Copyright
J. (Joshua) Abelson.

The immanence of God in rabbinical literature online

. (page 9 of 32)
Online LibraryJ. (Joshua) AbelsonThe immanence of God in rabbinical literature → online text (page 9 of 32)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Ark." The people replied, "We do not believe this."
Immediately, Moses exclaimed, " Rise up, Lord, let thine
enemies be scattered" (Numbers x. 35). Forthwith
" the Ark trembled with movement and the people
believed." This movement was the movement of the
Shechinah, which, in this passage, is looked upon as the
material indwelling of God in the midst of Israel.



NOTES 97



NOTES TO CHAPTER V

(1) In T. B. Posahini 5a we get the question, " To what may the
saints be likened in comparison with God ? " And the answer is, " As
a candle before a torch."

(2) In the Midrash Yelamdenu on inS5;na there is a more lengthy form
of this serpents and scorpions tale. There is added to it one of the king-
parables so common in the Midrashic literature.

(3) T. B. Berachoth 64a assigns the " Ziv " to every one who
" partakes of a meal at which a ' Talmid lialiam ' is present." This is
part of an oft-recurring Rabbinic idea. The pious student of the Torah
possesses a special degree of Divine Immanence ; and he is able, so to
speak, to shed this godliness upon those in contact with him. Thus the
proverb, ij^c'? 3id pns*? 3ia, " "Well-being to the saint implies well-being to
his neighbour ; M2vh 'in yo'-i'y 'ix, " Woe to the sinner means woe to his
neighbour," holds a purely religious as well as ethical import.

(4) In Tanhuma on nW'i Ruth's change of faith is expressed by
nj'Dcn '£333. Here we get the pure proselyte idea ; so also in Tanhuma
on nn', where Jethro is described as follows : " He was an idolatrous priest,
but came and cleaved to Moses and entered underneath the wing of the
Shechinah." Still there is no reason to assume that Jethro actually
became a proselyte. The Rabbis held conflicting views on the point
According to Exodus Rabba i. 35, xxvii. 2, Jethro merely abandoned
idol- worship because he thought it foolish. According to Mechilta on
nn' Jethro gave Zipporah as wife to Moses, on condition that he brought
up their eldest son in the worship of idols ; and Moses swore to respect
this condition. Jethro could not surely have desired such an object had
he abandoned idolatry.

(5) The Yalkut on Isaiah xli. (and again on Psalm ex.) has the
broader view (based on the verse "i3i mina Tj;n 'o) of Abraham sitting on
God's right hand (Psalm ex. 1) and stirring up the nations to come under
the wings of the Shechinah. This may mean either mere abandonment
of idolatry, or a recognition of a universalistic Deity.

(6) A glaring instance of the material conception of Shechinah is
also furnished by a passage in T. B. Megillah 29a. " The father of
Samuel and Levi were once sitting in the synagogue of ' Shef Ve-Yatib,'
in Nehardea. They suddenly heard a sound of movement. It was the
Shechinah coming. They at once rose and went out. R. Shesheth (who
was blind) was once sitting in the same sjoiagogue, and when the
Shechinah came, he did not go out. Then the ministering angels came
and struck terror into him. . . ." In the end R. Shesheth addresses
the Shechinah, and the latter advises the angels to cease from vexing him.
The ideas here are (a) the Shechinah is something material that can be
heard and seen ; (b) it is a Person to be addressed and prayed to.

(7) Noteworthy here is the identification of Shechinah with angel,
just as we saw Philo identify the latter with Logos or Logoi.



H



CHAPTER VI



SHECHINAH PERSONIFIED



The Shechinah has a " Face," m^Dtun ^dd. It often
speaks and acts, sings with joy or cries with grief,
admonishes and remarks and encourages, becomes angry
and appeased again, in just the same way that a human
being does all these things. No dualism of deities is
thereby intended. The sinfulness of recognising nvT»"i"l
("two divinities") was reiterated by the Rabbins with
untiring emphasis. This personification is probably
the old Biblical anthropomorphic description of God
carried over to the Shechinah. The immanent presence
of God in Israel, in the world, and in man is a per-
sonality, and is looked upon and described as possessing
all the attributes which are commonly associated with
personality .^^^

(A) The "Face of the Shechinah"

In T. B. Barachoth 64a, " He that goes out from
the synagogues and enters the House of Study to
engage in the Torah will have the merit of receiving
the Face of the Shechinah."

