Other Non-Physical Existences?

Reader: Is God the only non physical existence?

Joseph Blalock, Israel

Rabbi: There are many non-physical existences. But God is dissimilar to them—God is dissimilar to everything—as He says, “To whom can you compare Me?” [1] God is not physical, but one should not think God is somehow similar to other non-physical things; nothing shares anything in common with God. God’s incomparability applies to everything.

Other non-physical existences include angels, our souls, wisdom, and laws that govern both the physical and non-physical worlds. But all those are created, while God is eternal. Herein lies the most significant distinction between God and other non-physical existences. Another great distinction is that all created existences have a design and properties, meaning they have limitations, which is inapplicable to God. “Design” means a thing is “this” to the exclusion of other properties. That is a limitation. 

Angels themselves attest to God’s unique nature: “And one [angel] would call to the other, “Holy, holy, holy! The Lord of Hosts! His presence fills all the earth!” (Isaiah 6:3) Holy means “distinct,” as God is distinct from them. This applies to 3 matters: He is distinct from non-physical existences, from earthly existences, and His distinction is eternal. This is why the word holy is used three times (Targum). God imbues angels with perfect knowledge, and they confess that God is unique.

Thus, as far as man knows, non-physical existence includes God, angels, the soul, wisdom and laws that govern all existences excluding God. Physical existences include all within the universe. If there are any other existences, we do not know of them, as God did not communicate them to us.

Do Appearances Matter?

Reader: How valuable are external appearances? Do they play a role in one’s relationship with God? 

Rabbi: King Saul sinned, and God told Samuel to anoint a new king to replace him. They traveled to the house of Jessie: “When they arrived and he saw Eliab, he thought, ‘Surely God’s anointed stands before Him.’ But God said to Samuel, ‘Pay no attention to his appearance or his stature, for I have rejected him. For not as man sees [does God see]: man sees with his eyes, but God sees into the heart’” (Samuel I, 16:6,7). 

God purposely did not tell Samuel which of Jesse's sons would be the new king. Apparently, God wanted Samuel to make this error to bring it out into the open so Samuel would perfect himself. Samuel’s error was that he estimated men in part based on appearances. God used this opportunity to correct this character flaw within Samuel.

“I will punish the officials and the king’s sons, and all who wear strange garments” (Zephania 1:8). Radak explains: “[this refers to] people who show themselves to be religious and pious and wear foreign clothing unlike the rest of the nation.” Radak teachers that the prophet Zephania critiqued a practice still alive today where people dress in a manner different than others in order to impress them. But this is egoistical and completely valueless. 

The lesson from these two cases is that God cares nothing about appearances, as our many rabbis say [2], “God desires the heart.” It must be obvious to any intelligent person that all God’s asks of man relates to his increased intelligence and to the control of his emotions and improved morality, neither of which have any relationship to his clothing.

Thank you to my friend Haddasah for raising this issue this week. 

[1] Isaiah 40:18,25

[2] Mishnah Pesachim 10:5

Duties of the Heart (introduction)

Tzavaat HaRivash 1:1

Ibn Ezra, Exodus 31:18