This section explains the Third Principle of Faith, which states that G‑d “is not a body, nor any bodily power,” emphasizing that it is obvious that He does not have a body in a material sense. Instead, the intent of this principle is that He is above even the limitations of spiritual and intellectual existence.


– X –

אַחַר שֶׁנִּתְבָּאֲרוּ הָעִקָּר הַב' וְכָל פְּרָטֵי עִקָּר הַה' בַּפְּרָקִים הַקּוֹדְמִים וְעָלוּ כְּהֹגֶן בָּרוּךְ ה',

After the Second Fundamental Principle of Faith, listed by Rambam,1 and all of the particulars of the Fifth Fundamental Principle have been explained in the previous chapters and resolved satisfactorily with G‑d’s help,

נָבֹא לְבֵאוּר עִקָּר הג' וְהוּא

it is possible to proceed to the explanation of the Third Fundamental Principle, which is

מַה שֶּׁכָּתוּב שֶׁאֵינוֹ גוּף וְלֹא כֹּחַ בְּגוּף,

“that He is not a body, nor any bodily power.”

וְיִרְצוּ בְּזֶה

To quote Rambam,2 this involves:

בִּטּוּל הַגַּשְׁמוּת

“The negation of all material properties from His Being….

שֶׁלֹּא תַשִּׂיגֵהוּ מַה שֶּׁיַּשִּׂיג לְגוּפִים חָלִילָה

Not to ascribe to Him any of the functions that can be ascribed to bodies, G‑d forbid,

כְּמוֹ הַתְּנוּעָה וְהַמְּנוּחָה

e.g., movement or rest….3

וְהַכָּתוּב הַמּוֹרֶה עַל זֶה הוּא מַה שֶּׁכָּתוּב

The verse which reflects this states

כִּי לֹא רְאִיתֶם כָּל תְּמוּנָה וְגוֹ' (דְּבָרִים ד' ט"ו),

(Devarim 4:15): ‘You did not see any form.’ ”

וּלְפִי מַה שֶּׁנִּתְבָּאֵר לְעֵיל פֶּרֶק ג'

In the explanations in section 3,

בְּעִנְיַן בֵּאוּר הַהַאֲמָנָה

with regard to the definition of faith,

שֶׁהוּא יִתְבָּרֵךְ לְמַעְלָה מַּעְלָה מִבְּחִינַת חָכְמָה וְשֵׂכֶל כְּלָל

it was stated that faith involves the awareness that He transcends utterly the levels of Chochmah and intellect.

וְהִנֵּה כָּל הַנִּבְרָאִים הָרוּחָנִיִּים הֵם בְּחִינוֹת שִׂכְלִיִּים נִבְדָּלִים

For all of the spiritual creations are abstract intellectual entities.

In philosophy and mysticism (Jewish and secular), we often find reference to abstract, intellectual forms, existence that is not compromised by material trappings. For in the absence of appropriate terms to describe spiritual existence, “abstract intellect” is used.4

וַאֲפִלּוּ הַסְּפִירוֹת שֶׁהֵן אֱלֹקוּת

Even the Sefiros of Atzilus, which are G‑dliness, in contrast to these abstract, intellectual entities that are creations with an individual identity,

הֵן מְקוֹר הַחָכְמָה וְהַשֵּׂכֶל שֶׁבַּנִּבְרָאִים

are sources for the wisdom and intellect of the created beings,

אֲבָל עַצְמוּתוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ אֵינוֹ בְּגֶדֶר חָכְמָה

but His Essence is not of another sort of being entirely, far above the realm of Chochmah,

כַּנִּזְכָּר לְעֵיל בַּאֲרִיכוּת,

as explained above at length.

רוֹצֶה לוֹמַר שֶׁעִם הֱיוֹתָן רוּחָנִיִּים הִנֵּה יִתְפָּרֵשׁ הָעִקָּר הַזֶּה לְפִי זֶה

According to this conception, the intent of this fundamental principle

הֱיוֹת שֶׁאֵינוֹ כֹּחַ בְּגוּף

that “He is not any bodily power,”

רוֹצֶה לוֹמַר שֶׁאֵינוֹ מִמַּהוּת כֹּחוֹת הָרוּחָנִיִּים

is to emphasize that He is not of the same type of existence as the spiritual powers

שֶׁהֵם בְּחִינוֹת שִׂכְלִיִּים

that are intellectual entities.

After having explained that G‑d is absolutely transcendent, the principle that “He is not any bodily power” has to be understood in a more abstract manner. It does not mean only that G‑d does not have a physical body. It means that no form or defining quality can be ascribed to Him. In contrast, other spiritual entities, even though they are spiritual,

מִתְלַבְּשִׁים בְּגוּף גַּם כֵּן

they enclothe themselves in bodies

Since we are speaking of spiritual existence, we are not talking of bodies in a material sense. Nevertheless, on the spiritual plane, there is an existence in which the light and vitality they radiate are enclothed that, for lack of a better term, can be referred to as a body.

