Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Does Hashem have emotions?

Hashem is not physical - people are, and that's why we "feel" happiness, sadness, etc. Hashem has no emotions. He does not feel headaches or cold or anger or gladness or any emotion or feeling at all.
When it says "Hashem got angry" it is not meant literally. Hashem (a) is perfect, which means, among other things, that He is perfectly Simple (kulo poshut), and thus has no aspects, parts, attributes, or anything that is incidental or accidental to His essence. Emotion is therefore not possible for Hashem, since emotion is an incidental attribute, (b) is above time and therefore He cannot change, for change means you are subject to "before" and "after". And that means He cannot be at one moment happy and at another sad; He cannot have any emotions because emotions by definition require change; (c) cannot be affected by anything at all (bilti nitleh bizulaso) and so you cannot cause G-d to feel anything, get angry, or have any impact on Hashem whatsoever, because that would mean you affected Him.
It is no more literal than when it says Hashem has an outstretched arm. G-d does not have feelings. If someone believes that Hashem has emotions, it is the same as if someone believes that Hashem has a nose. Such a belief does violence to Hashem's Simplicity (i.e. His Oneness), His independence, and His non-corporeality. We use the feelings metaphor for us to better relate to the will of Hashem, in the sense that is someone fulfills my will, like you mentioned with parents, I feel good, and vice versa. But regarding Hashem none of that is real. Hashem's chesed means that Hashem gains absolutely nothing from our Mitzvos, not even a sense of satisfaction. The Mitzvos are totally and completely for OUR sake, not His. (When we say G-d has "happiness" we don't mean emotional happiness, we mean "perfection." G-d promises us that perfection for us will be infinitely pleasurable -- I assume it feels good to be perfect -- and G-d gets it because He is perfect.) It's like, for instance when you put the wrong software in your computer and it acts up. You may say, as a figure of speech, that "the computer doesn’t like the software" or even "the computer got angry". The computer doesn’t really have any emotions or likes, but it acted in a way that metaphorically can be described as "anger".
So too, when we say Hashem got "angry" we mean that Hashem acted in a way that seems to us angry. But there was no emotion of anger involved. Our emotion that we call anger is only a moshol for Hashem's behavior.
So if we had a real Loshon Hakodesh dictionary there would be an entry like this:
an•ger n.- Hashem's actions toward us that that seem as if He would have a strong feeling of displeasure or hostility.
"Anger", when it refers to our emotion, is only a figure of speech.
The Shelah and Ralbag hold that real "strength" only applies to Hashem, and when we speak of humans or other creations having strength it is only a moshol. The Rambam and Ramchal hold the opposite: When we say literal strength we refer only to our strength, but when we talk about G-d, "strength" is just a moshol.
Either way, we have no understanding of what we mean when we talk about G-d. This whole disagreement is only regarding which words are literal and which are metaphors. Even if the terms are literal, however, we still have no comprehension what they mean when they refer to G-d.
The same thing for "hand." In Loshon Hakodesh it refers to Hashem's Midah of direct control in this world. The reason why we refer to our hand as a "hand" is because its function - grabbing and holding things - is similar to the real meaning of the word "hand", that is, Hashem's directly controlling things in this world.
According to the Rambam, the opposite is true: "Hand" refers to our physical limb, and when it is used in reference to Hashem, then it is a moshol.
But the only disagreement here is regarding the literal definition of the word "hand". Everybody agrees that there is no part of Hashem chas vsholom that is called a "hand". Neither in a physical nor non-physical way. Hashem, according to everyone, is "kulo poshut", completely simple - He has no parts, and no aspects. Hashem Echad - he is not two, nor is He two halves, or three thirds, etc.

G-d has no mercy in the emotional sense. He does, however, act in a way such that the results are the same as if He would have had mercy.
That’s what we mean when we ask G-d for mercy. We mean He should act in a way that seems merciful to us, although mercy is not His motivation.
When we say G-d has no "desires" it does not mean that G-d makes no decisions; it also does not mean that G-d is always indifferent to all outcomes; it also does not mean that G-d has no reasons for making those decisions. He does. In that sense, G-d certainly has "desires", meaning, there are certain things that G-d wants and others that he does not, and there are reasons why. However, when we say G-d has no "desires" it means that those reasons for G-d's decisions are not self-serving. The reasons, whatever they are, can never have to do with G-d benefiting in any way. G-d does things - He wants certain things to happen and certain thing not to happen, but not because He loses anything or gains anything either way.
This is perfectly reasonable to a rational mind. It is not the skeptic who will not accept it, but the cynic, who will say, "Well if there's nothing in it for G-d why should He do it?" This question is based on the fallacious and narrow-minded notion that because our motives always involve some gain for us, therefore G-d's motives also must do the same.
The mistake in this is that there is no reason to assume that there cannot be an entity that can act out of purely altruistic reasons. The fact that our motives always involve some benefit - does not mean that motives without benefit cannot exist. There is no logical reason that "reason for doing something" always has to involve "personal benefit." It is in our personal experience that this limitation exists. That does not mean that the limitation exists outside of our experience as well.
The question is narrow-minded because the particular error that allows the question occurs because the questioner does not consider the possibility that there are other realities that exist outside of his own experience. He thinks that, "Well, if I have never seen totally altruistic motives, then they cannot exist anywhere". The projecting of your own experiences on the entire universe - even, in this case, on G-d! - is narrow-minded.
For the record, though, answers are not designed to satisfy people - they are designed to negate questions. If the answer objectively negates the question then it is a valid answer. If any particular human being - skeptic or whoever - does not want to accept the answer, that does not diminish the validity of that answer. It diminishes the validity of the opinion of the skeptic.

As for how we are supposed to "act like Hashem"; when we say Hashem is "strong" it means He does not need strength because even without the attribute of strength He is never weak; when we say He is wise it means He does not need the thing we call wisdom because He is never ignorant, even without it; when we say Hashem is merciful it means that He does not need the emotion of mercy - even without it, His perfection demands that He is not cruel. It is Hashem's perfection that causes Him not to have any of these traits - He is so perfect that He does not need any of them. Traits such as wisdom, mercy, and the like are only positive things if you need them. We do. Hashem does not.
So when we are commanded to be like Hashem, we are not expected to use those traits that Hashem does not need, in order to mimic the actions that Hashem performs without them. As for knowing what “traits” Hashem has that we are supposed to try to follow, we know from a combination of Torah shebal peh, and tradition that was handed down from generation to generation.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great article. I think that it is a little too general to say that G-d has "no emotions" though. He loves. Not in the way that we do, but he loves us. I do agree with the rest of what has been written.

4:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But Hashem has no emotions. emotions mean change. We use the word love becuase it's the closest we can come to understanding it, but it's really something indescribable and completely impossible for us to understand. What makes you say this is different?

1:35 PM  

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