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What is G-d?

by Rabbi Shlomo Chein

  

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G-d

G-d can’t be defined.

I am not avoiding the question. That is the answer. You want to know "what is G-d?" G-d can’t be defined. That is what He/She/It/Is is.

A dictionary containing an accurate definition of the Jewish understanding of G-d would look like this:

G-d: the indefinable.

The Definition of Definition

A definition is a limitation by definition. If something is defined as red, it is not blue. If it is a circle it is not a square. If it is big it is not small.

G-d is neither red nor blue. For that matter, G-d is neither colorful nor colorless. G-d is not a circle, square, both or either.

G-d is neither finite, nor infinite.

That is why there is no definition of G-d in the Torah. G-d is only known by the things He does. "I am G-d your L-rd that took you out of Egypt"1, "For the L-rd your G-d is a merciful G-d"2.

there is no definition of G-d in the Torah. G-d is only known by the things He does.
All of G-d’s names are also merely descriptions of His actions, not His essence. And when Moses asks G-d who are you, what is your name? G-d says "I will be what I will be".3

G-d of Creation

The atheist and the believer have the same answer to the origins of the universe; they just say it in different words. The atheist says "I don’t know". The believer says "G-d".

The believer knows as little about G-d as the atheist knows about what he doesn’t know.

The difference is merely that the atheist believes man can know everything, so until we do, it doesn’t exist. The believer understands existence comes from the unknowable, and intellect too is a finite creation. He knows that G-d is, although he can't know what G-d is.

Logic dictates we can know no more about G-d than we can know about an author from his book, or an artist from his painting. But just as we know a painting has an artist and a book an author, we know the universe has a Creator.

Atheism and agnosticism are not a reaction to the belief in G-d, but to the definition of G-d.
This is not belief. It is common sense.

In this context G-d can be defined as the origins of all being, the existence from which everything exists. He is the artist, the canvas, the paint, and the picture.

It is these Divine attributes and manifestations of creation that are studied, explored, and grappled in Jewish mysticism.

But this is not G-d; it is only how G-d relates to His creation.

G-d of Religion

The difficulty with accepting, or believing in, G-d began with people claiming they actually knew what G-d is, so they defined it.

Atheism and agnosticism are not a reaction to the belief in G-d, but to the definition of G-d.

The idea that the indefinable unknowable G-d can be defined and understood by a mortal, is hard to swallow; both for the atheist, and the true believer.

Even the claim that the indefinable and unknowable G-d merely communicated with a human is a high claim.

For this one needs faith.

That is why Judaism doesn’t claim to know G-d, only to know what He wants from us; and only because He let that be known in a mass revelation at Sinai. We didn’t have to believe that; we experienced it firsthand.

In this context religion can’t depict a definition of G-d; only of what He wants. It can’t paint an image of who you should pray to; only that you should pray.

Because in Judaism G-d can’t be defined or understood. But He can be heeded and addressed.

And some times, experienced.

Footnotes

  • 1. Exodus 20:2
  • 2. Deuteronomy 4:31
  • 3. Exodus 3:13

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Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Moses
[Hebrew pronunciation: Moshe] Greatest prophet to ever live. Led the Jews out of Egyptian bondage amidst awesome miracles; brought down the Tablets from Mount Sinai; and transmitted to us word-for-word the Torah he heard from G-d's mouth. Died in the year 1272 BCE.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.