The Nature of G-d
Most areas of Jewish belief are open to significant dispute, but not the nature of the Creator
There are several well-accepted beliefs about the nature of the Creator
The nature of G-d is one of the few areas of
abstract Jewish belief where there are a number of clear-cut ideas about which
there is little dispute or disagreement.
The fact of G-d's existence is accepted almost without question. Proof is not
needed, and is rarely offered. The Torah begins by
stating "In the beginning, G-d created..." It does not tell who G-d is or how
He was created.
In general, Judaism views the existence of G-d as a necessary prerequisite for
the existence of the universe. The existence of the universe is sufficient
proof of the existence of G-d.
G-d is One
One of the primary expressions of Jewish faith, recited twice daily in
prayer, is the
Shema, which begins "Hear, Israel: The L-rd is our
G-d, The L-rd is one." This simple statement encompasses several different ideas:
- There is only one G-d. No other being participated in the work of creation.
- G-d is a unity. He is a single, whole, complete indivisible entity. He
cannot be divided into parts or described by attributes. Any attempt to ascribe
attributes to G-d is merely man's imperfect attempt to understand the infinite.
- G-d is the only being to whom we should offer praise. The Shema can also be
translated as "The L-rd is our G-d, The L-rd alone," meaning that no other is
our G-d, and we should not pray to any other.
G-d is the Creator of Everything
Everything in the universe was created by G-d and only by G-d. Judaism
completely rejects the dualistic notion that evil was created by Satan or some
other deity. All comes from G-d. As Isaiah said , "I am the L-rd, and there is
none else. I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create evil.
I am the L-rd, that does all these things." (Is. 45:6-7).
G-d is Incorporeal
Although many places in scripture and Talmud
speak of various parts of G-d's body (the Hand of G-d, G-d's wings, etc.) or
speak of G-d in anthropomorphic terms (G-d walking in the garden of Eden, G-d
laying tefillin, etc.), Judaism firmly
maintains that G-d has no body. Any reference to G-d's body is simply a figure
of speech, a means of making G-d's actions more comprehensible to beings living
in a material world. Much of Rambam's Guide for
the Perplexed is devoted to explaining each of these anthropomorphic references
and proving that they should be understood figuratively.
We are forbidden to represent G-d in a physical form. That is considered
idolatry. The sin of the Golden Calf incident was not that the people chose
another deity, but that they tried to represent G-d in a physical form.
G-d is Neither Male nor Female
This follows directly from the fact that G-d has no physical form. As one
rabbi explained it to me, G-d has no body, no
genitalia, therefore the very idea that G-d is male or female is patently
absurd. We refer to G-d using masculine terms simply for convenience's sake,
because Hebrew has no neutral gender; G-d is no more male than a table is.
Although we usually speak of G-d in masculine terms, there are times when we
refer to G-d using feminine terms. The Shechinah, the manifestation of G-d's
presence that fills the universe, is conceived of in feminine terms, and the
word Shechinah is a feminine word.
G-d is Omnipresent
G-d is in all places at all times. He fills the universe and exceeds its scope.
He is always near for us to call upon in need, and He sees all that we do.
Closely tied in with this idea is the fact that G-d is universal. He is not
just the G-d of the Jews; He is the G-d of all nations.
G-d is Omnipotent
G-d can do anything. It is said that the only thing that is beyond His power is
the fear of Him; that is, we have free will, and He
cannot compel us to do His will. This belief in G-d's omnipotence has been
sorely tested during the many persecutions of Jews, but we have always
maintained that G-d has a reason for allowing these things, even if we in our
limited perception and understanding cannot see the reason.
G-d is Omniscient
G-d knows all things, past, present and future. He knows our thoughts.
G-d is Eternal
G-d transcends time. He has no beginning and no end. He will always be there to
fulfill his promises. When Moses asked for G-d's
name, He replied, "Ehyeh asher ehyeh." That phrase is generally translated as,
"I am that I am," but the word "ehyeh" can be present or future tense, meaning
"I am what I will be" or "I will be what I will be." The ambiguity of the
phrase is often interpreted as a reference to G-d's eternal nature.
G-d is Both Just and Merciful
I have often heard Christians speak of Judaism as the religion of the strict
Law, which no human being is good enough to fulfill (hence the need for the
sacrifice of Jesus). This is a gross mischaracterization of Jewish belief.
Judaism has always maintained that G-d's justice is tempered by mercy, the two
qualities perfectly balanced. Of the two Names of
G-d most commonly used in scripture, one refers to his quality of justice
and the other to his quality of mercy. The two names were used together in the
story of Creation, showing that the world was created with both justice and mercy.
G-d is Holy and Perfect
One of the most common names applied to G-d in the post-Biblical period is
"Ha-Kadosh, Barukh Hu," The Holy One, Blessed be He.
Avinu Malkeinu: G-d is our Father and our King
Judaism maintains that we are all G-d's children. A well-known piece of Jewish
liturgy repeatedly describes G-d as "Avinu
Malkeinu," our Father, our King. The Talmud teaches that there are three
participants in the formation of every human being: the mother and father, who
provide the physical form, and G-d, who provides the soul, the personality, and
the intelligence. It is said that one of G-d's greatest gifts to humanity is
the knowledge that we are His children and created in
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