J. (Joshua) Abelson.

The immanence of God in rabbinical literature online

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light for not all creatures possess it ; only one in a
hundred." This looks like an allusion to the soul or
conscience or Divine Spark immanent in man only,
who forms about " one-hundredth part " of the general

Deuteronomy Rabba xi. 3 alludes to an imaginary
dialogue between Moses and Isaac, in which Isaac is
told that his eyes became dimmed through the dazzling
light of the Shechinah, which he saw when stretched
out on the altar, whereas Moses " spoke with the
Shechinah face to face " and met with no such fate.

Tanhuma on Nmn "^D has the following passage:
"Whence did Moses obtain his horns of glory ? [alluding
to Exodus xxxiv. 29] ; the sages replied, ' From the
cave, as it is said, " And it shall come to pass while
my glory passeth by that I will put thee in a cleft of
the rock."' This means that God placed his hand
upon him, and from that he obtained the horns of
glory " (as it is said in Habakkuk iii. 4, " He had horns
coming out of his hand ; and there was the hiding of
his power " ). All these passages figure the Deity as
light. The Midrash continues, " And there are some
who say that at the time when the Holy One taught
Moses the Torah, Moses gained his horns of glory
from the sparks which shot out from the mouth of
the Shechinah." Here we have a personification of the
Shechinah, and of its association with something stronger
than ethereal light, viz. material fire. Many such
examples have still to be given.

Tanhuma on Nt&D speaks of the Tabernacle as
being filled " with the light of God and His glory."
Here we get a juxtaposition : light and glory ; and
both are mere synonyms for Shechinah.


Yalkut on Song of Songs gives the following from
the Midrash iiia ircwD. " Two sparks of fire used to
shoot out from between the two staves of the ark
[during the Israelites' pilgrimage through the Desert]
and used to burn up the serpents and scorpions, the
thorns and briars. . . . When the nations used to see
the smoke they used to exclaim, ' Who is this coming
up from the wilderness ? ' They used to observe the
miracles God did for them . . . and how He in His
glory lit up the way for them . . . and used to say,
' Who is this that looketh as the Dawn ? What nation
is this whose equipments consist wholly of the light of
God?' (d^hSn ilNi n^w^nmn ^d»)."^-^ This is a very
crude presentation of the immanent idea.

Closely resembling the usage of Shechinah as light
is the usage of the phrase " Ziv Ha-Shechinah," i.e.
" the shining of the Shechinah." The two are some-
times interchanged in the different parts of Talmud
and Midrash. The word is used in other connexions
as well, e.g. Onkelos on 1 Kings vi. 1 translates the
words "in the month Ziv" as n-^dsd vt, "the shining
[or blossoming] of the flowers." In T. B. Sotah 49a
we get : " the shining splendour of wisdom, of priest-
hood." (For the examples, see Levy's Worterhuch,
page 213.) Instances of the usage of "Ziv Ha-
Shechinah " are the following : —

Song of Songs Kabba iii. 8 compares the liJin hriM^
being full of the " Ziv " to a cave by the sea. The sea
rushes in and fills the cave, but the sea suffers no
diminution of its waters. It is as full as before. Just
so the tent of the congregation. The Divine presence
filled it, but it filled the world just the same.*

* There is a passage in the Confessions of St. Augustine which has a curious
resemblance to this simile of the sea and the cave. It reads thus : " But Thee,
O Lord, I imagined on every part surrounding and penetrating it, but in every


Numbers Eabbaxxi. 16 states that tbe angels are fed
on the " Ziv " (similar in Tanhuma on onDD). Koheleth
Eabba viii, 3 attributes the "Ziv" to the Israelites
when they stood at Sinai. (The Pesikta on mo noj-iD
connects this statement with the verse in Ezekiel xvi.
14, It is a material idea — splendour of countenance.)

