Monday, March 8, 2010

Vayakhel Pekudei. Reification and Incorporeality

In my discussion of the breaking of the Luchos, I used what Linguists call Hypostatization, or The Reification Fallacy.  Briefly, these terms refer to the human tendency to ascribe physical reality, or personality, to concepts or spiritual beliefs; viewing the abstract as if it were concrete.  This can range from the benign conceptualization, such as "Lady Liberty," or "Lady Luck," to straightforward Avoda Zara.  I applied the idea, lehavdil, to the letters of the Luchos.  When the Luchos were broken, the letters were said to be flying in the air.  There were no letters; the engraved stone surrounded and defined empty spaces in the shapes of letters, not physical letters.  Nonetheless, the letters assumed a reality such that even after the Luchos were broken, they floated in the air.  I just came across a Gemara/Rashi that mentions this point, in Sanhedrin 26b: 
דבר אחר תושיה דברים של תוהו שהעולם משותת עליהם

דברים של תוהו. דיבור וקרייה בעלמא. וכל דיבור אין בו גשישה ממש, כתוהו הזה, ואעפ״כ עולם משותת עליהם. ונוטריקון הוא תי״ו תוהו שייה משותת:
This week, I want to tell you about an irony involving this concept.

We Jews, starting with Avraham Avinu, were the first to grasp that  G-d is incorporeal.  The idea that the Creator of the universe, the Source of all reality, is intangible and incorporeal, was a great leap forward in mankind's spiritual evolution.  Even now, and even among the Jews, many find such an ethereal notion challenging, and prefer an anthropomorphic visualization.  Indeed, nevi'im were often shown visions of a human form, which seems to have been necessary to enable them to experience a 'conversation.'  (This is found, of many such examples, in Tosfos Yeshanim in Yoma 39b Nichnas Imi, from the Yerushalmi.)  Still, no one (cf comments below) can dispute the assertion that we absolutely reject, we abhor, the natural mental propensity and emotional preference to attribute form to Hashem.  As the Rambam (3 Teshuva 7) says,
חמשה הן הנקראים מינים... האומר שיש שם רבון אחד אבל שהוא גוף ובעל תמונה.... הוא מין
and see, on this topic, the Or Zarua in Krias Shma #7. 

It seems to me that hypostatization, which attributes physical form to the abstract, is incompatible (or, at least, incongruous) with the philosophical approach of the doctrine of incorporeality.  In that light, it is ironic to find instances of hypostatization in our Mesorah.   For example, the famous Menoras Hamaor, quoting a Medrash Tanchuma that he saw:

בספר מנורת המאור (ה״ב סוף פ״ה נר גי כלל הי) מביא מעשה נורא בשם המדרש תנחומא, וז״ל: מעשה
בחסיד אחד שהיה מתיחד במקום אחד והיה למד בו במסכת חגיגה, והיה מהפך בה ומהדרה כמה
פעמים, עד שלמד אותה היטב והיתה שגורה בפיו ולא היה יודע מסכתא אחרת מן התלמוד והיה שוגה בה כל
ימיו. כיון שנפטר מן העולם, היה בביתו לבדו ולא היה שום אדם יודע פטירתו. באה דמות אשה אחת ועמדה
לפניו והרימה קולה בבכי ומספד ותרבה אנחתה וצעקתה, עד אשר נתקבצו ההמון ותאמר להם, ספדו לחסיד
הזה וקברוהו וכבדו את ארונו ותזכו לחיי העולם הבא, שזה כבדני כל ימיו ולא הייתי עזובה ולא שכוחה. מיד
נתקבצו כל הנשים וישבו עמה ועשו עליו מספד גדול ועצום והאנשים התעסקו בתכריכיו וכל צרכי קבורתו
וקברו אותו בכבוד גדול. ואותה אשה בוכה וצועקת. אמרו לה, מה שמך, אמרה להם, חגיגה שמי. כיון שנקבר
אותו חסיד נעלמה אותה האשה מן העין. מיד ידעו שמסכת חגיגה היתה, שנראית להם בצורת אשה ובאה
בשעת פטירתו לספד לו ולבכותו ולקברו בכבוד, על שהיה שונה אותה תמיד ושוקד ללמד בה. והלא דברים
קל וחומר, ומה חסיד זה שלא למד אלא מסכתא אחת בלבד, כך, הלומד תורה הרבה ומלמדה לאחרים
ומעמיד תלמידים הרבה על אחת כמה וכמה.

