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The Shekhinah Glory

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Gershom G. Scholem
In the Gnostic speculations on the male and female aeons, ie, the divine potencies, which constitute the world of the pleroma, the 'fulness' of God, [the idea of a personalist Shekhinah] assumed a new form in which it became known to the earliest Kabbalists through the medium of scattered fragments. [However]
In all the numerous references to the Shekhinah in the Talmud and the Midrashim ... there is no hint that it represents a feminine element of God. Not a single metaphor employs such terms as Princess, Matron, Queen, or Bride to describe the Shekhinah. It is true that these terms frequently occur where reference is made to the community of Israel in its relation to God ... [p229]
The similes employed in the Bahir to describe the Shekhinah are extremely revelatory in this respect. For some Gnostics, the "lower Sophia," the last aeon on the rim of the pleroma, represents the "daughter" who, although her home is the "form of light," must wander into far lands. Various other motives helped to c complete the picture of the Shekhinah as drawn in the Zohar; above all; she was now identified with the "Community of Israel," a sort of Invisible Church, representing the mystical idea of Israel in its bond with God and in its bliss, but also in its suffering and in its exile. She is not only Queen, daughter and bride, but also the mother of every individual in Israel. She is the true "Rachel weeping for her children," and in a magnificent misinterpretation of a Zoharic passage, the Shekhinah weeping in her exile becomes for later Kabbalism "the beauty who no longer has eyes."

It is as a woman that she now appears to the visionaries among the Kabbalists, like the Abraham Halevi, a disciple of Luria, who in 1571 saw her at the wailing wall in Jerusalem dressed in black and weeping for the husband of her youth. In the symbolic world of the Zohar, this new conception of the Shekhinah as the symbol of "eternal womanhood" occupies a place of immense importance and appears under an endless variety of names and images. It marks the sphere which is the first to open itself to the meditation of the mystic, the entrance to that inwardness of God which the Zohar very frequently paraphrases by the term raza de-mehemanutha, "the mystery of faith," ie, a domain which discloses its secret only to those who approach it in a spirit of complete devotion.

The union of God and the Shekhinah constitutes the true unity of God, which lies beyond the diversity of His various aspects, Yihud as the Kabbalists call it. Originally, according to the Zohar, this unity was a steady and continuous one. Nothing disturbed the blissful union of the rhythms of divine existence in the one great melody of God, Equally, nothing disturbed at first the steady contact of God with the worlds of creation, in which His life pulsates, and particularly with the human world.
The Zohar's sexual symbolism reflects the influence of two different tendencies. Insofar as it shows a positive attitude toward the function of sexual life, within the limits ordained by divine law, it may be said to represent a genuinely Jewish outlook. Chastity is indeed one of the highest moral values of Judaism: Joseph, who by his chastity has "upheld the covenant" is regarded by the Midrash and the Kabbalah as the prototype of the righteous man, the true Zaddik. But at no time was sexual asceticism accorded the dignity of a religious value, and the mystics make no exception. Too deeply was the first command of the Torah, Be fruitful and multiply, impressed upon their minds. The contrast to other forms of mysticism is striking enough to be worth mentioning: non-Jewish mysticism, which glorified and propagated asceticism, ended sometimes by transplanting eroticism into the relation of man to God. Kabbalism, on the other hand, was tempted to discover the mystery of sex within God himself. For the rest it rejected asceticism and continued to regard marriage not as a concession to the frailty of the flesh but as one of the most sacred mysteries. Every true marriage is a symbolical realization of the union of God and the Shekhinah. In a tract on the "union of a man with his wife" which was later ascribed to Nahmanides, Joseph Gikatila gave a similar interpretation of the mystical significance of marriage. The Kabbalists deduced from Gen IV, i "And Adam knew Eve his wife" that "knowledge" always means the realization of union, be it that of wisdom (or reason) and intelligence, or that of the King and the Shekhinah. Thus knowledge itself received a sublime erotic quality in this new Gnostical system, and this point is often stressed in Kabbalistic writings. [p235]
Medieval Hasidic Tradition (Germany)
The glory of God, the Kavod, ie, that aspect of God which he reveals to Man, is to the Hasidim not the Creator but the First Creation. The idea is derived from Saadia whose doctrine of divine glory was intended to serve as an explanation of the Biblical anthropomorphisms and the appearance of God in the vision of the prophets. According to him, God, who remains infinite and unknown in the role of Creator, has produced the glory as "a created light, the first of all creations." This Kavod is "the great radiance called Shekhinah" and it is also identical with the ruah ha-kodesh, the "holy spirit", out of whom there speaks the voice and word of God. This primeval light of divine glory is later revealed to the prophets and mystics in various forms and modifications, "thus to one, and differently to the other, in accordance with the demands of the hour." [Gershom G. Scholem, p111]

Jehudah the Hasid has laid down his own doctrine of Kavod in a "Book of the Glory," of which only some scattered quotations have survived. . . . Like his pupil, Eleazar, Jehudah distinguished between two kinds of glory: One is an "inner glory" (Kavod Penimi) which is conceived as being identical with the Shekhinah and the holy spirit and as having no form, but a voice. While man cannot directly communicate with God, he can "connect himself with the glory." [The point stressed here is that] in the "Book of Life," a document written about 1200 AD, the Kavod is actually defined as the divine will, the "holy spirit," the word of God, and conceived as inherent in all creatures.

"The Mystic Form of Hasidic Prayer"
Hasiduth -- leads man to the pinnacles of true fear and love of God. In its sublimest manifestations, pure fear of God is identical with love and devotion for Him, not from a need for protection against the demons, or from fear of temptation, but because in this mystical state a flood of joy enters the soul and sweeps away every trace of mundane and egotistical feeling. "The soul is full of love of God and bound with ropes of love, in joy and lightness of heart. He is not like one who serves his master unwillingly, but even when one tries to hinder him, the love of service burns in his heart, and he is glad to fulfill the will of his Creator . . . For when the soul thinks deeply about the fear of God, then the flame of heartfelt love bursts in it and the exultation of innermost joy fills the heart . . . And the lover thinks not of his advantage in the world, he does not care about the pleasures of his wife or of his sons and daughters, but all this is as nothing to him, everything except that he may do the will of his Creator, do good unto others, keep sanctified the name of God . . . And all the contemplation of his thoughts burns in the fire of love for Him. [Gershom G. Scholem, p95]

The Holy Spirit : or, God with us

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The Shekhinah : divine feminine

Bob Shepherd
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