Mechilta on *nn"' (edit. Friedmann, p. 66) speaks of
the houses of the Israelites being filled with the " Ziv"
at the time when they stood before Sinai to receive the
Law. (A longer form of this, together with the part
played by Jethro and Balaam, is given in the earlier part
of nn'' and also in T B. Zebahim 116a.) In Yalkut
Koheleth viii. (based on the Sifri) the " Ziv " is given
to them not in their homes, but while standing at Sinai.
The following remark is added : " But no sooner did
they exclaim, ' These are thy Gods, Israel,' than they
were made the enemies of God." The Shechinah departed
from them.

Yalkut on Joshua xxii. (from T B. Moed Katan 9a)
attributes the possession of the " Ziv " to the Israelites
when dismissed to their homes after witnessing the
dedication of Solomon's Temple (1 Kings viii. 66).^^^
Yalkut on Psalm viii, (from T. B. Sabbath 88a) gives
the legend of Moses in conflict with the angels, when
the former was about to receive the Torah. Moses fears
that he might be burned by the angels' breath, but God
protects him by spreading the "Ziv" over him (this
being the Rabbinic interpretation of Job xxvi, 9).*

direction infinite ; a3 if there were a sea, everywhere and on every side, through
unmeasured space, one only infinite sea ; and it contained within it some sponge,
huge but infinite ; that sponge must needs in all its parts be filled from that
unmeasured sea, so I imagined Thy finite creation full of Thee, the Infinite."

* It is worth remarking here that in the mysticism of Plotinus (born
A.D. 205, at Lycopolis in Egypt) the master mind of Neo-Platonic mysticism,
one meets with a similar figurative representation of soul or mind as being "an
overflow" from God, or as "radiating from God as light does from a luminous
body which sends its light into the darkness but yet suff'ers no diminution of
itself in the process."


Yalkut on Psalm xlv. gives the saints in the glorious
future, the privilege of feeding on the " Ziv." But
the food is to be spiritual, not material. Cp. this with
the Leviathan legends in Rabbinic literature. The
Midrash continues " and they will receive no injury."
This is connected with what we had before, about the
association of Shechinah with fire. It belongs to a
crude, early order of ideas.

There is an interesting passage in the Commentary
of Nahmanides on Exodus xvi. 6, bearing strongly on
the mystical aspect of the "Ziv." He quotes the
Rabbinic interpretations (given in T B. Yoma 75b) of
the Psalmist's phrase : " Man did eat angels' food"
(Psalm Ixxviii. 25). In this Yoma passage R. Akiba
explains the manna (Exodus xvi.) as "food which the
ministering angels eat." But R. Ishmael raises an
objection by asking, " Do then the angels eat ? Is it
not said of Moses when he was in heaven that he neither
ate bread nor drank water ? " Ishmael accordingly
explains D''~i^nx nnS as n^ni^Ni ^hi2W nnh, " bread which
assimilated itself in the limbs." Nahmanides elevates
these diifering opinions of Akiba and Ishmael to a
higher plane, by putting a spiritual-mystical interpre-
tation upon them. According to Akiba, says he, " the
eaters of the manna and the ministering angels were
fed by one and the same food." And what was this
food? It was the "Ziv." The latter is the ordinary
angels' food, and it became the food of the Israelites
of the time through the fact that, as he says, " the
manna was one of the products of the Higher Light
(i.e. \^'hsr^ tinh nTrSino) which became materialised,
i.e. took on physical properties by the will of God."
According however to R. Ishmael, says Nahmanides,
there was no material manna whatsoever. The eaters
of it subsisted entirely and solely upon the ]-)''hsn TiNn


