off smoke. Some change their hue. Some make a noise. Some might explode. But while all of these different reactions can be found, at no stage is the fire anything other than a fire; the difference in responses to it is to be found in the different objects that come into contact with it.

So too, the analogy concluded, when it comes to our relationship with God. When we pray, we change ourselves in order that God might interact more favourably with us. We do not hope for God to change in any way, but for ourselves to change instead. God's influence upon the world is constant and unchanging; it is we who are in flux.

Does this analogy sound familiar to anybody? If you can direct me to a printed source (be it in the writings of the Rav, or Prof. Leibowitz, or whomever it was who came up with this), I would be much obliged.

  • That analogy is fimiliar, but I seem to recall it with a different "punchline." In my recollection, the point was to show how it is possible for God to interact with humans in all different ways ("anger", "mercy", etc.) even though he is unchanging. And the answer is that, like fire, our interactions with God affect us differently depending entirely on our own state. For example, if we sin, our interaction with God will have an anger-like effect. This is not because God has become angry, as God is unchanging. It is because our sins caused the interaction to have the form of anger.
    – Daniel
    Jul 18, 2013 at 14:07
  • I'm not sure if I articulated that well. I also don't have a source, unfortunately :(
    – Daniel
    Jul 18, 2013 at 14:07
  • 1
    Actually, reading over your post again, I think you're saying pretty much the same thing I am.
    – Daniel
    Jul 18, 2013 at 14:09
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    Never heard it before, but I like it and would be very interested to see the source!
    – WAF
    Jul 18, 2013 at 14:18
  • Are you asking about the fire analogy in general or about its specific use in explaining prayer? The fire analogy being used to explain God's interaction with the world, is in Guide for the Perplexed 1:53.
    – Vtr
    Jul 18, 2013 at 16:52

2 Answers 2


From zaq's answer to a related question:

In the Moreh Nevuchim [(Part 1 ch.53)], Rambam explains how God's attributes should be understood without compromising God's unchangingness.

He compares God's mood to a fire. If you put ice in a fire, it melts, then evaporates. If you put clay in a fire, it hardens. If you put wood in a fire it burns... The fire causes many different and contrasting effects without changing the fire's properties. The same "fire melts certain things and makes others hard, it boils and burns, it bleaches and blackens." It is the properties of each individual material that elicit a different interactions with fire.


Rav Saadia Gaon discuses Deuteronomy 4:24 to illustrate an instance where Scripture is not interpreted according to its "literal" meaning,

"Likewise we find for the statement of Scripture: For the Lord thy God is a fire, a good interpretation, by way of metaphor or analogy, to the effect that God's punishment is like a consuming fire that burns up quickly, as Scripture says elsewhere: For a fire is kindled in my nostril (Deut. 32:22). (The Book of Beliefs and Opinions 7:2, Yale/Rosenblatt page 415-416)

The Rambam cites Deuteronomy 4:24 in Yesodei haTorah 2:4

What is meant by the prophets' statements that they saw an angel of fire or with wings? All these are prophetic visions and parables, as [Deuteronomy 4:24] states: "God, your Lord, is consuming fire," though He is not fire and [the description of Him in this manner] is only metaphoric. Similarly, [Psalms 104:4] states: "He makes His angels as winds...."

and again in the Guide to illustrate alternative usages of the verb to eat

"(God) is a destroying (lit. eating) fire" (Deut. iv. 24), that is, He destroys those who rebel against Him, as the fire destroys everything that comes within its reach. Instances of this kind are very frequent." (Guide for the Perplexed 1:30)

I have yet to see anywhere which breaks down the analogy in the manner you have described and it is possible that this is what is added to by the latter sources who cite the Rambam (or others) in support of the general approach to the verse.

  • I think so too - and thanks for the information on Saadiah Gaon! What I'm really looking for though is who those later sources are who fleshed it out so thoroughly.
    – Shimon bM
    Jul 19, 2013 at 1:05

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