J. (Joshua) Abelson.

The immanence of God in rabbinical literature online

. (page 12 of 32)
Online LibraryJ. (Joshua) AbelsonThe immanence of God in rabbinical literature → online text (page 12 of 32)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

certainly all the appearance of being a piece of teaching for which his Rabbinic


But perhaps the boldest of the many attempts to
merge God in Israel is the passage in T. B. Berachoth 6a
(quoted also in Yalkut on ]DnnNi) where God is pictured
as laying " Tephillin," and the question is asked, "What is
inscribed on these Tephilhn ? " And the answer given
is, that there is inscribed upon them the words, " And
what one nation in the earth is like Thy people Israel ? "
The only feasible interpretation of this seems to be, that
it is an attempt to draw the closest possible approxima-
tion existing between Israel and the Deity. Israel's
Tephillin are the symbol of the bond of afifection between
him and God. God's " Tephillin " are the symbol of the
afifection between Him and Israel. God is so close
to Israel, that He loves to deck Himself with Israel's
ornaments. God is in Israel, so that Tephillin on the

upbringing was responsible. Those portions of the descriptions of this fellowship
in the New Testament, where the invasion of the Holy Spirit is referred to and
the consciousness of the continued presence of Christ (e.g. Matthew xviii. 20 ;
Acts ii. 2-4 ; 1 Corinthians x. 16, 17 ; ibid. v. 4, etc.), seem an elaboration,
for Christian purposes, of the Rabbinical mystical idea of fellowship. See
Mystical Religion, by Rufus M. Jones, pp. 20, 21.

An instance of the curious teachings (alluded to above), which the Kabbalists
deduced, not merely from the permutations of the various letters comprising the
Divine name, but also from the various synonyms for the DiWne name, occurs
in the NmvjKT nisd (Book of Mystery), one of the oldest fragments of the Zohar,
which affords a resumi of the most elevated teachings of the Zohar : ' ' "When a
man wishes to address a prayer to God, he may equally invoke either the Holy
names of God (rr'nn, rr, '■;t5', etc.) or the ten Spheres, i.e. the Crown, Wisdom,
Intelligence, Beauty, Grace, Justice, etc." All the Kabbalists agiee on this
point, viz. that the ten names of God and the ten Spheres are one and the
same thing. For, say they, "the spiritual part of these names are of the
essence of the Spheres " (quoted in Franck, La Kahhale, p. 79).

Bousset (page 344) jioints out the various usages of the Divine name in
Apocalyptic Literature, especially in the Books of Enoch. But his contention
that it is throughout " eine selbstiindige Wesenheit" is hardly borne out by the
examples he gives. The Divine name is the object of man's praise, man's love.
Man's prayers are directed to it. Men find their support in it ; the name is
mighty, through it is Israel saved. Bousset quotes all the passages containing
these ideas. They certainly contain a strong mystical flavour, but only in very
few instances can they be rightly said to approach personification. They
remind one more of the abundant references to the " name " in the Jewish Prayer
Book, which are no more than a reflection of the utter and unspeakable holiness
which in many O.T. passages is said to encompass the Divine name. (Cp.
Eccle. xvii. 10, xlvii. 10 ; Tobit iii. 11, viii. 5, xi. 14, xiii. 18, xiv. 9 ;
Psalms of Sol. viii. 26 ; 4 Es. iv. 25, x. 22, etc. — all quoted by Bousset.)



head and arm of an Israelite are Tephillin on the head
and arm of God/'^

I now add a few aphorisms which express the
preceding ideas of God-in- Israel, in terse epigrammatic
lanofuao-e : —

"He who helps Israel, helps God" (Mechilta on
n^Dl, edit. Friedmann, p. 39).

" He who opposes Israel, opposes God" {ihicL).

" He who blesses Israel, blesses God " (Tanhuma
on ^n^i).

" He who hates Israel, hates God " (Sifri on in^i^ni).