In T. B. Sanhedrin 103a, " There are four classes of
men who will never receive the Face of the Shechinah,
viz. scoffers, hars, hypocrites, and calumniators.

Leviticus Rabbi xxiii. 13, "He that sees the naked-
ness of another's body and does not feast his eyes



SHECHINAH PERSONIFIED 99

thereon, will be worthy to receive the face of the
Shechinah."

T. B. Sukkah 45b, " The world will never have less
than thirty-six saints who will receive the Shechinah
every day."

Leviticus Rabba xxx. 2, also the Tanna Debe Elijahu
ii. give another version of the aforegoing passage as
follows : " There are seven classes of saints who will in the
future time receive the Face of the Shechinah. . . ." ^^^

Song of Songs Rabba ii., as also Mechilta on "nn"^
(reproduced in Yalkut ad loc.) has "He who visits the
' Haber ' acts as though he received the Face of the
Shechinah." ^^^

Numbers Rabba xix. 18, Tanhuma on npn has
the follow^ing quaint assertion : " All the saints who
will be descended from Adam wdll suffer the primordial
Divine decree of death. But before their death they
will see the Face of the Shechinah and reprove Adam,
saying, ' It is thou that hast been the cause of death
to us ! ' " *

* The idea of seeing the Shechinah when man is at the point of death
occurs in Rabbinic literature in various forms and presents some difficulties.
As far as my investigations go, I conclude that it is the result of the combination
of several ideas, Biblical and post Biblical. These are (1) an idea such as is
found in Judges xiii. 22, " And Manoah said unto his wife, We shall surely die,
because we have seen God " (cp. ibid. vi. 22). Just as there are passages in
the O.T. where God is represented as walking and talking familiarly with men,
so there are places, like the one here, which show that it was, at one time, a
firm belief that to see God meant death to man. (2) Mystical ideas found
occasionally in the Psalms, e.g. "For Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell or
sheol ; neither wilt Thou suffer Thy pious one to see corruption. Thou wilt
show me the path of life : in Thy presence is fulness of joy ; at Thy right hand
pleasures for evermore " (Psalm xvi. 10-11). In the moment of highest mystical
rapture, the good man feels that death will not be the evil that men imagine,
not merely a prolongation of life in another form, but a heightening of life to
the highest possible stage, a life in God. IVIan will then attain his highest bliss,
his truest goal, he will live in the contemplation of the Shechinah. The O.T.
is not plentiful in this exalted teaching of the spiritual life of man after death.
But if one reads several passages, particularly of the Psalms, from this mystical
standpoint, one can easily see that the Jews of those epochs had undoubted
glimmerings of it, and knew how to give expression to it. It is quite easy to
see, how the characters of Elijah and Enoch who " were not, because God took
them," must have impressed themselves upon the ancient Jews as the highest



loo THE IMMANENCE OF GOD

Deuteronomy Eabba vii. 8 declares that in the
days of Moses the ordinary Israelite had the privilege
of being spoken to by the Shechinah " Face to face " ;
a privilege not even accorded in later times to Ezekiel
the Prophet.

Yalkut Psalm xvii., "How great is the virtue of
charity ! If a man gives only one coin to a poor
brother, he becomes worthy to receive the Face of the
Shechinah."

