After posting the Rambam's third principle -- that G-d has no form, no physicality at all -- I received a few comments from Christians arguing that the T'nach will sometimes say that G-d has a "face" or that man was created "in G-d's image."
When Torah says Moses and G-d spoke "face to face" it means that G-d communicated directly with Moses, not through dreams or visions as He did with all other prophets. For the missionary who wishes to insist that the word "face" must mean a literal human face (even though Torah also tells us G-d is not a man) and that no one can see Him and live -- yet these passages are never quoted to me by missionaries!
They also over look Zechariah 4:10 which says that G-d has seven eyes that come out of their sockets and wander through the earth. Why is Zechariah not used as proof that G-d has seven eyes that leave the sockets (presumambly of his "face") and wander the earth.
The Torah speaks in the language of man -- using terms and images we can relate to and understand. This does not mean that G-d looks like humans. He does not have wings of an eagle/vulture based on Sh'mot / Exodus 19:4 either.
What about B'reshit / Genesis 1:27 which says that G-d (singular, ONE) created man "in His image"? This translation has caused thousands of years of misunderstanding. We are told time and again that no one can see G-d and live -- that we never see any form of Him (because there is no form). So what does B'reshit / Genesis mean when it speaks of man being created in G-d's image? Two things -- that G-d created man using an image of His creation (think "blueprint") "G-d [thus] created man with His image (blueprint). In the image of G-d, He created him, male and female He created them." B'reshit / Genesis 1:27. "His image" also means that we were given the ability to think and reason logically -- a gift from G-d not given to other creatures.
G-d is not a man, and G-d never appears in "human form" in the Torah. Ever. The Torah tells us that G-d appeared to the patriarchs -- but HOW he appeared is never addressed. Take Sh'mot / Exodus 33:18-20 which says that none can see G-d and live: "Moses said, “Show me your glory." GLORY folks -- not "body."
In Sh'mot / Exodus 33:11, the Hebrew expression פנים אל פנים / "panim el panim" (face to face) is an idiomatic expression (not literal) -- it means that two entities had a close relationship -- such as Moses had with G-d. The Torah tells us that G-d communicated with Moses directly, whereas all other prophets had visions and dreams which conveyed messages from G-d. In speaking to Moses 'face-to-face" it does not mean they stood with "faces" inches apart -- indeed G-d tells Moses that Moses cannot "see" G-d and live -- ergo Moses never saw any "face" of G-d.
This same expression, פנים אל פנים / "panim el panim" is repeated in Yechezkel / Ezekiel 20:35 - "And I will bring you to the Wilderness of the Nations, and I will contend with you there face to face." Yet we know that after Moses no other prophet communicated directly with G-d (including Ezekiel) -- ergo this is another example of it simply being an expression of closeness.
Do the missionaries think that G-d brought us Jews into the wilderness and then physically fought with each and every one of us "face to face"? Or do you suppose they are willing to admit that in Ezekiel it doesn't mean literally G-d's "face" to the face of every Jew then alive?
It is an expression -- G-d has no "face."
Translating the Hebrew word פָּנִים / panim as “face” loses some of the meaning (although English lacks any more suitable translation). פָּנִים / panim is another of those nouns that have a plural form (and are treated grammatically as plural) in Hebrew even though they are singular in meaning; and, also, the word לִפְנֵי־ / lifnei...(which means “in front of...”, although those who prefer archaisms translate it as “before...”) literally means “to the panim (‘face’) of...”
Sh'mot / Exodus 24:17 says that "the appearance of the glory of Hashem was like a consuming fire on the mountaintop before the eyes of the Children of Israel." Meaning, the Children of Israel witnessed the glory of the L-rd. Yet constantly Moses says that they saw no form or likeness.
In Sh'mot / Exodus 24:20 we are told "And He said, "You will not be able to see My face, for man shall not see Me and live."
Yet the missionaries want to think that G-d lied and it IS possible to see G-d and live???
Now -- we've already been told that G-d spoke to Moses "face to face" yet here we are told that no one can look at G-d's face and live. This apparent contradiction has to do with people's unfamiliarity with Hebrew.
The Hebrew expression "panim el panim", which literally means 'face-to-face', is used to express a relationship of 'intimate familiarity' such as Moses had with G-d; this is a common Hebrew idiom. In speaking to Moses 'face-to-face', the context in Hebrew is clear and doesn't imply any direct viewing of G-d. All that it means is that the Creator spoke to Moses as a friend would [note the phrase that immediately follows, as a man would speak to his companion.], and that the message was direct, in the form of self-luminous thought and complete self-consciousness and not in dreams of visions.
This same expression, "panim el panim" is repeated at the end of D'varim /Deuteronomy 34:10 in the same context - showing the closeness that existed between Moses and G-d. With this in mind, the rest of that passage isnt problematic at all.
I think their argument sinks right here, doesn't it?
When Torah says Moses and G-d spoke "face to face" it means that G-d communicated directly with Moses, not through dreams or visions as He did with all other prophets. Constantly Moses says throughout the Torah that there was no form, that the Children of Israel saw no form or likeness, etc. He warned them NOT to use any images -- and yet that is what the missionary insists we should do -- ignore G-d and listen to them!
Rambam in Guide for the Perplexed 1:37 writes – “It is also a term denoting the presence and station of an individual…. In this sense it is said: And the lord spoke unto Moshe face to face – which means, as a presence to another presence without an intermediary, as is said: Come let us look one another in the face.”
The Rambam continues: “Thus Scripture says: HaShem spoke to you face to face. In another passage, it explains, saying: You heard the voice of words but you saw no figure, only a voice. Hence, this kind of speaking and hearing are described as being face to face.”
There is no physical “face” – there was no figure only a voice.
“Similarly the words, And HaShem spoke to Moshe face to face, describe His speaking as being in the form of an address [to Moshe]. Accordingly, it is said: Then he heard the voice speaking to him. It has accordingly been made clear to you that the hearing of a speech without the intermediary of an angel is described as being face to face. . .
“In this sense it is also said: But my face shall not be seen, meaning that the true reality of My existence as it veritably is cannot be grasped.”
One would think that if G-d was going to manifest Himself in human form somewhere the Torah would have mentioned it -- instead the Torah makes it clear that Moses never asked to actually "see" G-d. Moses said "' "Show me, now, Your glory!" -- not "your body" or "your form" -- your glory! Or, 'Let me comprehend Your unique nature' (Yad, Yesodey HaTorah 1:10). G-d replied "'You cannot have a vision of My Presence. A man cannot have a vision of Me and live." (Sh'mot / Exodus 33:18 - 20).
When Torah says Moses and G-d spoke "face to face" it means that G-d communicated directly with Moses, not through dreams or visions as He did with all other prophets. For the missionary who wishes to insist that the word "face" must mean a literal human face (even though Torah also tells us G-d is not a man) I quote R' Yisroel Blumenthal:
"I wonder if you believe that G-d has seven eyes that come out of their sockets and wander through the earth – based on Zechariah 4:10 – and that God has wings of an eagle/vulture based on Exodus 19:4 – G-d rides on a cloud based on Isaiah 19:1 – and sometimes he rides on horses – based on Habakuk 3:8" - Rabbi Yisroel Blumenthal.
Sophiee Saguy has been countering false missionary claims about Judaism and the T'nach (Jewish bible) for nearly twenty years. You may find her on FaceBook and at the Messiah Truth forum.