My biases in the matter are as follows: I already know that I disagree with Chazal and various Rishonim in various matters somewhat associated with theology. For example, I believe that they believed in sheidim, but I don't think sheidim, or leprechauns, exist. Though of course I do not look down on Chazal or certain Rishonim for believing this, because it was a perfectly intelligent and rational position to take during their time. Similarly, I think that much of the medieval philosophy of Rambam and Ibn Ezra is also nonsense, but I don't look down on them for this.
Similarly -- and the Rambam might well consider me as part of the second group of fools for this -- I am willing to say that certain midrashim were intended literally, even though it would be silly to believe today that the same things are historically true. One could say that 4/5th died in Egypt without knowledge of what that would mean demographically speaking; or one could believe that Pharaoh's daughters arm stretched out several cubits, working within a framework of miracles happening regularly in the Biblical period.
And at the same time, I am meiz panim to say that I disagree with them and yet am perfectly comfortable and confident with my Olam Habah. By being able to disagree with Rishonim or even Chazal, I am free to read them in their most straightforward way, without being tempted to reinterpret them to agree with me, either for their kavod or for my own kavod and piece of mind. And this, I think, lets me be more intellectually honest and get closer to the Truth (TM).
What about Rashi and corporeality? I don't know. I know that the idea of an Incorporeal God has taken strong hold as the only acceptable position nowadays, due in large part to the Rambam's influence. Though not all aspects of the Rambam's conception of an Incorporeal God have taken hold. I know that there were some educated rabbonim in medieval times who were corporealists. And I know that many minds would recoil at the idea that Rashi, who wrote with Ruach Hakodesh, could be a corporealist. Because we are not corporealists, and we must be right, and Rashi must be simultaneously right. We cannot have Rashi be a heretic!
This is independent of the merits of any arguments one way or the other. This is a bias that the typical frum person nowadays must watch out for, when evaluating the merits of any arguments in this matter.
I would also add that even if Rashi said it, it might well be forbidden for us to believe it nowadays? Why? Because we do have certain conceptions of heresy, which were accepted lehalacha, and which define a person in many Jewish communities as either inside or outside. And there are halachic ramifications to such beliefs. If the belief is indeed untrue, and furthermore is deemed to be heretical according to our accepted halacha, then one who maintains it nowadays is a heretic. (And someone who held this position back then, before this was codified, might be nebach a heretic, or else simply greatly misguided.)
While I am conditioned to think of a corporeal God as false, heretical, related in certain ways to idolatry, and somewhat silly, and I do not believe for a moment that Rashi was silly, I also realize that this is my conditioning and my limitations, and that in a different intellectual climate (such as early medieval France) it might not have seemed nearly so silly.
At the same time, it would be nice to add a prominent Rishon such as Rashi to the group of corporealists or quasi-corporealists. I do think that Rambam in some apects went too far in allegorizing the Torah and the statements of Chazal, in order to square them with what he believed to be plausible and what he believed to be true, according to Greek philosophy. I am a rationalist, but at the same time a pashtan.
There is one particular incident which bothers me, namely the events in parshat Vayera. It seems to be the simplest peshat there that God was not interrupted by the arrival of the three "men," but rather vayera eilav Hashem is an introduction to the appearance of these men. And that they can divide up is not a counterproof that God appeared among the men, because two of the "men" were angels while one of the "men" was Hashem. And that is why Hashem stayed back to speak with Avraham (vaHashem odenu omed lifnei Avraham, before the scribal emendation Rashi mentions), while two angels went on to Sodom. And why in the middle of the conversation with the "men", Hashem suddenly interjects with a promise. All this would seem to indicate that Hashem can decide to take human form, or else has human form, chas veshalom. And this could then have repercussions on certain other incidents in Tanach.
And there are good answers. It works well with Rambam to say this is a dream or vision, since it starts with kechom hayom -- though it truly seems the incident in Sodom with Lot happened. And one can say, with Ralbag, that these three men were prophets, in which case Hashem speaking would be via this intermediary. And there are answers saying that the middle one was Gavriel. And so on.
But while I don't maintain a belief in a corporeal God, I wonder if I don't really know and whether in fact this is the theology put forth by the Torah, as opposed to the theology put forth by Rambam. Indeed, according to Mississipi Fred MacDowell, Shadal held that at least in the time of Tanach, they maintained some corporeal belief.