Ihid. " Even the evil-doers, provided they have
given alms to the poor, will have the merit of receiving
the Face of the Shechinah." *

Exodus Eabba v. 9 has a peculiar usage of pDi!J"iD "n,
" two faces " (cl12^D = Greek 'rrpoaw'irov)^^ The question
discussed is, "How did the voice [at Sinai] issue forth?"
And the reply is, that it went out in pDisiD it, on
the one hand putting to death the idolatrous nations
who would not accept it, and on the other hand, giving
life unto the Israelites who accepted the Torah. The
probable explanation of the phrase is, as the author of
the commentary n»D n"^ says pDio ^3mi = "in two
difterent styles." To the Israelites the Voice had a
quickening vitalising tone. To the idolaters it sounded
as a death-knell — and in fact became the harbinger of
death. But what one has to notice is the peculiar
tendency to personification. The Voice of God had
" Faces." This shows that the " Voice " was often

and sublimest types of life divinely led ; and it is quite natural to suppose, that a
spiritual life of this kind after death, was the aspiration cherished by the best
and worthiest souls among them. The Rabbins seem to have adopted some
such doctrine as this, and individualised it still further. The meritorious Jew
beholds the Shechinah at death, i.e. no Sheol or Gehinnom awaits him — these
ideas belong to a lower strata of Biblical and Rabbinic thought ; he passes into
the world of Divine light and life, there to get that nearness to God which it is
80 hard to get while in the coils of the ordinary mortality. I am aware, how-
ever, that the views of the best Christian scholars to-day are opposed to any
8uch theory as this.

* Here we have an instance of what we alluded to in a previous note, viz.
the seeing of Shechinah when man is at the point of death.



VI SHECHINAH PERSONIFIED .ici

conceived by the Rabbins in the same immanent sense
as the Shechinah. There are numerous examples of
this in Rabbinic literature/^^ *

An even more strikinsf instance of the " Face "
not of the Shechinah but connected with it, is the
following from Tanhuma on inn. Manasseh, King
of Israel, makes an idol and places it in the Holy
of Holies (2 Chronicles xxxiii. 7)/^*^ God resents this,
and says that Manasseh's object in placing the idol
there was " to drive out Me from the Holy House."
At first the idol had only one pjis-id and it was placed
in the western corner of the Temple. The Shechinah
then w^ent to another corner from which the " Face "
could not be seen. When Manasseh saw this, he made
four pDiiiiD to the idol, in order that the Shechinah
might be utterly banished from the Temple. This
ascription of a ?i12-id to an idol is extraordinary ! It
shows clearly that these forms of personification of the
Shechinah have a strongly materialist basis. The afore-
going Midrash also points to one distinctly-marked
department of Rabbinic thought on Immanence, viz. the
Immanence of God in the Temple, ^^^

NOTES TO CHAPTEE VI

(1) The phrase d'Je: '^npa, literally "receiving the face of," is also iised
of ordinary social intercourse, and means " to receive a friend," or " to
visit the house of a friend," as e.g. the Eabbinic injunction that " It is
the duty of every man to visit the house of his master on the festival"

* This curious intermingling of visual with auditory sensations is a striking
feature of mystical experience. For an excellent psychological analysis of the
subject, see Miss Underbill's chapter on "Voices and Visions" in her book on
Mysticism already alluded to. "Plotinus," says Miss Underbill, "sees the
Celestial Venus, Suso the Eternal Wisdom, St. Theresa the humanity of Christ,
Blake the strange personages of his prophetic books " (p. 326). Interpreting
the Israelitish encampment at Sinai from the same standpoint, we can very well
say, that so overcome were the Israelites with the momentousness of the Revelation,
that in their profound state of mystical reverie, they objectivised the Voice,
giving it a pictorial form, while at the same time hearing it as a distinct
articulate inward voice.



I02 THE IMMANENCE OF GOD chap.

The Tanhuma on Ncn 'd has the remark : " He that visits (or receives) an
old man acts as though he were to receive the face of the Shechinah."
Here the two ideas are conjoined.

