Post: There is a pasuk which is somewhat out of the ordinary in parashat Nitzavim, which speaks of Hashem having smoking nostrils, and smoke coming from it. Thus, in Devarim 29:19:
|19. The Lord will not be willing to forgive him; rather, then, the Lord's fury and His zeal will fume against that man, and the entire curse written in this book will rest upon him, and the Lord will obliterate his name from beneath the heavens.||יט. לֹא יֹאבֶה יְ־הֹוָ־ה סְלֹחַ לוֹ כִּי אָז יֶעְשַׁן אַף יְ־הֹוָ־ה וְקִנְאָתוֹ בָּאִישׁ הַהוּא וְרָבְצָה בּוֹ כָּל הָאָלָה הַכְּתוּבָה בַּסֵּפֶר הַזֶּה וּמָחָה יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֶת שְׁמוֹ מִתַּחַת הַשָּׁמָיִם:|
This translation from Judaica Press is non-literal, while the literal translation (even according to Rashi) is that His nostrils will smoke. Now, Judaica Press are committed to translating according to Rashi, but on the other hand there is value in understanding the mashal before giving the nimshal. This imagery also bothered the Samaritans, who emended the text to eliminate it. Thus,
they change ye'shan to yichar, which is also the more common.
Rashi writes on this:
|The Lord’s fury… will fume: [The image is as follows:] Through anger, the body [of a person] becomes heated up, and fumes are emitted from the nose. Similarly, [referring to God,] the verse says,“Smoke rose up in His nose” (II Sam. 22:9). Now, although this is inappropriate for the Omnipresent [since He has no physical form; nevertheless], Scripture describes [this concept] to the human ear in the manner to which it is accustomed and able to understand, according to the [natural] ways of the world. [Thus, the verse here is figuratively denoting God’s fuming anger.]||יעשן אף ה': על ידי כעס הגוף מתחמם והעשן יוצא מן האף, וכן (ש"ב כב, ט) עלה עשן באפו ואף על פי שאין זו לפני המקום, הכתוב משמיע את האוזן כדרך שהיא רגילה ויכולה לשמוע, כפי דרך הארץ:|
The bracketed expressions are provided by Judaica Press, which guide us through one particular reading of Rashi. Now, this could mean that there is some sort of equivalent in play here, but beyond human comprehension, and so the Torah uses the concept most similar. Or it could mean that it is just trying to connote anger, using human terms. I would favor the latter.
What is bothering Rashi? That is, what is motivating him in his comment here? Is he bothered by the corporeality such that he makes this comment, or is it something else.
My inclination is that is it is something else, and specifically the meaning of the word אף. Rashi is ever-cognizant of Onkelos, and sees Onkelos translate as follows:
|כט,יט לֹא-יֹאבֶה יְהוָה, סְלֹחַ לוֹ--כִּי אָז יֶעְשַׁן אַף-יְהוָה וְקִנְאָתוֹ בָּאִישׁ הַהוּא, וְרָבְצָה בּוֹ כָּל-הָאָלָה הַכְּתוּבָה בַּסֵּפֶר הַזֶּה; וּמָחָה יְהוָה אֶת-שְׁמוֹ, מִתַּחַת הַשָּׁמָיִם.||לָא יֵיבֵי יְיָ, לְמִשְׁבַּק לֵיהּ--אֲרֵי בְּכֵין יִתְקַף רֻגְזָא דַּייָ וְחִמְתֵּיהּ בְּגֻבְרָא הַהוּא, וְיִדְבְּקוּן בֵּיהּ כָּל לְוָטַיָּא דִּכְתִיבִין בְּסִפְרָא הָדֵין; וְיִמְחֵי יְיָ יָת שְׁמֵיהּ, מִתְּחוֹת שְׁמַיָּא.|
`aph is thus translated as rugza`, anger. Just as elsewhere 'aph means anger. Now, words in Hebrew and other languages begin with the concrete meaning and extend themselves to the abstract, so it makes sense that even `aph as anger comes from the same root and initially meant nose. But that is a mere question of etymology. But when we get to its use, `aph means anger in those places, rather than nose. For example, vayichar aph is such a regular expression as to mean anger, rather than nose. As in:
וַיִּחַר-אַף יַעֲקֹב, בְּרָחֵל; וַיֹּאמֶר, הֲתַחַת אֱלֹהִים אָנֹכִי, אֲשֶׁר-מָנַע מִמֵּךְ, פְּרִי-בָטֶן.
