“Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the L-RD of Hosts.”
— Zech. 4:6
The name Shekhinah is related to the word shaken / neighbor or inhabitant. The latter meaning is implied in in Hos. 10:5, "The inhabitants of Samaria shall fear." As neighbor, shaken may designate those that are friendly (Ex. 3:22; Ruth 4:17) or unfriendly (Ps. 44:13, [H 14]; 79:4,12). As such, we can see that this word relates to a "presence" implying nearness and closeness, that is tied to a nearby locality, e.g. among his people, (Ex. 25:8), on Mt. Zion, (Ps. 74:2), His name dwells in Jerusalem, (Deut. 12;11), and will dwell in Jerusalem, (Zech. 8:3). The word Shekhinah, does not appear in the Bible, but was coined based on related words which describe G-d's Presence in the Bible. The word Shekhinah is a noun, and is based on the Biblical verb "shakan," (shin, chaf, nun), and other related verbal forms that can mean "abide, abide, dwell in, stay among, cause to dwell, live among." It can pertain to the physical manifestations of G-d dwelling in the land, e.g. Ex. 24:16, 40:35, Psalm 85:9, [H 10] or dwelling in the cloud, e.g. Num. 9:17-18, 22, 10:12, Job 3:5. (See TWOT articles 7837, 7837a). The related word mishkan, often less accurately translated as "tabernacle" is better translated more literally as "dwelling place" or "abode."
Through the centuries the sages of Yehudah tried to formulate the complex concept of the Shekhinah into succinct definitions. In the Encyclopedia Judaica we are informed, "According to Saadiah Gaon [882-942 C.E.], the Shekhinah is identical with kevod ha-Shem (the glory of G-d), which served as an intermediary between God and man. He suggests that the "glory of G-d" is the Biblical term, and Shekhinah the Talmudic term for the created splendor of light which acts as an intermediary between God and man, and which sometimes takes on human form. Thus when Moses asked to see the glory of God, he was shown the Shekhinah, and when the prophets in their visions saw G-d in human likeness, what they actually saw was not G-d Himself, but the Shekhinah (see Saadiah's interpretation of Ezekiel 1:26, I Kings 22:19, and Daniel 7:9 in Book of Beliefs and Opinions 2:10)."
During the prophetic experience, i.e. from the time of Moses till the times of the Prophets, it was the physical manifestation of the Presence of G-d in our time-space continuum. As such, we can conceptualize it as the means of the visible manifestation of God's Presence in our three-dimensional world. For us moderns, we could call it a Divinely created "interface" with humans. Maimonides, (1135-1204), taught that the Shekhinah is "the light of the glory of G-d." Some say the term Shekhinah signifies "the perceivable majestic presence of G-d among mankind and expresses the principle of G-d’s indwelling omni-presence in all creation." In this regard it is important for us to note that the Shekhinah is the "physical" manifestation of God's Presence, and is not to be confused with the spiritual, infinite, heavenly Presence of God, that we cannot possibly conceive. Solomon referred to this heavenly, omniscient Presence that no earthly construction can contain:
But will God in very truth dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain Thee; how much less this house that I have builded! — I Kings 8:27 (JPS)
Mystics have viewed her as the channel through which Divine light passes into the world. It is also associated with the agency of inspiration and prophecy. It is the inspiring power manifesting in one's conscience as the Bat Kol / Daughter Voice. Overall, the late Aggadata statement in the Talmud is the essential summary of all these points and of what we now need to note: “Come and see how beloved Israel is before G-d, for wherever Israel went into exile, the Shekhinah went with them.” This statement is based on Ez. 11:16, which is written for us to show us that though it was less perceivable, our very survival and guidance throughout history was through the agency of the Shekhinah:
"Therefore say: Thus saith the Lord GOD: Although I have removed them far off among the nations, and although I have scattered them among the countries, yet have I been to them as a little sanctuary in the countries where they are come;"
Ezekiel witnessed this departure of the Glory / Kavod of the Lord from the holy Temple (Ez. 10:18-19). The Kavod never returned to the Second Temple in that full manifestation. Though it was present to a lesser degree in the there, it left from there too and to this day "she" mutually shares in our exile. This in itself is something serious and disturbing we need to contemplate. Today the holy Spirit though not manifesting publicly in a spectacular way as in the days of old, is always accessible by us and is always available for us, though in a more muted way. God never shuts Himself off completely from those who seek Him. Indeed, the Midrash’s romantic-sounding statement tells us that the Divine Guidance, with all its aforementioned attributes always was and even now is available to Israel. As her name implies closeness and nearness, she is with us now, but has to be sought out. The Shekhinah has also been defined as the "hidden Divine Providence." Early sages basing their conclusions on Lev 16:16, said the Shekhinah, though concealed or muted in its manifestation, was to dwell among the exiled children of Israel even in their impurity (Yoma 56b, Megillah 29a). We can see here through such love for Israel, G-d’s hand, though hidden, was to shape Israel's fate and guide them to their destiny, throughout their entire history, (Amos 9:9).
