Shabbat Ki Tisa - 5760
Images of Hashem
The third of the Thirteen Principles of Faith formulated by the RAMBAM states as follows: "I believe with perfect faith that the Creator, Blessed is His Name, is not physical, and is not affected by physical phenomena, and that there is no comparison whatsoever to Him."
That is the Principle of Incorporeality. It is based on the response, found in this week's Parshah, of Hashem to Moshe's request, "Show me, I beg of You, Your Glory." (Shemot 33:18) Hashem's answer to Moshe seems to place in the realm of impossibility, even for the greatest human being to perceive, with his eyes of flesh, the Creator, "And He said, 'you cannot see My face, because Man cannot see Me and live.' " (Shemot 33:20)
The above verses are in conformity with Shemot 33:21-23, where it says, "And Hashem said, 'Behold there is a place here with Me; and you will stand on the rock. And when My Glory passes, I will hide you in the cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand, till I pass. And I will then remove my hand, and you will see my back, but my face cannot be seen.' "
But they run counter to other statements found immediately above, where we find, "And Hashem would speak to Moshe face-to-face, as a person would speak to his fellow" (Shemot 33:11). To resolve the contradiction, we must either say that at certain times, Moshe was raised to a super-human level, or we must interpret the verses describing the relationship of Moshe to Hashem in some non-literal, figurative sense.
When Yechezkel will later have a Vision of the Divine Chariot, the Midrash says that, "The maid-servant at Yam Suf saw more than Yechezkel ben Buzi in his Vision of the Divine Chariot."
But when the People of Israel experience an event known as the "Revelation" at Mt. Sinai, the mountain shook and smoked like a furnace, thunder and lightning reverberated and the sound of a Shofar was heard. So traumatic was that experience that they had to ask Moshe to intervene after they had heard only two of the Divine Utterances. But even there, Moshe cautions them in Devarim 4:15, in connection with the prohibition against making any idol representing G-d, that they saw no visual image at Sinai.
Eliyahu HaNavi, Elijah the Prophet, the hero of this week's Haftarah, had a vision described in Kings 1 (19:11-13), as follows, "And He said, 'Go out and stand at the mountain before G-d, and behold Hashem will pass and a great wind breaking mountains and shattering rocks before Hashem; Hashem will not be in the wind. After the wind, an earthquake will follow; but Hashem will not be in the earthquake. And after the earthquake, a fire will pass, but Hashem is not in the fire; and after the fire, a still small voice.' And when Eliyahu heard that, he covered his face with his cloak, and he went out and stood at the entrance to the cave; And behold there was a voice addressing him, and He said, 'What is your purpose here Eliyahu?' " But only a voice.
But later, when Yeshayahu HaNavi, the Prophet Isaiah, has a vision of G-d, described in Yeshayahu 6:1-13, at his initiation as a Prophet, we "see" the Heavenly Throne-Room, with Angels calling to each other, "Holy, Holy, Holy is the L-rd of Hosts, the whole world is full of His Glory."
When the Ten Tribes are exiled to Babylonia, Hashem appears to the Prophet Yechezkel, Ezekiel, as if to raise the morale of the People, that Hashem is still with them, even in the Exile. Yechezkel describes essentially the same scene that Yeshayahu saw, with the addition of some Heavenly detail.
The RAMBAM is right; Hashem is incorporeal. But why these specific images in the prophetic visions? Why does the human being, created in the "image of G-d," although that expression can be and is interpreted non-literally, look the way we do? These questions will be answered, as the Talmud says with regard to its unanswered questions by Eliyahu HaNavi, known as Eliyahu HaTishbi, when "the Tishbite," heralding the Mashiach, "will answer all questions and problems."
Rabbi Pinchas Frankel
Rabbi Frankel is an Educational Coordinator at the OU