(2) It is to be noted that clustering round the usage of ny^c-n ■•:s there
is nearly always the idea of futurity. The phrase usually runs hnph I'ny
nrDB-n -:3, " will, in the future, receive the face of the Shechinah." What
is this future ? It is difficult to answer. The phrase seems to cover and
convey a variety of meanings. As will be seen from the instances
given, it often alludes to the bliss of a future life after death. God
will be immanent in the soul of the departed saint. Mortal spirit
will mingle with immortal. The human soul will become part of the
Divine world -soul. The phrase, "But the soul of my lord shall be
bound in the bundle of life with the Lord thy God" (1 Samuel xxv. 29),
an idea oft repeated in parts of the Jewish liturgy to-day, seems to have
a similar meaning. The passage in T. B. Sanhedrin 103a (same in T. B.
Sotah 42b) about the "four classes who will not receive the face of the
Shechinah, viz. the scoifers, the liars, the hypocrites, and the calumniators,"
also seems to allude to the spiritual condemnation of their souls after
death. In fact, the Rabbinic interpretation of " cutting off of the soul "
seems to belong to exactly the same order of ideas as this of " not receiving
the face of the Shechinah." Where no futurity is alluded to, as in a
remark like that of T. B. Sabbath 127a, "The entertaining of strangers
on Sabbath is a greater virtue than that of receiving the Face of the
Shechinah," the allusion seems to be either to the appearance at the
Temple festivities on the three great festivals of the year (the Temple
being the place where the Shechinah was particularly immanent) or to
attendance at synagogue (which also is always described as pervaded by
the Shechinah). A saying like this, about the high sanctity implied in
the entertainment of strangers at home, is a good specimen of Rabbinical
ethical teachings. A home where charity is dispensed is holier than even
Temple or synagogue.

Further, the fact that " receiving the face of the Shechinah " may
allude to the appearance of the Israelite at the Temple festivities on the
three great Festivals, is patent from a statement like the following in
Aboth De R. Nathan xii, vipai ny^e/n ':s h'^pnh pa'^im ywicef din 'n ihn.
. . " These are the men who forsake their silver and their gold, and go
up to receive the Face of the Shechinah in the Temple."

(3) For a comprehensive sketch of the nature and history of the
inn in the Talmud, see the excellent article "Haber" in the Jewish
Encyclopcedia, vol. vi.

(4) The word n ( = Greek 8vo) is sometimes spelt ri, which is more in
accord with phonology. The phrase o'siisna m occurs very frequently in
connexion with the Rabbinic legends about the formation of the first
woman. Cp. T. B. Erubin 18a, jib-ki.t DnnS i'? vn psi^n£3 m, "Adam had
originally two faces." Out of one of these. Eve was created. Similarly
T. B. Berachoth 61a.

(5) See Exodus Rabba xxviii. 6.

(5a) In. T. B. Sanhedrin 103b there is a slightly different version of
Manasseh's idol.



VI NOTES 103

(6) The ascription of a " Face " to the Shechinah is sometimes also
expressed by the word pjip'x (Greek fiX^^> €LX(i>vt'OV = image). It is the
Jerusalem Targum for men = " likeness " (see Genesis Rabba xL 5,
Leviticus Rabba xxiii. 12, where it is used of a painter). But in the
following passage in the Tanhuma on mc "n it is used of the image of
God which is immanent in the world. " If a mortal king engraves his
image upon a ta])let, the tablet is larger than the image. But God is
great, and yet His image is greater than the whole world." God is in
the world but is greater than it ; the world is only a part of God.



CHAPTER VII

(b) general personification

T. B. ^AGGIGAH 15b, also in T. B. Sanhedrin 46a, ''When
man is in trouble what does the Shechinah say ? "
I'lTiD "'D^p, •'tUNiD -"^hp " I feel a weariness in my head ;
I feel a weariness in my arm." (See Rashi in Sanhedrin
46a for etymology of "'iSp, a strange term.) The under-
lying idea in a statement like this seems to be the ever-
constant presence of the Shechinah when man is in
trouble. Man is so closely hedged round by the Divine
that the latter even feels the pain of the former.

