Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Can Man See G-d and Live?

"'But,' He said, 'you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live'," (Exodus 33:20) 
"Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement ofsapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness.  And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank," (Exodus 24:9-11)

" [Midrash says:] 'And Moses and Aaron and Nadav and Abihu and seventy of the elders of Israel went up.  And they saw the God of Israel and under his feet was live a paved work of sapphire stone and like the very heaven for cleanness.  And upon the nobles of the children of Israel He laid not HIs hand, and they beheld God and did eat and drink' (Exodus 24:9-11).  From this, said R. Pinhas, it may be inferred that they deserved to have a hand laid upon them.  For R. Hoshaya said:  Did provisions go up with them to Sinai, that you should be able to say 'and they beheld God and did eat and drink' (Exodus 24:10)?  No, but it teaches you that they fed their eyes upon the Shekhina as a man looks upon his neighbor while in the act of eating and drinking....R. Yehoshua of Sikhnin in the name of R. Levi observed:  Moses hid his face' (Exodus 3:6).  And he derived benefit from the Shekhina, as it says, 'Moses knew not that the skin of his face sent forth beams' (Exodus 34:29).  As a reward for 'And Moses hid his face' he attained the privilege of 'And the Lord spoke unto Moses face to face' (Exodus 33:11)...As a reward for 'afraid to look' (Exodus 34:30) he attained to the privilege of 'and the similitude of the Lord he beholds' (Numbers 12:8)...(Leviticus Rabbah 20:10, pp. 465-467; Midrash Rabbah 4:261-262)," Halbertal, Concealment and Revelation, pg. 15


  1. One way to reconcile Exodus 33:20 and Exodus 24:9-11 and what they actually saw is to not suppose that what they saw was a bodily human-like form (with a face, torso, arms, hands and feet), but again, some sort of "indirect presence" or veil (like a "burning fire"). A reference to "feet" appears to be simply a description of something being below (like "foot of the mountain").

    Of course, the author of John seems to have agreed, when he said in John 1:18 "No one has ever seen G-d".

  2. Gene,

    Would you agree that the Shekhina can take on a form?

  3. "Would you agree that the Shekhina can take on a form?"

    No. The rabbinic concept of "Shekhina" is not a form of any sort.

  4. Gene,

    What are your thoughts about this:

    "What about the church's claim that God was incarnate in Jesus? Wyschogrod argues that Jews cannot simply disavow this claim, without denying God's freedom to be who God will be. Israel can reject this claim if it is understood to mean that in Christ God turned God's back on God's promises to Israel. But setting aside this ideological interpretation, God's incarnation in Jesus can be interpreted as an escalation or intensification of God's covenantal relation with Israel. God's covenant with Israel has always involved 'a certain indwelling of God in the people of Israel whose status as a holy people may be said to derive from this indwelling. Understood in this sense, the divinity of Jesus is not radically different--though perhaps more concentrated--than the holiness of the Jewish people,'" Williamson, Way of Blessing Way of Life, pg. 50. Footnote 7: Michael Wyschogrod, 'Christology, the Immovable Object,' Religion and Intellectual Life 3 (1986): 79.

  5. Gene,

    I would be interested in your thoughts on the angel of the Lord/messenger of YHVH passages.

    Ge. 16:7-13; 22:11-18; Ex. 3:2ff; Jud. 2:1-5; 6:11-24; 13:2-23

    Please specifically address why/how the viewer would think they had 'seen Elohim' and were going to die, as well as how this manifestation/being/messenger could make claims only G-d can make, accept worship/sacrifice/etc....


  6. "Wyschogrod argues that Jews cannot simply disavow this claim, without denying God's freedom to be who God will be. "

    @Peter... does Wyschogrod really argue such a thing, as this Christian author claims? I am not sure if you are aware, but he has co-authored with Jews for Judaism the book "Jews and Jewish Christianity", where he vehemently strikes directly at the incarnation claim:

    While the question whether Jesus was or was not the Messiah is undoubtedly one of considerable importance, it is hardly comparable in seriousness from the Jewish point of view to the claim that Jesus was God....

    [M]an’s temptation to confuse himself with God is the horror of the Hebrew Bible at idolatry. Idolatry is the worship of false gods. In the Hebrew Bible only the God of Israel is God. Unlike the other gods of the ancient Near East, the God of Israel is the supreme ruler of the whole universe, so that nowhere can man escape his jurisdiction. The other gods are material creations of man, and to worship them is the worst possible transgression against the creator of the world. The Ten Commandments make this very clear (Exodus 20:2-6). After stating “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery,” the text continues:

    You shall have no other gods to set against me. You shall not make a carved image for yourself nor the likeness of anything in the heavens above, or on the earth below, or in the waters under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God. I punish the children for the sins of the fathers to the third and fourth generations of those who hate me. But I keep faith with thousands, with those who love me and keep my commandments.

    This passage makes clear the revulsion of God at all material representations of the divine. Any worship directed at a material being, whether created by human artistry or a natural object or living thing, is idolatry. The true God, who created the world and chose the people of Israel, is an invisible God who cannot be contained by anything material. In Deuteronomy 4:15-21 we read:

    On the day when the Lord spoke to you out of the fire on Horeb, you saw no figure of any kind; so take good care not to fall into the degrading practice of making figures carved in relief, in the form of a man or woman, or of any living animal on earth or bird that flies in the air, or of any reptile on the ground or fish in the waters under the earth. Nor must you raise your eyes to the heavens and look up to the sun, the moon, and the stars, all the host of the heaven, and be led on to bow down to them and worship them; the Lord your God assigned these to the various peoples under heaven. But you are the people whom the Lord brought out of Egypt, from the smelting furnace, and took for his own possession, as you are to this day.

