Anyone know the source of the phrase "If I knew Him I would be Him," and its meaning? (heard it a few times though don't recall where. rumors abound that the rambam said this though have never seen a source)

it seems to convey the idea that God's essence is unknowable to us as we are created beings and He is not.

  • @Aaron, another shaky attribution to the Rambam: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/31382/…
    – Isaac Moses
    Dec 28, 2015 at 19:47
  • 7
    See D'rashos HaRa"N (D'rush R'vi'i, "וכבר נשאל אחד מהחכמים מהו הבורא והשיב אילו ידעתיו היותיו"), Sefer HaIkkarim (2:30, " כמו שאמר החכם כששאלו אותו אם היה יודע מהות הא-ל והשיב אילו ידעתיו הייתיו"), and the Maharal (Derech Chayim on Avos 5:6, "ואמרו אילו ידעתיו הייתיו").
    – Fred
    Dec 28, 2015 at 21:20
  • 5
    Also see 'Akeidat Yitzchak (54, "וכמ"ש החכם אילו ידעתיו הייתיו", and 76, "כמו שגזר על זה החכם אלו ידעתיו הייתיו").
    – Fred
    Dec 28, 2015 at 21:20
  • Similar case of a saying attributed variously to a wise man or the Rambam: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/53950.
    – Fred
    Dec 28, 2015 at 21:25
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    @Fred, it sounds like the Ran is the earliest of those (right?). Why not post an answer?
    – msh210
    Dec 28, 2015 at 22:55

1 Answer 1


One of the sources for this statement is in Ma'amar 2, towards the end of Chapter 30 of Rabbi Yosef Albo's Sefer Ha'ikrim. It is brought in the name of the "chacham" - "wise person."

אי אפשר שישיג עצמותו שום נמצא זולתו. כמו שאמר החכם כששאלו אותו אם היה יודע מהות האל, והשיב: אילו ידעתיו הייתיו. כלומר כי אין מי שישיג עצמותו אלא הוא יתברך, עם היות מציאותו נגלית מצד מעשיו תכלית ההיגלות.

My rough translation

It is impossible to understand Gods essence (the aspect of God that is independent of the world, and does not conform to the conditions of our reality). Just as the wise person (chacham) responded to those who asked if he knew God's essence, "If I knew him, I would be him." This means to say that no one can understand God's essence, even though his existence is revealed through His actions.

See this article for a very well written up, in Hebrew, explanation of this concept. The article mentions how sifrei Chassidus take this concept deeper by explaining that if one understands God, one connects with God and becomes "bateil," nullified (for lack of a better term), in relation to Him.

EDIT: Their seems to be earlier sources regarding this phrase, see Fred's comments (1, 2) to the question, of which the Ran seems to be the earliest source.

  • 1
    The Sifrei Chassidus are not "taking the concept deeper". The concept emphasizes the divide between man and God, which results in an inability to comprehend him. If anything, the Chassidic "interpretation" undermines this idea.
    – mevaqesh
    Dec 28, 2015 at 22:39
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    There seems to be an earlier source; see comments on the question.
    – msh210
    Dec 28, 2015 at 22:55
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    @msh210, saw that after I wrote the question, and edited my answer to "One of the sources..." Fred is more than welcome to write an answer, which I will surely upvote. Dec 28, 2015 at 23:08
  • What mean "ma'amar"?
    – far22
    Dec 29, 2015 at 0:15
  • @far22, it literally means "essay," or "saying" but a better translation in this context would be "section." Dec 29, 2015 at 1:28

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