liDSi?. This is the only way, continues Nahmanides,
in which you can explain the Rabbinic statement
about the manna suiting itself to the taste of every
individual Israelite, " for the soul in its process of
thinking joins itself to the Higher Beings, finding
therein the true delights of Life and obtaining favour
from before Him." In other words, the manna-eaters
were men, whose spiritual faculties were developed
to so high a pitch, that their sustaining nourishment
was the union of their soul with the Divine. Nah-
manides dilates, in a similar strain, upon the remark
of the Mechilta on Exodus xvi. 25, " to-day ye
shall not find it in the field," i.e. says the Mechilta,
"Ye shall not find it in this life, but ye shall find
it in the life to come." Not all the Israelites,
at this epoch, says Nahmanides, had reached the
high spiritual stage of subsisting upon the " Ziv," i.e.
complete union with God. After the emancipation
from Egypt, however, and when at the crossing of
the Red Sea, it was possible " for a maid to have
visions such as were not vouchsafed even to Ezekiel
the prophet," the necessary high spiritual stage was
attained. This spiritualisation of the "life-to-come"
idea follows the lines of Maimonides' theology (see
his Introduction to last chapter of T. B. Sanhedrin).
Nahmanides, however, is unwilling thus to abandon
absolutely the generally accepted view of the " life to
come," and he accordingly brings his exposition into
line with the Rabbinical dictum about there being no
eating nor drinking in the life to come, but only the
saints sitting with crowns upon their heads and enjoying
the " Ziv." " Ye shall find it in the life to come." The
worthy Israelite will find his manna, i.e. his source
of continued vitality, even after death ; he will find it
in that blessed union with the Shechinah for which he


has qualified himself iu ascending stages of spiritual
saintliness. He will wear the crown upon his head !
Does not the prophet predict that "in that day
the Lord of Hosts shall be for a Crown of Glory "
(Isaiah xxviii. 5) ? There will be a complete merging of
the human life and the Divine life.*

The Yalkut on Ezekiel xUii. (from Genesis Rabba
Ixxxiii. ) gives two versions of the creation of light. ( 1 )
God wrapped Himself up in a garment the splendour of
which lit up the world from end to end. (2) The source
and fountain-head of light was the Temple at Jerusalem
(based on verses in Ezekiel xliii. 2, where the word
" Glory " bears the twofold meaning often assigned to
it by the Rabbins, viz. (a) the glory of God ; (6) the
Temple at Jerusalem). There is a spiritual significance
attaching to these phrases about light, and they belong
to the department of Shechinah ideas (for repetition of
this, see Yalkut on Psalm civ.).

Yalkut on Psalm Ixxii. states that just as the sun and
moon light up the world, so in the future will the pious
light up the world, as it is said (Isaiah Ix. 3), "And
the nations shall come to thy light." It is noteworthy
that not only is the influence of the Deity compared to
light in respect of its omnipresence and all-pervasive-
ness, but also the influence of good men possesses the
same immanent power on the world.f

Another materialistic description of the Shechinah is
that which ascribes wings to it — the " Wings of the

* In the language of mysticism, "Life is an eternal Becoming, a ceaseless
changefulness " (from Miss Underhill's Mysticis'm., p. 35).

t With this Rabbinical usage of fire, light, etc. in association with Shechinah
may be compared the mystical allusions to lamps of tire, lightnings, etc. in the
N.T. Apocalypse, e.g. "And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the
throne, which are the seven spirits of God " (iv. 5). Probably the symbolism of
Zechariah iv., the seven-branched candlestick and the symbolic interpretation
given it by the prophet, lie at the bottom of this passage. So also jirobably
does Psalm civ. 4, "His ministers a flaming fire." But its usage here to
denote an aspect of Divine agency in the world, has resemblances to Shechinah
ideas Avhich are too obvious to be overlooked.


Shechinah." As the Rabbins were fond of representing
the presence of the Shechinah as confined to Israel, to
the exclusion of the nations of the world, the " Wings of
the Shechinah " came to be a term denoting proselytism.
To bring any one under the wings of the Shechinah
commonly means to introduce a non-Israelite into the
fold of Israel. But this is by no means the exclusive
significance of the expression. It often bears the wider
meaning of the protective aspect of the Divine omni-
presence or immanence.

