The other ‘Other’

In his Observations on Rabbi Moses Maimonides’ book entitled The Guide for the Perplexedi Leibniz refers to two other « Tetragrams », one of twelve letters and the other of forty-two. But he remains elliptical on how a four-letter Tetragram, to put it pleonastically, can expand like this into many more letters.

Leibniz also indicates that Moses received « thirteen prophecies » from Godii. Here is the detail of this revelation, reported in the Exodus, and quoted in full.

« The Lord passed before him and shouted: ‘The Lord, the Lord, God of tenderness and mercy, slow to anger, rich in grace and faithfulness, who keeps his grace to thousands, tolerates fault, transgression and sin, but leaves nothing unpunished, and punishes the sins of fathers on children and grandchildren until the third and fourth generation!’ »iii

So Leibniz’ idea is that there are thirteen prophecies densely concentrated in these two verses. One may conjecture that each ‘prophecy’ seems to be associated with one specific word.

Here they are, as far as I can reconstruct them:

The first ‘prophecy’ is: « YHVH (יהוה) ».

The second one: « YHVH (יהוה) ».

The third: « God » (אל).

The fourth: « Clement » (רחום).

The fifth: « Merciful » (חנון).

The sixth: « Slow to anger (אפים) ».

The seventh: « Full (or rich, רב) » – more precisely, « rich in goodness (חסד) and truth (אמת) ».

The eighth: « He keeps his kindness (or favor, חסד) to thousands ».

The ninth: « He tolerates fault (or crime, עון) ».

The tenth: « And the transgression (or rebellion, פשע) ».

The eleventh: « And sin (חטאה) ».

The twelfth « But he leaves nothing unpunished (לא ינקה) ».

The thirteenth: « And he punishes the sins (עון) of the fathers on the children and on the little children ».

Observations are required, from a critical and heuristic point of view.

First of all, we count as two separate and distinct prophecies, the two statements that Yahweh makes of the name YHVH, and as a third the name EL.

Then each attribute (clement, merciful, slow, full) is counted as a prophecy.

There is the special case of « full of goodness and truth », which is counted as a prophecy. Why not count two? Because the adjective « full » is mentioned only once, and because God wants to make it clear that « goodness » and « truth » are inseparable, and must be counted as « one ».

For the verb « he keeps », let us count a prophecy, since God only keeps his goodness.

For the verb « he tolerates », let us count three prophecies, since God tolerates fault, rebellion and sin.

Finally, let us count two prophecies that refer to punishment.

Then, let us note that God cries out twice his name YHVH, but once his name EL.

He shouts four of his attributes, then he shouts four verbs. The first, to keep, applies to only one thing, kindness, but for the benefit of thousands. The second, to tolerate, applies to three negative things. The third, to leave, is used in a negative, therefore absolute, total way. The fourth, to punish, applies over four generations.

It is surely worth noting that three words are quoted twice: « YHVH », « goodness », and « fault », and that one word is quoted three times in the last verse: « the sons ».

There are also questions about some apparent inconsistencies:

God « tolerates fault » but « he leaves nothing unpunished », which seems contradictory.

Moreover, « he punishes the sins of the fathers on the sons and the sons of the sons », which seems unfair.

Let’s take a closer look at this last point, referring to the dictionary. The verb « to punish«  is in the original Hebrew: פקד. This word has a very rich palette of meanings. Here are some of them: « to seek, to visit, to examine, to remember, to punish, to avenge, to lack something, to deprive, to entrust something to the care of another ».

This verb can be translated to mean that God wants to « punish » and « chastise » children and grandchildren for their fathers’ faults, as it is written:

« And he punishes the sins (עון) of the fathers on the children and on the little children ».

But one could also opt for a broader, more generous translation or interpretation of פקד :

« And he seeks, or he examines, or he remembers, or he entrusts the care the sins of a generation to the care of another. »

Another what? Another generation?

Or might it be another ‘Other’?

Who, then, might be this other « Other » to whom God entrusts the care of future generations?

i Observations de Leibniz sur le livre du Rabbin Moïse Maïmonide intitulé le Guide des Égarés § C62

ii Ibid. § C54

iiiEx. 34,6-7