J. (Joshua) Abelson.

The immanence of God in rabbinical literature online

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only "before the Divine decree," i.e. before the irrevocable sentence has
gone forth ; after this, i.e. "after the Divine decree," man can only expect
a stern retribution. The underlying assumption right through this
teaching is the everlasting possibility of man's anticipating the Divine
decree. God waits for him. The " after the Divine decree " rarely or
never comes ! It is an indefinitely postponed point of time. Man has
it in him to make amends, and the door is always open, never closed.
Repentance is the Divine principle in man, the Shechinah or Divine
indwelling in man asserting itself. In his Mystical Element of
Religion (vol. ii. p. 68), Baron Von Hiigel quotes Romans vi. 12-14,
vii. 22, 23, viii. 4-13, to show how Paul's view of the Spirit as the
counter-working force within man, striving for complete domination over
the lusts of the flesh, stands in marked superiority over the Jewish O.T.
view, where the contrast is mainly between " the visible and transitory,"
i.e. between the greatness of the eternal God and the weakness and
fallibility of man. This may be so, but it only goes to prove the
considerable advance in theological thought made by the doctors of the
post-Biblical Babylonian and Palestinian academies. For the golden hall-
mark of their teaching is just this, that the Spirit in man is stronger than
the anti- spirit lust; the whole Rabbinic doctrine of the efiicacy of
Repentance jiresupposes this. Von Hiigel points out how the synoptists
in utterances like " The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak,"
and " Father, forgive them ; for they know not what they do," do not rise
above the inferior level of the O.T. view. In the variegated mass of
doctrine about sin, which one finds in Talmud and Midrash, one does
occasionally come across an opinion which tends to look at sin from a
similarly apologetic standpoint, sin as the inevitable result of folly, and
so forth, and therefore excusable. But the main trend of Rabbinic opinion
brooks no such dallying with sin. The Divine in man pleads for the
upright life; conversion to it is easy. God fore-ordained it. If man
refuses to listen to the higher call his refusal is sin, and no plea of weak-
ness or such like, can palliate or deny it.


(f) the shechinah and the torah

The Torah and sin are the two opposite poles of
conduct. When spoken of in antithesis to Torah, sin
generally goes by the name of "the evil impulse."
This evil impulse is the inveterate enemy of the Torah,
prepared at any moment to fight it to the death. But
the Torah must be the ultimate victor. " Just as
water wears away stone, so the Torah will wear away
the evil impulse " (T. B. Sukkah 52b). " Just as iron
can be made into all sorts of vessels if cast into the fire,
so one can make the evil impulse useful by words of
the Torah; it is learned from Proverbs xxv. 21 that
if thine enemy be hungry {i.e. when the evil impulse
prompts thee) give him bread to eat {i.e. bread of the
Torah ; Pesikta De Pv. Kahana, edit. Buber 80b)." " If
this base fellow {i.e. the evil impulse) attack thee, drag
him to the ' Beth Hamidrash ' [where he will meet his
match in the Torah]" (Sukkah 52b).* If the Torah
wields so mighty, so invincible a power over evil, it follows
that its conscientious student, or practical observer, will
be a man of the highest and godliest impulses. The
Shechinah will be in him and with him. His triumph
over sin will in the last resort be the Shechinah's

* "There shall no strange god be in thee" (Psalm Ixxxi. 9). On which
the sages remark, " What is the strange god that is in the body of man ?
It is the evil impulse " (T. B. Sabbath 105b). This is a peculiar instance of
personification, or rather, deification.



triumph over sin. It is in this sense that the Rabbins
often speak. There is a passage in Yalkut Lamentations
iii. which says that the " Talmid Hacham" who sits
in private and studies Torah, has God actually sitting
with him and joining in his meditations. Similarly,
Yalkut on Song of Songs i., in commenting on the
verse i. 2, " Let him kiss me with the kisses of his
mouth," declares that " when two colleagues sit and
study the Halacha together, it is as if they kiss God."^^^
The passage in T. B. Berachoth 6a (repeated in
Yalkut on Psalm Ixxxii.) about the Shechinah abiding
in the midst of two or even one when studying
the Torah is very familiar.^^^ Yalkut on Psalm Ixviii.
instances the fact, that when five elders proceed to
intercalate the year, God places His Shechinah among
them, so that they may get enlightenment in the
Halacha, and not err. It is probably on this basis
that the Kabbins founded their ideas so often expressed
about God introducing new Halachas daily in His
Celestial Beth Din (see Genesis Rabba xlix. 2, Yalkut
on Job xxxvii.), or about God's holding the Torah in
His right hand (Deuteronomy Rabba iv. 4), or of the
taking counsel with the Torah before creating the world
(Tanhuma on Genesis i. 1), or the extraordinary
statement in Tanhuma on D''yi2 about the Torah
being extant on the arm of God before the creation of
the universe. An even more curious passage is that
of the Yalkut on 2 Samuel xx. (from the Tanna Debe
Elijahu) : " If a man possesses good morals and a
knowledge of Hebrew reading (n"ipd) only, then there
is given him one angel solely to guard him, as
Scripture says, ' Behold I send an angel before thee.'
If one has studied the Torah, the Prophets, and the
Hagiographa, then two angels are vouchsafed unto
him, as Scripture says, ' For He shall give His angels


charge over thee, to guard thee in all thy ways.' But
if one has studied the Torah, Prophets, Hagiographa,
the Mishna, Midrash, Halacha and Haggada, then God
Himself has charge over him." The Midrash enforces
these statements by a parable, the point of which is to
show the ever-present Divine protection which hedges
round the good man. It is important to note the idea
of the angels as being, so to speak, an inferior degree
of Divine Immanence in the world and man. The man
of secondary merits receives the angel. The first-class
saint or student of the Torah has the privilege of the
highest of all forms of guardianship, that of the


(1) Cp. T. B. Berachotli 64a, "He that partakes of a meal at which
a ' Talmid Haliam ' is seated, acts as though he partook of the

(2) It is interesting to note the strong personification of Shechinah
in this passage in T. B. Berachoth 6a. The question is there raised, " If
it be true that the Shechinah abides in the company of three who study
Torah, what necessity is there to point out that it abides also in the
company of ten who study Torah ? Surely the latter can be taken for
granted ? And the answer is, " When ten study Torah, the Shechinah
takes its seat by their side as soon as they enter the study-house, even
before they actually seat themselves down. But in the case of three, the
Shechinah is not with them until they have thoroughly seated and
arranged themselves for study."


(g) the shechinah and the woed

In the course of an examination of Rabbinic passages
bearing on Shechinab, one alights upon many an allusion
to the "Word" (in Hebrew "Dibbur" or "Ma'amar"),
and it soon becomes noticeable that there is a kinship
between the two. The personification is equally strong
in both. The " Word " at once reminds us of the
Targumic Memra/^^ which is perhaps the most note-
worthy feature of the Targum literature. And one is
led on to think in this connexion of the Logos of Philo
and the "Word" of St. John's Gospel. But close
study very soon dispels the idea that the latter two
terms are identical with Memra or Shechinah or
Dibbur. Philo's Logos differs in at least three im-
portant respects from the Rabbinic conceptions. These
are (1) that it is a piece of metaphysics, a philo-
sophical term quite foreign to Rabbinic methods of
interpretation. (2) That it is impersonal, whereas the
Rabbinic terms stand for a Personal God, a father into
whose ears man can pour the tale of his troubles, and
receive a comforting reply. (3) The Logos is often
the intermediary between man and God, the " paraclete "
of humanity, whereas the Rabbins repudiated in the
strongest possible language, any intervening personality
between man and his Maker.*

* As Bousset says (page 346): " Der Logos Philos hat mit der oben
erwahnten rabbinischen Spekulation wenig gemein." Volz {Der Gcist Gottes,



The most frequent usage of the " Word " is in
connexion with cosmology. The foundation to work
upon is the Psalmist's expression, " By the word of the
Lord were the heavens made" (xxxiii. 6). Genesis
Rabba xii, 2 says, "Not by labour and not by toil did
God create His world, but by the word." Ihid. xvii. 1
has the familiar saying about the world having been
created by ten Words (rmnNO mt&i?n).^''^ The Word
here is an aspect of God's creative energy .^^^ But it
need not of necessity point to any immanent Divine
activity in the world. As it stands in the passage just
quoted, it might with equal justice be interpreted in a
transcendent sense. The world was created by the
Word, after which it retired absolutely from the scene.
But there is an important passage in the Sifri on
HDil (quoted also in Song of Songs Rabba i. 3), in
which the " Word " is strongly personified, and is merely
another aspect of the Rabbinic teaching about Divine
Immanence in Israel, of which I have spoken in
connexion with Shechinah. " The Word emerged from
the right hand of God and went to the left of Israel ;
thence returning, it surrounded the camp of Israel, which
was eighteen miles by eighteen miles ; thence returning
it went round from the right of Israel to the left of
God, who received it on His right, and afterwards engraved
it on the tablet ; and its voice resounded from one end
of the world to another, fulfilling the statement of
Scripture, ' The voice of the Lord divideth the flame
of fire' (Psalm xxix. 7)." Rabbi Moses Alshech ^'^

Tubingen, 1910) says : " Mag Philo diesen seinen Zentralbegriff vom Stoizismus
oder von der agyptischen Speculation oder von beiden iibernonimen haben,
jedenfalls zeigt das Verhaltniss von Logos und gottlichen Pneunia in Philo, dass
der alexandrinische Denker sicli mehr mit der griechisch-iigyptischen als mit
der ATlich-jiidisclien Begriflswelt beriihrte." There are, however, as we
have seen, a few allusions to the o'nmn r\-\D as well as to angels in Talmudie
literature which run very near to the paraclete idea of Philo, similarly in the case
of Memra, particularly in the Jerusalem Targum.


in his commentary on the Song of Songs, as \^e\\ as
in the commentary on the Midrash Rabba h"\p rrD*', takes
the passage in a strictly spiritual sense as showing
the triumph of the Divine in man over the unworthy
side of his nature, the promptings of his evil im-
pulse. Another passage in Song of Songs Rabba vi. 3
represents the "Word" as interceding before God
on behalf of the Israelites, who were frightened to
death when they heard the first syllables of the Ten
Commandments on Sinai. The commentator before
mentioned, here explains the " Word " as being identical
with an angel, on the basis of the remark in T. B.
Haggigah 14a, " from every word which comes out of the
mouth of the Almighty there is created an angel." ^^^

Deuteronomy Rabba ix. 9 relates a conversation
between Moses, shortly before his death, and Joshua, in
which the former asks the latter, " What did the Word
say unto thee ? " Joshua replies, " At the moment
when the Word revealed itself unto thee, didst thou
know what it said unto thee ? " Here " Word " seems
the exact equivalent of Divine inspiration.^^^

Sifri on in':>i>nn, commenting on the passage (Numbers
xii. 8) on the words mTni n^ rrN-ioi, says that the allusion
is to ni"T n«-iD, " The sight of the Word." The Word was
a physical reality to Moses in his inspired moments.

That the Rabbins conceived the "Word" as closely
akin to the Shechinah ideas, is seen from a passage to be
found in Mechilta,^^^ p. 1, edit. Friedmann (quoted also in
brief in Yalkut Ezekiel i. and in Tanhuma ni), where it
is pointed out, how the Shechinah, by successive stages,
became narrowed down from being the possession of all
lands, to being the possession of the Temple at Jerusalem
only. And it is noticeable how Shechinah and
"Dibbur" are indiscriminately used in the course of
the discussion. ^^^ Like the Shechinah the " Dibbur "


only exists in place of purity.* They are both similarly
and equally antithetical to sin.


(1) "Memra" is confined to the Targximim. It never occurs in the
Talmud or Midrashim. " Dibbiir " and " Ma'amar " are iLsed inter-
changeably in the Midrash, although the latter is more frequently-
employed where cosmology is spoken of. The word " Sliechinah " occurs,
of course, frequently in the Targum (and often like Memra, with the
sole purpose of avoiding any semblance of anthropomorphism), but it has
nothing like the frequency of Memra. Wherever the Memra is not
introduced for the sole jiurpose of avoiding anthropomorphism, it is to
express the manifestation of the Divine 2:)ower or Divine Wisdom in the
universe and in man. In these respects its meaning and force are largely
paralleled by those of Shechinah.

(2) See T. B. MegiUah 21b ; Aboth v. 1.

(3) In Deuteronomy Rabba v. 13 there is a curious play upon words
in the case of ■i3T = Word, and n i^n = Pestilence. God .says that just as
He brought the world into life by the word, so He can remove it from
life by the pestilence.

(4) Moses Alshech was Rabbi in Safed in the second half of the
sixteenth century. He was a disciple of Joseph Karo. He wrote
homiletical commentaries on the Bible, and was widely celebrated as a

(5) The Yalkut on Song of Songs i. says, " One angel goes forth before
every ' Dibbur,' and asks every Israelite in turn whether he accepts such
and such a particular ' Dibbur ' and all that it implies."

(6) This usage of " Dibbur " in the sense of prophetic inspiration is
found particularly in the Rabbinic dictum (given in Grenesis Rabba Hi. 5
and other places), " God reveals Himself to heathen prophets only by a
half Dibbur."

(7) See Friedmann's remark on the opening verse of the Mechilta.
Instead of ■"3'nn he reads "li'^n, and quotes the authority of the " Kol Bo "
for the reading in the Haggada of Passover night "la'^.i 's hn di:n, in
deference to the phrase in Jeremiah v. 1 3 ; it is, he says, the equivalent of
the Targumic Memra.

(8) But in Friedmann's edition of Mechilta this indiscrimination is
corrected. He manages to keep the two exjiressions distinct from each
other. But the similarity in their meanings is quite obvious from the

* The Shechinah, as has been mentioned before, also exists, under certain
conditions, in places of impurity. I have been unable to discover any passages
which say this of the " Dibbur."


(h) the memra

Several phases of Rabbinic teaching about Divine
immanence are comprehended in the connotation of
the word " Memra." But the usage of this word is
confined exclusively to the Targumic literature. The
Rabbinic equivalent is " Ma'amar," but it is rarely
employed, and even then, its significance is not identical
with Memra. The latter seems to be a transliteration

of the Syriac )>i Sn)Sf> which = " word " in the general
sense, without any theological reference whatsoever.^^^

The Targumim are a branch of Rabbinic literature ;
both Onkelos and Jonathan ben Uziel were pupils of the
Talmudic doctors,*'"^ and although there is much difi'erence
of opinion among scholars like Graetz, Friedmann, and
Bacher as to the exact identity of Onkelos and Jonathan
and their relations to the works which bear their names,
there is no doubt whatsoever that the Targumim are a
product of the activity of the Palestinian academies.
The frequent deviations from the literalness of the
Scriptural text, and the abundance of purely Midrashic
methods of interpretation, prove this.^^^

The Targumic usage of the Memra,^*^ although it has
resemblances to the Rabbinic connotation of Shechinah,
nevertheless constitutes a new departure. It enters
into the relations between the human and the Divine,


CHAP, xiii THE MEMRA 151

between God, man and the world, to an even greater
extent than the Shechinah. The view commonly
taken that the Memra is an expedient for avoiding
the ascription of anthropomorphism to the Deity, is
only half the truth/^^ As a matter of fact, the
Targum is guilty of many anthropomorphisms. This
has been shown by (among others) M. Ginsburger in
an essay in the Zeit. f. p7'ot. Theologie, 1891, entitled
" Die Anthropomorphismen in den Targumim." He lays
down the following rule, which is a very valuable guide
to the study of the Memra : " Whenever a relation is
predicated of God, through which His spiritual presence
an earthly being must be assumed, the paraphrase
with Memra is employed." Ginsburger rightly argues
that the Memra is no mere term of convenience, no mere
mechanical artifice thrown in at random, for no more
than the outward purpose of stripping the Deity of
corporeality. It has a deep and real theological import.
Some such view as this was also held by Nahmanides.
His ideas on the point are of great interest, and are given
in a passage of his Commentary on the Bible (Genesis
xlvi. 4), where he subjects the rationalistic tendencies
of Maimonides to very strong criticism. Nahmanides
argues, that if the sole object of the Targumic authors
in their usages of the terms Memra, Shechinah, Yekarah,
etc., were the avoidance of anthropomorphism, why do
we find such literal renderings as '^n N^ipl, " and God
called," or "and God spake," "rs ^Sdt?<'> Surely to
attribute speech to God is to regard Him in the guise
of a man ? ^'^ * Nahmanides quotes further instances.
In Exodus xiv. 31 Onkelos renders the verse as :
" And Israel saw the might of the great hand." If this is
not anthropomorphic, what is ? Again, Exodus xxxi. 18

* It should here be said, as Mr. Israel Abrahams has pointed out to me, that
Maimonides was of opinion that our current Targum texts do not always contain
the original readings. His opinion is substantiated by many modern scholars.


is literally translated as " with the finger of God " ^^^ ;
similarly Deut. iv. 34, " with a strong hand and an out-
stretched arm," is literally rendered. And in Deut. xi.
12 Onkelos has no hesitation in speaking of the " eyes "
of God as being constantly upon the land " from the be-
ginning of the year even to the end of the year." On
the otlier hand, argues Nahmanides, there are many
instances where the Targum inserts the word Memra
(or Shechinah), even when there is no danger of
anthropomorphism.^^^ In Exodus xvi. 8, " Your murmur-
ings are not against us, but against the Lord " ; here
the murmurings are made to be " against the Memra
of the Lord," although there is no necessity for the
addition. To murmur against God, does not imply
corporeality on His part. Similarly in Genesis ix.
16, 17, Exodus xxxi. 17, the rainbow and the Sabbath
respectively are a sign between man and the Memra ; and
in Genesis xxxi. 49, 50, where "Mitspah" and "the heap"
are the witness between Jacob and Laban on the one
hand, and the Memra on the other. From these and
other examples, Nahmanides rightly draws the two
following conclusions : (a) that there is no systematic
avoidance of anthropomorphism in the Targum literature ;
(6) that the Memra has a deep theological or mystical
significance. It is noteworthy that he does not
particularise this significance. He says simply, " their
secret is known to students." ^^^^ But a knowleds^e
of Nahmanides' general theological system leaves no
room to doubt, that he was here alluding to what is
the key-stone of his teaching, viz. the Immanence
of God. God's presence in the world was a reality
to Nahmanides ; and his constantly reiterated views
on such things as creation, miracles, the soul, the Torah,
etc., all hinge upon his unyielding belief in the closest
contact between the Deity and the World.^^^^


Nahmanides has struck the right note. An ex-
amination of nearly all the passages in the Targumim
where the word is used, leads to the conclusion that the
Memra has mystical bearings ; it connotes relationships
between the Deity and the world which are part and
parcel of Rabbinic thought on these matters/^"^

The Memra is the development of the Psalmist's
simple but great utterance, " For He spake, and it was ;
He commanded, and it stood fast " (Psalm xxxiii. 9). It
is the expounding of the " Word " from the Jewish point
of view. All things exist by virtue of the word [i.e.
Memra) of God. It permeates everything, brings every-
thing into the realm of being, conditions everything. It
is the immanent manifestation of God in the world of
matter and spirit. Divine wisdom, Divine power,
Divine love. Divine justice, all these do not abide in the
highest heavens, isolated, unapproachable, unknowable.
They are imbedded in the scheme of things that we can
see and feel and touch and know. They are a part of
the constitution of man and the world. Man and the
world are a fragment of them. The Memra comprises
and expresses these teachings.

The various significations of the Memra may be
classified as follows : —

(A) The Memra as Divine Wisdom, Power,
AND Love

The immanent God of Judaism is, as was said at the
beginning of this book, the all-pervading divine per-
sonality who is a mixture of wisdom, power, and love.
To these must be added a fourth, viz. justice ; but this
must be dealt with separately. The oft-repeated Biblical
and Rabbinical portraiture of God as a father, with the
father's compassion for the children, is unintelligible
without this assumption.


I. Genesis. — In iii. 8, " And they heard the voice
of the Memra walking in the garden." It is interesting
to note that Nahmanides says that the words allude to
" the manifestation of the Shechinah in that place,"
a significant identification of Memra and Shechinah/^^^

In vii, 16 the Jerusalem Targum has, "And the
Memra closed the door of the ark in his [Noah's] face."

In XV. 1, "Fear not, Abram, my Memra shall be
strong unto thee."

Idem verse 6, " And Abram believed in the Memra
of God." (^*>

In xxviii. 20, 21, "If the Memra shall be my help."
" And the Memra of God shall be unto me for a God."
Nahmanides remarks on the latter verse, " There is
a secret in this context." By this he means that it
possesses a mystical connotation.

In XXXV. 3, " And I will make there an altar to the
God who answered me in the day of my trouble and
whose Memra was my support on the way that I went."

II. Exodus. — In iii. 12, " And he said. Verily my
Memra shall be thy support" (same in Pseudo-

In iv. 12, "And now, go, and my Memra shall be
with thy mouth " (Pseudo- Jonathan has, " And I, with
my Memra, shall be with the speech of thy mouth").
Similarly in iv. 15.

In xii. 29, " And it came to pass in the middle of
the night that the Memra of God smote all the first-born,
etc." So in Pseudo-Jonathan, but not found in ordinary
edition of Onkelos.

In xiv. 31, "And the people feared the Lord and
they believed in the Memra of the Lord." So Onkelos.
Pseudo- Jonathan has, " And they believed in the name
of the Memra of the Lord." Possibly, there is an
allusion here to the Rabbinic belief in the miracle-

xiii THE MEMRA 155

performing power of tlie Divine name (see e.g. T. B.
Makkoth 1 1 a)/^^^ In the Kabbalistic system of cosmology
the combinations of Divine names play a large part/'**^
In T. B. Yoma 73b, it is stated that when the Urim and
Thummim were consulted, the letters of the Divine name
were lit up, and brought into such a combination, as to
make the answer intelligible. Not only the names of
God, but those of the angels as well, constitute a funda-
mental part of the Jewish mysticism of both Talmud
and Kabbalah/^'^

In xvi. 8, " Not against us are your murmurings,
but against the Memra of God."^''^

In xix. 17, "And Moses brought forth the people
towards the Memra of God." So Onkelos. It is note-
worthy that Pseud o- Jonathan renders " towards the
Shechinah of God," thus again showing the close

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