J. (Joshua) Abelson.

The immanence of God in rabbinical literature online

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process, and he is to go out to the world to preach and
proclaim it to the nations that walk in darkness. For,
after all, what constitutes the basic element of the
prophet's teaching if not this all -comprehending doctrine
of the Divine universality, that the world and mankind
are folded in the embrace of the everlasting arms ?
"And the house was filled with smoke." The phrase
is but a metaphorical portraiture of Divine wrath
directed against the prevailing human iniquity. Smoke
is a common Biblical metaphor for Divine anger.
Thus in Deuteronomy xxix. 20 we read, " The anger of
the Lord and His jealousy shall smoke against that
man." In Psalm xviii. 8, "There went up a smoke
out of his nostrils." Cp. also Psalm Ixxiv. 1, Psalm
Ixxx. 4. In the ecstatic moment, the prophet is the
plastic instrument in the Divine hand to do the latter's
bidding. The momentous fact of the Divine displeasure
and all that it entails, is instantaneously thrust upon
the prophet's soul ; and the prophet awakes from his
Divine communion equipped, in a measure that he
could not by any other means have been, for the
work to which God has called him.

One word more by way of qualification. Prophecy
is associated with a passive ecstatic state. We must
not make the mistake, however, of thinking that
the essence of prophecy consists absolutely in this
helpless, overpowered state of ecstasy. The personality
of the prophet is a great determining factor. Were
this not so, there would be very little to distinguish
him from the fidvTi<; of classical Greek, who gave out
enigmatical frenzied utterances, usually unintelligible ;
who was the ecstatic announcer of oracles whose secret
meaning could only be unlocked to the multitude by the
7rpo(f»JT7]<;, the sober-minded interpreter. It is true


that God gives the inspiration. It is true that, under
the overmastering spell, it is the Divine will which
has to be done, not the prophet's. But the prophet has
to prepare himself for a consummation like this, by a
previous long-sustained series of acts of self-discipline.
His soul must be as " tried silver, purified sevenfold,"
before he can be worthy of this highest and noblest
stage of Divine communion. God's secret is only with
the elect, not the unworthy. Before the prophet can
have the consciousness that God speaks with him in
order to give him new communications and com-
mands, he must know that God has been drawing
near to him in closer and closer communion. How
can he know this unless he has of set purpose ordered
his life upon the severest rules of purity and in-
tegrity ? This active element in prophecy is exempli-
fied with frequency in the pages of the O.T.* In
the Rabbinic literature it plays a dominating part.^^"'^
There is a close association between prophecy and the
Holy Spirit (also in some cases there is a close
association between Shechinah and prophecy). The
Holy Spirit so frequently comes only after a certain
desree of ethical excellence has been attained. It does
not come at random, erratically, unaccountably, a
mysterious visitant totally inexplicable. It is the
crowning stage in a series of uninterrupted strivings
after the highest and the best.


As an aid to the understanding of the Rabbinic
treatment of the subject, it would be well to devote
some attention to the ideas which some of the great
mediaeval Jewish writers have given expression to,
in this connexion. I select two typical men whose
works have had the greatest influence in shaping

* I say "with frequency" advisedly. I know there are exceptions to the


the course of both mediaeval and modern Jewish
theological thought. They are Moses Maimonides
and Jehuda Ha-Levi. There is a special appropriate-
ness in the selection of these two, on the following
grounds : — (a) A strong vein of mysticism colours their
differing philosophies. To make this statement about
Jehuda Ha-Levi will arouse no challenge. The domains
of poetry and mysticism are the nearest of neighbours.
But Maimonides, is he not a consistent rationalist?
Yes, he is ; but he is a mystic as well. It appears
to be one of the great distinguishing features of
his philosophic system, that he is able to blend the
rational and mystical views of Scriptural and
Rabbinical exposition with a logical consistency.
That the territories of rationalism and mysticism
are not so widely separated from, and not so irre-
concilably opposed to, one another as is commonly
supposed, is well illustrated by the instance of
Maimonides. His rooted objection to anthropomorphism
is a sample of the one ; the prominence which he gives
in his philosophy to the doctrine of i>Dm, " emanation,"
proves the other. After all, it is only a mystic who
can speak of emanations.^'*^ (b) Both Jehuda Ha-Levi
and Maimonides take the Rabbinic literature as the
terminus ad quern, as it were, of their arguments.
Their final object is to fix Rabbinic Judaism upon a
substantial and satisfying basis, by showing how it
agrees upon all points with the facts of (1) the human
mind, (2) the general course of Jewish history. All
their arguments seem to converge round the one focus
of Rabbinism. And we accordingly find a rich harvest
of references to all parts of Rabbinical literature such as
we do not find in the works of the other mediaeval
philosophers like Ibn Gebirol and Hisdai Crescas.
Their interpretations throw a flood of light upon


multitudinous points. No student can afford to ignore

Let us now turn to Maimonides first (although this
is opposed to chronological order).

