J. (Joshua) Abelson.

The immanence of God in rabbinical literature online

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prophet, viz. the Holy Spirit. We can all raise our-
selves to that highest of pinnacles where we approach
as near to the pattern of the Divine as our limited
mortality will permit.

Fourthly, the preceding considerations lead on to the
Rabbinic conclusion, that man can realise his union with
God only through works. It is not belief, not meditation,
not separation from the world's cares, that make
perfect the imperfect fragment of the Divine which
man carries about with him as man, but a life of con-
secrated action ; in other words, morality. Good deeds,
to the simple minds of the Rabbins, imply right faith.
Thus, they did not trouble themselves much about
"belief" or "faith" in the technical senses of
the words. They assumed them. The man who had
no faith was the " Epicurus," the " Min," the Apostate,
and was thus quite outside the fold, and outside
the scope and application of the Rabbinic doctrines.
Union with God was brought about, not by an act
or a series of acts of intellectual assent, but by the
striving of a lifetime. This striving consisted in
obedience to a code in which morality and religion
were inextricably combined. The Rabbins drew no


line of demarcation, as is nowadays done, between the
spiritual or religious life and the moral life. Religion
to them included morality ; and there could he no true
morality unless it was at the same time religious. Out
of this combination, faith was born. Or rather, faith
to them, meant the practical exemplification in the
everyday life, of that state of being in which the highest
spirituality was interwoven with the highest morality.
Thus, faith was not an act or a series of acts, but a life.
It was the persistent climbing upwards to reach the
ideal, the tireless endeavour to sanctify every detail of
life because the Presence of God was everywhere. Faith
and works were not two separate compartments whose
relative merits were to be contrasted. They were one
texture, indivisible, a kind of chemical compound. The
man who had faith must ipso facto have had works.
The man of good works must also possess faith. Any
other alternative was unthinkable to the Rabbins.

The fact that this predominant importance of works
could subsist with that far-reaching infusion of mysticism
such as we have seen in the case of the Shechinah and
Holy Spirit, is a sufficiently powerful refutation of
Paul's criticism on Rabbinism, as it is also an equally
strong solvent of the reiterated opinions on the cere-
monial formalism of the Law, the outwardness of the Law,
and its burdensome nature. There is a passage in the
Pesikta De R. Kahana (Buber's edition 105a), where, by
way of comment on Exodus xix. 3, "And Moses went up
unto God," combined with Exodus xix. 20, " And the
Lord came down upon Mount Sinai," it is aptly remarked,
that prior to the giving of the Law, heaven and earth
were two totally separate things ; but once the precious
boon had been vouchsafed, earth went up to heaven
and heaven came down upon earth. The Law is, on this
view, the first agent which made possible the Immanence


of God. Through the Law God is near, His love is
realisable, coramunion with Him is a possibility. The
Sifri on Deuteronomy xxiii. 14, ** For the Lord thy God
walketh in the midst of thy camp, etc.," summarises the
whole philosophy of this Rabbinic doctrine by the
quaint pictorial remark, '* A man may not read the

* Shema ' when standing near a pail of the washers,
neither may he enter a bath nor a (^poTii) * tannery ' if
he has books or phylacteries in his hands. "^"^ Commenting
on the next words in the same verse, " to deliver thee,
and to give up thine enemies before thee," it remarks,
" If thou doest that which is Divinely ordered in this
context, the result will be that God will deliver thee
and give up thine enemies before thee." It continues,
*' And thy camp shall be holy." " Make it holy. Hence
said they, ' Man may not enter the Temple with his
staff, or with his shoes, or with the dust upon his feet.'

* That He see no unclean thing in thee, and turn away
from thee ' ; from here we learn that immoral actions
cause the Shechinah to depart." The sanctifying spirit
of religion attached to every detail of the everyday
life. The Presence of God was everywhere to the
Rabbinic Jew, and life must be lived with this unchang-
ing consciousness. God's will must be fulfilled at every
turn, and the Rabbinic Jew felt that he was fulfilling it,
and that he was being inwardly illumined at every step,
by a kinship and communion with the Divine. Whether
in the Temple, or the Synagogue, or the home, the
Rabbinic Jew was, as we see from the Sifri passage
just quoted, constantly and equally impinging upon the
Shechinah. Faith, to the Rabbinic Jew, was thus a
compound of the whole array of theoretical beliefs
which lay at the basis of his religion, together with
the consecration and spiritualisation of all the rela-
tionships in life which constitute what is ordinarily


understood by morality. This conception renders
Rabbinism indifferent to the antithesis drawn by Paul
between faith and works. How could the mysticism
embodied in the Shechinah idea hold the commanding
place that it does in the Rabbinic religion, if it were true
that this religion was a mere code of mechanical and
formalistic legalisms, a kind of soulless deism ?