כְּנֶפֶשׁ הָאָדָם שֶׁמִּתְלַבֶּשֶׁת בְּגוּף כוּ'

like the soul of man that enclothes itself in the body

וְנִקְרֵאת כֹּחַ בְּגוּף,

and can be called “a bodily power.”

וַאֲפִלּוּ הַשִּׂכְלִיִּים שֶׁאֵינָן מִתְלַבְּשִׁים בְּגוּף

Even the intellectual entities that do not enclothe themselves in a body

אֵינָן רְחוֹקִים בְּמַהוּתָם כָּל כָּךְ מִן הַמִּתְלַבְּשִׁים בְּגוּף,

are not of a drastically different5 nature from those that are enclothed in bodies.

אֲבָל הוּא יִתְבָּרֵךְ אֵינוֹ מֵעֶרְכָּם וּמַהוּתָם כְּלָל

G‑d, by contrast, is not of this level and nature at all

וְהוּא מֻפְלָא וְנִשְׂגָּב מֵהָעֶלְיוֹנִים הָרוּחָנִיִּים>

and He is wondrously exalted above even the sublime spiritual entities

כְּמוֹ שֶׁנֶּעְלָם מֵהַתַּחְתּוֹנִים רוֹצֶה לוֹמַר הַגַּשְׁמִיִּים,

just as He is hidden from the lower, i.e., material, entities.

In this context, “hidden” does not mean concealed, but rather unfathomable; because of His transcendence, He cannot be perceived by them.

וְאֵין לוֹמַר כְּלָל שֶׁמַּהוּת הָרוּחָנִיּוּת קָרוֹב לוֹ יוֹתֵר מֵהַגַּשְׁמִיּוּת

It is not at all appropriate to say that a spiritual being is closer to Him than a material one.

אֶלָּא כְּמוֹ שֶׁאֵין לוֹמַר בּוֹ גַּשְׁמִיּוּת חַס וְשָׁלוֹם

Instead, just as material existence cannot be ascribed to Him, Heaven forbid,

כָּךְ מַמָּשׁ אֵין לְתָאֵר בּוֹ שֵׂכֶל וְרוּחָנִיּוּת חַס וְשָׁלוֹם

so too, intellectual and spiritual existence are inappropriate descriptions.

אֶלָּא מְרוֹמָם מֵהֶם עִלּוּי רַב

Instead, He is exceedingly exalted above all such existence,

וּכְמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בְּלִקּוּטֵי אֲמָרִים חֵלֶק ב' פֶּרֶק ט' בַּאֲרִיכוּת

as explained at length in Tanya, Shaar HaYichud VehaEmunah, ch. 9.

וְזֶה סוֹד מִי כַּה' אֱלֹקֵינוּ הַמַּגְבִּיהִי לָשָׁבֶת הַמַּשְׁפִּילִי לִרְאוֹת בַּשָּׁמַיִם וּבָאָרֶץ כוּ' (תִּלִּים קי"ג ה' ו')

This is the mystic secret implied by the verses (Tehillim 113:5-6): “Who is like G‑d our L-rd Who dwells on high; Who lowers Himself to watch in the heavens and on earth.”

וְלִכְאוֹרָה קָשֶׁה הֲלֹא אָמַר רָם עַל כָּל גּוֹיִם ה' עַל הַשָּׁמַיִם כְּבוֹדוֹ (תִּלִּים שָׁם ד')

On the surface, there is a difficulty with these verses: It has already been said (ibid.:4): “G‑d is exalted above all nations; His glory is upon the heavens.”

וְאֵיךְ אוֹמֵר שֶׁאֲנַחְנוּ אוֹמְרִים שֶׁמַּגְבִּיהִי לָשָׁבֶת יוֹתֵר בְּמַה שֶּׁמַּשְׁפִּילִי לִרְאוֹת גַּם בָּאָרֶץ

Why then do we praise Him by saying that “He dwells on high,” seemingly implying that this is more exalted than the manner in which He “lowers Himself to watch” even “on earth”?

אָמְנָם הָעִנְיָן יִרְצֶה בְּזֶה

However, the concept these verses desire to communicate

כִּי הָאֻמּוֹת אוֹמְרִים שֶׁעַל הַשָּׁמַיִם כְּבוֹדוֹ שֶׁל מָקוֹם

is that the non-Jewish nations say that G‑d’s “glory is upon the heavens.”

וְשָׁמַיִם הוּא כִּנּוּי לְרוּחָנִיּוּת

“The heavens” are a metaphor for spiritual existence,

גַּבֵּי אֶרֶץ שֶׁהִיא גַשְׁמִיּוּת

as opposed to the earth, i.e., material existence.

וְרוֹצֶה לוֹמַר שֶׁהֵם מְתָאֲרִים אוֹתוֹ בְּשֶׁהוּא רוּחָנִי כְּרוּחָנִיּוּת הַשִּׂכְלִיִּים

Implied is that they – i.e., the ordinary mortal conception is to – describe Him as spiritual like other spiritual and intellectual entities, just that He is loftier than the others.