" He who stands before a saintly man acts as though
he stands before God " (Yalkut on 1 Kings xvii.).^^^

" He who boxes the ears of an Israelite does the
same to God " (Yalkut on Proverbs xx. from T. B.
Sanhedrin 58b).

" AVhen Israel do what is right, God is strengthened ;
when wrong, then God is weakened (Lamentations
Rabba i. 33)." Right - doing adds strength to the
Divine element which is in Israel. Wrong - doing
diminishes it.


(1) nh22 'Bni-E* ddji'd'?, tlie word 'nnW to read 'nnW.

(2) inns- nx "^k "n 2m : it is not said 3'B*ni, " And He shall cause to
return," but 2sh (Kal), " and He sliall return," i.e. God will return with
erstwhile captive Israel when the latter goes into the greater freedom of
the Future.

(3) An instance of Rabbinic inconsistency is shown by a passage in
the Introduction to Lamentations Eabba xxix., where it is said as follows :
" Before Israel were redeemed from Egypt they dwelt by themselves, and
the Shechinah dwelt by itself. When they were redeemed, Shechinah
and Israel became one harmony, i.e. blended into one (nn.>< n'jidi.t icj,':).
But when Israel went into caj^tivity the Shechinah again separated from
them." This surely contradicts the statement that the Shechinah was
always with the Israelites in all their experiences.

(4) Sifri on in^iini has exactly the same wording as the MechUta. In
the Sifri on 'j;dd the phrase nnij "]d<sj; is omitted. It is also to be found in


Song of Songs Eabba ii., and in Jerusalem Talmud Sukkah iv. HaL c.
Also in Yalkut on ■in'?j;n3 and on n3. In Exodus Rabba xxiii. 5 quite
other Biblical verses are brought into play. It is noteworthy, that in
the Liturgy, the passage recited on Tabernacles festival, idv m'73 n-ha nymnj,
is permeated from beginning to end with these ideas of God's Immanence
in IsraeL

(5) Expressed, as we have seen above, by the phrase " one harmony."

(6) This is given in the Yalkut on Ezekiel xxxvi. 20, icn D'un h^ nu'i
DC 1N3. The word nu'i referring to Israel is in the singular, hence it is
taken by the Rabbins to refer to God. God, while Israel was in exile,
went round to the houses of the nations, etc. A similar idea of God's
interest in Israel in the sight of the nations occurs in Tanliuma on nWa
on the verse, "And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of
cloud" (Exodus xiii. 21). " Is it not written, 'Do I not fiU the heavens
and the earth ? ' Again, ' The whole earth is full of His glory.' How then
can Scripture say that God walked before them ? It is in order to make
the nations know the love which God bears to Israel in order that the
nations may treat them with honour."

(7) The Yalkut on Song of Songs (verse, " My beloved went down
into His garden," vi. 2) has the following curious passage : " ' My beloved
went down into His garden.' This means that God goes down into His
World. ' To the beds of spices.' This refers to Israel. ' To feed in
the gardens.' This alludes to the nations of the world. ' To gather
lilies.' These are the saints. God withdraws the saints from among the
nations. It may be likened unto an earthly monarch who had a son
whom he loved above all others. To show his love for him, he planted
him a beautiful orchard. So long as the lad's conduct was pleasing, the
king wandered throughout the world in order to find the most jarecious
trees for the orchard. But when the lad offended, then the trees were
cut away. God does the same for Israel. As long as Israel does His will,
God travels far and wide amongst the nations, and wherever He alights
upon a saintly man amongst them, He brings him forthwith into Israel's
fold. But when Israel revolts, then He removes the good man from their
midst." (See for same, Jerus. Talmud Berachoth in ^nct^' 'd "s.)