A final reflexion on the general Rabbinic conception
of God must be devoted to the question whether, from
the repeated and in nearly all cases exclusive, emphasis
upon the Immanence of God in Israel, it is possible to
detect the germ of a wider and more universalist
doctrine of Divine Immanence. The critics of Rabbinism
point to the emphasised nationalism of the Rabbinic
religion, the small sectarian compass within which, they
say, all its thoughts and teachings live and move.
God only exists for Israel, and the nations outside Israel
are outside God's ken, strangers to the Divine Love.
This, they maintain, is the fatal defect of Talmudic
theology ; and it is this which must utterly unfit and
disqualify it for all time, from the possibility of be-
coming: the foundation of a world-relioion. Whereas
Paul was able to rise superior to the labels and shackles
of creed and nationality, and exclaim, *' For there is no
distinction between Jew and Greek : for the same Lord
is Lord of all, and is rich unto all that call upon Him "
(Romans x. 12), the Rabbinic Jew could only think
of God in terms of His relationship to a particular nation
possessing a particular form of faith. There is a very sub-
stantial justification for this complaint. The student
of Rabbinic lore often comes across a beautifully-
fragrant flower of thought about the loving fatherhood
of God towards Israel His child ; and he feels disposed
to say to himself, " Ah, how much sweeter would
the flower have smelt had it had reference not to one


people but to the world ! " The great majority of
the illustrations I have given in regard to the mysti-
cism implied in the Shechinah and Holy Spirit, show
how strictly the Rabbinic horizon was limited to the
Jew. I have already made reference to a passage
in Numbers Rabba i. 3 where it is said that, had it
not been for God's presence in Israel, the rain would
not come down, neither would the sun shine. Here
we reach the very apotheosis of particularism. God
is concentrated in Israel, and Israel only ; and only in-
directly, only through the instrumentality and ministry
of Israel, do the outside nations draw the nourishment
of life from the Divine author of life. I have quoted a
companion idea to the aforegoing, from the Sifri np^'s,
where it is declared that God's providence in the
universe generally, is only a corollary of His providence
in the Holy Land.

But the fact is equally patent, that the Rabbins
were by no means incapable of gleams of a wider outlook.
In spite of their partiality for the idea that God shows
special favouritism towards Israel, the Rabbins did not
show themselves averse to the broad universalistic spirit
of the Psalmist's declaration, " God is good to all "
(Psalm cxlv. 9). They were able to conceive of the
close affinities between the Divine and all the sons of man,
and could enunciate, not only the narrower truth of the
union of God with Israel, but the more comprehensive
one of the union of God with all humanity. In the
chapter entitled "Holy Spirit in its Relation to Non-
Jews," I have given examples of Rabbinic sentiment on
this head. I now proceed to supplement these with
further quotations. But before doing so, a few explan-
atory general remarks are necessary.

The doctrine of the Immanence of God is a branch, or
aspect of, mysticism. The distinctive note of mysticism