There would be ramifications to this if (and I stress the word) make such a determination. What do we say? Do we reject the Torah as falsehood? Do we answer it up as speaking to its audience? Do we say that this is therefore our belief, and it was not as silly as we thought? I don't have answers for this hypothetical. But we first should weigh this possibility. And to some extent, it would be nice having the company of Rashi in this. So that might be a bias in the other direction.
This is really a post, and thought, in and of itself. But I would also like to write a few words about the specifics of Rashi and corporealism. I have not spent nearly enough time considering the arguments to say one way of the other, though from what I have seen, I do think that there is a good possibility that Rashi was a corporealist.
However, I want to focus on a small part of the general argument, namely Rashi's use of the word keviyachol, as discussed in this post at Rationalist Judaism. An excerpt:
The first instance in the Talmud where k'vyachol appears is in Yoma 3b:
קח לך משלך ועשה לך משלך ויקחו אליך משל צבור דברי רבי יאשיה רבי יונתן אומר בין קח לך בין ויקחו אליך משל צבור ומה תלמוד לומר קח לך כביכול משלך אני רוצה יותר משלהם
Here is the Soncino translation:The expression ‘kah leka’ means ‘mi-sheleka [from thy own] and ‘aseh leka means mi-sheleka [taken from thy own funds], but we-yikehu eleka means [they shall take for them] from community funds; these are the words of R. Josiah; R. Jonathan said, Both ‘kah leka’ and ‘we-yikehu eleka’ mean from community funds, and what is intimated by saying ‘kah leka’ [take thee]? As it were, ‘I prefer your own [private means expended on this work] to the community's [expenditure]’.
In other words, although God did not actually disfavor the Jewish People's offering, it is described as though that was actually the case.
But let us look at the definition of k'vyachol provided by Rashi:
כביכול - אני שמעתי אם היה ציבור יכול להתכפר בשל יחיד הייתי רוצה, ואני אומר לפי שדבר קשה הוא לומר שהקדוש ברוך הוא קץ בישראל, אומר כביכול, כלומר על כרחינו יאמר כן, כאילו (אי) אפשר לומר כן, וכן כל כביכול שבתלמוד:
Amazing! Rashi explains k'vyachol to mean that the concept is "difficult for us to say" - for who wants to say that Hashem is undesiring of the Jewish People's offering? However, "against our will it is thus stated" - even though we don't like to hear it - "as though it were possible for us to say it." It's not "as IF it were true" - it IS true, but we hate to say it. It's not "following a manner of speaking" - it is the correct description.
and as he continues, this certainly seems to be the way Ritvah understands this Rashi. Just two points, however.
1) When Rashi said ואני אומר, it raised warning flags. As I learned in a class or two, some scholars believe that whenever Rashi says veOmer ani, it is not Rashi who is speaking, but rather his student. And that many such occurrences aren't there in certain manuscripts. The theory is that Rashi does not need to say "and I think", but a student who is editing the manuscript would preface his comments with this in order to make clear that he is writing, and that it is a gloss rather than the actual words of Rashi. I don't know that this extends to Talmudic perushim -- though it makes sense that it would. And perhaps it is mitigated by the presence of shamati in the beginning, because then there is cause for whichever writer is writing to say this.
And if it is not Rashi, then one cannot use the ending words of וכן כל כביכול שבתלמוד to extrapolate from this one instance to all across Shas.
2) In the explanation given,
לפי שדבר קשה הוא לומר שהקדוש ברוך הוא קץ בישראל, אומר כביכול, כלומר על כרחינו יאמר כן, כאילו (אי) אפשר לומר כן, וכן כל כביכול שבתלמוד:
one might translate as follows: Since it is difficult for us to say that Hashem disfavors Israel, it states keviyachol, that is to say "against our will one says this," as if it is (not) possible to say this, and so to every keviyachol in the Talmud.
It seems that there might be a great difference between the statement with אי and without אי. With אי, Rashi is saying that it is as if it is not possible to say this. The implication is that it is possible to say this, despite the difficulty.
But without אי, Rashi is saying that it is as if it were possible to say this, with the implication that it is not really possible to say this truthfully. The difficulty is a true and insurmountable one, and we are forced to say this not precisely accurate (on the literal level) statement.
The first reading seems to scan better, and accord with Ritva's reading. But I'd like to see manuscript evidence to see which is better recommended.