The Mechilta on nf?tDi (ed. Friedmann, page 56) I'^D
has the following passage : " R. Joshua said that when
Amalek came to injure Israel and prevent him from
abiding beneath the wings of his Father in heaven,
Moses exclaimed, ' Sovereign of the universe, this mis-
creant is about to destroy thy children from underneath
thy wings, who then will be left to read and study the
Torah which thou hast given them ? ' "

R. Eliezer Ha-Moda'i said that when Amalek came
to injure Israel and prevent him from abiding beneath
the wings of his Father in heaven, Moses exclaimed,
" Sovereign of the universe, thy sons are about to be
scattered to the four corners of heaven, as it is said, ' For
I have spread you abroad as the four winds of heaven,
saith the Lord ' (Zech. ii. 6), will this miscreant come to
exterminate them from beneath thy wings ? " In this
Midrash we singularly get the direct expression " wings
of God " rather than the more usual " wings of the
Shechinah," There is no notion of proselytism. The
" wings " are God's omnipresence in Israel, His fatherly
immanence. There are several versions of the old
Rabbinic commentary on Genesis xii. 5, "And the
souls which they had gotten in Haran." The ^m^,
" they made " (literally), is explained as : " they caused
them to enter under the wings of the Shechinah."


This in some instances is made identical with proselytism,
but in others it rather means that the omnipresence
of God became a reality to them. Thus Genesis Rabba
xxxix. 14 has the former view; so has Genesis Rabba
Ixxxiv, 4, and also Song of Songs Rabba i. The later and
broader view is seen in Aboth De R. Nathan, chap,
xii., and in the Tanhuma on iS ']hS*^ The latter graphi-
cally narrates how the weary and footsore strangers
whom Abraham welcomed into his home were wont,
after they had finished their meal, to begin praising and
blessing their generous and true-hearted host. No ! he
would reply, " do not bless me, but rather Him who
gives His food and drink to all creatures and has put
His spirit into them." " But where is He ? " they w^ould
ask in astonishment. Abraham would reply, " He rules
over heaven and earth. He killeth and maketh alive ;
He woundeth and healeth ; He formeth the foetus in its
mother's womb, and bringeth it out to the light of the
world ; He causeth the trees and flowers to spring up ;
He bringeth down to the grave and bringeth up again."
By these means He initiated them into the fear of God
and the practise of morality. This long passage on the
omnipresence of God seems to be an expansion of, or
commentary on, the phrase in the other Midrashim about
"entering under the wings of the Shechinah."^^^ The
Sifri on nD~inn n^n speaks of " Moses lying dead in
the wings (^q:ii) of the Shechinah " (Friedmann points
out here that the reading in the corresponding passage
in Yalkut is the usual "^D3Dn not ^dii which is uncommon).
The soul of the great law-giver lies enwrapped in the
great world-soul.

Yalkut on Jeremiah chap. li. speaks of the descen-
dants of Nebuchadnezzar as w^anting to enter under
the wings of the Shechinah. Upon which the angels
exclaim, " Sovereign of the universe, wilt thou take under


thy wings the children of that wicked one who laid
waste thy holy house and set fchy Temple in flames?"
Judging from the general drift of the whole context,
there seems to be the proselyte idea here.

Yalkut on Job xx. 27, " The heavens shall reveal
his iniquity ; and the earth shall rise up against him,"
has the following : " Thus said Moses to the Israelites,
' Perhaps you want to fly away from the wings of the
Shechinah or to disappear from the earth ! No ! the
heavens will write down [your evil desire] and the earth
will make it known, as it is said, "The heavens shall reveal
his iniquity ; and the earth shall rise up against him." ' "
Here the phrase " Wings of Shechinah " unquestionably
points to God's immanence in the world.