There was once a pious man who was secluded in a certain area and he studied Maseches Chagiga. He would study the Maseches over and over, until he learned it so well and he was so familiar with the Maseches. He did not know any other Maseches in the Talmud, and he would only study Maseches Chagiga. When he departed the world, he was alone and there was no one who knew of his passing. The apparition of a woman arrived and stood before him, and she raised her voice in wailing and eulogy. She moaned and cried so loud until a crowd gathered. She then told the people who had gathered, “Eulogize this pious man and bury him and show honor to his coffin and you will all merit the World to Come. The reason I ask you to do this is because he honored me his entire life and I was not forsaken and forgotten.” Immediately all the women came and sat with her and they made a great eulogy and the men took care of the deceased’s shrouds and all of his burial needs. They then buried him with great honor and the woman was wailing and crying. The people asked her, “What is your name?” She responded, “My name is Chagiga.” Subsequent to the man’s burial, the woman disappeared from view. Immediately the people understood that she was really Maseches Chagiga, who appeared in the image of a woman. She had appeared at the time of the man’s death so that he would be eulogized and cried over, and that he would receive an honorable burial. This was all due to the fact that he had constantly studied Maseches Chagiga and was diligent in studying it.

(This Menoras Hamaor is also brought down in the Chafetz Chaim's Ma’amar Toras haBayis chapter 6 in the footnote.)

We are giving human form to a masechta! And remember Brachos 47b, where there is a suggestion that two talmidei chachamim that vigorously discuss the halacha are counted as three for bentching- because their Torah counts as one towards the mezuman- אמר רבי אמי שנים ושבת מצטרפין אמר ליה רב נחמן ושבת גברא הוא אלא אמר רבי אמי שני תלמידי חכמים המחדדין זה את זה בהלכה מצטרפין 

And this is not an isolated case.  Think about Shabbos: The Medrash in Breishis perek 11, echoed in Sanhedrin 58, says that Shabbos came before Hashem and said, "Every day of the week has a spouse, a pair, but I am the odd day, and I have no pair!  Hashem answered, Knesses Yisrael is your Ben Zug, as the passuk says, Zachor es Yom Hashabbos leKadsho (kiddushin)."  This idea is reflected in the Maharsha in Bava Kamma 32b, where he says that our Kiddush on Shabbos is like the Kiddushin of a Kallah (also in Nachlas Binyamin Mitzvah 31, who says that we say kiddush on a kos yayin, because it's like Birkas Eirusin.  Funny thing is that the Ritva in Kesuvos 8a that says we make Birkas Eirusin on a kos yayin because it's like kiddush on Shabbos.  You can't have it both ways, people!.)  Every week, we turn and greet Shabbos as if it were a queen, as if it were our bride.  It's not; it's a day of the week.  But we give it form and identity and personality.  We reify it, we hypostatisize it.

Also regarding Shabbos- the Hafla'ah in his pirush on Chumash, the Panim Yafos, brings the Mechilta in Ki Sisa 31:16 that says two things.
רבי אלעזר בן פרטא אומר כל המשמר את השבת כאלו עשה השבת שנאמר לעשות את השבת
and "ne'esah shutaf im HKB"H be'ma'aseh Breishis."  And he brings Rashi in Breishis that after the first six days, the world was lacking menuchah, so HKB"H created Shabbos.  He says that from these places, you see that refraining from doing melacha on Shabbos is a ma'aseh asiyah, not a shlili.

There are many more examples.  Let's see what turns up this week.

In the first comment, Reb Micha Berger said:
...R' Yosef Caro's Maggid was an embodiment of the Mishnayos. Not the soul of their author, a mal'ach formed of the book itself.

