So how then can we ever think of G-d? As Moshe Rabeinu asks, when Klal Yisrael asks what G-d’s name is, what can he tell them? How do we worship a being without thinking of him? For the Ra’avad, “Ehyeh asher Ehyeh,” the philosophical or kabbalistic idea of G-d, is just a beginning. The next pasuk continues, “Anochi Elokei avicha Elokei Avraham Elokei Yitzchak Elokei Ya’akov…” (3:6) Even though the Avos themselves could not fathom G-d’s true essence (“u’shmi Hashem lo noda’ati lahem,” as we read in our parsha), the fact that G-d appeared to them and allowed their brain to have some conception of Him is a matir for us to think of G-d in the same way. Of course we are not the Avos and we cannot even imagine what conception of G-d they might have had, but we don’t need to do that – all we need to do is say whatever the Avos thought of, we are worshipping the same being. We don’t know what G-d is, but we know he is “Elokei Avraham…” and we can hang on his coattails.I’m not sure what to make of the balancing act the Chasam Sofer is trying to oull off. On the one hand, he finds justice in the Ra’avad’s critique – the very act of trying to apprehend G-d imposes limits on Him that are false. G-d by definition is beyond anything we can conceive of. Yet on the other hand the Chasam Sofer does not seem to accept that the need to worship, to relate to G-d, therefore must allow for us to draw a mental “picture” of Him (as the Piecezna seems to suggest in Bnei Machshava Tovah). He draws back and says that a person should just resign himself to saying whatever the Avos thought of, ditto for him, and that’s it.
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
Chasam Sofer on the Ra'avad and corporeality of G-d
The Chasam Sofer in his commentary on last week’s parsha sneaks in an interesting pshat in the famous comment of the Ra’avad regarding hagshama, the corporeality of G-d. Here’s a link because I don’t think my summary does justice to it. The Rambam (Teshuvah 3:7) paskens that thinking that G-d has a body or a form is apikorsus, but the Ra’avad argues that “gedolim v’tovim chashvu kein.” The Ra’avad understood the Rambam to be making a distinction between thinking of G-d as having a body, which is heresy, and thinking of G-d the way the philosophers do, as an abstract being. The Ra’avad’s argument, as the Chasam Sofer presents it, is that the Rambam’s distinction is semantic and not real. Even if you think of G-d in the way the philosophers do, or even the way kabbalists do – applying any intellectual construct to the concept of G-d – is just as bad as thinking that G-d has a body. Just because you box G-d into an abstract construct instead of a physical one doesn’t make things better. When the Ra’avad writes “gedolim v’tovim chashvu kein,” he doesn’t mean that other Rishonim or philosophers thought G-d has a body. What he means is that the abstract conception of G-d which they subscribe to, which the Rambam himself subscribes to as a defender of philosophy, is no less problematic than thinking G-d has a physical body.