T. B. Sotah 5a, " The Shechinah mourns over the
proud man." The elucidation of this saying is given
in an adjoining passage, which reads as follows : " If a
man is proud, God says ' that man and I cannot dwell
together. There is no room in the world for both of
us.' " The existence of the sin of pride creates a con-
stant warfare between the immanent Deity who fills
the world and the possessor of pride. Pride attempts
to oust this Deity, but is conquered and laid low by
it. The Shechinah accordingly " mourns " over its
victim. ^"^^

Genesis Rabba xlvii. 6 alludes to Abraham speaking
in companion-like manner with the Shechinah. The
angels come to engage Abraham in conversation with
them. " No," says he, " let me first take leave of the
Shechinah who is greater than either of us." Here the

104



CH. VII GENERAL PERSONIFICATION 105

Shechinah is represented as in the world : Abraham
holds communion with the omnipresent Deity. Genesis
Rabba xlviii. 9 speaks of " the Shechinah waiting for
them " (in allusion to the three men coming to visit
Abraham in Genesis xviii. 2)/"^ Exodus Rabba ii, 5
speaks of the Shechinah as being inside the burning
bush and speaking with Moses. This adoption of the
bush as the meeting - place between Moses and the
Shechinah is intended, says the Midrash, to teach
mankind " that no spot on earth is unoccupied by the
Shechinah, not even a bush." This is a clear enuncia-
tion of the doctrine of God's Immanence in the universe.

Numbers Rabba v. 1, in a dissertation on the verse
"Cut ye not off the tribe of the families of the Koha-
thites from among the Levites " (Numbers iv. 18),
speaks of the Shechinah as nni ni?iiD, " attacking
them" (the Kohathites). The Kohathites in their
over-zeal to carry the Ark exceeded the bounds of
mutual self-respect. This was sin for which punishment
was certain. There is an inevitable collision between
sinfulness and God who fills all space.*

Deuteronomy Rabba i. 17 has the following:
" When the enemy came to lay Jerusalem waste there
were in Jerusalem sixty myriads of demons. They were
stationed at the entrance to the Temple and ready to
attack the invaders. But when they saw that the
Shechinah looked on in silence (and made no attempt
to defend the holy House) they gave way before the
enemy and allowed them a free entry." Here is the
Personified Shechinah whose abode and home was the
Temple. The Shechinah here, as in numerous passages,
is a term for the Immanence of God in the Temple.^^^

Closely associated with the foregoing is the Midrash
Rabba of Lamentations (Introduction 25), where there

* See, further on, chapter on relation between Shechinah and Sin,



io6 THE IMMANENCE OF GOD

is a curious representation of the Shechinah dwell-
ing three and a half years on the Mount of Olives,
with the object of inducing the Israelites to repent.
But in vain. The Shechinah in despair exclaims,
"I will go and return to my place" (Hosea v. 15).
It is concerning that hour that it is said, " Give
glory to the Lord your God, before He cause
darkness" (Jeremiah xiii. 16). Darkness came in the
shape of the ruin of the Temple and Holy City. The
Shechinah " returning to its place " expresses the fact
of the immanent God of the Temple abandoning it.
Hence its ruin. The introduction of the figure of
"darkness" shows, as was said before, the common
portrayal of the Shechinah as material light.

But perhaps the finest personification of the
Shechinah as the immanent God of Jerusalem and the
Temple is to be found in the Introduction to Lamenta-
tions Rabba xxv. (also found in a shorter and more
prosaic form in T. B. Rosh Hashana 31a, and in Aboth
De R. Nathan, chap, xxxiv.) : "The Shechinah made
ten journeys :



(1

(2
(3

(4
(5
(6
(7

(8

(9
(10



From cherub to cherub.

From cherub to the threshold of the House.

From the threshold of the House to the

Cherubim.
From the Cherubim to the Eastern Gate.
From the Eastern Gate to the Court.
From the Court to the roof.
From the roof to the Altar.
From the Altar to the wall.
From the wall to the city.
From the city to the Mount of Olives. ..."