Micha's remark made me realize that the Rambam says that a malach is no more than Hashem's will given form, a condensation of the shlichus of Hashem.  That being said, it's similar to the Chazal that when we come to the final judgment, our mitzvos and aveiros will not just be listed; the mitzvos and aveiros themselves will come and testify.  Anything that has a shlichus, anything that has a tafkid, can be said to have a independent existence, an it-ness or a thing-ness. 
If you have a better word than it-ness, I solicit your suggestions.

Please note: the comments are more interesting than the post.  That's what I'm here for, to start fights.


  1. And R' Yosef Caro's Maggid was an embodiment of the Mishnayos. Not the soul of their author, a mal'ach formed of the book itself.


  2. Excellent!
    Two points: Where does it say this; and, saying it's a malach kind of takes the wind out of my sails, or at least changes the tack. A malach, we are told, is just the 'embodiment' of a task or a concept. It is a shlichus. If so, we're not really doing something so odd by giving Shabbos or Chagiga a personality, are we?

  3. Are you really trying to apply the Rambam's definition of mal'akh to understanding maggidim? Pretty eclectic!

    That said, not odd at all.

    Also explains how each person has a yeitzer hara, but the general concept of YhR can be reified as a mal'akh we refer to as the satan.

    I recently blogged a series of posts about how spiritual entities are concepts, and yet that doesn't have to rob them of the power mequbalim want them to have.


  4. How do we know that the personification and/or objectification of ruchnius'dike concepts are to be taken literally?

  5. Gersonides, you're most likely right, that all these examples are just ways of enabling us to respond with emotion and love to concepts and mitzvos. It's so much easier to say you love Shabbos if you see it as a sort of beautiful and loving Kallah, then if you see it as a day of kedusha. Even the coldest litvak, if he spent some years learning with hasmada, reacts to the Menoras Hamaor's story.

    And yet the idea is entrenched in our mesora. Chazal certainly saw nothing wrong with this kind of representation; as I said, maybe our concept of malachim stems from the same source. Maybe it is just a didactic trope, but I'm not sure I want to just relegate it to the story bin.

  6. V'kasavti al haluchos es HAdevarim asher ha'yu al haluchos harishonim...

    Shem m'Shmuel, Alshich are medyakek that it's not KAdevarim, but it's HAdevarim = those exact same letters. Obviously had the letters just been been a product of the engraving process, once the stones of the first luchos were broken, the letters should be gone. Elah, the letters are an independent metziyus.

    But not every case is the same, and I think more often than not the imagry and personification of the ideal is just a poetic device.

  7. See? Chaim B also is ambivalent about this. It's a fascinating thought-- for example, Micha's reference to Reb Yosef Caro's Maggid. The idea is exactly the same as the Menoras Hamaor's Chagiga: the mixture of the ruchnius of the subject and the love of the student blows the breath of life into what had been only a concept. Shades of Pygmalion. Just you wait, 'enry 'iggens, just you wait!

  8. Will you please, finally, at long last, learn the Shiurei Da'as. For someone who said he couldn't find the concept(s) of simcha in Torah (i.e., Litvishe) literature - ignoring the ten leshonos in sheva berachot (Shas, after all, is Litvishe literature), the Alei Shur, etc., you are remarkably resistant to suggestions from your gps as to where to find true Litvishe hashkafa. (Had that been "True, Litvishe hashkafa," it would have been redundant.)

    כי כל בשמים ובארץ א' וב' ובצלמנו כדמותנו are particularly relevant to this topic (these are shiurim 1, 2 and 11 in חלק א respectively) In the last one, The Maharil Bloch mentions a visit to the Ba'al Haleshem.

    The idea of corporating spiritual concepts is backwards. Everything that is corporeal is a manifestation (shadow, projection) of a spiritual reality (i.e., what we call "a concept.") The issue is, what does it take to make a specific spiritual reality cast a projection into our world of דמיון

    Incidentally, the Hagahos HaRa'avad asserts that "bigger and better people than the Rambam" attributed literal corporeality to the Ribbono Shel Olam.

  9. Yes, there's that Ra'avad, but from what I can see, everyone says that he was just complaining about the Rambam's pejorative reference to those people, not that he believed it was a defensible shittah.

    As for your ascription of neo-platonic philosophy to Chazal, yes, it sure does sound like that. But as far as I know, platonic philosophy theorizes that physical objects are imperfect echoes of perfect concepts. You, and I initially made the same mistake, are bouncing in the other direction, and making a supernatural object out of a meta-physical concept.

