Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The 13 principles of Judaism: 3. God does not have a body

"The Creator, blessed be His name, has no bodily form, and bodily conditions cannot affect Him; He cannot be compared to nothing whatsoever."

Attributing to God a human image, figure or condition is called: "anthropomorphism" and it is one of the most characteristic features of pagan religions. The pagan gods are born and die, have desires, fight with other gods, and have bodies. They are in a sense a reflection of those humans who conceive them.

The Tora, numerous times uses references to what seems to be God's body,  like "haShem's eyes watch over the land of Israel" but our tradition explains unequivocally that those are just figures of speech, metaphors, and should not be taken literally.

While other religions conceived their gods in the image of humans, our Tora says that humans were created in the image of God  (Bereshit 1:27). Let me explain this concept. God is the epitome of power, which means that He can do whatever He decides to do, without being pushed or constrained by any exterior impulses or even motives. This is why we call Him "Almighty". Of all creatures of earth, only humans have the power of "freedom of choice", choosing between right and wrong. Humans resemble God in that they are not driven by blind uncontrollable impulses, like animals. Like God, humans have the power of making moral choices.  The more we exercise this power the more we resemble God, and the less we exercise this power and let ourselves be driven by our impulses, the less we resemble God.
In the beautiful words of Rabbi Hayim Pereira-Mendes: "When the Torah says we are created in the image of God, it means not in a bodily but in a spiritual likeness. To be like God we must lead lives that are Godlike or Godly. We are like Him when we exercise loving-kindness, justice and righteousness and take delight in these things."