J. (Joshua) Abelson.

The immanence of God in rabbinical literature online

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on page 1, says: "The Hebrew ' Ruali ' like the Greek 'Pneuma' and
tlie Latin ' spiritus ' originally had a physiological and not a psychological
value, denoting the human breath." From this, Swete goes on to show
how it came to acquire the higher meanings.

(2) Maimonides in the Moreh Nebuchim, i. chap. xl. translates, " And
the air of God moved."

(3) Cp. Psalm xxxiv. 18, "And saveth such as be of a contrite

(4) The phrase nn myi suggests " the purposelessness and ineffective-
ness of all man's enterprises " (G. Currie Martin on Ecclesiastes in Century

(5) Wellhausen says that they had become merely public demagogues.

(6) It is worthy of note that Rashi on this passage in Numbers


adopts ratlier a physical interpretation. He is " the Lord of the Spirit
of all flesh," because He knows the different dispositions, temperaments
of men.

(7) Psalm xxxi. 5, cp. Zeehariah xii. 1.

(7a) For the idea of this classification, I am indebted to a little work
entitled Spirit in the New Testament, by E. W. Winstanley (Cambridge
University Press, 1908).

(8) Eashi takes loys"? as □•d:;s'7 laipa nn"?, i.e. an incidental, intermittent
visitation of the Divine Spirit.

(9) Rashi here has m}2i nn, thus differing from the Targum.
Probably Rashi was thinking of the warlike exploits mentioned in the
next chapter, whereas the Targum confined itself to its view of him as
a prophet.

(10) Nahmanides on this passage, in the midst of other interesting
remarks, quotes the Rabbinical statement about Bezaleel, ^k^^^ n'n yiy
pxn D'stj' [na in-i3:b' nrnixn rp^ih ; on this Nahmanides adds as follows : " The
Tabernacle hints at these [i.e. the Tabernacle has its archetype, as"*it
were, in the letters by which heaven and earth were created]. Bezaleel
understood the secret of it all." Thus, Nahmanides would make Bezaleel
a mystic.

(11) Both Rashi and Ibn Ezra here explain 'n'?sKi by the familiar
figure of a candle at which several other candles are kindled without
any diminution in its light.

(12) Some such ideas as these, seem to underlie the remark attributed
to Jesus in John iii. 5, " Except a man be born of water, and of the
Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God."

(13) See Rashi's remark on Ezekiel i. 1, "And I saw visions of God."
It was, says he, m'xa nrNc xn'^piSDX iwd and ran n'^i oiSn pyD.

(14) Modern critics assign these Balaam prophecies to a comparatively
late date. Israel must by then, say they, have acquired a permanent
ascendancy over the other Canaanitish nations. See, for an interesting
study of the subject, Cheyne in Expository Times (1899), x. 399-402.

(15) Cp. the phrase in Nehemiah ix. 20, nnan inm.

(16) From Prof Whitehouse's Isaiah in Century Bible Series.

(1 7) Marti on this passage in Isaiah says : " Mishpat ist die Zusammen-
fassung aller Mishpatim, die Israel besitzt, also die sittlich religiose
Ordnung, die wahre Religion Jahves." He shows how similarly
the Arabic " ^q means both judgment and religion.

(18) Cp. the Rabbinic comment on the windows of Solomon's
Temple as being d'dibk o'sypof, i.e. wide from the outside but narrow
from the inside, so that the Divine light focitssed inside might be
disseminated broad-cast when it reached the outside of the Temple.

(19) Rashi, following the Midrash on this passage, points out
how in Genesis ii. 7, where the creation of man is alluded to, the
word ns"! is spelt with double " Yod," whereas in ii. 19, where it speaks
of the animal creation, the same word is spelt with only one " Yod " ; the
reason for this being that man possesses, as it were, two creations, one
in the past and the other in the future, at the time of the resurrection.



The beast will not enjoy the latter. Rashi would thus read a spiritual
interpretation into these early passages of Genesis.

(20) Genesis Rabba xxvi. 6 gives other interpretations of this
passage. It makes it allude to the resurrection of the dead. Thus :
" I will not put my spirit in them at the hour when I give the reward
of the righteous in the time to come." As the commentators explain,
this " reward of the righteous in the time to come," means the resurrection
of the dead. It is worthy of note that according to this, and many
another llabbinical statement, it is only the " righteous " who will enjoy
the resurrection ; and yet, one might cull ever so many references to a
resurrection in which all will participate. This is undoubtedly a dark
and difficult point. In all probability it marks different strata in the
development of the idea of resurrection among the ancient Jews. The
New Testament references are also by no means clear. Luke xiv. 14, xx,
35, speaks only of the resurrection of the just and worthy ; but John v.
29, Acts xxiv. 15, Rev. xx. 5 allude to the "resurrection of the dead" in
general. Resurrection of the dead early came to form part of the belief
in the Messianic advent. This is seen from the Rabbinic interpretations
of Ezekiel xxxvii., Isaiah xxvi. 19, Daniel xii. 2, etc. etc. Exactly when
the conjunction in these two ideas was effected, it is hard to say ; but it
is not hard to see how the conjunction should become the starting-point
of the broader teaching about a general resurrection. At the time when
the resurrection teaching was embodied in the Eighteen Benedictions of
the Jewish ritual, it must clearly have been the undisputed opinion of
the Jews that resurrection will be for all and not for a select few.

(21) Aboth v.

(22) Marti here substitutes (following the LXX.) i^ {i.e. messenger)
for the textual n^, and reads inSd in the absolute state (not ■n^'^o in
construct state as in text), and also he adopts the Ketib nS = " not " for
the Keri iV = " unto him." He translates the passage " Nicht ein Bote
oder Engel ; Sein Angesicht rettete sie." He adds by way of explanation :
" This contrast of messenger and angel on the one hand, and God's face on
the other shows that "n inSd is no longer, as formerly, the person of God
(' die Repriisentation Jahves ') but a substitute, and that the ' Face of God '
denotes God Himself." A combination like vjd in^d, says Marti, is
impossible ; you get "n '3S or "n in'^d, but not "n 'J3 ikSd.

(23) According to Rabbinic tradition, the Sanhedrin originated
in the Mosaic period, the seventy elders of Numbers xi. 16-30 being
the first Sanhedrin. It existed from that time onwards without
interruption. But looking at the matter critically it must be argued,
from the fact that there is no passage in the pre-exilic books relating to
it, that no fixed body, answering in any way to what was understood by
a Sanhedrin, could have existed before the time of the second Temple.
In Nehemiah viii. 8 we read of an assembly which in the Talmud is
designated as the " great synagogue." But this could only have been an
occasional body. At a later date, which cannot be determined, this
occasional body was replaced by a standing body — the Sanhedrin. For
further information on this knotty point see Bacher's article " Sanhedrin "
in Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible.


(24) Hebrew pDN. The LXX. has apjjuo^ovcra = arranger or fashioner
of things. Eashi takes it as " foster-child " or " ward," based on
Lamentations iv. 5. But this is rather forced, as the word should
have read pox. But Rashi's view is favoured by the Targum. The
meaning " master- workman " or, as Cheyne says, that of " architect " or
"artist," is supported by the Apocryphal Book of Wisdom vii. 22, much
of which seems to have been borrowed from this chapter of Proverbs.

(25) " In one passage, animated by a fine enthusiasm. Wisdom
is a cosmic force, the nursling of God, standing by His side at the
creation of the world. This conception, foreign to the pre-Ezran O.T.
thought, suggests the period when Jews came under Greek influence."
Prof. Toy's article " Book of Proverbs " in Jewish Encyclopcedia.

(26) Montefiore, The Wisdom of Solomon (London, 1887).

(27) Volz {Der Geist Gottes, Tubingen, 1910) on pp. 159-165 gives
a good account of the hypostasisation of the Spirit in Philo and the
Jewish Apocryphal and Apocalyptic writings.



The main lines of advancement in the treatment of
the O.T. idea are the following : —

(1) The O.T. terms " Spirit of the Lord," " Spirit of
God," occasional terms such as " spirit of know-
ledge and the fear of the Lord " (Isaiah xi. 2), the two
usages of Holy Spirit in Psalm li. 11 (LXX. 7rv€v/j,a
TO ajLov) and Isaiah Ixiii. 10, 11, and the personified
usage of Wisdom in Proverbs viii., all these become
included in that one term of wide embrace — the
2?Tipn TIM, " Holy Spirit." This latter term covers
all the various aspects of spirit which are represented
singly by each of the O.T. expressions, and in addition,
it figures sometimes as but another name for God, but
more often as something distinct from God — sometimes
it is employed as a personality, sometimes it is con-
ceived mysteriously as some physical object, sometimes
it is but another name for the Divine inspiration
which made prophecy possible, and sometimes again it
is merely an equivalent term for the Books of the O.T.
in the sense that these enshrine for all time, the living
words of the Holy Spirit. But let it not be imagined
that the Rabbinic doctrine of the Unity of God is one
whit impugned by these usages. The Holy Spirit is



God's Holy Spirit. It is not itself God ; it is a property
of God, it is an emanation of God, a visible, or rather
perceptible, trace of His workings in the world and in
the heart of man. It is the Rabbinic portrayal of God
in action, it is the emphatic declaration of the nearness
of God, His direct concern in the affairs of men, the
ever possible accessibility of man to His grace.

(2) Primitive both in its nature and in the manner
"^ in which the Rabbins expressed it, is the conception

of Holy Spirit under the figure of light or fire. The
same tendency was noticed in the Shechinah conception.
It is a materialist idea, but yet it has its mystical side.
Its advance on the O.T. idea consists in its recognition
as a separate entity. And not only is it materialised
as light and fire. It is also symbolised as wind, creat-
ing various startling noises — and this, not only in the
atmosphere surrounding certain personages, but inside
them, i.e. in several of their limbs and internal organs.
The mystical elements in all religions present these
phenomena. A typical illustration in the history of early
Christianity is the passage in Acts ii. 2, " And suddenly
there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty
wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting."
As Dr. Rufus Jones says, in his Studies in Mystical
Religion (page 8), when he speaks of mysticism in the
primitive fellowship of the early Christians, " The
Divine incoming was conceived as an invasion — as a
swiftly rushing wind — and the efi'ects looked for were
miraculous, sudden, and temporary." And just as many
of these strange experiences among the founders of the
Church can be justified and made palatable to modern
thought only when viewed from the standpoint of
mysticism, even so can we only give any real meaning to
the seemingly far-fetched pictures of spiritual experience
given us by Talmud and Midrash under cover of light,


fire, wind, etc., by the adoption of the mystical theory.
But of this more anon.

(3) The usage of Holy Spirit as a personality,
presents many points of perplexity. A survey of
the subject convinces one, that the phrase is often a
mere circumlocution for God. The Rabbins held very
stringent notions about the sanctity of the Divine
name. They thought that a too -frequent repetition
of it was tantamount to an infringement of its sanctity
— and this in spite of the fact that the repetition may
have been rendered absolutely necessary by the circum-
stances. Consequently a safe refuge was found in
the usage of either " Shechinah" or "Holy Spirit." It
is often a tax on one's ingenuity to discover whether
an allusion to the Holy Spirit is a mere substitute for
the Divine name, or whether it implies the deeper
mystical meanings of the Divine Immanence. And then,
again, in many a passage the Holy Spirit seems merely
another name for Torah ; and one can understand this
on the ground that according to Rabbinical opinion all
the Books of the O.T are one of the manifestations
of the activity of the Holy Spirit. But it is hard to
discriminate between the cases where it is merely an
equivalent for Torah or where it has a deeper con-

And then, again, there is the fact that in passages
which recur in Talmud and Midrash, whereas one of the
versions may contain the phrase " Holy Spirit," another
may report exactly the same thing of the " Shechinah."
This raises the difficult question of the exact difference
between the two. And the question is further compli-
cated by the hardship of knowing whether many a
passage in the N.T. which speaks of the Holy Spirit is
an echo of the Rabbinic Shechinah or Holy Spirit. It
sometimes seems to be the equivalent of one and some-


times of another. It must be remembered that in Greek
So^a is the only equivalent for Shechinah, and yet it is
really not a true equivalent because it merely = " gleam
of light." It may be for this reason that the N.T.
often uses irvevfia ayiov for the Shechinah of the original
Hebrew or Aramaic. And this may possibly explain
further, why the irvevixa ayiov is so much more prominent
in the N.T, than mnpn n')! in Rabbinical literature —
of course speaking proportionately in each case.

(4) We saw how in the O.T. the presence of the
Divine Spirit in an individual or in Israel was often
interpreted, both by the ancient Jews in Targum and
Talmud, as well as by several modern Biblical scholars,
as the existence of the gift of prophecy in Israel or that
individual. This teaching has been expanded much,
in Rabbinical literature. Whereas in the O.T. it is
the gift only of the recognised prophets of the Canon,
or of sundry individuals of outstanding prominence,
or of the Hebrew nation at certain points of its
career, in Rabbinic as well as in all the Jewish
theology succeeding, it is, so to speak, popularised.
The Holy Spirit may be acquired by any one provided
he orders his life in conformity with the highest and
the best. It is not vouchsafed by Heaven miraculously,
i.e. without any sufficiently-evident pre-existing cause
— [and in the O.T. there is certainly this element of
the inexplicable about it] — but its existence in any
individual at any one epoch of time is the effect of a
clear cause. Thus, to give a few instances. In Yalkut
on Psalm xvii. we are told, " He who studies [Torah]
with the object of practising it will merit the gift
of the Holy Spirit." In other words, the Holy Spirit
is an asset which every man may gain, if only his
previous spiritual equipment warrants it. Again, in
Yalkut on Genesis xlix. it is said, " Whatever the saints



do, they do by the power of the Holy Spirit." Saintli-
ness means a comprehensive sense of conformity with
the letter and spirit of Judaism ; all have it in their
power to attain to it. ]\Iany a Talmudic sage was
vouchsafed the Holy Spirit ; thus in Leviticus Rabba
ix. 9 R. Meir figures in a curious anecdote as hdis
rr"ii, "gazing by means of the Holy Spirit." Several
more examples will be quoted later on.

And then, again, the Rabbins expanded the scope
of the Holy Spirit so as to include even pagans (under
certain conditions). This inclusion is quite unthought of
in the O.T., as well as is the question whether the Holy
Spirit can be vouchsafed to any one outside the Holy
Land. The difficult question of the relation between the
possession of the Holy Spirit by a nation or individual
and the consequent possession by that nation or
individual of the faculty of prophecy suggests itself
over and over again to the student of the Rabbinical
writings ; and it is nowhere satisfactorily answered.
Mediaeval theologians like Saadiah, Jehuda Ha -Levi,
Maimonides, Nahmanides all devote their attentions
to the subject. The Midrash imputes the possession of
the Holy Spirit to many of the prominent personages
in the Book of Genesis, even to women as Sarah,
Rebekah, etc. Are we to infer that they are, therefore,
to be considered as prophets ? It is not always possible
to answer this question definitely.

(5) Another striking development in the usage of
the Holy Spirit by the Rabbins may be noted under
the following heads : —

(a) It is the composer of all the books of the O.T.
The inclusion of a book in the Biblical Canon meant
necessarily that it must have been inspired or written
by the Holy Spirit. (See T. B. Megillah 7a ; Tosefta
Yadaim ii. 14.) ^'^




(b) Single passages of the O.T. are the utterances
of the Holy Spirit, at certain crises in the experiences
of the individual or nation, or to confirm the truth of
certain utterances made by them.

(c) There is a peculiar relationship between the Holy
Spirit as manifested in the Pentateuch and the Holy
Spirit as manifested in the Prophets and Hagiographa.
The first seems to stand on a higher plane than the other
two ; a higher degree of inspiration attaches to them.
Seeing that " Holy Spirit " is so often identified with
prophecy, or if not identified, is the next step leading
to it, it is remarkably odd that the words of those who
were the Prophets par excellence should take a lower
status than the words of the Torah where the identity
of Holy Spirit and prophecy is only a Rabbinic assump-
tion. And, again, the relations between the Hagio-
grapha and Holy Spirit seem confused. According to
T. B. Baba Bathra (15a) many of the Hagiographa were
composed by the "men of the Great Synagogue," ^^^ the
Holy Spirit having ceased to exist with the demise of
Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi (see Rashi, ad loc). This
teaching would place the inspiration of the Hagiographa
on a lower rung again.

Subsequent chapters will deal in detail with these
various divisions.


(1) Volz {Der Geist Gottes, Tubingen, 1910) quotes from Philo
(" Life of Moses," ii. 7), where he says that the authors of the Septuagint
were " not mere interpreters but hierophants and prophets, to whom it
had been granted ... to go along with the most pure spirit of Moses "
(p. 84).

(2) "inDK n'7'JDi '?N'3T ne/y D':m '?Npin' lans n^nj.T noaa 'cax. Strangely
enough there is here a mixing up of the Prophets and Hagiographa.
The reason, says " Tosafoth " on this passage, why Ezekiel is here denied
the authorship of his book, is because he lived px'? nsina outside the


bounds of the Holy Land, and the assumption of the Rabbins generally
was, as we have already noticed and shall further notice, that neither
Shechinah nor Holy Spirit exerted very much activity outside Palestine.
But Tosafoth rightly points out that Jeremiah was in Egyi)t when he
uttered several of his prophecies ! Why should he, then, not have been
placed in the same category as Ezekiel ? As a matter of fact, there seems
a great deal of arbitrariness about the classification in T. B. Baba Bathra
15a. One can hardly be expected to take it seriously and scientifically.



In no part of our inquiry do we get more incontestable
proofs of the existence of a strong subjective mystical
element in Rabbin ism, than in the department into
which we now enter. In this respect, Rabbinism is no
exception to the rule which characterises the subjective
aspects of all faiths. A glance at a book like Tylor's
Primitive Culture convinces one, of the inevitable
substratum of individual mystical experience which
played such a large part in the formation of the very
earliest revelations. It is quite a tenable theory that
when, in O.T. literature, Moses hears the voice speaking
out of the burning bush, or when Isaiah sees the Lord
sitting on a throne high and exalted, and listens to the
sound of the Seraphim in their laudation of the thrice-
holy Grod, or when Ezekiel in a fit of ecstatic rapture
at the marvellous sights revealed by the opened heavens,
falls upon his face and hears a voice speaking, these
men by their direct personal intercourse with a Divine
Presence were pioneers in making religion a living
power for the men of their own generation. Early
Christianity makes much of the sudden inrushing of
the Spirit in individuals and families whereby many
prophesied ; and " speaking with tongues " became a
common accomplishment of the first Christians. That



Saul of Tarsus was a mystic — though not exclusively
so — is too clear and too uncontested to need proof here.
The many autobiographical passages in his writings give
the plainest testimony of his proneness to spiritual
experiences of an extraordinary sort — although the
question whether these were the outcome of a physically
normal or abnormal constitution, is a problem upon
which there will ever be diversity of opinion.

Rabbinical literature likewise presents us with a
considerable budget of both visual and auditory pheno-
mena of an unusual sort, in which various Rabbis
played the parts of subject or object. God's Immanence,
His accessibility. His nearness, His all-encompassing
and all-embracing reality became so deep-seated a con-
viction to the minds of individual Rabbis here and
there, that the barriers separating the intellectual and
emotional aspects of mind broke entirely away, and
they saw with the eye, and heard with the ear, sights
and sounds from an unseen world, traces of a Presence
which impinged upon them, invaded them, filling them
with high and divine impulses, raising them to the
position of the elect whose state of life is a complete
unity of being with God. I refer to those older parts
of the Talmud which are generally styled rr'^Nin rrmi^D
and nnDio nwvn. The mysteries conveyed by these
terms became a source of perplexity to succeeding
generations of Jewish scholars. They saw danger in
them. A later Baraitha forbade the teaching of them to
any, except the most cultured (T. B. Haggigah 13a). The
reason commonly given for the prohibition is that these
sections of the Talmud comprised some secret esoteric
doctrine of early times which, probably on account of
its containing a strong admixture of foreign elements,
would, if spread among the masses, create an un-
desirable scepticism. But it would be nearer the


truth to say that they denote, as is obvious to any
one who reads the originals, the subjective mystical
experience of individual Rabbis. They realised in
intellect and feeling the presence of God. Being in
an ecstatic state of emotion when the imaginative
faculties wield uncontrolled sway, their vision became
elaborated with all sorts of weird and fantastic addi-
tions. When returning to their normal conditions, they
described these phenomena to their friends and disciples
as actual occurrences. And they became enshrined
among the traditions of the people. But the Rabbis of
a later generation examined them. These legalistically-
trained sages were not slow in detecting the weak
spot, viz. that these occurrences were but the sub-
jective phenomena of individuals, and therefore had
no general external validity. Why, then, should the
people spend their time and energy in expounding
them, and diving into the secrets hidden beneath
their mysterious language ? Was it not more im-
portant that other matters of Halacha and Haggada
should hold the people's attention — matters of external
practise, points of ritual and moral teaching, doctrines
emphasising man's obligations to God from the stand-
points of external necessity and external authority ?
But subjective experiences always form the most
entrancing of reading. Yes, herein lies the danger.
Would-be devotees must be weaned from them, or
they may be mistaking the shadow for the substance.
Hence the Rabbinic interdiction.

My object in the preceding remarks has been to
show that the materialistic conceptions of Holy Spirit
of which I am about to treat (and those of Shechinah
treated of in the first part of this book) are either a

Online LibraryJ. (Joshua) AbelsonThe immanence of God in rabbinical literature → online text (page 18 of 32)