The Tanna Debe Elijahu on ^h rhw (quoted by Yalkut
on same passage) has a remarkable passage on the entry
of the twelve spies into Palestine, and concludes with
the sentence : "I call heaven and earth to witness that
it was not in the mind of the Holy One to slay ten
princes of Israel ; for they ran after Moses and Aaron
until they entered under the wings of the Shechinah."
Here " wings of the Shechinah " cannot have a proselyte
meaning, as the princes were Israelites. It seems to
be perhaps a poetical expression for " life." They were
sufiered by God to live, i.e. God took them under
the wings of His Shechinah.* It is the manifestation
of God's protective care which covers the world, just
as the wings of the bird cover and protect her young.
It seems obvious, that the various epithets attached to
the word " Shechinah " came in course of usage, to apply
to many ideas other than those originally intended.

The next materialised description of Shechinah, is
that which depicts it by the figure of a cloud — the

* Or it may be an allusion to death ; we have instances in Rabbinical
literature of men seeing Shechinah at the hour of death.


Cloud of Shecliinah. The allusions to this are not very-
copious.* The idea is based on Exodus xl. 34-38, the
cloud of the Tabernacle. A parallel phrase and one
which occurs rather more frequently is " clouds of
glory " — Kabod being often synonymous with Shechinah.
(See Appendix 11.)

Tanhuma on inoi tells that the " cloud of the
Shechinah " did not descend upon the Tabernacle until
Moses said, " Return, Lord, unto the many thousands
of Israel" (Numbers x. 36). It continues: "The
clouds of glory were surrounding it" {i.e. the Tabernacle,
or possibly Moses), and the Holy Spirit exclaimed
by Solomon, " Thou art beautiful, my beloved,
as Tirzah " (Song of Songs vi. 4). " Why as Tirzah
(rriiinD) ? because I am appeased (n^inriD) unto thee."
The juxtaposition of all three Rabbinic expressions
of Divine immanence, Shechinah, Kabod, and Holy
Spirit is significant. Yalkut on Song of Songs,
" His left hand is under my head, and His right hand
doth embrace me" (chapter ii. verse 6), says "this
alludes to the clouds of Shechinah which surround Israel
above and below." We could not get a more explicit
statement of God as being immanent in Israel.f

We now take miscellaneous materialistic descriptions
of Shechinah,

In T. B. Sotah 9b "the Shechinah was beatingf
before Samson like a bell" (iitd vddS n»pa?pD). This
is a commentary on Judges xiii. 25, " And the Spirit of

* See Oesterlyand Box, The Religwnand Worship of the Synagogue, p. 191,
where it is pointed out that in Exodus xxxiii. 9 it is the cloud that is depicted
as speaking with Moses, and that the R.V. emendation of "the Lord" before
"spake" is incorrect. But see Rashi ad loc. The R.V. is in agreement with
Rashi's view.

t In the sense that God is brought down from lonely heights. Israel,
surrounded by Him "above and below," is, as it were, shrouded, encased in
divinity. It is in this sense that many oncoming references to ' ' surrounding "
have to be understood.


the Lord began to move him." * Samson is said by the
Rabbins (in this passage in Sotah) to have been imbued
with the spirit of prophecy which possessed the patriarch
Jacob. Eashi {ad loc.) interprets the idea of the bell
by remarking *' to accompany him [Samson] whither-
soever he went." The Shechinah filled Samson's
environment. God's presence was real to him every-

In Song of Songs Rabba ii. the Shechinah is visible
from between the shoulders and fingers of the priests
at the time they pronounce the priestly benediction
upon Israel. (See also Numbers Rabba xi. 2.)^^^

In Tanhuma on mo "'~inN there is a curious ex-
pression about Aaron's rod as n3"'Dt2?i nno, " scenting the
Shechinah." It was this, according to the Midrash,
that caused it to bring forth fruit. The following
remark then occurs : " Dry sticks scented that [or Him]
which was the Life of the World." The Shechinah is
here parallel to the " Life of the World," an unmis-
takable allusion to the Deity as the immanent life of
the universe.f