His views on prophecy and kindred themes are
found in his Guide of the Perplexed, Book ii. chaps,

I proceed to summarise them : —

Firstly, Maimonides seemed to favour the view
that there is a strong element of passive ecstasy in
prophecy. "In the moment .when the prophecy is
received, the functions of the bodily organs are sus-
pended."^*^ The prophet is wholly the passive instru-
ment in the Divine hand : " The senses also are nullified
in their action. The Divine emanation enters into the
speaking faculty of the prophet. This in its turn influ-
ences the imaginative faculty, so that it becomes perfect
and is then able to do its work." Maimonides, of course,
holds strongly that imagination is an essential element in
prophecy. A little further on he adds : " And at times
prophecy commences by a kind of prophetic vision ;
after that there is an increase of that trembling and
great excitement which are consequent upon the
perfection of the imaginative faculties ; then real
prophecy ensues." What is to be noticed here is the
allusion to the "trembling" and "excitement" — the
psycho-physical aspects.

Maimonides' view of the vital part played by the
imagination has the closest connexion with his view
— severely criticised by Abarbanel and others — that
the prophet's inspiration never, except in the sole
case of Moses, came to him in the waking state, but
always in a dream. ^"^^^^ The bi^iDrr Sdq? Active Divine
intellect " emanates " to man's intelligence and imagina-
tion. This act of communion on the part of the human


with the divine is prostrating. Prophecy is the
momentary outcome of ecstasy.

But, secondly, granted that prophecy has these
strongly-marked physical characteristics which in the
long-run seem to indicate it as being the result of a
more or less natural process, has it no moral aspect
whatsoever? Does the personality of the prophet
count for nought ? Can any man become a prophet ?
Maimonides dilates at great length on these weighty
themes (see Guide of the Perplexed, Book ii. xxxii.-
xlviii.), and they bear very strongly upon the present
investigation into the Holy Spirit.

He states three different opinions, only to reject
the first two and adopt the third. I here quote
the main points of the three : — ( 1 ) God chooses whom-
soever He wishes, and vouchsafes the gift of prophecy
to him. Whether he be wise, foolish, young or old
does not matter. He must not be wholly bad ; he
must possess some good qualities n^io ppm ii£d n^p.
This is enough. (2) Prophecy is the highest perfection
of a natural faculty which is innate in man. This highest
perfection can only be reached, as he says, "tioS -ijin,
after a thorough-going devotion to study. Although
the faculty is innate in the race, it is only brought to
perfection on very rare occasions by an individual here
and there. Hence prophets are exceedingly rare, the
work of bringing the intellectual faculties to the
necessary high-pitch of perfection being extremely
exacting. But once the task is achieved the man becomes
nolens volens a prophet. The man who eats nourishing
food must inevitably make rich blood ; so the man
who raises his intellectual equipment to its natural
zenith, must inevitably become a prophet. Maimonides
of course assumes that a corresponding moral perfection
accompanies the intellectual. (3) Prophecy depends


on the attainments mentioned in (2) with the addition
of a special vouchsafing of the Divine AVill, i.e. Divine
inspiration. A man may be intellectually and morally
perfect, but yet may be unable to prophecy. His
circumstances, his environment, his particular mode of
life at the time, may be of such a character as to thwart
the Divine Will from giving the necessary revelation or
inspiration. Maimonides quotes as an illustration the
case of Baruch the son of Neriah (Jeremiah xlv.), who
received his full preliminary prophet's equipment from
Jeremiah, and yet the word of God comes to him and
says, " Thus saith the Lord, the God of Israel, unto
thee, Baruch. . . . And seekest thou great things
for thyself? seek them not. . . ." (xlv. 2-5). These
"great things " that Baruch sought were the prophetic
gift ; but this he was doomed never to have. Prophecy
only arises at the call of a Divine fiat ; and the fiat is

