Guide to the Perplexed 1.26 Moreh Nevuchim Torah Speaks the Language of Human Beings
Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (Maimonides)

Translated by guest translator Mordechai Mays


First Part, Chapter 26. Torah Speaks Using the Language of Human Beings.

You already know the generalization used to explain all sorts of ideas connected to this topic [i.e. of giving physical attributes to G-d] which is that "the Torah speaks using the language of Human Beings". The idea being that anything [i.e. any phraseology] which is possible for man to understand and grasp at first glance, that is the phrase which is seen as correct when [speaking of] G-d All Mighty. Thus He is described with titles hinting at physicality in order to show that He actually exists, because the masses do not grasp at first glance existence which is not in physical form and anything which does not have a body or is not found within a body [simply] does not exist for them at all.

Thus anything which is considered as perfection for us Human Beings is attributed to Him the All Mighty to show that He is perfect in all aspects of perfection and there is no lack in Him whatsoever. Therefore anything which the masses view as lacking or absence is not [used to] describe Him; thus He will not be described as eating or drinking nor sleeping or ill or unjust or the like. And anything which the masses think as perfection will be used to describe Him - even though that concept is only perfect in relation to ourselves, but in relation to Him the All Mighty all things which we think of as perfection are the epitome of lacking; but if they thought of this Human perfection as being lacking regarding the All Mighty they would view it as a lack regarding Him [and not regarding themselves].

You know that movement is an aspect of perfection in any living creature and a necessary aspect of its development. Just like it is necessary that it require food and drink in order to replace that which has been used [as regards energy] so too does it need to move in order to acquire that which is suitable and familiar to it and to distance itself from that which is not familiar or could cause it damage. There is no difference whether the All Mighty will be described eating and drinking or of He is described in motion, however according to the way people speak, i.e. the way the masses see eating and drinking, it would seem to them to be a fault regarding G-d [if He was described as eating], whereas movement is not thought of as such, even though movement is only necessary to fulfill the needs of the creature [and G-d has no needs]; furthermore, we have also proved without any doubt that any creature which moves must be one which has a body which can be divided into separate parts and it will be explained later on that G-d has no body and thus one will not find Him moving at all and similarly the divine presence will thus not be described as moving [and resting], only in continuous general movement.

We can see that all the words used which describe all sorts of movement of all sorts of creatures which are also used to describe the All Mighty – in the way that we described – is because movement is an essential aspect of life. Furthermore, there is no doubt that if one wishes to remove all concept of physicality then one must remove all these words like "descend", "ascend", "went", "standing", "stopped", "surrounded", "sat", "dwelt", "went out", "came", "passed" and the like. Speaking at length about this is actually unnecessary, but because the masses have become accustomed to thinking about it, therefore it is a good idea to explain it to those who want to bring themselves to human perfection and to remove from themselves the imaginings of their youth by speaking a little bit more extensively on this topic.

Traduzione in italiano di Ralph Anzarouth
Italian translation by Ralph Anzarouth