I believe that the Rambam somewhere in Mishneh Torah (although it could possibly be the Guide) states that the Torah only says that God "gets angry" etc. in order so that the masses will be scared to sin and so forth, but that, in reality, God is never changing, and does not have any emotions. The idea being that the Torah only says these things for the ignorant. Any help finding this source? I've been looking for days and cannot find it...

(It is interesting, of course, what, exactly, the Rambam means by this, considering he also gives a metaphor of the fire, and God changing his interaction with us based on how we act, but that is another question altogether.)

  • Yes, Rambam did say that "G-d's anger" was used to wean people away from sin. Rambam felt that G-d does not have emotions. – Turk Hill May 22 '20 at 18:09

The source you're looking for is Guide 3:28:


וכן גם קראה 2 התורה להיות בדעה בדברים אשר סבירתן הכרחית בתקינות המצבים המדיניים. כגון זה שאנו בדעה, שהוא יתעלה יחרה אפו על מי שמרד בו, ולפיכך חובה לירוא ולפחד ולהשמר 5 מן המרי6.

See also Halbertal's boobk on Maimonides pp 146-148. https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B0HgWbfUGNLrSG9Sc0RUazB4anM/view?usp=sharing

I would add that Halbertal's reading is not the only possible one. Perhaps he is reading things into the text that some might say are not there. This issue is a major one and would seem to demand a more extensive treatment, especially in a book on Maimonides as sophisticated as Halbertal's. Therefore, in answer to your question, when someone made the statement you had heard, he was probably referring to the above Rambam, but it's important to know that this is not necessarily what the Rambam was saying.

  • Yes, I am not sure wherein that chapter you refer. I do not see, at least no explicitly, what I asked about. – WhoKnows Mar 2 '16 at 21:57
  • Scripture further demands belief in certain truths, the belief in which is indispensable in regulating our social relations: such is the belief that God is angry with those who disobey Him, for it leads us to the fear and dread of disobedience [to the will of God] – David2 Mar 3 '16 at 0:58

Yesodei HaTorah ch.1

Since it has been clarified that He does not have a body or corporeal form, it is also clear that none of the functions of the body are appropriate to Him: neither connection nor separation, neither place nor measure, neither ascent nor descent, neither right nor left, neither front nor back, neither standing nor sitting.

He is not found within time, so that He would possess a beginning, an end, or age. He does not change, for there is nothing that can cause Him to change.

[The concept of] death is not applicable to Him, nor is [that of] life within the context of physical life. [The concept of] foolishness is not applicable to Him, nor is [that of] wisdom in terms of human wisdom.

Neither sleep nor waking, neither anger nor laughter, neither joy nor sadness, neither silence nor speech in the human understanding of speech [are appropriate terms with which to describe Him]. Our Sages declared: "Above, there is no sitting or standing, separation or connection

Since this is so, all such [descriptions] and the like which are related in the Torah and the words of the Prophets - all these are metaphors and imagery. [For example,] "He who sits in the heavens shall laugh" [Psalms 2:4], "They angered Me with their emptiness" [Deuteronomy 32:21], and "As God rejoiced" [ibid. 28:63]. With regard to all such statements, our Sages said: "The Torah speaks in the language of man

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    I believe there is a place where he mentions specifically that the Torah only says God gets angry to scare people from sin...? That's what I'm looking for... – WhoKnows Sep 21 '15 at 11:51
  • @WhoKnows you mean that there is no punishment. it is just to scare people. dont think there is such a rambam – ray Sep 21 '15 at 16:16
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    No no, that the Rambam says that the Torah only says that God gets angry to scare people... punishment is another thing entirely – WhoKnows Sep 21 '15 at 17:39
  • @WhoKnows that's basically what the rambam is saying, no? – ray Sep 21 '15 at 17:52
  • I suppose, yes, but I remember seeing somewhere that he specifically says that the concept of God getting "angry" is only included in the Torah in order to motivate the ignorant. Or something along those lines... That's really what I'm looking for. Although maybe it doesn't even exist? – WhoKnows Sep 21 '15 at 17:58

In the Yad, Y'sode Hatora chapter 1 (paragraph 9 in what used to be the most common edition as of a few years ago):

…"eyes of God", "ears of God", and the like are all according to the intelligence of humans, who recognize only bodies, and the Torah spoke in human language.