(8) In his Studies in Judaism, Shechter has an essay on " The Child
in Jewish Literature," in which he alludes to a passage in the Midrash
where God is represented as giving instruction daily to a number of
prematurely deceased children. This belongs to the same order of
Rabbinical teachings as the above. So deeply ingrained is the Divine in
Israel, that the sacred duties of the Israelite are also the sacred duties
of God.

(9) Derived from the exclamation of Elijah (1 Kings xvii. 1), "As
the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand." The Midrash,
basing itself no doubt upon the fact that Elijah had hitherto not
imparted any Divine message whatsoever, asks, " Did then Elijah stand
before God ? " And the answer given is as follows : " In standing before
Ahijah the Shilonite he acted as though he stood before the Shechinah."
Serving a saint is equivalent to serving the Shechinah.


(e) the shechinah and sin

It is obvious to the most superficial thinker, that it is
far easier to account for sin on the dualistic conception
of the relation of God to the world which emphasises the
Divine Transcendence, than on the view which insists
upon the Immanence. An offence against a God who
sits aloof from the world, is a phenomenon which needs
no explanation. But if God and His holiness are in the
world, and resident in the very heart of things and of
man, then all kinds of problems arise and press for
solution. If God dwells with and in man, then is not
man's sin also God's sin ? Or again, " Why does not
the indwelling God who is all-powerful prevent the sin ? "
Or again, " How can man's sin be displeasing to God,
seeinsf that the sin is committed in His sight and
with His present and previous knowledge ? " Modern
theology has its answers to these problems and several
kindred ones. It must here be inquired, how the Rabbinic
theologians regarded these difficulties, and what attempts
they made to reconcile the reality of sin with their
doctrines about the Shechinah as the immanent God of
the world, of Israel, of Palestine, and of man in general.
(1) There are passages showing how antithetical are
Sin and Shechinah. Sin ousts the Shechinah from its
place. The modern view of Immanence takes up a
similar position. God is in man and eternally prompts



and empowers him to do right. But when he does
wrong, man is simply ousting God from within him.
He is choking his godly and Godward impulses. The
most striking passage in this connexion is Song of Songs
Rabba vi. : " The original abode of the Shechinah was
among the D"^Dinnn, i.e. among men. When Adam sinned
it ascended away to the first heaven. With Cain's sin
it ascended to the second. With Enoch to the third.
With the generation of the Flood to the fourth. With
the generation of the Tower of Babel to the fifth. With
the Sodomites to the sixth. With the sin of the
Egyptians in the days of Abraham, it ascended to the
seventh. Corresponding to these, there arose seven
righteous men who brought the Shechinah down, back
again to earth. These were Abraham, Isaac, Jacob,
Levi, Kehath, Amram, and Moses. R. Isaac said that
this is the interpretation of the verse (Psalm xxxvii. 29),
' The righteous shall inherit the land, and dwell therein
for ever.' What do the wicked do ? They live
suspended in the air, because they have not caused the
Shechinah to dwell in the earth. But the righteous
shall dwell for ever on the earth, because they have made
the Shechinah abide therein for ever." A slightly
altered version is given in Numbers Rabba xii. 6 as well
as in Tanhuma on mpD, where, according to Rabba, the
Shechinah only came down to earth for the first time at
the erection of the Tabernacle. According to R. Simeon
bar Judah, the Shechinah came down to earth at the
time of creation, went away as soon as Adam sinned, and
returned with the erection of the Tabernacle.^^^ ^""^ ^"^