וּלְפִיכָךְ אוֹמְרִים שֶׁעַל הַשָּׁמַיִם כְּבוֹדוֹ

Therefore, they say “His glory is upon the heavens”

וְשָׁם הַשְׁגָּחָתוֹ עַל הַשִּׂכְלִיִּים

where, they claim, He watches over the intellectual entities,

אֲבָל לֹא עַל הָאָרֶץ הַגַּשְׁמִית

but He does not watch over this physical earth.

וְאוֹמְרִים עָזַב ה' אֶת הָאָרֶץ (יְחֶזְקֵאל ח' י"ב),

Instead, they maintain that “G‑d abandoned the earth” (Yechezkel 8:12).

They maintain that since material existence is too great a descent for G‑d, He therefore charged intermediaries with controlling the natural order that governs our world.6

אֲבָל אֲנַחְנוּ אוֹמְרִים שֶׁמַּגְבִּיהִי לָשָׁבֶת

We, however, say, i.e., the Torah perspective is that: “He dwells on high,”

יוֹתֵר עַד שֶׁאֵינוֹ מֵעֶרֶךְ הַשִּׂכְלִיִּים כַּנִּזְכָּר לְעֵיל

far above all comprehension, to the extent that He is not on the level even of these intellectual entities.

שֶׁהַשֵּׂכֶל עִם הָעֲשִׂיָּה גַשְׁמִיּוּת שָׁוִים אֶצְלוֹ

Instead, intellect and physical deed are the same for Him,

For mortals, intellect is a more refined plane of existence than performing physical actions. G‑d, by contrast, transcends both intellect and action in an absolute manner, so much so that indeed, there is no advantage of intellect over action for Him.

לְפִי שֶׁהִתְהַוּוּתָם הוּא עַל יְדֵי הַצִּמְצוּם וּמָקוֹם פָּנוּי

for both intellect and action come into being through the tzimtzum and the empty cavity,

הַנִּזְכָּר לְעֵיל פֶּרֶק ו'

as explained in section 6 above.

וְלָכֵן מַשְׁפִּילִי לִרְאוֹת גַּם בָּאָרֶץ

Therefore, He “lowers Himself to watch” even “on earth,”

כְּמוֹ שֶׁמַּשְׁפִּילִי לִרְאוֹת בַּשָּׁמַיִם

just as “He lowers Himself to watch in the heavens.”

כִּי בִּשְׁנֵיהֶם צָרִיךְ לִהְיוֹת הַשְׁפָּלָה אַחַת מַמָּשׁ לְגַבֵּי מַהוּתוֹ וְעַצְמוּתוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ

For with regard to both heaven and earth, a similar process of lowering applies with regard to His Being and Essence.

For His Essence, there is no difference between the material and the spiritual.

אֶלָּא שֶׁהֵן הֵן גְּבוּרוֹתָיו

It is only because “these are the expressions of His attributes of Gevurah,”7

i.e., His channeling His light through the medium of the tzimtzum,

לְהַשְׁפִּיל עַצְמוֹ לְהַשְׁגִּיחַ כַּנִּזְכָּר לְעֵיל בְּאֹרֶךְ

that it is possible for Him to lower Himself to watch over all existence, including the heavens, as explained above at length.

וְעַל כֵּן הוּא מַשְׁפִּילִי לִרְאוֹת בָּאָרֶץ

Once He undergoes such a tzimtzum, He may also “lower Himself to watch over the earth,” i.e., material existence,

כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב לְמַעַן תֵּדַע כִּי אֲנִי ה' בְּקֶרֶב הָאָרֶץ דַּוְקָא (שְׁמוֹת ח' י"ח):

as it is written (Shmos 8:18): “So that you shall know that I am G‑d in the midst of the earth.


In this section, the Tzemach Tzedek proceeds to the explanation of the Third Principle of Faith: that G‑d “is not a body, nor any bodily power.”

This fundamental principle can be interpreted as meaning that His Being is of a different nature from even the most refined spiritual entities. Just as material existence cannot be ascribed to Him, Heaven forbid, so, too, is intellectual and spiritual existence an inappropriate description. Indeed, in relation to Him, there is no difference between material and spiritual existence and it cannot be said that a spiritual being is closer to Him than a material one.

This is the mystic secret implied by the verses (Tehillim 113:5-6): “Who is like G‑d our L-rd Who dwells on high; Who lowers Himself to look upon heaven and earth.”

These verses reflect the contrast between the Jewish conception of G‑d and the ordinary mortal conception. People at large conceive of G‑d’s “glory” as “upon the heavens,” i.e., manifest in spiritual existence but not in material existence, i.e., “on earth.” They consider the physical earth as too low a form of existence for Him to be manifest within. Instead they maintain that “G‑d abandoned the earth” to intermediaries – the forces of nature and the angels – that control the earth.

The Jews, by contrast, maintain that “He dwells on high,” far above all comprehension, to the extent that He is not on the level of these spiritual entities at all. Instead, spiritual and physical existence are equally removed from Him. Therefore, just as He “lowers Himself to look upon the heavens,” and becomes manifest in spiritual existence, so, too, He “lowers Himself to look upon” even the “earth” and manifests His presence within our world.