  10. Funny that Great Unknown should mention it, because the first thing that came to my mind when I read this yesterday was the Shiurei Da'as. I was thinking of the piece where he explains how the tzefardeya think and commit to kiddush Hashem -- we all know frogs don't think. I was too lazy to look up which shiur it is in so I didn't mention it, but I will echo the call to learn the sefer!

  11. the particular midrash is quoted and analyzed beginning on page נ.

    actually, i have a meshora that the Ra'avad was referring to himself.

    forget neo-Platonicism and other dim distortions of truth. The ruchniyus olamos are where it's at.

    indeed, the torah in this world is simply a manifestation (לבוש דלבוש דלבוש ad infinitum) of the רצון הבורא and halacha is the determination of which of the infinite possible manifestations to adopt as normative behavior - which leads to אלו ואלו.

    in reality מחשבה is much more powerful than מעשה - except for those who are blinded to reality by עולם הגשמי.

    one of my students/associates postulated that this world is a virtual reality (which of course leads to infinite regress in that the programmer probably only exists in a virtual reality created by a virtual programmer, etc... and littler flease to bite'm). The naif thinks the images on the screen are the reality: actually, the program is.
    the program, however, exists only in conceptual space.

    this, of course is all basic Litvishe hashkafa, instinctively understood by the most immature Litvak. It is only the chinuch in the rational pseudo-Litvishe yeshiva system that drives these instinctual understandings out of one's intuition. blame the Briskers.

    In חלק ב btw, the Maharil Block defines humanity as the infinite regress of self-awareness.

  12. דרך לא כל כך אגב משכתבתי על בריסק לא היה (כיוצא מן הכלל) דרך הלצה. עיין היטב בשם הגדולים על הרמב"ם מה שהביא מהרח"ו ודו"ק

  13. מה שכתבתי בהערה הקודמת היתה קצת מגומגמת. כוונתי היתה למה שהביא החיד"א בשם הגדולים, מערכת רמב"ם, בשם הרח"ו

  14. היתה שיטה עקבית בין חכמי אשכנז שחלקו על רס"ג והרמב"ם בענין ההגשמה. ספר "כתב תמים" של רבי משה תקו (מובא הרבה באו"ז) מוקדש כולו לפולמוס כנגד הרמב"ם, ולעתו שיטה זו של שלילת ההגשמה היא היא המינות

  15. see also Wikipedia under his name

  16. I'm not sure I'm comfortable with the direction this is taking, but if you, like me, never heard of the person Reb Eli cited, here's something Natan Slifkin wrote about him:

    In that post, you will see two hyperlinks. The first is to the sefer Ksav Tamim, and the second is to an article by a Rabbi David Sedley about the corporeality dispute. I do not know either Slifkin or Sedley, so I cannot vouch for their veracity, scholarship, or ehrlichkeit. Come to think of it, I can't even vouch for my own. All I can say is that I and these people call ourselves Orthodox Jews, a group that comprises geniuses and idiots, saints and sinners.

  17. usually in the same individual

  18. Sorry, the two links I gave before were broken, one for the כתב תמים which (an alternative to which was already given by Rav Barzilai), and the other is Hebrew Wiki on RMT.

    Anyway, some background on R. Moshe Taku: He was rather well known at his time of early Rishonim (as an Halachist, not just a polemist against the philosophical approach) and is quoted by many including Ramban (gittin 7 והחכם הגדול רבי משה ב"ר חסדאי מפולניא שיחיה ויאריך ימים), Or-Zarua, Shut Rama 127, etc.

    For an interesting overview on this topic by someone more known than Rav Sedley (but nevertheless a self-identified OJ) see Rav Casher, Torah Shlema, vol. 16 p.288-321

  19. as long as Rav Eli mentioned Harav Kasher, I have a comment and a query:

    a) nobody with his mind, who was also exposed to the Rogotchover, could ever be called "orthodox" as an adjective. A glimpse of this may be grasped in the introduction to the מפענח צפונות

    b) is the Torah Shleima finally shleima, and if not, is there any movement towards finishing it?