The Chariot (4)

We’ll cite this quotation from the M. Friedlander translation of Moreh Nevuchim (1:70) which speaks to the points we’ve made about the significance of the Chariot (Merkava) as a representation of God’s rule. Rambam says there that:

“The term rakab, ‘to ride,’ is a synonym. In its primary signification it is applied to man’s riding on an animal, in the usual way; e.g., ‘Now he was riding (rokeb) upon his ass’ (Num. xxii. 22). It has then been figuratively used to denote ‘dominion over a thing’; because the rider governs and rules the animal he rides upon; e.g., ‘He made him ride (yarkibehu) on the high places of the earth’ (Deut. xxxii. 13); ‘and I will cause thee to ride (ve-hirkabtika) upon the high places of the earth’ (Isa. lviii. 14), that is, you shall have dominion over the highest (people) on earth; ‘I will make Ephraim to ride (arkib)’ (Hos. x. 11), i.e., I shall give him rule and dominion. In this same sense it is said of God, ‘who rideth (rokeb) upon the heaven in thy help’ (Deut. xxxiii. 26), that is, who rules the heaven; and ‘Him that rideth (la-rokeb) upon the ‘arabot’ (Ps. lxviii. 4), i.e., who rules the ‘arabot, the uppermost, all-encompassing sphere”.


“The rider is better than the animal upon which he rides — the comparative is only used for the sake of convenience, for the rider is not of the same class as the animal upon which he rides — furthermore, the rider moves the animal and leads it as he likes; it is as it were his instrument, which he uses according to his will; he is separate from it, apart from it, not connected with it. In like manner the uppermost sphere, by the rotation of which everything moveable is set in motion, is moved by God, who is separate from the sphere, and is not a power in it. In Bereshit Rabba we read that in commenting on the Divine words, ‘The eternal God is a refuge’ (lit., a dwelling, Deut. xxxiii. 27), our Sages said, ‘He is the dwelling of His world, the world is not His dwelling.’ This explanation is then followed by the remark, ‘The horse is secondary to the rider, the rider is not subservient to the horse; this is meant by ‘Thou wilt ride upon thy horses’ (Hab. iii. 8). Consider and learn how they described the relation of God to the sphere, asserting that the latter is His instrument, by means of which He rules the universe”.

(c) 2013 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

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