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Volume III, No. 34...July 2, 2004


by Jack E. Saunders


The most difficult task that has ever faced humanity since its inception has been to acquire a correct concept of the Creator, and then to maintain that concept down through the ages. We failed in this very early in the history of humanity, when Enosh the son of Seth the son of Adam began to “profane the Name”[1] or the true concept of G-d. It is difficult to believe, but it took only two generations from the first human being, Adam, who knew the Creator personally, for humankind to distort the correct concept of G-d.

Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, commonly refered to as Maimonides, or Rambam, states in one of his great works [2]:

During the times of Enosh, mankind made a great mistake, and the wise men of that generation gave thoughtless counsel. Enosh himself was one of those who erred. Their mistake was as follows: They said G-d created stars and spheres with which to control the world. He placed them on high and treated them with honor, making them servants who minister before Him. Accordingly, it is fitting to praise and glorify them and to treat them with honor. [They perceived] this to be the will of G-d, blessed be He, that they magnify and honor those whom He magnified and honored, just as a king desires that the servants who stand before him be honored. Indeed, doing so is an expression of honor to the king.

After conceiving of this notion, they began to construct temples to the stars and offer sacrifices to them. They would praise and glorify them with words, and prostrate themselves before them, because by doing so, they would - according to their evil conception - be fulfilling the will of G-d.

This was the essence of the worship of false gods, and this was the rationale of those who
worshipped them. They would not say that there is no other G-d, except for this star. This message was conveyed by Jeremiah, who declared (10:7-8): 'Who will not fear You, King of the nations, for to You it is fitting. Among all the wise men of the nations and in all their kingdoms, there is none like You. They have one foolish and senseless notion; that which they are punished, is [mere] wood.' i.e., all know that You alone are G-d. Their error and their stupidity consists of conceiving of this
emptiness as Your will.”

I would now like to point out a couple of statements in Rambam's assessment of this phenomenon, which eventually led humankind to the practice of idolatry:

1. He states in the very first paragraph that:“the wise men of that generation gave thoughtless counsel.”

Thus Rambam makes it clear that this was not a mistake of the ignorant but of the wise men of the generation of Enosh, and even of Enosh himself. And that their thoughtless or careless council led men away from the worship of the Creator - to the worship of the created.

Also in the second paragraph: “[They perceived] this to be the will of G-d.”

“Their”(the wise men’s) next mistake was their instance that by paying homage and honor to the various created things, one was actually doing the will of the Creator.

Now we can begin to see the development of idolatry, and the means by which it came about. It was through carelessness and the self-perceived ideas of the wise. But their self-perceived ideas concerning the will of G-d and their lack of concern for imparting the correct notion of the Creator only led mankind down the dark path of idolatry.

The age in which we live has not changed so much from the time in which Enosh and the wise of his generation lived. Many of the so-called wise men of our generation have fallen into the same trap as those in the days of Enosh. They continue to proclaim their self-perceived ideas concerning the correct notion and will of G-d and thereby continue to mislead people, to lead people down the long dark path of idolatry.


The way to leave this dark path, of course, is to turn aside from our self-perceived ideas of
G-d. Next, rather than being careless when it comes to developing a correct concept of our Creator, we should fully concentrate our efforts to the limits of our G-d-given ability to discover
the correct idea of our Creator.

Now, how do we approach the seemingly impossible task of beginning to acquire a correct concept of the Creator? It is quite clear that we cannot depend upon our own rational faculties alone to discover the true concept of G-d. As Rambam states[3], “and this was the rationale of those who worshipped them.” If the rationale of the wise of the generation failed to discover and maintain the true concept of G-d, what makes us think today that we may discover by the same means what they failed to discover without succumbing to the same error? What makes us better then they? Are we so much wiser?

As far as we know, at least in the recorded history of the generations of Adam, there has been only one man that has ever arrived at the true concept of the Creator through his own rational faculties and intellect - Abraham. It is no wonder that three different world religions lay claim to this man as their founder.

But we all cannot be Abraham. How can we begin to arrive at a correct concept of the Creator? Where are we to start?

I would suggest that His creation itself is enough to inform all peoples in all languages
that there is indeed a Creator[4]. But where do we turn in order to learn to do His will and
discover a true concept of Him? According to King David[5], “The Torah of HaShem is perfect and able to restore the soul.” Although creation may silently declare that a Creator exists, the Torah, Tenach, and the Sages of Israel provide us with much more insight than the creation alone.

According to the Prophet Isaiah it is impossible to physically equate Him or to intellectually compare Him to anyone or anything. “To whom then will you liken Me, or shall I be equal? saith the Holy One.” [6]

When you have a One-of-a-kind Being how can anyone even attempt to make a comparison?

