Tanya: The Incorporeality of God


Moshe Ben-Chaim



Reader: Since we posted it our web site, your article “Tanya’s Heresy” has come under attack by a Chabad Rabbi who has called you a heretic, and your writings heresy, and has placed a ban on your web site. Have you ever recanted of your original thoughts and words since you wrote the piece?


Mesora: The only reason to abandon one’s position is when proof exists for its error. However, Tanya’s statement in this case (below) that there is a “literal piece of God in man” is indeed heresy, as it assumes God is subject to division. I do wish to make it clear, as many have misunderstood my intent. In my previous comments on this section of Tanya, I did not accuse any individual per se. Rather, I took issue with a “statement”, regardless of the author. As my friend Yaakov indicated, and I agree, the Baal Tanya is consistent with the Torah’s fundamentals in other sections of his work. It therefore seems that this statement in Tanya that man’s soul is “truly part of God”, may not be accurately ascribed to the Tanya’s author. I quote the section at hand below:


“The second, uniquely Jewish soul is truly part of God above.

‘A part of God above’ is a quotation from Scripture (Job, 31:2). The Alter Rebbe adds the word ‘truly’ to stress the literal meaning of these words. For, as is known, some verses employ hyperbolic language. For example, the verse describing ‘great and fortified cities reaching into the heavens’ is clearly meant to be taken figuratively, not literally. In order that we should not interpret the phrase ‘ a part of God above’ in a similar manner, the Alter Rebbe adds the word ‘truly’, thus emphasizing that the Jewish soul is quite literally a part of God above.” 

(Lessons In Tanya,” published by “Kehot”)


This statement contradicts all we know as true, and the fundamental of Torah: God is in no way subject to natural laws, the very laws He created. Suggesting that God is subject to “division”, one thereby errs twice: 1) he equates God with His creation; 2) also assuming man knows something about God. There are two verses in our Torah, which openly deny both of these points: God told Moses, “Man cannot know Me while alive” (Exod. 33:20). God also told Isaiah, “To what can you equate Me, and I will be similar?” (Isaiah, 40:25). In both cases, God Himself teaches that man cannot know God, nor is anything equivalent to God in any manner. Therefore, suggesting God is subject to division denies God’s own words to Isaiah that He is not similar to anything, and His words to Moses, that He cannot be known.


Reader: Do you know of any other credible sources that have commented on the same subject before? I remember from one of the articles someone mentioned that someone had weighed in on this same thing in the past?


Mesora: Nothing is more credible than God’s very words to Moses and Isaiah! But yes, there was one other, contemporary Rabbi who argued on the Tanya’s words. But let us look to those, of whom even Tanya respects. Maimonides discusses the incorporeality of God in his 13 principles, as well in his Mishneh Torah. I will quote the latter:


Maimonides’ Laws of the Torah Fundamentals (1:7)

“And since God has no body, nothing can occur to Him belonging to the occurrences of bodies, so that He might be divided and separated from another.”


Maimonides’ Laws of the Torah Fundamentals (1:11)

“(God possesses) no joining, or division.”


Maimonides is quite clear: God is not subject to the occurrence of “division”. Hence, there cannot be a “part of God in man.” It cannot be spoken of God, that He is divisible, or any other characteristic belonging to the physical world. Tanya, in this instance denies the words of the prophets, and completely corrupts the words of Job, 31:1,2:


“A treaty have I made with my eye; for what shall I gaze at a virgin? And what portion shall I have with God above, and an inheritance of God on high?”


Here, Job declares he is upright, never gazing lustfully. Job explains that in doing so, one forfeits his “portion with God”. This is reasonable, and in accordance with God’s system of Reward and Punishment. But Tanya misinterprets the word “portion”, not as the end of the verse clarifies as “inheritance”, but wrongly, ascribing “parts” to God. This verse in Job simply means that Job admits he will forfeit his “portion” (inheritance) with God. Through sin, Job says he will lose this world and the next. Job is not describing God, that He has parts, God forbid. Job is describing his inheritance.


So the question in not “Who argues on Tanya?” but rather, “Why Tanya distorted Torah?” This is not a game of popularity among Rabbis, but as always, identifying what Torah truths are, and dismissing all else. Emotionally riveted responses of “condemnation” and “banning our website” reveal that one decries our view not based on reason. Had someone a rational argument against our position, he would offer it as his most effective response. But the condemnations we hear bereft of any reason bears out the truth: reason is not on the side of those assuming “part of God is in man.”


To date, since our original article was published denouncing that statement in Tanya, not one individual who decried it offered a counter position, let alone, rationale for their disagreement. It is quite clear: many people defend a position even though they don’t understand what they defend. They believe man is infallible, and every statement of a Rabbi must be true...as if God spoke it. However, from the disputations between our Rishonim, Talmudic Rabbis and Sages, we see they did not blindly accept each other’s views. This is an important lesson. It teaches that man was given a mind, not to “follow the leader”, but to engage in his own, individual approach to the truth. What merit exists for a man, if he does not understand what he utters or performs? Aaron the High Priest, correctly argued on Moses when he disagreed with what his own mind told him was the truth. Moses was in fact in error. Therefore, if Moses can be wrong, so too, all others are subject to error. “For man is not righteous o the land, who does good and does not sin.” (Ecclesiastes, 7:20)


No one can tell you to think something is true, if you do not think so. It is “shekker” (falsehood or lies) to agree with that which you see as fallacy. God warns us, “Midvar shekker tirhak”, “From a false matter, distance yourself”. (Exod. 23:7) Torah knowledge is the study of truth. To make allies with falsehoods and lies is to distance one’s self from truth. Therefore, we are warned to remove ourselves from lies. Such attachments corrupt our thinking, and make the search for truth all the more difficult. This search is our sole reason for our existence. Honesty demands we say something is false when it is. It is sinful to do otherwise.


What we witness today is the outgrowth of crippled minds. Jewish educators have successfully taught students how to remain ignorant: “You must never oppose a reputation of a great Rabbi.” What a tragedy. How are future generations going to be led, if those being trained in today’s Yeshiva’s are trained not to think? How will these very students see the truth for themselves, when all they do is parrot statements, with no understanding? If someone has rationale for his view, let him speak, otherwise, condemnations are worthless.


It is our goal to come to a true love of God, and a realization of the beautiful ideas God has made available to us through honest, Torah study. It is a travesty of Torah to maintain reputations of Rabbis, if in doing so we blindly defend the most harmful fallacies. Accurate knowledge of God, in so far as we are capable, is the most essential of all areas of Torah knowledge. We must therefore not cower from any position that contradicts Torah fundamentals.


We must admit that man is fallible, and abandon the desire to maintain pristine reputations of men, if in doing so, we deny Torah truths.


I sincerely hope that the Torah’s words quoted herein do not fall on deaf ears. I understand that man’s respect for Rabbis carries great, emotional strength. It is quite difficult to accept that one’s Rabbi may have erred. But this emotion must not take precedence over “truth”. We must set aside reputations, and compare God’s words to those quoted from Tanya. We must compare truth to fallacy. We must be honest; training our students to use reason as their one, exclusive means of determining reality, abandoning the current state of affairs, where one accepts everything he hears, even from a Rabbi.


Our goal is to attach ourselves to God and truth – not to man. This is an obligation on all men and women, Jew and Gentile alike.