However, in some instances `aph means a literal nose, or nostrils. For example,
אָזְנַיִם לָהֶם, וְלֹא יִשְׁמָעוּ; אַף לָהֶם, וְלֹא יְרִיחוּן
What of our pasuk in Nitzavim? In favor of Onkelos, we have that the full phrase is אָז יֶעְשַׁן אַף-ה וְקִנְאָתוֹ. Not only is kinato parallel to aph, but they stand together as the object of ye'shan. It would seem that both the 'aph Hashem and the kin'at Hashem are what are smoking. Thus, Onkelos renders ye'shan as yitkaf and aph as rugza.
But Rashi (and Ibn Ezra as well) note the image of smoking nostrils, seen elsewhere regarding the Leviatan, and also regarding Hashem. Therefore, he concludes that 'af here does not mean anger, but rather nostrils. Only then, smoking nostrils refers to an expression of anger.
Now, this is quite readily an idiom. One could say this without meaning literal smoking of nostrils. And indeed, stepping into the corporealist's shoes, even if we say that Hashem has a body akin to a human body, complete with nostrils, there is no reason to say that in this particular pasuk it is intended literally. Just as when I speak about an actual person and say that "he gave the nod", I need not mean an actual shaking up and down of the head. The punishment is not that the person is smoked to death. And this is just a way of expressing that Hashem is furious at the offender.
Therefore, just because Rashi tells us that this is not to be interpreted literally does not mean that he is not a corporealist. It doesn't mean that he is a corporealist either. However, we might want to make careful readings in this Rashi, and his choice of language, to see whether it indicates one thing or the other. Again, Rashi wrote:\
The Lord’s fury… will fume: [The image is as follows:] Through anger, the body [of a person] becomes heated up, and fumes are emitted from the nose. Similarly, [referring to God,] the verse says,“Smoke rose up in His nose” (II Sam. 22:9). Now, although this is inappropriate for the Omnipresent [since He has no physical form; nevertheless], Scripture describes [this concept] to the human ear in the manner to which it is accustomed and able to understand, according to the [natural] ways of the world. [Thus, the verse here is figuratively denoting God’s fuming anger.]
יעשן אף ה': על ידי כעס הגוף מתחמם והעשן יוצא מן האף, וכן (ש"ב כב, ט) עלה עשן באפו ואף על פי שאין זו לפני המקום, הכתוב משמיע את האוזן כדרך שהיא רגילה ויכולה לשמוע, כפי דרך הארץ:
The first part, על ידי כעס הגוף מתחמם והעשן יוצא מן האף, וכן (ש"ב כב, ט) עלה עשן באפו, is an explanation of the metaphor. After all, we need to understand the literal meaning of the metaphor before we understand what it indicates. Thus, literal fumes emitted from the nose, as a result of anger. But then the words ואף על פי שאין זו לפני המקום indicates to me that this is not something that could be literally true about Hashem, but that this is speaking in language human beings can understand. This is saying more than just that it is a metaphor and an idiom, but that one could not say this about Hashem.
This could be because Hashem doesn't have human form, even if He is corporeal in some sense.
Rabbi Natan Slifkin discusses this Rashi in the context of an article in Hakirah discussing the probability of Rashi being a corporealist. He writes (pages 93-94, pages 13-14 in the PDF):
I disagree with this careful reading of Rashi. Yes, there is emphasis on the breath emerging from the nostrils, but this is in the context of explaining how and why 'aph is a literal nose and that there is allegory in play here, with a literal and figurative level, rather than the simple word anger as understood by the Samaritans and Onkelos. And the reason that Rashi does not make the same point in all those places is perhaps because he is on a non-corporealist campaign. It is immediately apparent to the casual reader that etzba Elokim means the handiwork of God, and that yad Hashem refers to Hashem's might. It is only because Rashi introduces the idea that it is a literal nose, 'aph, rather than anger, 'aph, that he needs to correct the possible theological damage. Yes, it was a physical nose, but in the context of an allegorical statement.One might think that Rashi is telling us that the “nostrils” are allegorical; that God has no nose and thus no human form. However, careful reading indicates that the emphasis appears to be on the breath emerging from the nostrils, not the nostrils themselves: “when a person becomes angry, wind emerges from his nostrils.” Furthermore, if Rashi wished to tell us that God does not possess actual nostrils, why does he not make the same point when the Torah speaks of God’s hand, feet, face, back, etc? It therefore seems that Rashi does not say that the nose is figurative; rather, he says that the idea of breath emerging from the nostrils, as with a flesh-and-blood human, is figurative.35
Therefore, I think this is a stronger argument against a corporealist Rashi that Rabbi Slifkin gives it credit for. Maybe indeed it means just the smoking and not the nostrils. After all, that is a major part of what is under discussion. But I am not really convinced. After all, this discussion all begins because Rashi understood 'aph as a literal, physical nose, rather than "anger". And one could say that the literalness of the smoking is discussed alongside whether Hashem has an actual nose.