Psychologically speaking, the human mind works from the basics of comparisons. When
we fail to have anyone or anything to compare someone or something to, we are at a
loss to describe the thing, whether it is inanimate or animate. The prophets often had no
words to describe the visions they received from G-d. In many instances they relied upon the use of similes to convey what they had seen. Similes are often used to point out similarities in two objects that seem to have very little in common. Such as:“And their feet were straight feet; and the sole of their feet was like the sole of a calf's foot: and they sparkled like the colour of burnished brass.” [7] Ezekiel, upon having his vision of the Hayyoth, attempts to explain to those who have never seen such spiritual beings before by using similes, the only way he can. He does so by comparing these spiritual beings to physical ones that most people have come into contact with, so the people would have some rudimentary idea of what they looked like by comparing them to two completely different types of objects. He thereby informs us of what they look like, but the likeness is never exact, only a similarity in likeness.

The same applies in our everyday lives. We are constantly using comparisons to convey ideas to those to whom we speak. For example: If I say table, a certain type of table appears in your mind - but in truth it may not be the same type of table that I am about to describe to you. But we all have the basic idea of a table, i.e., an object that has either a small or large flat surface supported by legs or a center post. Thus, we all may speak of a table, even though we may be speaking of something different from what one supposes in actual composition or design.

Based on the proclamation by Isaiah and our own inadequacy all that we can ever know of the Creator is that which He chooses to reveal to us in His Torah.

Our Creator, through the words of Balaam, which were stamped with the approval of Moshe Rebbanu, who recorded his words, uses the same type of language[8] to inform us of certain incorrect ideas that men may attribute to Him. Such as when Balaam says, “G-d is not a man that He should lie; neither the son of man that He should repent: hath He said, and shall He not do it? Or hath He spoken, and shall it not make it good?” [9]

The words of the Torah declare that G-d is not a man - “Ish” - and neither is He a “ben Adam.” The Prophets also make the same declaration. “And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor
repent: for He is not a man that He should repent.”[10]

Some will look at these texts and dismiss the fact that these texts do not actually negate the possibility of the Creator existing as a mortal or corporeal being. These words only describe the fact that, as the Creator, He is not lacking in power and has no need to lie or repent. And indeed they may accurately ascribe such qualities to Him. However, the words clearly state, “G-d is not a man” which negates the possibility of Him being manlike.

1. One may look at these texts and miss altogether that they describe the incorporeality of G-d.

2. Another person might read the same passages and, because of a lack of background knowledge, not be able to determine if it denies the incorporeality of G-d.

3. Lastly, another individual perceives that one of the truths to be found in these words is
indeed the clear denial of any possibility of the Creator having a body, whereupon this individual sets out to clearly prove this to be so.

The question now is which one of these individuals is closer to a true concept of the Creator? [11]

From these texts and from others that are like it we may discover a great secret, and that great
secret is that what we can truly know of the Creator is always found in the negation of a
quality that is attributed to the Creator. The Tenach in several places declares what the Creator is not. It is through these negations that we may begin to arrive at a correct concept of the Creator. Generally speaking, we can never know exactly what He is, but it is certain that we can eliminate all that he is not, to arrive at a complete understanding of what He is not.

Rambam in one of his works states: “...I shall show you that we cannot describe the Creator by any means except by negative attributes.” [12]

“Once we comprehend that ‘we cannot comprehend the Incomprehenisible One,’ then for the very first time we have truly comprehended and formulated a correct concept of the Creator.” [13] This can be arrived at only through the negation of qualities that are attributed to Him.


Why should we put so much effort into this discovery?

Rambam also states[14], “The true worship of G-d is only possible when correct notions have
previously been conceived. When you have arrived by way of intellectual research at a knowledge of G-d and His works, then commence to devote yourselves to Him, try to approach Him and strengthen the intellect, which is the link that joins you to Him.”

Since our worship and approach to G-d is limited by our incorrect notions of Him, it behooves us to constantly seek to Formulate a correct concept of our Creator to the best of our G-d-given abilities.

[1] See Rashi's comments on Genesis 4:26, "It was then that they called profanely upon the Name of G-d."
[2] Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Avodat Kochavim v' Chukkoteihem, Moznaim Publishing Corporation 1990, Chapter One pp. 14-16.
[3] Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Avodat Kochavim v' Chukkoteihem, Chapter One, p. 16
[4] Psalms 19:1-6
[5] Psalms 19:7f.
[6] Isaiah 40:25
[7] Ezekiel 1:7
[8] For G-d to state that He is not a man suggests that He needed to do so in order to correct a false idea that people held of Him.
[9] Numbers 23:19
[10] I Samuel 15:29
[11] See, The Guide for the Perplexed, Dover Publishing, 1956, p. 84
[12] The Guide for the Perplexed, p. 81
[13] My comment after reading The Guide for the Perplexed for the first time.
[14] The Guide for the Perplexed, Dover Publishing, p. 385

See article in the Jewish Times  


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