Let My People Know

"There are no words to describe the Transcendent"

To illustrate the concept of a lack of words, let us take a fact from the world of physics.

Light waves have different lengths, and the ultraviolet light waves, for instance, are known to be invisible to us.

There are certain creatures, such as bees, however, that can see at least some of those ultraviolet light waves.

In short, part of that which, for us, is total darkness is, for them, light.

Now the question is what kind of light or darkness is it?

We are in a situation where we have no words, or even concepts, to describe something, a color, that obviously exists.

In like manner, we can say that 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 the little story, within another context perhaps, but aptly descriptive, of one of the Tzaddikim 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 that 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.’

If 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 Pebbles of Wisdom from Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz (forthcoming)