Despite this, there may be other Rashis that might indicate that Rashi was a corporealist, that we would need to content with. For example, on Shemot 33:23:
|23. Then I will remove My hand, and you will see My back but My face shall not be seen."||כג. וַהֲסִרֹתִי אֶת כַּפִּי וְרָאִיתָ אֶת אֲחֹרָי וּפָנַי לֹא יֵרָאוּ:|
|Then I will remove My hand: [Onkelos renders:] Then I will remove the guidance [i.e., My guidance] of My glory, when the guidance of My glory passes by from opposite your face, to go further from there [this means that even Moses would not be permitted to grasp the essence of God, only His attributes and His deeds (Nethinah LaGer)].||והסרותי את כפי: ואעדי ית דברת יקרי, כשאסלק הנהגת כבודי מנגד פניך ללכת משם ולהלן:|
|and you will see My back: [Then] He showed him the knot of the tefillin. -[from Ber. 7a]||וראית את אחורי: הראהו קשר של תפילין:|
Combine with Rashi on that Germara in Berachot, and the latter Rashi might be saying that there was a literal back of the head to Hashem, and literal tefillin, which Hashem showed Moshe. The previous Rashi about kapi might counter that, and we might also say that the gemara in Berachot is to be interpreted allegorically, and this Rashi as well. But I could see the argument that stylistically, this Rashi is intended literally. (And perhaps, Hashem could have this feature without needing nostrils.)
There is also a Rashi in Yeshaya, which I discuss here from a counter-perspective. See there first, perhaps. Rashi writes on Yeshayahu 7:20:
the Lord shall shave with the great razor Heb. (שְּׂכִירָה) , comp. (Jer. 46:21) “Also its officers (שְׂכִירֶיהָ) in its midst,” which Jonathan renders: its great ones.
on the other side of the river Of those who dwell on the other side of the river, and of which of those dwellers? The king of Assyria, the head He will shave and the hair of the legs. Since it is in the construct state, it is voweled with a ‘pattach,’ (שַׂעַר) instead of (שֵׂעָר).
shall be entirely removed Will be destroyed. The shaving is the slaying, and the razor is the sword.
the head This symbolizes the king.
the legs [This symbolizes] his camps [from Jonathan].
the beard [This symbolizes] the governors [from Jonathan]. But our Rabbis said that this literally refers to shaving, and the removal of the beard is by singeing it with fire. “The beard” refers to the beard of Sennacherib, as is found in the Aggadah of the chapter entitled, ‘Chelek.’
When we compare what is written in perek Chelek, we see that the discussion is of Hashem appearing in human disguise and shaving Sancheriv. And Rashi is arguing with Chazal here as to the peshat in the pasuk. Rashi maintains that the imagery is allegorical. If he argues with Chazal, and holds that Chazal held it was a literal beard, then he holds that Hashem literally appeared in human form according to Chazal. And (though I didn't stress this point in that other post), since he is not about to declare Chazal wrong in theology, he finds it acceptable, at some level at least, to say that Hashem can manifest Himself in a human-like avatar. (I would add that this limited version of corporeality accords with what might be the best peshat in parashat Vayera.)
Thus, other Rashis might make us reconsider this one in Nitzavim.
Was Rashi a corporealist? I don't know. I could see the argument that he is, and the argument that he isn't. And I haven't considered all of these Rashis carefully, or read through Rabbi Moshe Taku's work. But I don't think that we should get upset at the possibility that he was a corporealist, like other rabbis at around that time in the same place, in France. Yes, it is now one of the ikkarei emunah, established by the Rambam. But it seems to be quite possible that he established it as such because of foreign influences such as Islam, and Greek philosophy. "Proofs" based on likely-mistaken medieval philosophy are not persuasive to me. Yes, I don't think of Hashem as corporeal, but if it turns out that Hashem is corporeal, to a full or limited extent, then that is OK. We (should) get our theology from Chazal and the Torah, rather than imposing on Chazal and the Torah what it must be. And even if a corporeal God is not only untrue but kefirah, that shouldn't make us judge Rashi unfavorably, IMHO.