It is this sense of conflict between Deity and sin
that is expressed in such maxims as " He who sins in
secret presses against the feet of the Shechinah " (T. B.
Kiddushin 31a), there being no room in the universe for
both God and sinner. " A man may not walk even four


cubits with a proud mien, because the whole earth is full
of God's glory " (ibid.). Pride was always looked upon
by the Eabbins as the most heinous and unpardonable
of sins, equivalent to the sin of idolatry /^^ " God never
unites His name with evil in the way that He unites it
wdth good " ( Yalkut Ezekiel viii. ). Another and fuller
version of the latter is given in Yalkut 2 Kings vi.
*' The name of God is never mentioned in connexion
with evil, only with good." This is proved by a
quotation from Genesis i. 5, " And God called the light
day, and the darkness He called night " (in the Hebrew
the word for God precedes the word for light, but is
omitted before the word for darkness, the verb only
being used). And by another quotation from Genesis i.
28, " And God blessed them," whereas when He punished
our first parents Scripture says (iii. 16) and "unto the
woman He said, etc." (iii. 17) ; "And unto Adam He said,
etc." the name of God beino; omitted at the mention
of evil. These theories are based by the Midrash on the
interpretation of Psalm v. 4, " Evil shall not dwell
with Thee," i.e. says R. Johanan : " Thou dost not
drag after evil, neither does evil drag after thee, and
it does not abide with thee." ^*^ The root of l"ir is
taken to be n-iDi which — " to drag after," although
from the last three words of the sentence iSsn m~r rrD"'NT
it is clear that the correct root iii is also admitted. The
Rabbins were so fond of playing with words, that it is
not always easy to decide, whether their interpretations
based upon these plays are to be taken as maxims with
a serious ethical purpose, or as mere exhibitions of skill
in the use of words.^^^

Another aspect of the conflict between Shechinah
and sin is afforded by an interesting remark in the
Pesikta Rabbati, edit. Friedmann, p. 21 (reproduced in
Numbers Rabba xii. 3 and in Midrash Tillim xci.), " Until


the Tabernacle was erected the evil spirits (]''p^io) held
sway in the universe. But with the erection of the
Tabernacle the Shechinah came in to earth, and then
the evil spirits were dislodged and exterminated." ^"^

There is another department of this important
subject, which at first sight appears to be the diametrical
opposite of the first. Instances have been quoted to
show the antithesis between Shechinah and sin, how
the Rabbins endeavoured to clear the Deity of all
possible contact with evil, God and sin being in their
opinion mutually exclusive ideas. ^^^ It is now desirable
to quote equally emphatic allusions to the Shechinah
countenancing sin and dwelling in contact with it.
This apparent contradiction is accounted for as follows :
An examination of all the passages bearing on the
subject, shows that wherever Shechinah and sin are
antithetical, the reference is either to the sin of an
individual or of a section of Israelites, whereas in all
those passages where Shechinah and sin are in consonance,
the allusion is to the sin or evil of the collective body of
Israelites. The underlying idea is only another form of
the emphatic assertion so constantly repeated through-
out the pages of Rabbinic literature, of the Immanence
of God in Israel. God dwells in Israel at all costs.
Whether Israel be in good or evil repute, God is there.
To ask the question how the Rabbins could harmonise
their doctrines of God's aloofness from evil, with their
doctrine of God's Immanence in Israel in spite of Israel's
wickedness, is to go beyond the scope of Rabbinic logic*
Consistency was not a marked feature of the latter.

* This is not to discredit Rabbinism in any sense. On p. 304 of Sanday
and Headlani's Commentary on Romans {International Critical Commentary)
the authors, after speaking of the ways in which St. Paul uses words in a sense
opposed to the original context, remark: "Where does the superiority of the
New Testament writers lie ? In their correct interpretation of the spirit of the
Old Testament. As expounders of religion they belong to the whole world ;
as logicians they belong to the first century."


The Talmud is not a symmetric picture. It presents
not a doctrine, but a congeries of doctrines often at
variance with one another. The interest is centrifugal
rather than centripetal. It shows how many differing
themes may be elaborated out of one central subject.
It makes no attempt to wind these differing themes
round a common thread. Bearing this in mind, it
need occasion no surprise if it is possible to quote
numerous allusions to the idea of the Deity dwelling
with Israel in spite of Israel's impurity and sin.