is the fact that it brings religion into the closest
contact, not with authority or formulas or traditions,
but with the nature of man as man. It looks upon
the soul as the prime factor in religion, and it regards
man's awareness of God, his intimate consciousness of
the nearness of God, his innate striving after union
with God, as dependent upon the soul's possibility of
approaching God directly. Now, the possession of a
soul is not the prerogative of the devotee of any one
particular religion to the exclusion of others. All men
possess souls. It follows, therefore, logically, that
no religion which contains mystical elements ought
to claim, on behalf of its adherents, an exclusive
approach to the Divine favour, or, indeed, any
superiority in the realm of the spiritual life. To assert,
therefore, that Rabbinism gives a large place to mysti-
cism, while it, at the same time, shuts itself up to a mere
tribal view of God's relations to man, would be to make
a contradiction in terms. The main current of feeling
may have run in the direction of a confined Deity, one
whose crowning concern was with one particular nation,
but none the less there ran a decided under-current
of thought throughout all the Rabbinic speculations, to
the effect that God was exalted above all barriers of
race, and that He was near to every one that calls upon
Him, if only he calls upon Him in truth. It is one
of the paradoxes of the Rabbinical literature, that
nationalism is made to work on more or less harmonious
terms with universalism. Direct heirs, as the Rabbins
were, to the reiterated O.T. doctrine, that all the nations
outside Israel were heathens, and that as enemies of
Israel they were also the enemies of Israel's God, and
therefore outside the scope of God's love, they could still
accept this doctrine, and yet maintain also, higher
elements of thought about the Divine impartiality


towards all men, and the Divine self-revelation to the
choicest spirits of all faiths.

To come to illustration. In Genesis Rabba xxxiii.
3 there is a noteworthy comment on Psalm cxlv.
9, "The Lord is good to all; and His tender mercies
are over all His works." R. Levi says that God is good
unto all, and He has mercy upon all vniiD \nm who
partake of His attributes. R. Joshua of Siknin, in the
name of R. Levi, says, " God is good unto all, and He
gives His merciful powers (I'^tDmo) to all creatures.'^
According to this passage, all mankind who partake of
the Divine attributes, are the objects of God's special
providence. This means that the exemplary characters
among all races and faiths have a share in the " near-
ness " of God. They possess Divine elements embedded
within them, are partakers of the Divine Life. The
mystical colouring is very strong here. And further,
the remark that " God gives His merciful powers to all
creatures," shows a broad universalist conception of the
Divine Lnmanence. It is equivalent to saying that
God indwells the human being, no matter what nation
he may belong to.

How free again, from all narrow sectarianism, and
how all - comprehensive a doctrine of Immanence is
taught by the remark, reiterated many times in the
Talmud and Midrash, that God is the place of world,
but the world is not His place. God is the larger life
of which the world is only a part. There is a realm
of reality which transcends, but at the same time com-
prehends, the world revealed by the senses.

And again, how free from any limitation of particu-
larism, is the remark of Numbers Rabba xiii. 6 (already
alluded to), that " From the first day of the creation of
the world, God was desirous of dwelling with His
creatures in the lower regions" (vnvnn qi^ TnS miNriD


Q''Dinnni). Here we sound the depths of mysticism.
Humanity heaves towards God, and God responds with
a counter-heaving towards humanity. It is the essence
of what is implied by the Divine Love. Equally broad
and universalist is the interesting string of analogies
(to which I have also alluded earlier), between the soul
which is both transcendent and immanent as far as
the body is concerned, and the Deity who is at once
transcendent and immanent in His relations to the
universe and man. " Soul" here is not confined to the
Israelite ; neither is the universe bounded by the Jew.
It is an expression of the very core and centre of the
Immanent doctrine — ^God is the energy pervading the
universe, a power operating from within, but yet, as
creator. He is transcendent. Tanhuma on n^c&N-in has the
startlingly naive statement that '* From earth to heaven is
as wide as an angel's hand can stretch " (hw M^ noD n^d
^nSd). There is little national egotism in the Kabbinic
sentiment. The higher life of spiritual religion must be
as inclusive as possible. And the ethical message im-
parted by this all-encompassing Divinity is that " man
may not walk even four cubits with a proud mien (noipn
HDipi) because the whole world is filled with His glory "
(T. B. Kiddushin 31a). The sin of arrogance is ignoble
equally in Gentile as in Jew, because it is, in each case, an
equal contradiction to the Divinity which embraces all.