And at the end of the chapter:

"they angered Me with their nothingnesses", "as God rejoiced", and the like, about which the rabbis said "the Torah spoke in human language".

He doesn't mentioned human intelligence explicitly when discussing emotions as he does when discussing body parts, but (absent evidence otherwise) presumably the same applies.

  • 1
    I believe there is a place where he mentions specifically that the Torah only says God gets angry to scare people from sin...? That's what I'm looking for... – WhoKnows Sep 21 '15 at 11:51
  • @WhoKnows I was focusing on the "The idea being that the Torah only says these things for the ignorant" part of your question. – msh210 Sep 21 '15 at 15:05
  • Right, but I don't see that either. Doesn't say anything about the ignorant... – WhoKnows Sep 21 '15 at 17:12
  • "according to the intelligence of humans, who recognize only": sounds to me like we're ignorant. Or unintelligent, more precisely. – msh210 Sep 21 '15 at 18:02
  • what I am thinking of/referencing is quite explicit. (If, indeed, it is to be found in the Rambam at all... But I'm pretty sure that it is...) – WhoKnows Sep 21 '15 at 18:30

Yesodei haTorah 1:9 (quoted by others) does not entirely say that G-d's emotions are for the ignorant, the as per the posed question. He writes "ואמתת הדבר אין דעתו של אדם מבין ולא יכולה להשיגו ולחקרו -- the truth of the matter cannot be understood by the human mind, and it is unable to grasp it or study it." Descriptions of human emotions are due to the limitations of humanity and human communication. I don't see anything there about it being more for the ignorant than anyone else.

In fact, all people, even the ignorant, are expected to know that these are metaphoric. This is why Maimonides includes their rejection in his 13 Articles of Belief in his commentary to the Mishnah (intro. to Sanhedrin's ch. Cheileq). The list is his notion of the minimum one must believe to be a Jew in good standing, and that includes Divine incorporeality and a lack of actual emotions. (See also Guide to the Perplexed 1:40).

In Dei'os 1:5, the Rambam gives a second reason why G-d describes Himself using the terminology of emotions, desires and character traits. After describing the way of the wise, to follow a middle measure (middah) with respect to each character trait (1:5), he writes:

We are commanded to go in these middle ways, which are the good and upright ways, as is says "and you shall go in His Ways" (Devarim 28:9).

So was taught as an explanation of this mitzvah, that just as He is called Gracious (Chanun), you too should be gracious; just as He is called Empathetic (Rachum), so too you should be empathetic; just as He is called Holy (Qadosh), so too you should be holy. Along these lines the nevi'im called G-d by these references, "slow to anger and of great lovingkindness -- Erekh Apayim veRav Chessed", "Righteous -- Tzadiq", "Upstanding -- Yashar", "Whole -- Tamim", "Mighty -- Gibor" and the like. To let you know that these are the good and straight ways, and a person must conduct himself according to them, and resemble them according to his ability.

Two side-notes about this quote: First, the original medrash doesn't have the word "niqra -- is called", saying "Just as He is Gracious... He is Empathetic..." Our sages were comfortable continuing the biblical idiom. It was the Rambam who felt a need to spell out that we are only using the language, and do not actually mean to say Hashem has these attributes.

Second, the term for "slow to anger" is "erekh apayim", "of long nostrils", or "slow to flare His nostrils in anger". The flaring of the nostrils is a frequent idiom for anger in Biblical Hebrew. Still, in our context it means that taking the verses literally would mean not only attributing to G-d a temper, but also a nose.

Here the reason for describing G-d using emotional terminology is that He describes Himself in ways we can emulate. Divine Patience (e.g.) is not only something we see in G-d because we are limited to describing things in accord with our own experiences. It is also an image Hashem portrays of Himself to teach us to be patient.

And that motive certainly doesn't only apply to the ignorant.

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