    The finality of God’s prohibition against worshipping anything material could not be more clear, whether the object worshipped is a statue or a living animal or a human being.

    It is in the light of this that the Christian claim that Jesus was God must be evaluated.

    So, since Wyschogrod here says that G-d cannot be contained in a material body (of a man), can he also make a claim that G-d can be a man and remain consistent? But even if we can accept that G-d CAN squeeze Himself into a human body, wouldn't it then contradict His warnings that He doesn't have a material form and that to worship such things is prohibited, as Wyschogrod makes explicitly clear?

  7. "Please specifically address why/how the viewer would think they had 'seen Elohim' and were going to die, as well as how this manifestation/being/messenger could make claims only G-d can make, accept worship/sacrifice/etc...."

    @Pete... I don't know why they would look at an angel and think that they saw G-d - have they seen G-d before? Perhaps they were awestruck by the awesomeness of angel's presence, which somehow reflected the One Who Sent him. Or, and I think that this is more likely, perhaps too much is made of those passages by some in order to imply that G-d took on a form - the people to whom the "angels of the L-rd" appeared simply recognized that it was G-d communicating with them through the angels and acting through the angels, His servants (which is what angels do).

  8. Gene,

    The guy is a professor and vice president at Christian Theological Seminary, he's written scores of books, and his works are used in seminaries across the country. I'm inclined to doubt that he would've invented the quote. However, I'll perform due diligence and get the direct source tomorrow evening. Plus, a direct source will give us a little more context and insight into Wyschogrod's thought.

  9. Peter, I am not talking about him inventing a quote, but rather using Wyschogrod (who did write in at least one book I read that G-d embodies the people of Israel, which is obviously not literally, that is a la Jesus) to argue in support of the complete opposite of what Wyschogrod actually believes, considering he even spoke out against such an idea, in strongest terms. Christians, be they esteemed professors or not, who wish to find support for Christianity's doctrines within pages of Judaism written by people who expressly opposed those same doctrines, seem to do this quite often, much to the dismay of Jews.

    That I find very dishonest and unethical. Incidentally, and much to my shame, I have also engaged in such subterfuge in my messianic days - it was very tempting to find juicy 'aha, Jesus!" nuggets among Jewish literature, discard anything that couldn't be used, and then "prove" that Jews actually believe everything that they say that they do not! in retrospect, such a practice paints Jews as blind to truth and clueless (to channel Paul), even in regards to what comes out from under their own pen!

  10. Gene,

    I asked for your thoughts regarding a peer-reviewed book excerpt containing an easily verifiable quotation from Wyschogrod, a Jewish philosopher who is well known for pursuing rapprochement between Jews and Christians. I hope you're not subtly implying that my question to you was somehow unethical.

    In any event, I will obtain the direct source as I believe it will prove enlightening as to whether Wyschogrod's views may have transitioned over the course of his career. His earlier works might seem to indicate a certain uncompromising severity; however, later works like the one I referenced indicate a softer, less dogmatic attitude, a willingness to rationally examine the Christian idea of incarnation to see whether it is at all compatible with Jewish theology. He seems to have moved beyond the medieval knee-jerk aversion to any ideas promulgated by Christians.

    I'll get the source and then do a new post about it.

  11. " I hope you're not subtly implying that my question to you was somehow unethical."

    No, not at all, Peter - I was referring to the general Christian attitude when dealing with Jewish texts.

    "He seems to have moved beyond the medieval knee-jerk aversion to any ideas promulgated by Christians."

    Wyschogrod is actually very friendly with many Christian theologians and relies on many of their ideas to develop his own. In fact, he likes Karl Barth so much, he calls himself a "Jewish Barthian".

    Of course, Wyschogrod is a theologian and not an rabbi (theology is not a natural Jewish field, as he himself admits in his book the The Body of Faith, but more of a Christian one), and, as you noted, he's specifically an activist in Jewish-Christian dialogue. On the other hand, Orthodox Judaism, in general, doesn't seek to find "mutual understanding" with Christianity, just as Judaism historically has not sought to find such a thing with other religions it deemed idolatrous. To compromise with idolaters is to diminish the exclusive truth of the Jewish message to the world.

  12. Concerning Peter Rambo's comment on "the angel of the Lord."

    I've heard this asinine argument again and again from christians...I call it "the great angel hunt." This argument is hilariously bad because not only is it not scripturally sound with the Tanach, but also jesus never even claimed to be "the angel of the Lord!"

    That's right! Your jesus NEVER CLAIMED to be "the angel of the Lord" who appeared to people in the Tanach! Knowing this, there is no reason for christians to go on this "jesus angel hunt" because your jesus never even claimed to be these angels!

    But from a Tanach perspective, Deuteronomy 4:9-19 makes it abundantly clear that G-d does not wish to be worshipped in ANY FORM, including man! This disqualifies jesus worship as a valid method of worship according to the Torah. Thus, it is idolatry to worship jesus.


    1. Shalom "Unknown",

      I'd like to hear your thoughts about Elliot Wolfson's comments in my next post. Thanks for visiting and commenting.