Rabbi Sacks on the Platonistic Concept of God

From Faith Lectures – Creation: Where Did We Come From?

As long as we think of God in classic philosophical terms, that line makes no sense at all. If God is omniscient, omnipotent, platonic, Aristotelian-it is impossible to comprehend that God should lack anything. Indeed, as Maimonides says at the beginning of the Mishneh Torah, and as Aquinas and all the other theologians say, imagine the whole universe did not exist-God would not have been changed. No difference to Him. Take away the universe, you do not take anything away from God.

That is the classic Hellenistic conception of God as the total self-sufficient Being. But supposing we stop thinking in philosophical terms and start thinking in Jewish terms? And here I am referring you to Halevy’s classic distinction between the God of Aristotle and the God of Abraham-did I explain that before? You know that we have two names for God in Hebrew? The word elokim and the word yud, heh, vav, heh [Hashem]-the four-letter name of God. Yehuda Halevy says a brilliant thing about this? He says that the word el in Hebrew means ‘a force’. Elokim, therefore, means ‘the force of all forces’. Grammatically, syntactically, the word Elokim is a generic noun. It is an abstract concept: the force of all forces. Hashem is something different, grammatically different. It is a proper name. Hashem is a proper name: God’s first name is Hashem. Therefore, when we relate to Hashem as Elokim, we are relating to Him as a concept, as the first cause, the concept of God familiar to Plato, Aristotle: human, everyone else, but when we are referring to God as Hashem, we are referring to God as an individual, as a person, as a Thou. That is the difference, says Yehuda Halevy, between the God of Aristotle, which we share in the concept of Elokim, and the God of Abraham, which generates not science but prophecy and intimacy.

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