But it was said just now that circumstances, environ-
ment, etc., may thwart the oncoming of the prophetic
inspiration. What are these ? Maimonides here is in
agreement with the Rabbins who said mim rrNllDrr pN
iinn'i TtDi7 DDn Si? NS^<, " Prophecy only rests upon the man
who is wise, rich, and mighty," i.e. not only intellectual
and moral equipment is required, but also physical. In
fine, into the acquirement of the prophetic faculty there
enter the following factors: — (1) Physical strength,
so as to endure the strain involved in the moments of
ecstatic communion. (2) A training of the intellectual
faculties to the highest pitch of perfection, (3) Great
imaginative power. This is closely allied with emotion ;
the vision, etc., that the prophet beholds is the outcome
of emotional imagination. (4) Exceptional moral dis-
cipline. (5) The absence of all physical, intellectual, or
moral disturbances. There must be no pain, no sorrow,


no feeling of degradation. (6) The will of God, into
which an element of the miraculous or unaccountable
always enters. Maimonides, by this latter provision,
takes prophecy outside the realm of mere physical
occurrence. In the last resort, there is no accounting,
on natural grounds, why of two men with exactly the
same outfit as defined above, one should become a prophet
and the other should not. Now, what bearing has all
this, what light does it throw upon, our investigations
into the Rabbinic conception of the connexion between
Holy Spirit and Prophecy ? The answer can best be
made by again adopting the method of summary
classification : —

(a) Prophecy is an emanation from the Active
Intellect to the intellect and imagination of man. This
assumes the doctrine of the Immanence of God. There
can be no emanation from a transcendent God.
The Rabbinic doctrine of Holy Spirit is also a very
strong phase of "emanation" teaching. God has set
His Holy Spirit in man. Man, i.e., possesses in himself
an " emanation " from God. Man's communion with
God is wholly brought about by the existence of this one
cord of communication with his Divine Maker. And
were God not immanent, any idea such as Holy Spirit
would be unthinkable. There is a quaint passage in
Aboth De R. Nathan xxxiv. as follows : " The Holy
Spirit is called by ten names, as follows : m^bn, ^tno,
jvm, HNiiD, N5UD, ^ii!5, mNsn, HTDN, i"ii-r, m^n." It
is at once noticed that nearly every one of these
synonyms for Holy Spirit has the closest association
with prophecy. The Targum on Isaiah xi. 2, " And the
spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him," has, " the
spirit of prophecy."

(6) Prophecy only comes as the culminating point of
a life of uninterrupted intellectual and moral discipline.


It is something to be striven after. Man does not
attain it without the expenditure of pain and energy.
Its acquirement is the hall-mark of a perfection such as
only the worthiest few can hope to reach. The state of
mind and body which renders the possibility of man
feeling himself to be in communion with God, in fellow-
ship with God, or of seeing visions of God, only comes
into beinof after lonor-continued exercise in the modes of
life which elevate man to the highest and most refined
pitch of humanity. The Rabbinic association of Prophecy
and Holy Spirit likewise emphasises all these points.
And so does the allied Shechinah doctrine. A good
illustration is given by the remark in Leviticus Rabba
XXXV. 7 : n'S S^npn^ n^^^ n^w^h n^n Si? -ra^Sn, " He who
studies with the ultimate object of putting his studies
into practical effect will have the merit of receiving
the Holy Spirit." This saying implies, that the Holy
Spirit is something to be won, not something which man
qua man carries about with him. It is the reward of
a long and toilsome search.

The necessity of this uninterruptedness in the striving
after perfection is so stringent, that even physical causes
over which man has no control, the ailments to which
man is heir, act as disturbing and preventive agencies.
Maimonides, as has been seen, makes much of these in
his discussion of the true conditions of prophecy. But he
is not original here ; he merely draws upon the Rabbinic
statements made about the Holy Spirit and Shechinah.
Thus he quotes, " Prophecy only rests upon him who is
wise, mighty, and rich." He does not give the exact
Rabbinic source of this quotation. But in T. B.
Sabbath 92a (and paralleled in T. B. Nedarim 58a) we are
told, " The Shechinah rests only upon him who is wise,
rich, mighty and of good stature." These two passages,
besides proving the close association betw-een prophecy


and Holy Spirit, show the prominent part played by the
bodily organism in Rabbinic mysticism. During the
years that the patriarch Jacob bewails the loss of his
son Joseph, he is bereft of the Holy Spirit (see Genesis
Eabba cxi. 6), but when, amidst the joyous conscious-
ness that Joseph is yet alive, he " sees the waggons
which Joseph had sent to bear him " (Gen. xlv. 27),
then the Holy Spirit again returns to him (see Rashi ad
loc.) or, as the Targum paraphrases it, "There rests
upon him the spirit of prophecy." Only when the
physical organism is functioning in its healthy and
normal fashion, does the Holy Spirit find its congenial
soil in the soul of the man.

