Lions and Corners
The Latent Holiness of Human Love
The Courage of Mussar and the Limits of Seichel.
Knitting our Brows about Why King David Couldn't Build the Beis Hamikdash
The Hidden Prophecy of the Destruction, and Rebuilding, of the Batei Mikdash
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.' 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,
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:
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.
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.