I could quote more. But let these quotations sufiice.
They are typical. They substantiate the validity of
my contention, that Rabbinic mysticism does not
merely confine itself to the narrow groove of a par-
ticularistic nationalism. The Rabbins reserved the best
for their own. But they by no means lacked the far-
reaching and tolerant vision which distinguishes the
spiritual leaders and thinkers of other races and faiths.
Like them, they too believed, that there is an ineradi-

thp: rabbinic god 303

cable soul of goodness in all men whoever they be ; that
above and beyond all the separating labels of the
families of human-kind, there is a Higher Unity which
holds all in one (-ommou grasp ; that, as a recent
writer eloquently expresses it, " in the deeps of their
being, all men partake of one central Divine Life."^'^^


(1) The subject of nvw) 'nc and the part it played in the Jewish
gnosticism of Palestine in the last pre-Christian century is fully dealt
with in M. Friedliinder's work, Die reliyiosen Bewegungen innerhalb des
Judenfhtims im Zeitalter Jesu (Berlin, 1905), especially in the chapter
entitled " Der Minaismus" (pp. 169-234). Dr. Friedliinder collates all
the Rabbinic passages dealing with nu'a [which in his opinion signifies
Jewish gnostic speculation about God and the world derived from the
strong infiltration of Hellenic philosophy and cosmology among the Jews
of the pre-Christian epoch] and shows their connexions with various
Talmudic and Midrashic allusions to n'B-Nnn "d and naDiD "d, also to
" Metatron " and the famous passage about mis:'? iD:a: nj;3iN in T. B.
Haggigah 14 b.

(2) Cp. Mishna Berachoth ix. 1.

(3) Quotation from Jones's Studies in Mystical Religion, p. xxii.



I HAVE already touched upon this subject lightly in
the chapter on " Shechinah and Sin." But many
problems were left unexplained which urgently call for
explanation. It is impossible to do justice to the
Rabbinic teachings in this province, without paying
some regard to the general theological questions
involved in the relationship between sin and an im-
manent God.

It has already been said, that it is far easier to give
a satisfying solution of the raison d'etre of evil in
the world, on the assumption that the God of the
universe is purely transcendent, than to give a com-
prehensible explanation of the existence of evil in a
world which is indwelt by God. Hosea (chap. iv. 1-2)
declares : " Hear the word of the Lord, ye children of
Israel : for the Lord hath a controversy with the inhabi-
tants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy,
nor knowledge of God in the land. By swearing, and
lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery,
they break out, and blood toucheth blood." On the
deistic view of the universe, this description of society at
the very climax of moral depravity, this picture of the
world as the scene and playground of the most undivdne
agencies, can hardly be said to present any problem in


CH. xxni SIN AND EVIL 305

theology whatsoever. The transcendent God of Deism
stands afar off from the machinery which He had Himself
produced ages ago. He has no longer control over it.
He is unconcerned for it. His omnipotence cannot
reach it. The wickedness of the world cannot, therefore,
be laid to His account, because He has no association
with the world. It is the result of the moral wayward-
ness of man. This explains everything. But from
the immanent standpoint, questions of the gravest per-
plexity arise. H Creation is saturated with the Divine
Presence, if God is eternally " near " man, and if man's
heart expresses the Divine Spirit which, although it
transcends man, can yet compress itself so as to find
lodgment in so small a space, then the query inevitably
springs to our lips, Why does God allow all this evil ?
The truth must lie in one of two ways. Either God
permits sin and condones it ; and then He cannot be
the all-pure and perfect Being ; or He is powerless to
prevent sin ; and in that case He is shorn of the
attribute of omnipotence.

Here is the most delicate of all the delicate spots
in Theism. It is the dilemma which puts religion
upon its trial. It is the supreme criterion by which
the validity of a religion, and its claim to recognition
and homage, is tried. If the existence of the eternally-
present, all - permeating, ever - good God cannot be
reconciled with the appalling amount of sin and evil-
doins wrought bv mankind, then all that religion

00./' o

teaches about God becomes a mere worthless myth,
and the foundations of all faiths are ruthlessly razed to
the ground. And that the vast mass of religious apathy,
apostasy, agnosticism, indifferentism, which presses with
its deadly weight upon all religions to-day, is largely
due to the scepticism engendered by the seeming
impossibility of solving our problem, is a fact too well-



proved for any fair-minded onlooker to dispute. It
would not be true to say that the enigma is only of
modern growth. The Psalmist was unquestionably
a mystic, and yet even he was more than once con-
strained to ask, in all the bitter poignancy of baffled
hope and blank disappointment, why God hid His face
from him when his oppressers pursued him, although
guiltless and sinless.