The idea of being injured by the Shechinah or
escaping injury from it is fairly common. We saw
something of this when dealing wdth the materialised
conception of Shechinah as light or fire. In Yalkut
on Song of Songs i. there occurs the following : " Why
does he compare the Holy One to a bundle of myrrh "
(Song i. 13)? Because the whole world is not large
enough to contain Him, and yet He can compress the
Shechinah into the narrow space between the two staves
of the ark. You will find that God loves Israel more

* The Hebrew for " to move him " belongs to the same root as the Hebrew
for " bell."

t An idea to be found frequently in the Jewish Liturgy. See Authorised
Daily Prayer Book (ed. Singer), p. 17, p. 127, etc. See also poem conmiencing
njiDNm miN.T in the Day of Atonement Liturgy (Morning Service). This com-
position is brimful with the developed Kabbalistic ideas of the IMiddle Ages.


than the ministering angels, for the latter can only
approach God at an intervening distance of fifteen
cubits, as it is said (Isaiah vi.): "Seraphim stood
above him," but the Israelites stood in the Tabernacle,
and not one among them was injured. There are
several ideas here : —

(1) The ark was pervaded with the omnipresence of

(2) The paradox (often repeated in the Kabbinic
literature and dwelt on by Philo) of the world being
too small to hold God but yet the space between the
Ark's staves being large enough (cp. Genesis Kabba
iv. 5), It is clear that the later Kabbalistic doctrine
of "Zimzum" ("contraction") took its start from this
Rabbinic idea.

(3) The identification of Shechinah with God.

(4) The Israelites ranking above the angels in
respect of nearness to God.

(5) The Shechinah as an expression for God's
immanence in the Tabernacle.

(6) The idea of being hurt by the Shechinah.
Another good instance of the last idea is to be found

in Yalkut on Isaiah on the verse " And the Lord shall
blot out tears from ofi" all faces" (xxv. 8). "In this
world he who sees the face of the Shechinah is ^ioidhd
l^irri (i.e. gradually wastes, dies away), as it is said,
" For no man shall see me, and live " (Exodus xxxiii. 20).
The Midrash verifies the statement by quoting
Ezra viii. 15, "And I viewed the people and priests,
and found there none of the sons of Levi." * A remark
of the same drift is that of Yalkut on Isaiah xxxv., " At

* I cannot discover the ground on which the Midrash bases its deduction
from tliis verse of Ezra. Mr. Israel Abrahams suggests the following : "The
Levites in exile mutilated their fingers in order to prevent themselves from
playing the harps and singing the songs of the Lord on the land of the stranger "
(see Rashi on T. B. Kiddushin, 69b).


the time when God reveals His Shechinah to Israel,
He does not reveal it there all at once, because the
Israelites would not be able to endure that great boon,
and would all die off suddenly. . . . But what does
God do ? He reveals it to them bit by bit. At first
He causes the desert to rejoice (Isaiah xxxv. 1); after-
wards, He makes it blossom as the rose (ihid. 1) ; after
that again, the glory of Lebanon is given it [ibid. 2),
until finally, all the people see the glory of God
{ibid. 2). It is obvious from these remarks, that the
Rabbins discerned a religious message in the world of
nature. They saw God in the blossoming field as well
as in the solitude of the desert. And yet, as we saw
before, they materialised the Shechinah so very much.

Yet another specimen of this materialisation is to
be found in Yalkut on inS27m commenting on verse
" Rise up. Lord, and let thine enemies be scattered "
(Numbers x. 35). Moses sought to let the Israelites
know that the Shechinah was with them because he
had had the Divine promise, " Behold, I send an
angel before thee" (Exodus xxiii. 20).^^^ When God
promised him that " My presence shall go with thee "
(Exodus xxxiii. 14), Moses comes and says to the people,
" Arise and journey, for verily the Shechinah is in the

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