(c) From Maimonides' view, as well as from that of
the Rabbins, it would appear that prophecy is not
confined to the small class of men who are traditionally
recognised as ofiicial prophets, but that it is a Divine
endowment to which a far wider circle of men can
attain if only they order their lives to meet the
necessary exalted standard of requirements. Only let
a man, says Maimonides in effect, discipline his in-
tellectual and moral faculties to the extent demanded ;
he will then be in the condition to receive the Divine
message, if only God wills that he should. (The latter
proviso must never be left out of the reckoning.) One
main reason why so few men ever attain to the rank of
prophet is, that so few can successfully go through the
ordeal required for the vocation.

Maimonides is here again reflecting Rabbinic doctrine
upon this head. The latter gives the endowment of
the Divine Spirit to the patriarchs and their wives ;
hence they are said by them to "foresee" things, i.e. to
prophesy. Biblical celebrities like Joshua, Hannah,
the sons of Korah, Samson, David, Solomon, and
others all have the Holy Spirit and all have the



prophetic gift. They attributed it even to Rabbinical
celebrities either of their own or an earlier generation.
Thus the Jerusalem Talmud Shebiit 38d ascribes the
faculty to R. Simeon b. Yohai. T. B. Yoma 39b
attributes the power to R. Yohanan ben Zakkai, I
shall dilate fully upon these points in a separate chapter.
Jehuda Ha - Levi's views are embodied in the
" Kusari." According to this mystic-philosopher, there
is the closest possible affinity between Shechinah and
Prophecy. The Shechinah was to Jehuda Ha-Levi as it
was to the Talmudic Rabbins the comprehensive term
for the Immanence of God in the Holy Land. Jehuda Ha-
Levi follows up this doctrine by confining the possibility
of prophecy only to Palestine ; and when the objection is
raised in the course of the dialogue, that it is possible to
instance several men who when prophesying were not
resident in the Holy Land, he replies " whoever pro-
phesied only did so either in it (in the Holy Land) or
concerning it" (Book ii. vii.-xiv.). He would deny the
appellation of prophet to all outside this category.
Truly enough Ezekiel prophesied " by the river Chebar,"
but then Ezekiel had, previously to the Exile, lived
in Palestine, the land of prophecy. So had Daniel.
Jonah in fleeing " from before God " was really fleeing
from the land of prophecy in which he had been nurtured
(ibid. xiv. ). It is noteworthy that Jehuda Ha - Levi
follows the Rabbins in attributing the gift of prophecy
to a far wider circle than that of the traditionally
recognised O.T. prophets. He, too, styled the patriarchs
of Genesis, prophets. Thus he speaks of Abraham as
prophesying in Ur of the Chaldees, by reason of the
fact that he had received the Divine message to go
to the land of prophecy (Canaan). All this is due to
the mystical presence of the Shechinah. It was the
Shechinah that endowed the Jewish people with a kind


of new inner sense. All the best men among them, the
nh^J.D as he repeatedly styles them, could acquire this
inner sense provided they led the life which would render
them fit and worthy. It is just on this head that the
mysticism of Jehuda Ha-Levi is most pronounced and of
the highest interest to the student. By means of a
system of vigorous self-discipline it was always possible
for the worthiest spirits among the Israelites to have
that degree of communion with God iniN d^'nii vnw T^

nwpn rTN"iDi, " which enabled them to see God by the
medium of what is termed ' Glory ' or ' Shechinah '
or ' Kingdom,' ' Fire,' ' Cloud,' ' Image,' ' Likeness,'
'appearance of the bow'" (Book iv. iii.). As the
commentators on this passage point out, there is
an indication here that Jehuda Ha-Levi's opinion was
that mystical communion with God really meant
seeing Him with the naked eye through the medium
of the aforementioned instruments. "Kingdom" is
an allusion to 2 Chronicles ii. 1, "To build a house for
the name of the Lord, and a house for His kingdom,"
i.e. the kingdom of God's glory or Shechinah, which
was resident in the Temple. The " image " is a reference
to Ezekiel i. 26, " And upon the likeness of the throne
was the likeness as the appearance of a man above it."
The " appearance of the bow " is another reference to
the mysticism of Ezekiel i. 28. Jehuda Ha-Levi would
seem to part company here with Maimonides, who
regarded mystical visions of God more as inward than
outward, i.e. more realisable by the imagination than by
the external senses.