One of the clearest statements on this head is
based on Leviticus xvi. 16, "And so shall he do for the
Tabernacle of the congres^ation that remaineth amoncf
them in the midst of their uncleanness." The Taber-
nacle (jDOo) = the Shechinah.^^^^

" The Shechinah dwells with Israel even though
they be impure" (Yalkut on Ezekiel xxxvi. and
frequently). The Rabbins made much of the phrase in
Ezekiel xxxvi. 17, nmn j-indijod ; it is not the same as
no riNOiJoD ; a "Kohen" may keep company with the
former but must have no contact with the latter ; Israel
being likened by the prophet to the former and not to the
latter, may therefore always hope to be in the company
of God. A kindred idea is to be found in Exodus Rabba
XV. 5, where God is said to have revealed Himself
" in a place of idolatry, filth, and uncleanliness in order
to redeem Israel." ^^^ These ideas are an expansion of the
oft-recurring Biblical references to the sonship of Israel.
The Sifri on a passage in Deuteronomy (xxxii. 5)
says, " Although they [i.e. Israel] are full of blemishes,
yet they are called sons." ^^^^ The Yalkut on Lamentations
iii. 3 compares this sonship to the case of an earthly
monarch who yearns and frets for his son's company,
no matter what the latter's failings and offences may be.

Other aspects of treatment are the following :


Yalkut on Esther vi., " Does God sleep ? No. But
when Israel sleeps He feigns sleep, but when they do
His will, then the Guardian of Israel neither slumbereth
nor sleepeth." The idea of the Deity sleeping while
Israel is sinning is a pretty specimen of Midrashic poetry.
Tanhuma on nm tells how King Manasseh puts an image
of ]"'Q*i2iiQ '^T, " four faces," inside the Temple. The
Shechinah departs from the sinful scene in the deepest
disgust. But it departs, only to come back again
through the repentance of the Israelites. The great
Rabbinic antidote to sin is repentance. God is with
Israel in his sin, only because He has implanted within
him this virtue of repentance. Repentance is almost
a synonym for Shechinah. It is a Divine indwelling. ^^^^
It is that alone which makes sin bearable, forgivable.*

* It is of great interest to note how much closer is this old-world Rabbinic
view of sin to the modern scientific-theological view than to the orthodox
traditional view of Christianity. This is exemplified in a work recently
published (Clarke and Co., 1909) by W. E. Orchard, D.D., entitled Modern
Theories of Sin. The author, after dwelling on the inadequacy of the Church
doctrines of grace, justification, atonement, etc., to explain the forgiveness of
sin from the standpoint of history and personal experience, establishes the
following data : (1) "The pain that man feels for his sin is the awakening to
the long-sufiering of God who . . . has drawn near to us, etc." Did not the
Rabbins poetically forestall this idea by their dictum about God being asleep
while Israel is in sin ? Is not this merely another way of describing His long-
suffering with sin? (2) "There could be no knowledge of our sin and no
penitence for it unless God had forgiven us sufficiently to dwell with us "
(pp. 144, 145). An exact echo of a host of Rabbinic statements on Repentance.
There is no notion here of an angry God, whose wrath with the world could
only be appeased, by the voluntary self-sacrifice of some divine individual who
took upon himself the whole guilt of mankind, in order to clear them of their
age-long guilt before God. The psychology of the religious consciousness does
not tally with this teaching. It tallies, however, with the Rabbinic view which
represents God as a father who is steeped in love for his wayward offspring, and
stretches out his hand the whole day long, to receive the erring one again in his
forgiving embrace ; and the erring one returns to the father. Why not ? Is
not the seed of filial love imi^lanted even in the worst specimen of a child !
God has implanted this seed — Repentance — in the heart of the Israelite. This,
and this alone, is the latter's assurance that God is nigh unto him, that His
attitude toward him is gracious and not angry, that He takes pity on him,
and condescends in a nearness of fellowship to dwell again with him. Hence
forgiveness of God and repentance by man are obverse sides of the same shield.
The innate ability to produce the latter, is the signal that the former has been
achieved. There could be no penitence for sin, unless God had first vouchsafed
His forgiveness. Conversely, forgiveness of sin could have no meaning for us, were
it not for the fact of that Divine indwelling which expresses itself in repentance.



(1) There is another view in a long passage in Ahoth De R. Nathan

(2) R. Isaac's idea of the wicked as suspended in the air seems to be a
fanciful way of stating the truth that the bad man's existence is a blank.
The Shechinah fills all space, heaven as well as earth. The godless man
must therefore exist in some region which is neither heaven nor earth.
This, in R. Isaac's naive conception, is the air.

(3) The Baraita quoted in T. B. Berachoth 27b gives instances of
offences committed by a disciple against his master, which cause the
Shechinah to go away from Israel.

(4) Tanhuma on vmn. The same antithesis between Deity and sin
is expressed in the remark, " Only angels of peace can stand before God.
Angels of anger are far from Him who is slow to anger." In T. B.
Sabbath 56a in connexion with the remark, viz. "All who say David
sinned (in connexion with Bathsheba) are wrong," the question is asked,
" Would the Shechinah be with him while sin was in his hand ? "

(5) The truth of this, is seen in these very Midrashic passages about
the name of God never being intermingled with the mention of evil.
The Rabbins are candid enough to upset their own very theories ! In
the very heat of their endeavour to prove how the name of God is never
associated with evil, they adduce instances to show the contrary (e.g,
Daniel ix. 14, " Therefore hath the Lord watched upon the evil, and
brought it iipon us "). It shows that their deductions are often verbal
rather than real !

(6) This belongs to the department of Jewish angelology and
demonology, a vast province of old Rabbinic thought, but lacking
systematisation. An excellent summary is afforded by the articles of
Ludwig Blau and Kauffmann Kohler, in the Jewish Encyclopedia, vol. i.

(7) Another instance of this is the query in Sifri on yhiini, and
frequently, "Can God have any haters?"

(8) I have already dwelt on the connexion between Shechinah and
pts-D, and their relations to the New Testament usage of a-Krjvq.

(9) A kindred idea is that of Exodus Rabba xxiv. 3 on the verse
" And Moses caused Israel to journey from the Red Sea, and they went
out into the wilderness of Shur " (Exod. xv. 22). It remarks, "Although
Israel is in sin, God leads them like a shepherd his flock."

(10) This passage is ddid v:3 k"? i"? nns7, an extremely difficult verse to
translate. According to the Sifri quoted above, it should be rendered
thus : " When corruption is theirs (iS nns'), the blemish (i.e. sin) is not in
His sons," i.e. however sinful Israel shows himself, he does not forfeit his
sonship to God.

(11) This view of Repentance, as showing the Divine possibilities
latent in man, seems to me to underlie the batch of statements in Sifri on
nm which speak of jn iii mip and ]^n nu -inn'?, " before and after the Divine
decree." For instance, it is asked how can a statement like "0 Thou
that hearest prayer, unto Thee shall all flesh come " (Psalm Ixv. 2), be


made to tally with a statement like " Thou hast covered Thyself with a
cloud that prayer should not pass through " (Lam. of Jeremiah iii. 44) ?
Or how can an exhortation like "Seek ye the Lord while He may be
found " (Isaiah Iv. 6), be reconciled with " As I live, saith the Lord God,
I will not be inquired of by you " (Ezekiel xx. 3) ? Or a verse like
" For I have no pleasure in the death of Him that dieth " (Ezekiel xviii.
32), with the statement " Because the Lord was pleased to slay them "
(1 Sam. ii. 25) ? And the answer given is that God's leniency is available

Online LibraryJ. (Joshua) AbelsonThe immanence of God in rabbinical literature → online text (page 12 of 32)