Does G-d Sleep? An Oxford Maimonides' analysis

Monday, 10 May, 2010 - 11:23 am

The manuscript of Maimonides in the Bodleian library of Oxford is an important version of the first two books of his legal work Mishneh Torah, Madah and Ahavah.


There are numerous differences in the Oxford edition from the other manuscript editions and it is interesting to examine the significance of these differences and whether a logical analysis can offer insight into the rationale behind the differences.


Much comparative research has been done on the variations between the few most reliable manuscripts of Maimonides. This has however only been done in the context of and for the purpose of publishing a printed copy of Maimonides and to make sure the printed edition is as accurate as possible.


The purpose of this essay and series is to explore the variations in the text of the Oxford manuscript edition from the other editions and explain their significance.


In Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah (chapter 1:11) Maimonides writes, Since it has been clarified that He does not have a body or corporeal form, it is also clear that none of the functions of the body are appropriate to him; neither connection or separation, neither place nor measure, neither ascent nor descent, neither right nor left, neither front not back, neither standing nor sitting. He is not found within time, so that He would possess a beginning, an end or age. He does not change, for there is nothing that can cause Him to change.


The concept of death is not applicable to Him, nor is that of life, within the context of physical life. The concept of foolishness is not applicable to Him, not is that of wisdom in terms of human wisdom.


Neither sleep nor waking, neither anger nor laughter, neither joy nor sadness, neither silence nor speech in the human understanding of speech, are appropriate terms with which to describe Him. Our sages declared: “Above, there is no sitting or standing, separation or connection.”


The Hebrew word used for waking is different in the Oxford manuscript from the other manuscript copies of the Mishneh Torah. In the Oxford edition it is written Hakatzah and in other edition there is an additional Hebrew letter yud, which makes the word Hakitzah.


The difference between them seems to be minor. Hakatzah means awake and Hakitzah means waking.


Noticeably, the above translation states waking and the Hebrew word is indeed Hakitzah, implying that one cannot apply to G-d the concept of waking from the state of being asleep, which is only possible with human beings.


There is however logic for both versions. The statement ‘Neither sleep nor waking’ follows other corporeal descriptions structured in a passive form, rather than active. The word sleep is the noun - being asleep - rather than the verb - going to sleep. Similarly standing and sitting is the state of standing or sitting rather than standing up from sitting or sitting down from standing.


Thus, it makes sense that the term regarding waking should be awake Hakatzah rather than waking Hakitzah.


However, there is also logic to the text being written in the active form also. It makes sense to say that one cannot apply sitting or standing to G-d or other corporeal states of being. However, the state of being awake means conscious and aware and why should this not be applied to G-d.


The same question applies to wisdom and life. For this reason Maimonides qualifies these concepts with the words ‘in terms of human wisdom or life’. In other words, wisdom and life does apply to G-d but in a much loftier form, whatever form that might be.


The state of being awake should then also apply to G-d albeit not in the same form of being awake found by human beings. It could be for that reason, the manuscripts, other than the Oxford edition, uses the word ‘waking’ Hakitzah, which is the action of waking up from being asleep, as this indeed cannot be applied to G-d in any form.


The Oxford edition of Maimonides however chooses the version negating Hakatzah - the state of being asleep. This is despite the fact that it is theologically complicated, as mentioned above. This might be because the word Hakitzah - waking up - is out of context, since other words are in the passive form - and also repetitive. If G-d cannot be in a state of being asleep, it is obvious that He cannot be described as waking from being asleep.


Based on the above, one would have thought that Maimonides should have indeed chosen the version negating 'waking' rather than 'awake', since it is less problematic. It is only contextually or grammatically problematic rather than theological.  


It is interesting however that anthropomorphically one can indeed use the terminology sleep and waking regarding G-d.


The Talmud (Megillah 15b) states, On that night the sleep of the king was disturbed. R. Tanhun said: The sleep of the King of the Universe was disturbed.



This is further illustrated by the Talmudic teaching (Sotah 48a), Rehabah said, The Levites used daily to stand upon the dais and exclaim, Awake, why do You sleep, O Lord? He said to them, Does, then, the All-Present sleep? Has it not been stated: Behold, He that guards Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep! But so long as Israel abides in trouble the words ‘Awake, why do You sleep, O Lord’ should be uttered.


It is however clear that this does not in any way mean that G-d is asleep and awaking in the corporeal sense but rather when G-d forsakes He is considered asleep and when He shows favour in response to merit he awakes in the anthropomorphic sense. It therefore does not in any way pose a contradition to eaither versions of Maimonides. 

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