R. Aha said it may be likened unto an earthly
monarch who one day went out of his palace in great



VII GENERAL PERSONIFICATION 107

anger. Every now and then lie returned to the palace,
and embracing its walls and its pillars he would say-
tearfully, " Hail ! beloved palace of mine ; Hail !
house of my sovereignty ; Hail ! house of my
glory ; Peace to thee from now and evermore ! " Even
so was it with the Shechinah. When the Shechinah
departed from the Holy Temple it kept returning at
intervals, embracino^ and kissinsj its hallowed walls and
pillars, and bitterly weeping, it kept exclaiming, " Peace
to thee, my hallowed shrine ! Peace to thee ! abiding
place of my sovereign power; Peace to thee! residence of
my glory ; Peace to thee from now and for ever more."

Mechilta on nStt?l, edit. Friedmann, p. 24 (same in
T. B. Sotah 15a, Tanhuma and Rabba on n^tDl, and
reproduced in Yalkut ad loc.) speaks of the Shechinah
as being engaged in the burial rites of Moses. But
here, as very often, Shechinah may be merely another
expression for God. Still, it is not far-fetched to
interpret it as alluding bo the Immanence of God.
Moses was so saturated with the Divine presence that
the latter even remained with him intact at his death.
According to Tanhuma on pnriNl the Shechinah ever
" walked " on the right hand of Moses (based on Isaiah
Ixiii. 12). This is another way of showing Moses'
ceaseless Divine environment. And this remained until
the last rites connected with his burial had been
completed.

Yalkut on Numbers iii. 15 tells of the Shechinah
walking in front of Moses (at the time of the numbering
of the people) and saying to him, " There are so-and-so
many children [of the tribe of Levi] in this tent."

Sifri on inSi^ni Numbers x. 33, " And the Ark of
the Covenant of the Lord went before them in the three
days' journey, to search out a resting-place for them,"
declares that this is an allusion to the Shechinah which



io8 THE IMMANENCE OF GOD chap.

walked before the Israelites in their march, clearing
and safe-guarding the road for them. The Shechinah is
likened to an idip"'I:d3n, a king's representative lieutenant,
who is charged with making all necessary preparations
for the royal suite/^^

The following illustrations show how the Shechinah,
strongly personified, is used as an interchangeable term
with " God," expressing Divine Immanence.

Frequently where one passage in Kabbinic literature
has the word " Shechinah," a parallel passage somewhere
else uses the term " God." And more than this.
Frequently the two terms are used indiscriminately in
one and the same passage.

First may be given passages which deal with God's
universality, His filling the world.

T. B. Sanhedrin 39a. The passage commencing Vn
^N^'bni "-h nDiD Nirrrr. R. Gamliel is asked by an infidel
how many Shechinah are there in existence, seeing that,
according to the Jews' belief, wherever ten men are
gathered together there the Shechinah is.^^^ Gamliel's
reply is to the efi"ect that the Shechinah is God, who is
everywhere. There is one and one only sun, which
lights up every nook and corner of the universe. How
much more so is it the case, that the one only God
makes His presence known and felt everywhere.

T. B. Baba Bathra 25a. " How do you know that
the Shechinah is everywhere ? " The answer is derived
in characteristic Talmudic fashion from Zechariah ii. 3,
" And, behold, the angel that talked with me went forth,
and another angel went out to meet him " (see Eashi
Baba Bathra 25a). A longer and more fanciful form of
the same idea, is the one subjoined to it. God's mes-
sengers are not as man's. When the latter have executed
their message, they have to return to the sender and
inform him of the fact. But God's messengers need not



VII GENERAL PERSONIFICATION 109

return to their sender. He is accessible to them in
whatever spot they may chance to go (quoted also in
Mechilta on ni). Genesis Rabba Ixviii. 9 (and to be found
passim in Rabbinic literature, as in Philo), says, " Why
is God called ' place ' ? Because He is the place of
the world, and the world is not His place." Similarly,
"Why is God called 'a dwelling-place' (Psalm xc. 1)?
Because He is the dwelling-place of the world, and



Online LibraryJ. (Joshua) AbelsonThe immanence of God in rabbinical literature → online text (page 9 of 32)