Let My People Know

"God is prepared to suffer the imprecision of our language"

“There are no words to describe the Transcendent.

But since, as we believe, God does wish to have some contact with us, He is prepared to suffer the imprecision of our language.

There is a little story—within another context perhaps, but aptly descriptive—of one of the Tzadikim who suddenly stopped his prayers at a point where there was no pause.

When asked why he did so, he answered with a parable.

Once a king passed and saw a beggar playing a fiddle, and the tune pleased him so much that he stopped and invited the beggar to the palace to play before him.

Now this beggar had an old fiddle with strings that broke easily, so that people told him it was not respectful to the king to play on it before him, and it would be better to make alterations and at least fix the strings.

At which the beggar answered: “If the king wants a tune on a fine instrument, he does not lack better musicians than I; if he asked me to play before him, he took into consideration the poor state of my fiddle as well as my own limitations.”

Thus too—if, as we surmise, God wishes to hear our prayers, and our sincere speech with Him—He suffers our anthropomorphisms, that is, our calling on Him by names that are human and in terms that are limited in their expressiveness.

We say: If you want us, take us as we are with all our faults and inadequacies; it is the best we have to offer.

The only thing we can do beyond that is to know that certain things are not exact or true, and to be grateful for the privilege (and the audacity) to say them.”

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From “Concealment as Part of Creation,” p.47 in The Sustaining Utterance by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz