J. (Joshua) Abelson.

The immanence of God in rabbinical literature online

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name [i.e. His essence, Himself] in Israel." The close-
ness of the fellowship is so great that what causes
pain to Israel causes pain to God.

Lamentations Rabba i. 45 repeats the same ideas
on the basis of another tyrannous act perpetrated by a
Roman Emperor.

Exodus Rabba xv. 15 reads : " The Holy Spirit cries,
and says, But the eyes of the wicked shall fail, and
they shall not escape. . . ."


The immanent God of justice brings things to such
a pass that all hope of escape should be cut off from the
Egyptians in their hot pursuit after the Israelites at
the Red Sea.

Numbers Rabba xv. 21 reads: " R. Isaac said, The
Holy Spirit cries, I hate the congregation of evil-doers."

We have here an expression of the inevitable clashing
between an immanent God and sin. When Moses
delays his descent from the Mount, the people express
extreme dissatisfaction (Exodus xxxii.). The elders
remonstrate with them for their infrratitude to the
intrepid leader who had wrought so much for them.
They slay the elders. Then Hur remonstrates, and
they slay him. Finally, they come to Aaron with the
request, " Make us gods that shall go before us."
Should Aaron demur they threaten him with the same

The spirit of murder combined with the spirit of
idolatry had taken possession of the Israelites. What
a cleavage between such vice and the Holy Spirit of
God which inhabits and informs the tent of Israel I

Song of Songs Rabba viii. 12 reads : Tiih ]"'D2D3 SN^m■'»D
IHN Di?i5i ni>"rn ihn Sipn n^in p^Di 2;Qtt) "p p-np^ nroDD
^i:}m"'p x'l^p hi^iw^m'2 Sin . . . d^d^ii nitorn anh idin n":i"pii
no-n ni~r mn mniN"i nmi:i in~npn mi . . . ni?in ^midi

... " When the Israelites enter the synagogues and
read the Shema with devotion, with one voice, one
mind, and one tone, God says unto them, ' ye
that dwell in the gardens, when ye read [your prayer],
then the companions, i.e. I and my host of angels, listen
to thy voice : cause me to hear it ' (Song of Songs
viii. 13). But when the Israelites read the Shema with
inattention and in a disorderly way without any unison
and with no devotion, then the Holy Spirit cries, and


says, ' Make haste, my beloved, and be like the roe '
(Song viii. 14), i.e. make haste away to the heavenly
host [there is a play upon words here, ■'is = " roe " and
Ni!i = "host" and noT = " to be like," and also "to
sing" or " praise "] ^'^^ who say Thy glory in unison,
with one voice and one melody, ..."

There is more than one difficulty here. The phrase
"0 ye that dwell in the gardens" is obviously a
reference to what is said in the same Midrash, vi. 2, on
the words " to feed in the gardens," nroDD tii "i'pn
ni2?TTD "^nn, " this means the synagogues and study-
houses." The garden -dwellers are the synagogue-

The following deductions seem to me fairly justified :
(a) The parallelism of " God " and " Holy Spirit " in
the two sections of the passage show the identity of
the two in the minds of the authors. (6) God, in His
immanent aspect as Holy Spirit, is intensely near the
Israelite when in prayer. He hears him and speaks to
him. There can be no closer communion between the
human and the Divine. (c) The stress laid upon
" unison " in prayer reminds one so much of the mystical
teaching of the Presence of God in the midst of com-
panies of men who come together for the high purpose
of studying the Torah — a conception frequently alluded
to in the Eabbinic writings, and which is akin to
the statement by Jesus (Matthew xviii. 20), " For where
two or three are gathered together in my name, there
am I in the midst of them." (d) The Holy Spirit —
who is God — counsels God to flee away from disunion,
i.e. it counsels itself to have done with Israel, when
Israel's ranks are weakened by disruption or discord.
This is but a graphic way of describing that mystical
fellowship with God which was always thought to be
a proud possession of Israel, and which never left him,


whithersoever he wandered as exile — but which certainly
does leave him no sooner the collective tie is broken.
The higher union of God with Israel can only exist,
when the lower union of Israelite with Israelite is
thoroughly complete.

Song of Songs Rabba viii. 12 reads: "And the
Holy Spirit cries, Make haste, my beloved, i.e. make
haste away from the nations of the world, and ally
thyself with the Israelites."

This passage belongs to the same category of teach-
ing as the preceding. But there is an important
difference. Besides the Holy Spirit speaking and
addressing God, there is also the personified Torah.
When Israelites feast they bless and praise God, and
God is pleased. When heathens eat and drink, they
demoralise themselves and blaspheme God. God there-
upon is angry, and threatens to destroy the world.
Then the Torah enters, and by its plea averts the
threatened calamity. Lastly comes the Holy Spirit
counselling God, i.e. itself, to leave the unworthy
nations and make its exclusive abode in Israel. All
this may be regarded as a piece of that particularism
which is so pronounced a feature of much of Rabbinical
literature. It may, however, with equal propriety, be
looked upon as an indication of the problem which
every theory of Divine Immanence has to wrestle
with and solve for itself, viz. the reconciliation of an
immanent God with the great fact of sin. God's Holy
Spirit cleaves to Israel only because Israelites at their
meals and pastimes are sinless. At the feasts of the
nations, sin abounds ; sin and Holy Spirit are antagon-
istic ; hence the Holy Spirit flies away.

Continuous duologues in which the Holy Spirit is a
prominent actor are found occasionally. I have already
quoted a striking instance from the Sifri on n^n "d


n^nin, p. 148 (Friedmann's edition), where a chorus,
in which the chief singers are the Holy Spirit and Israel,
proclaim the praises of the Deity.

Another instance which is typical is the following
from Esther Rabba x. 4. When Mordecai has turned
the tables upon Haman by making the latter accompany
him through the streets upon horseback as the man
whom the king delighted to honour, he triumphantly
chants verses 1-3 of Psalm xxx., "I will extol thee,
Lord ; for Thou hast lifted me up, and hast not
made my foes to rejoice over me. . . . Thou hast
kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit."
Mordecai's disciples thereupon join in with verses
4-5. Haman next quotes verses 6-7, " And in my
prosperity I said, I shall never be moved. . . . Thou
didst hide Thy face, and I was troubled." Esther enters
the chorus with verses 8-9. The hi^iw nD3D [collective
body of Jews] respond with the prayer in verses 10-11.
And the Holy Spirit finally comes upon the scene,
exclaiming in the final verse of the Psalm, " In order
that glory may sing praise unto Thee, and not be silent :
Lord my God, I will give thanks unto Thee for ever."^^^
This delineation of the role played by the Holy Spirit,
seems to me but a picturesque way of describing the
great theological truth that God's Presence is with
the righteous man who is undeservedly wronged ; that
He vindicates justice, giving the evil-doer the fruit of
his evil ; the Deity who encircles and fills men, helps the
worthy man while waging a feud to the death with the
man of sin and violence.

(B) The Holy Spirit Speaking, Exhorting, etc.

The following instances show much the same trend
of treatment of Holy Spirit as the preceding, except that
instead of "crying" there is some milder expression,


such as speaking or exhorting, etc. Numbers Rabba
xvii. 2, says : ''iDi iS moNi n"-i nnT, " The Holy
Spirit came forth and said unto him, Go, eat thy bread
with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart ; for
God now accepteth thy works " (Eccles. ix. 7)/®^

The allusion is to 1 Kings viii., the dedication of
Solomon's Temple. In verse 65 it is said that Solomon
made a feast for all Israel, " seven days and seven days,
even fourteen days." On the eighth day {i.e. the day
after the end of the second seven days) he dismissed
them in great joy. This eighth day, say the Rabbins,
was the eighth day of Tabernacles.^^^ If so, what
about the observance of the Fast of Atonement? It
must have fallen within these fourteen days of revelry !
Could the Israelites have desecrated the great Fast
Day by eating and drinking ? Yes ! they did. The
building of the Temple was an event of such exception-
ally great religious and national significance that even
the Day of Atonement could be set aside for its sake.
But the Israelites nevertheless felt pangs of distress.
It was hard to reconcile themselves to the belief that
they had committed no sin in so acting. But the
Holy Spirit comes forth to reassure them.

Holy Spirit is that inner voice of the Divine
element in man which rebukes him when he has done
wrong, but comforts and encourages him when right
is on his side. The Israelite returning home after his
fourteen days of merriment at Solomon's shrine, feels
smitten with the sin of having desecrated the Atone-
ment Day. But a higher voice within overrides the
remorse. The voice of the Immanent God tells him
that the offence is but a venial one under the circum-
stances. Let him be merry, not downcast, for God
accepts his work.

Tanhuma on pSl "d, Numbers xxiii. 1, says:


" The Holy Spirit said, ' Better is a dry morsel, and
quietness therewith, than a house full of sacrifices with
strife' (Prov. xvii. l), i.e. better is it before God to
offer Him the ' meat-offering mingled with oil, and dry '
(Lev. vii. 10) than a house full of sacrifices, accompanied
with the strife which you wish to introduce between me
and the Israelites."^''^

The Midrash depicts Balaam's desire for seven altars
as being based upon the fact that seven altars were
erected to God by the seven saints, viz. Adam, Abel,
Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses. This was a
mark of their fidelity, and God accepted them. Why
should not the seventy nations erect altars to be
similarly accepted before God ? The Holy Spirit
objects to this on the grounds that envy and strife
would ensue between God and Israel, were God to be
served by as many as seventy altars of the heathens.
God prefers the humble meat-ofi"ering of Israel to the
holocaust of the nations.

This is a strong example of the " particularist "
doctrines of Rabbinism. God is immanent in the
M'hole world, in the seventy nations as well as in Israel ;
but His bond with Israel is, somehow, very mysteriously
closer than His bond with the other nations. Any
interruption of the fellowship between Israel and God
is tantamount to making strife between God and Israel,
and must be averted at all costs. Similarly in the
succeeding passages of Tanhuma (which comment on
Numbers xxiii. 4, " And God met Balaam ") the Holy
Spirit addresses Balaam and quotes Proverbs xv. 17,
" Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a
stalled ox and hatred therewith," which is interpreted
to mean that the humble Passover meal of unleavened
bread and bitter herbs, eaten by the Israelites, is preferable,
before God, to the oxen and bullocks offered as sacrifices



by the seventy nations, the latter causing, as it were,
a bar between the fellowship of Israel and God. The
Holy Spirit's union with the seventy nations is incon-
sistent with its union with Israel. Similar instances
of this particularist tendency were noticed in the section
on the Shechinah.

Yalkut on Jeremiah i. 5 (quoted from the Pesikta
Rabbati, edit. Friedmann, p. 129a, b) says : "The Holy
Spirit said unto him [Jeremiah], Do I not love a lad that
has not as yet tasted sin ? I redeemed Israel from Egypt,
and called him a lad, as it is said, When Israel was a lad
then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt
(Hos. xi. 1)." Jeremiah struggles against the Divine call
to go out and prophesy. He instances the cruel treatment
which men like Moses, Aaron, Elijah, Elisha, suffered in
the execution of their prophetic missions. Besides, he
pleads youth as a bar. But all this is but the prompt-
ing of his lower self. Against this there rises the
higher self, the voice of the Divine within ; the Holy
Spirit, i.e. the immanent God, who finds lodgment in his
soul and ousts the unworthy impulse, addresses Jeremiah
with an exhortation to choose the right course. Yalkut
on Hosea xi. 3 [based on Mechilta, nSmn, chap, iv., see
Friedmann's edit. p. 30], has a striking comment, in this
connexion, on the words " I have taught Ephraim also to
go, taking them by their arms." It remarks : "Ttit ^n^:nn
D"'~iDN DN -\i:ih miiprr, " I have taught my Holy Spirit
to bless Ephraim." In what ways was Ephraim (i.e.
Israel in general) blessed by the Holy Spirit ? The
Mechilta passage expounds fully. It instances the
simile of the child journeying in the company of its
father, and attacked by various wild beasts coming
from all sides. The father adopts all sorts of means
for sheltering his beloved : he places the child before,
then behind, then above, then upon his shoulder, then


spreads his mantle over him — no device being untried
when the child's safety is at stake. Such was exactly
the method of the Holy Spirit's dealing with Israel.
More is involved here than the mystical fellowship of
Israel with God. Fellowship implies accompaniment, but
not necessarily anything more. Here, however, the
Holy Spirit is protective as well. It is not only a
piece of that Divinity which allies itself with Israel and
fills the Israelitish camp in all the places whithersoever
it may wander ; it is also the supreme guardian,
preserving the nation from harm. The substance of
these Midrashic ideas is, of course, not new. They
are implied in Deuteronomy i. 31, xxxii. 11, Numbers
xi. 12, Isaiah Ixiii. 9. What however is new, and
peculiar to the Kabbinical exposition, is the ascription
of all these actions to the work of the Holy Spirit.
This was a natural development of O.T. ideas. The
Scribe and the Pharisee, the "Tanna" and the "Amora"
— these were direct heirs to the precious doctrines of
O.T. literature. And, in keeping the torch aflame, it
was but natural that they should throw light upon
hitherto dark places : that the application of their
intellects to the problems put before them, working
in combination with a rich spirituality of experience,
should result in growth, expansion, and development.


(1) The Yalkiit on Koheleth ch. vii. 27, commenting on the peculiar
usage of the feminine verb in the phrase n'^np mox, remarks : " At times
it [the Holy Spirit] speaks in the masculine, and at times in the
feminine." Clearly, it is here but a personified substitute for Holy

(la) Cp. Volz, p. 168. " ' Statt der lebendigen Offenbarungstrager '
hat der Geist Gottes nun ein standiges Organ, das heilige Buch ;
in diesem Bvich hat er einmal in vergangenen Zeiten gesprochen,
aber er spricht heute noch durch dasselbe : deswegen kann man von


einem Bibelwort sagen 'der heilige Geist spricht' In alien diesen
Aussagen ist die Ruh ganz personhalf gedacht."

(2) Lamentations iii. 37.

(3) Ecclesiastes iv. 2. Another instance is in Koheletla Rabba x. 17.

(4) This Rabbinic legend of Solomon's inability to convey the ark
into the Holy of Holies occurs in various forms throughout the Talmud
and Midrashim. See T. B. Sabbath 30a, Moed Katan 9a, Sanhedrin
107a, Exodus Rabba viii. 1, Koheleth Rabba iv. 2, Yalkut on Psalm vii.
and xxiv., Pesikta Rabbati, edit. Friedmann, p. 6.

(5) See also Tanhuma on Genesis in verse " And it came to pass
when Isaac was old."

(6) Based on the phrase nSpn n'on iS (Psalm Ixv. 2). It is a strained
rendering. See commentary n:inD nunc on the passage.

(7) Another form of this Mid rash slightly altered in some details is
given in Leviticus Rabba xxviii. 6.

(8) This pronouncement is found in varying forms in T. B. Sabbath
30a, Moed Katan 9a, etc. It is worthy of note that in the latter
two cases it is not the " Ruah " spirit that speaks, but the " Bath
Kol " ; and the latter says : " Happy are ye in that ye are all destined for
the life of the world to come." What the " Bath Kol " exactly was, and
what its relation can be, to the Holy Spirit is a matter for special

With this hortatory usage of personified Holy Spirit, cp. Hebrews x.
15, 16, "Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us : for after that
He had said before, This is the covenant that I will make with them, etc.
etc." ; also Acts xxviii. 25, 26, " And when they agreed not among them-
selves, they departed, after that Paul had spoken one word. Well spake
the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers, saying. Go unto
this people, and say. . . ."

(9) That it was the eighth day of Tabernacles is seen from 2
Chronicles vii. 8, 9. It is also said there that the first seven days
were devoted to the dedication of the altar, and the second seven to the
feast. This explains the odd iLsage of 'rcci cvi; here "it" = the eighth
day of the Festival of Tabernacles. The LXX here omits the words
"and seven days, even fom-teen days," thus making the festival of
dedication begin and end exactly with the Feast of Tabernacles ; and
accordingly the phrase, " on the eighth day he sent the people away,"
fite in all right.

(10) This Midrash is also found in Numbers Rabba xx. 18.



This subject falls naturally within the scope of my
inquiry. It would, indeed, be passing strange, were it
not so. In the O.T. literature prophecy is the crown-
ing manifestation of the Spirit of God in man.^^^
The prophet is a man whose life and thoughts are
determined by personal fellowship with God, and in-
telligent insight into His purpose. It has already
been shown how the idea of a fellowship with God is a
prominent constituent of the mysticism associated with
the Rabbinic conceptions of Shechinah and Holy Spirit.
We have now to see in what ways, and from what
standpoints, the Rabbins worked upon these closely-
associated Biblical doctrines of Prophecy and Divine
Spirit, what new vistas of teaching they opened up
as the result not only of their theoretical musings and
debates upon this branch of Holy Writ, but also of their
attempts to realise these dictates of Holy Writ in
their practical everyday life.

Something must first be said as to the bearings
of O.T. prophecy upon the subject of mysticism and

In Exodus vii. 1 Aaron is called a " prophet " because
he is to be the spokesman or " mouth " of Moses. This
raises two points for discussion. (1) Seeing that



apparently the basic function of the prophet was that
of public speaking, was he also considered as necessarily
a predictor? (2) What must be the etymology of the
word N-^iD ? We take the latter first. Gesenius, follow-
ing Ibn Ezra (see latter's strictures upon Rashi's
derivation of the word in Exodus vii. 1), surmises that
the root is probably nid, which may be another form of
2?nD, and means " to gush," " effervesce." ^^^ A kindred
word is the Hiphil form ^^pri, also applied to prophecy.
Thus in Ezekiel xxi. 2 we get diit hi<( fiiani in the
middle of a verse, the whole of which is an injunction
to prophecy. In Amos vii. 16 the phrase pj^'ton nSi is
clearly a parallel to the phrase in the front portion
of the verse NiDn nSi. In Micah ii. 6 the phrase
pD"^io^ "iD^£3n hi^ is significantly rendered by the Targum
as HNinD ]iNi2nn ah. As far as the mere outward act
of utterance goes, the two words would seem to express
exactly the same idea. But there is a further idea
in the root ni:, which is absent from the v\iD2 root.
When words are said to gush out, to effervesce, from
the mouth of the speaker, there is the implication of a
certain attendant emotion. A new feature is brought
upon the scene. There is not only the outer word
to be accounted for ; the state of mind accompanying
and producing it has to be taken into cognisance. That
this latter feature plays a conspicuous part in prophecy
is proved beyond a doubt by even a cursory reference
to the experiences of the O.T. prophets. Take the case
of Saul and his meeting with what is in one place
(1 Sam. X. 10) described as a h:irt of prophets, and in
another as a npnS of prophets {idem xix. 20). The
physical and mental condition of these men showed
itself outwardly as a case of religious frenzy. What
arrests attention is not the substance of their message,
not the words they poured forth — as a matter of fact


these are not even given in the Scriptural narra-
tives — but the abnormally intense excitement, the
unchecked transport of ecstasy under which they
laboured at the moment of prophesying. This naturally
gave them a licence to the perpetration of acts which
would have been undreamt of by them in their normal
state. They, for the nonce, put aside all the restraints
of the moral life and social custom. In 1 Sam. xix. 24
we read how Saul in one of these ecstatic moods actually
stripped himself of his garments and lay naked a whole
day and night.

Saul's prophesying is an instance of the lower or more
primitive grade of prophecy — that the O.T. depicts a
progressive series of strata of prophetic capacity is
known to every student of its pages. But even if we
take a typical instance of the higher class of prophecy,
we observe the same phenomenon. Isaiah falls into
this class ; and his experiences as depicted in chap. vi.
unmistakably point to the existence of an ecstatic
element of prophecy.^^^^ This chapter is Isaiah's
consecration-vision. It is a theophany, a remarkable
and vivid manifestation of God's Presence, by means of
which he is summoned to the great work of his prophetic
ministry. How intensely strong must his psycho-
physical faculties have been at that critical moment
when " the foundations of the thresholds were moved
at the voice of Him that cried, and the house was
filled with smoke " ! From the succeeding verses it is
apparent that the prophet was in a state of utter
prostration. And yet was this abnormal ? Was Isaiah
the prey of some mischievous delusive frenzy ? Un-
questionably not ! Frenzy there was, but it was not
delusive, it was not abnormal. God was merely fulfill-
ing Himself to him through these channels, just as the
" word of the Lord " had come, or was to come, to Hosea,


Amos, Micah, Jeremiah, and other prophets. Under the
spell of the Divine hand, the prophet lies with all his
powers of mind and body dormant to everything except
that which the Divine master wishes him to see and to
feel and to experience. So close is the intercourse that
the soul of the prophet actually merges itself in God :
" He attains moments of exaltation in which God comes
specially near to him, and the Divine will becomes
specially clear." ^^^ He hears tones from a super-
sensuous world ; he sees shapes whose existence is real
only during the critical moment when the hand of God
is upon him. It is on an assumption like this that
we can best account for the highly -figurative and
picturesque language which characterises so many of
the prophetic visions. The particular errand on which
the prophet is to go ; the particular national de-
fect that he is to declaim against and remedy, these
are, as it were, epitomised in a picture which is flashed
upon the prophet during the brief moments of his
passive ecstasy. And he understands the meaning of
the mystery, instantaneously. He takes his cue un-
falteringly. He grasps the situation, and thus the
path is at once opened to the realisation of his God-
appointed mission. "The foundations of the threshold
were moved at the voice of Him that cried,"
What is this but a flash-picture of the doctrine of the
Divine Immanence voiced in the preceding sentence,
" the whole earth is full of His glory" ? The " house"
which the prophet sees is nothing other than the uni-
verse in miniature. God's voice shakes the pillars
of the house because it is embedded in the recesses of
the house ; it is immanent in it in the same sense that
God's glory, His Shechinah, is immanent in the great
universe, and speaks out of every corner and crevice
in it. This great and far-reaching truth is flashed upon



the screen of the prophet's vision by an instantaneous

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