God and His World

Here's a midrash that's quoted fairly often - and usually in support of a rather odd theological position. The truth is, as you will soon see, that a simple reading of the midrash does seem to support this position. Does this mean that we must now reconsider a fundamental belief of Judaism?

בראשית רבה פרשה סח ט
ויפגע במקום ר' הונא בשם ר' אמי אמר: מפני מה מכנין שמו של הקב"ה וקוראין אותו מקום? שהוא מקומו של עולם, ואין עולמו מקומו, מן מה דכתיב (שמות לג): הנה מקום אתי, הוי, הקדוש ברוך הוא מקומו של עולם, ואין עולמו מקומו.
אמר רבי יצחק: כתיב (דברים לג): מעונה אלהי קדם, אין אנו יודעים אם הקב"ה מעונו של עולמו ואם עולמו מעונו, מן מה דכתיב (תהלים צ): ה' מעון אתה, הוי. הקדוש ברוך הוא מעונו של עולמו, ואין עולמו מעונו.
אמר רבי אבא בר יודן: לגבור, שהוא רוכב על הסוס וכליו משופעים אילך ואילך, הסוס טפילה לרוכב ואין הרוכב טפילה לסוס, שנאמר (חבקוק ג): כי תרכב על סוסך.
Now some have inferred from this midrash that God is the "place of the world" in the sense that the physical universe is somehow "contained within Him." The problem is that this formulation directly contradicts at least two of Rambam's thirteen principles!
Here's Rambam's second principle:
...Meaning that God is infinitely simple and, thus, cannot be divided - he has, in other words, no parts.
And here's Rambam's third principle:
...Meaning that, however you choose to think of God, there can be no physical quality of any kind in the equation. To say, therefore, that the physical universe is somehow "part" of Him, is to reject these two of the Rambam's principles.
But still, we can't just ignore the words of the midrash! If we can't find a viable and equally straightforward way to read it, then we're left in a rather uncomfortable position.

Fortunately Rambam himself discussed this very midrash in More Nevuchim (1:70). He observes that the rabbis (Chagiga 12b) characterize God as dwelling "above the heavens" (adding the word עליהם) and not "in the heavens" (שוכן בערבות) - which would incorrectly imply that God is somehow a part of the physical universe, taking up space. Thus, God's relationship to the universe is like that of a master who controls from a distance, but He is not a participant.

Rambam then quotes our midrash, and comments:
In other words, the analogy in the midrash to a rider on his horse is actually meant to explain the first two paragraphs ("place" and "dwelling"): just as a rider controls his horse, but can in no way be confused with it, so God manipulates and guides the world but must never be confused with his creation.

With this "new" reading, I believe we can confidently consider the theological principle of God's Unity and the midrash reconciled.
I should note that the "Ani Maamin" poem found in some siddurim has very little in common with the Rambam's actual principles and has no theological authority.

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