The " Kusari " does not employ the term " Holy
Spirit," but in its place it uses the phrase ^n^N pi?,
" the Godhead" or " divinity " or " divine emanation,"
and it is probable that the Hebrew phrase is the


equivalent for Holy Spirit. The Israelitish race became
selected by God to receive the Torah because so high
was the collective standard of their intellectuality
and morality that this TrbN pDi? was ever with them.
In other w^ords, so invaded were they with divinity, that
they were enabled to commune with God exactly as
prophets could. In fact they were prophets. (Book i.
xcv.) "The "^hSn pi7 rested on their numbers, so that
they reached, all of them, to the stage of the Word
("Tim), and the pDi? passed over to their works, . . ."
In the same chapter the philosopher shows how
" the Divine substance," i.e. Divinity, was vouchsafed
to individuals here and there (□'•T^n'') from the time of
the first man till the Revelation on Sinai, but only to
individuals who were mD"'"iNn DniiDii DnN''-ini vr-chm
rhx^''y\ moDnm n'^o^n, i.e. perfect in their health and in
their morals, strong enough to live to a good age, strong
in wisdom and ability. This opinion is in agreement
with the reiterated Rabbinic idea, that in order that a
man should have the Holy Spirit, he must first render
himself perfect in morals, in intellectuality, and in body.
Jehuda Ha-Levi seems, however, to think that with the
twelve sons of Jacob there started this outpouring of the
" Inyan " upon the whole community of Israel. This
was the secret of their continued vitality throughout the
rigours of Egyptian slavery. After this time there were
again throughout Israel's history men here and there of
superior moral merit who were vouchsafed communion
with the Deity. He illustrates the idea by the analogy
of a good tree. If a seed or branch is taken from a
good tree and transplanted, the fruit produced at first
may not in any way resemble that of the original
tree ; it will probably be much inferior. But after the
branches have thickened and multiplied, and the tree
has grown to a healthy maturity, then in all probability


the ensuing fruit will fully resemble that of the original
in sweetness and worth. Exactly so is it with the
Jewish race, Adam was created in the image and
likeness of God. This shows that he was endowed with
Divinity. He transmitted it to his descendants, several
were unworthy, and these it shunned. But the original
must inevitably come out. This it did, by showing
itself throughout the whole range of Jewish history in
the select few who shed lustre upon each succeeding
generation. In Book ii. xiv. (near the end) Jehuda
Ha-Levi expounds the same argument, showing how
the " Inyan " as prophecy filtered down from age to age
to the small set who were worthy.

One point is clearly recognisable throughout the
theology of the " Kusari," viz. that the Divine element
implanted in the great men of early Israel, enabling them
to commune with God, is a seed which is eternally
fructifying in his descendants. We, Israelites of
to-day, carry this seed of Divinity within our breasts.
We all of us have the possibility of that communion
with God, which was a characteristic possession of the
prophet. The prophet possessed it, because he rendered
himself worthy of possessing it. He reached the stage
of communion with God after a life-long effort to live
in the highest order of moral purity and intellectuality.
The same high consummation may be ours if only we
constitute our lives after the same exalted pattern. If
there be found among us here and there any who have
attained such a fellowship with God, then they stand in
the same category as the prophet.^'^^

Now, to sum up. In what ways does Jehuda Ha-
Levi throw light upon the Rabbinic doctrines of
Prophecy and Holy Spirit ? In the following ways : —

(a) He uses the phrase "^rr'^N pi> in the sense of a
Divine emanation, a Divine outflowing to man. This


is clearly but a natural development of the tm*ipn tim,
Holy Spirit.

(h) The " Inyan " must be possessed by man before
prophecy is possible. The Rabbins say the same of
the Holy Spirit.

(c) The " Inyan" can be possessed not only by the
recognised prophet but by all men who make themselves
morally and intellectually and bodily fit to receive it.
It must be striven after. The Rabbins say the same

Online LibraryJ. (Joshua) AbelsonThe immanence of God in rabbinical literature → online text (page 21 of 32)