At first sight it would seem that in the interests of
open-minded truth, some surrender must be made of one
at least of the claims upon which Divinity rests. These
claims are omnipotence, benevolence, and immanence.
But to do any such thing would be fatal ; it would
be giving our whole case away. A God who is not
omnipotent, or who is not benevolent or not immanent,
would be unworthy of worship. We must then direct
ourselves to the question, in what other way or ways is
a solution of the difhculty obtainable by theists ; and —
more specifically — how does Rabbinic theology envisage
the problem, how does it vindicate a just and loving
God, a Shechinah, a Holy Spirit, in the face of the
rampant sin of man and the perversity of the world ?

It is the fashion of some theologies, ancient as well
as modern, to oifer a solution of the problem by the
introduction of some kind of angelology or demonology.
The evil that man does, is the result of the prompting
of some almost semi-divine principle or power of evil.
This power of evil is a kind of Demiurge, a delegated
agent of God, whose special province it was, from the
very beginning of creation, to implant the evil impulse
in man. Thus, when man sins, it is in consequence, as
it were, of his being under the unlucky influence of this
personified Power of Evil, who although a messenger of
God, and accordingly commissioned to do His will, yet
somehow or other has the effect of bringing man into


a state of impurity, and thus shut out from the presence
of God. Sin and Divinity are, on such theories,
reconciled by saying that sin is the handiwork not of
God but of His delegate. Both Philo and the Rabbinical
literature exemplify a great deal of this kind of reasoning.
One great plank in the platform of Philo's theology is
his reiterated assumption that matter is an evil. And
it becomes apparent, to even the superficial student of
his cosmology, that while trying to adhere as faithfully
as he can, to the literality of the Genesis narrative, he
is at the greatest pains to couch his description of the
creation of the world, in terms that would imply that
the Deity rather "formed" the world (in the Platonic
sense) than " created " it, because " creating " must
necessarily bring the Deity into contact with that
which is impure and of the nature of sin, viz.
matter. But, in those parts of his writings where
cosmology is not his subject — and when he has to give
countenance to the great question of the relation of
human sin to Divine goodness — Philo's ingenuity
invented another device for surmounting the difficulty.
He introduced his theories about the " Logoi." The
Logoi do not always mean the same thing in Philo. But
what is noteworthy and to the purpose is, the undoubted
fact, that arigels are a branch of the Logoi. " Those
beings whom other philosophers call demons, Moses
usually calls angels ; and they are souls hovering in the
air." ^^^ Angels, souls, and demons are things differing
indeed in name, but one and identical in reality. These
souls or anorels " the creator has been accustomed to
employ as handmaidens and servants in the administra-
tion of mortal affairs." As God is good, so all angels or
souls are originally all good. What creates bad angels
is the badness of the persons with whom they become
associated, " those other men who have disregarded


wisdom, giving themselves up to the pursuit of unstable
things regulated by fortune alone, not one of which is
referred to the most excellent portion of ourselves, the
soul or the mind ; but all rather to the dead corpse
connected with us, that is to the body or the things
which are even more lifeless than that, such as glory
and money and offices and honours and all other things,
which, by those who do not keep their eyes fixed on
what is really beautiful, are fashioned and endowed
with apparent vitality by the deceit of vain opinion. "^^^
Philo pushes his contention of the aloofness of the Deity
from all possible contact with evil, by assuming that
the bad angels are the result of the perversity of
man, and are no part of God's creation. But the
flaw in his reasoning, is easily discernible. Granted
that the bad angel has only become so, because of his
being conjoined with the man who is worldly and
material, Philo has not answered the question, Who
made such a man worldly and material ? In other
words, sin is unaccounted for, and the original problem
remains as unsolved as before.

Rabbinic theology largely delegates sin to the
work of certain classes of angels, with the object
of bridginff the chasm between the sinfulness of man
and the goodness of God. This delegation is mainly
seen in the several personifications of the " Yetser
Ha-Ra." In T. B, Baba Bathra 16a an identity
is established between Yetser Ha-Ra, Satan, and the
Angel of Death, AVhat is the business of any one of
this group ? It is notUD StoiDi . . . nh^i;^ ni?nm -nv. " It
comes down and misleads men [to sin], then it goes up
again [to heaven] and receives sanction to slay the
soul." In T. B. Berachoth 16b the personification of

Online LibraryJ. (Joshua) AbelsonThe immanence of God in rabbinical literature → online text (page 25 of 32)