Attributes of G-d

When we describe an attribute of G-d, we can’t mean “attribute” in the normal sense. If we said that G-d has properties that are not His essence, we would be saying He is divisible. Therefore, the Rambam takes these “attributes” to be one of two things: 1- descriptions of how G-d relates to man, or 2- descriptions of what He isn’t.Rav Saadia Gaon divides the Rambam’s first category further. Hashem’s actions are those we associate with given attributes, so we are really describing his actions. However, Rav Saadia allows for attributes of the relationship itself. Rachamim (mercy) can therefore describe either our perception of His actions, that they are actions we associate with merciful people. Or, it is an attribute of the G-d-man relationship. But this distinction is rather subtle, and not picked up by the Rambam.In the Rambam’s first category, we find such terms as Rachum (merciful), Chanun (kind, generous), Go’el (redeemer), etc… In the latter, there is Unity, Omnipresence, Omnipotence, Omniscience, and the like. The Rambam explains (Moreh I 58):

It has thus been shown that every attribute predicated of G-d either denotes the quality of an action, or… the negation of the opposite. Even these negative attributes must not be formed and applied to G-d, except in the way which, as you know, sometimes an attribute is negative in reference to some thing, although that attribute can naturally never be applied to it in the same sense, as, eg, we say, “This wall does not see.”… Thus we say the heavens are not light, not heavy, not passive and therefor not subject to impressions, and that they do not possess the sensations of of taste and smell; or we use similar negative attributes. All this we do because we do not know the substance.

There are two ways to understand “infinite.” Either we mean transfinite, large without end. Like the number of integers or the number of real numbers. The other is that the concept related to that limit is meaningless for the subject we are discussing. In the case of the unknowable, the Rambam insists that the second usage is intended.

The Rambam addresses Aristotle’s opinion that the universe is infinitely old by denying the meaning of an infinite regress.

In Aristotle’s and the Rambam’s thought, the idea of a “completed infinity” had too many paradoxes. Instead they dealt with the “potentially infinite”. Rather than saying X is infinitely large they would say that X is larger than any finite quantity you may happen to choose. For any finite sized rock, HQBH’s strength is greater. That’s a weaker claim than saying He has strength of limitless size. The latter also has the bigger problem of making Hashem divisible — Him, and His Strength.

When we say that He is Omnipotent we don’t mean that He has infinite power, rather that “potency” is not a meaningful concept with respect to G-d. Unfortunately, I can not even explain the previous sentence, which is why things are stated in their traditional forms.

Similarly, if we were to ask “where is ‘1+1=2’?” there are two valid answers, “everywhere” since “1+1=2” is true throughout the universe, and “nowhere” since the concept of location does not apply to mathematical truths. The Rambam clearly indicates that G-d’s infinity is to be taken in this second sense. Thus it is true that G-d is everywhere, yet that he is also remote, in heaven – location is meaningless.

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