What is meant in Bamidbar 12:8 when the verse reads: "and the similitude of the LORD doth he behold" - וּתְמֻנַת יְהוָה, יַבִּיט

I would like to know what the words 'similtude of the Lord' really mean; because HaShem can't be pictured in any form, although we can perceive Him, we can't see Him, like He said in Devarim 4.

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    Are you just looking for a better translation of the passuk that’s not written in Shakespearean? – DonielF Mar 25 '18 at 1:25
  • @DonielF haha, no I want to know what the words 'similtude of the Lord' really mean, because HaShem can't be pictured in any form, although we can perceive Him, we can't see Him, like He said in Devarim 4. – Levi Mar 25 '18 at 6:25
  • Consider editing that into the OP itself. – DonielF Mar 25 '18 at 11:43

The living Torah by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan translates וּתְמֻנַ֥ת as a true picture of

Both ArtScroll and the Judaica Press translation of Bamidbar 12:8 shows וּתְמֻנַ֥ת as image

With him I speak mouth to mouth; in a vision and not in riddles, and he beholds the image of the Lord. So why were you not afraid to speak against My servant Moses?

That is a more direct method of perceiving than the other nevi'im.

As Rashi says

and He beholds the image of the Lord: This refers to a vision of the “back,” as it says,“and you will see My back” (Exod. 33:23). - [Sifrei Beha’alothecha 1:42:8, Tanchuma Tzav 13]

  • "Bamidbar 12:8 translates וּתְמֻנַ֥ת as image"? Maybe you meant to say, "[t]he Judaica Press translation (used by the Chabad website) of Bamidbar 12:8 translates וּתְמֻנַ֥ת as image"? – Tamir Evan Mar 25 '18 at 2:38
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    That was the link I used. I will edit to fix. – sabbahillel Mar 25 '18 at 2:39
  • @sabbahillel, if it's just prophetic vision or something similar I understand, if not, how could Moshe really see the back of HaShem if He Himself said in Devarim 4 no one saw any form at all. – Levi Mar 25 '18 at 6:31
  • @user4762 It is indeed a prophetic vision. The point is that the perception was much clearer than any other prophet. However, as the various commentaries explain, Moshe could not understand many matters except in hindsight, It is a metaphor for what a human being can understand. – sabbahillel Mar 25 '18 at 12:15
  • @sabbahillel thank you for the clearification – Levi Mar 25 '18 at 19:39

Rambam addresses this in Guide for the Perplexed 1:3.

IT might be thought that the Hebrew words temunah and tabnit have one and the same meaning, but this is not the case. Tabnit, derived from the verb banah (he built), signifies the build and construction of a thing--that is to say, its figure, whether square, round, triangular, or of any other shape. Comp. "the pattern (tabnit) of the Tabernacle and the pattern (tabnit) of all its vessels" (Exod. xxv. 9); "according to the pattern (tabnit) which thou wast shown upon the mount" (Exod. xxv, 40); "the form of any bird" (Deut. iv. 17); "the form (tabnit) of a hand" (Ezek. viii. 3); "the pattern (tabnit) of the porch" (1 Chron. xxviii. 11). In all these quotations it is the shape which is referred to. Therefore the Hebrew language never employs the word tabnit in speaking of the qualities of God Almighty.

The term temunah, on the other hand, is used in the Bible in three different senses. It signifies, first, the outlines of things which are perceived by our bodily senses, i.e., their shape and form; as, e.g., "And ye make an image the form (temunat) of some likeness" (Deut. iv. 16); "for ye saw no likeness" (temunah) (Deut. iv. 15). Secondly, the forms of our imagination, i.e., the impressions retained in imagination when the objects have ceased to affect our senses. In this sense it is used in the passage which begins "In thoughts from the visions of the night" (Job iv. 13), and which concludes "it remained but I could not recognize its sight, only an image--temunah--was before my eyes," i.e., an image which presented itself to my sight during sleep. Thirdly, the true form of an object, which is perceived only by the intellect: and it is in this third signification that the term is applied to God. The words "And the similitude of the Lord shall he behold" (Num. xii. 8) therefore mean "he shall comprehend the true essence of the Lord." (Friedlander translation, emphasis added)

  • then again what is meant by 'the true form of an object, which is perceived only be the intellect' which seems to be equal to comprehending the true essence. Could you give another example please? – Levi Mar 26 '18 at 21:15
  • @user4762 Are you asking me to explain God's true essence? Because as Rambam writs elsewhere (Hilchos teshuva 5:5), that is impossible: אין כח באדם להשיג ולמצוא אמתת הבורא – Alex Mar 27 '18 at 15:23
  • No I'm not, what I'm asking is what is meant by the words 'the true form of an object which can only be perceived by the intellect'. The true form of an object seems to be about seeing things as they are, which refers to understanding and comprehending the things perceived. Is this how I should understand it? – Levi Mar 28 '18 at 19:18

According to sefer Maarechet haElokut #10 the 'temunah of Hashem' just means the "voice of Hashem" (as derived from devarim 4:12). The expression temunah is used to convey the level of Moshe's aprehension and his knowledge of G-d as if he (Moshe) was able to see/recognize the one who speaks:

ועתה שידעת בנין צורת האדם תוכל להשכיל אם קבלת מפה אל פה אמתת מראה הנבואה הנראת לנביאים. ורז"ל קראו למראה ההוא שעור קומה וכבר רמזתי בו בהריסה בחטא דור הפלגה והוא סוד היודע שעורו של יוצר בראשית וכו'. ועל זה אמר הכתוב נעשה אדם בצלמנו כדמותנו. ועל המראה נאמר וביד הנביאים אדמה (הושע יב) ואמר ה"ר יצחק דרך סימן תמונה בגימטריא פרצוף אדם.

וכן מצאתי בדברי ה"ר אליעזר מגרמישא ועל זה נאמר ותמונה איניכם רואים זולתי קול (דברים ד): והמקובל בענין המראה הזאת יתבונן ענין הגשמיות הנזכרות אצל השם ית' בתורה ויתבוננו על ענין העברה והנציבה כמו שנאמר ויעבר ה' על פניו ויתיצב עמו שם (שמות לד) וכל עניני התנועות. והנה נתבאר מה שיעדתי לבאר בענין האמונה והאחדות: וממה שבארתי בדמות האדם יוכל להתבונן המשכיל כי בהיות האדם צדיק גמור כי ראוי לו שיתנבא ויחיה לעולם כי מצא מין את מינו...

Such (anthropomorphic) language occurs also, for example, with the posuk "Hashem spoke with him face to face as one speaks to a friend", and "Hashem passed by him", and so on.

In various places the Torah speaks in (figurative) terms to demonstrate the uniqueness of Moshe's prophecy. Such langage should be understood in the same way as others above, in order to demonstrate the closeness to Hashem and the level attained by him -- the highest level of prophecy -- not a physical form of Hashem.

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