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Seeing No Image
This is a continuation of my response to the excellent points raised by Rabbi Zukcer. Let me begin with the passuk from this week’s parasha:
“Be extremely cautious for your lives, for you did not see any image on the day that God spoke to you at Chorev from the fire” (Deut. 4:15)
I suggested that a corporealist might read this verse as saying that, for some reason, man did not SEE any image of God, but not that no such image exists. Rabbi Zucker said that he rejects this possibility, without going into details. But there is a very important point to be made here. Whether or not Rashi was a corporealist, we have clear testimony from numerous Rishonim that there were Torah scholars in northern France who were corporealists. I believe that their testimony should be taken seriously. And these Torah scholars surely also had a way of understanding Deut. 4:15. So as long as somebody rejects the possibility of any corporealist reading of this verse, he cannot be fully accepting the reality of the testimony of these Rishonim. Obviously I am not saying that the verse actually has a corporealist meaning; rather, I am saying that it must be possible to read it that way. As long as someone does not accept that, they are not dealing with the topic properly.
Now let me address the verse from Yeshayah 43:12. Rabbi Zucker raised an excellent point about Rashi’s commentary on this verse:
…On the phrase "attem eidai" "you are My witnesses..." Rashi explains that HaShem said to Bnei Yisrael, "I opened up for you the seven heavens, and you saw no image (temunah) whatsoever." ….the passuk, according to Rashi, is "you are my witnesses in that I opened up the heavens for you and you saw no image whatsoever." Now, if there was in fact an image, but we didn't see it, then what kind of witnesses are we? That would be akin to a murderer bringing a group of blind people before a judge and saying, "these are my witnesses; they were present at the time of the alleged murder, and they saw nothing!" …Rashi said explicitly that the fact that Bnei Yisrael saw no image is a testimony about HaShem…
This seems like an excellent point. But if we examine the full context of the verse in Yeshayah, Rabbi Zucker’s interpretation is problematic:
ספר ישעיה פרק מג
(י) אַתֶּם עֵדַי נְאֻם יְדֹוָד וְעַבְדִּי אֲשֶׁר בָּחָרְתִּי לְמַעַן תֵּדְעוּ וְתַאֲמִינוּ לִי וְתָבִינוּ כִּי אֲנִי הוּא לְפָנַי לֹא נוֹצַר אֵל וְאַחֲרַי לֹא יִהְיֶה:
(יא) אָנֹכִי אָנֹכִי יְדֹוָד וְאֵין מִבַּלְעָדַי מוֹשִׁיעַ:
(יב) אָנֹכִי הִגַּדְתִּי וְהוֹשַׁעְתִּי וְהִשְׁמַעְתִּי וְאֵין בָּכֶם זָר וְאַתֶּם עֵדַי נְאֻם יְדֹוָד וַאֲנִי אֵל:
(יג) גַּם מִיּוֹם אֲנִי הוּא וְאֵין מִיָּדִי מַצִּיל אֶפְעַל וּמִי יְשִׁיבֶנָּה:
What is the point that all these verses are trying to make? They are clearly trying to make a single point: That there is only One God, there are no other deities. There is no point being made here about God’s incorporeality. The point being made is about His exclusivity. It simply does not fit the context to explain Rashi as meaning that we are being called on as witnesses to God’s incorporeality. Instead, the context dictates that it means that we are being called on as witnesses to God’s exclusivity.
Given that necessary meaning, the statement that we “saw no image” is not a reference to God having no form, and in fact is not a reference to God at all. It is a reference to the non-existence of other deities.
This in turn sheds light on Deut. 4:15. The reference there too is not to God’s incorporeality, but rather to His exclusivity. And there, too, it fits with the context:
ספר דברים פרק ד
(טו) וְנִשְׁמַרְתֶּם מְאֹד לְנַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם כִּי לֹא רְאִיתֶם כָּל תְּמוּנָה בְּיוֹם דִּבֶּר יְדֹוָד אֲלֵיכֶם בְּחֹרֵב מִתּוֹךְ הָאֵשׁ:
(טז) פֶּן תַּשְׁחִתוּן וַעֲשִׂיתֶם לָכֶם פֶּסֶל תְּמוּנַת כָּל סָמֶל תַּבְנִית זָכָר אוֹ נְקֵבָה:
(יז) תַּבְנִית כָּל בְּהֵמָה אֲשֶׁר בָּאָרֶץ תַּבְנִית כָּל צִפּוֹר כָּנָף אֲשֶׁר תָּעוּף בַּשָּׁמָיִם:
(יח) תַּבְנִית כָּל רֹמֵשׂ בָּאֲדָמָה תַּבְנִית כָּל דָּגָה אֲשֶׁר בַּמַּיִם מִתַּחַת לָאָרֶץ:
(יט) וּפֶן תִּשָּׂא עֵינֶיךָ הַשָּׁמַיְמָה וְרָאִיתָ אֶת הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ וְאֶת הַיָּרֵחַ וְאֶת הַכּוֹכָבִים כֹּל צְבָא הַשָּׁמַיִם וְנִדַּחְתָּ וְהִשְׁתַּחֲוִיתָ לָהֶם וַעֲבַדְתָּם אֲשֶׁר חָלַק יְדֹוָד אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֹתָם לְכֹל הָעַמִּים תַּחַת כָּל הַשָּׁמָיִם:
If anyone has a better suggestion of how the corporealists read these verses, I would be glad to hear it. But they certainly had a way of reading them.