Both rabbinic reflection and mystical literature agree that there is an intimate connection between the Shekhinah and the people of Israel. Though they are different perspectives, they both refer to G-d’s active presence being present everywhere in creation, (Bava Bathra 25a). In rabbinic conception, the Shekhinah is the manifestation of G-d’s presence, i.e. it is "the holy Spirit of G-d by which man can feel and see G-d’s presence." This definition is based on the Bible, where we first encounter the "Shekhinah" when the Israelites set out from Succoth in their escape from Egypt. There it appeared as a pillar of cloud in the day and a pillar of fire by night:
And they took their journey from Succoth, and encamped in Etham, in the edge of the wilderness. And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; that they might go by day and by night: the pillar of cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night, departed not from before the people. — Exodus 13:20-22 (JPS).
Rabbinic teachings maintain that "Whenever the children of Israel gather for worship, where ever judges sit at court, even when one man studies the Torah, the Shekhinah is said to be present," (Berakhot 6a). Often the terms Shekhinah and Ruach haKodesh [holy Spirit] are used interchangeably to denote the Divine Presence in the form of revelation and inspiration. In the Zohar, the Shekhinah is defined dynamically as "G-d’s face turned toward creation." It is that aspect of G-d's Light that dictates to everything of what form it is supposed to be in the physical universe. It is the "life force" that animates and underlies the very laws of nature. Based in this principle, popular culture has morphed this force in nature as "Mother Nature." However, the Shekhinah is not a person, e.g. the Angel of God's Presence, but is defined as G-d’s manifest power which has a feminine polarity, an aspect of the Divine life force with which G-d interfaces with humanity. “She,” so to speak, comprises all the functions and dynamics of this Divine power for our benefit. In the sephirotic tree, the blueprint of the flowchart of energies in the cosmos, it is the sephirah [conduit] of Malkuth (Kingdom), through which the flow of Divine light touches the world in general and Israel in particular. For this reason in visions and dreams it may be depicted as a "stream of flowing liquid light." This portal has also been called Knesset [congregation of] Israel. Because of this identification, the people of Israel are understood to eventually become the mystical embodiment of the Divine Presence in the world. Because the Shekhinah’s polarity is female, this is a female embodiment, and is one reason why Israel is referred to by feminine personifications in the Tanach. Our mother Rachel has been traditionally viewed as the type and symbol of the Shekhinah who is searching for her children, (Jer. 31:15). Ideally and ultimately, Israel is to be ensouled by the Shekhinah, Israel’s sanctified collective soul. This is why this feminine principle of Divine Providence is called Em Habanim, Mother of Children, "the Mother of Souls of Israel." Because of this female polarity the Holy of Holies was called the bridal chamber, for the Shekhinah, the manifest Presence of G-d, dwelt there.
Israel was commanded to build a sanctuary for G-d, that He might dwell in / among them, (Ex. 25:8). The Mishkan was to be a working model, physical symbol and direct immediate expression of that directive. It was to be a microcosm of the world we live in, affording us to clearly feel the Divine Presence. However, the command was not limited to the portable Mishkan, the initial working model and ceremonial center. Over time, the nation of Israel was to be built and fashioned into the Mishkan of G-d’s presence in the world. That readying process has been going on for thousands of years. That purification process for this eventuality is the history of Israel. Her training and preparation for the priesthood as the firstborn of G-d are the hard lessons for Israel to learn throughout the millennia. That training period will culminate in the repentance of Israel, her regathering and return to her Husband and her reacceptance of the Covenant, i.e. the Torah, [the marriage contract]. This time it will be incorporated into her very being, i.e. written on the tables of her rectified and truly repentant heart, (Jer. 24:7, 31:33, 32:40). It is then that the quintessential lesson for Israel will have been learned: “And you shall know that I am the L-RD,” (Hos. 2:20, Jer. 31:34). It is then and only then the idols in our hearts will be removed and displaced by what ultimately belongs there, the holy Spirit of God, (Ez. 14:1-11).
Just as the Mishkan was built in the wilderness, Israel is to build the Mishkan of prayers in the wilderness of the nations today. As the Divine Presence came to dwell in the Mishkan, / Tabernacle, likewise it is to come into, i.e. ensoul those Israelites, of both Yehudah and Ephraim, who prepare, and purify themselves for the indwelling Ruach / Spirit. Just as the Shekhinah guided Israel from Egypt to Mt. Sinai, likewise it is to guide the latter day return process and the regathering of all the Tribes of Israel (Meg. 29a). Today, "she" is also to guide the early returnees who are on the way to reaccept the Covenant now. As the Shekhinah guided the leaders of Israel then to serve the masses of Israel, likewise G-d is now calling forth a few to leadership training for the regathering task ahead.
It creates in us the rectified will to receive in order to give. Otherwise we remain "unregenerate" and want to receive only for selfish reasons for our own power, aggrandizement and glory. The "power" of the Holy Spirit enables us to truly receive in order to truly give. Thusly we become more like our Father, who is the ultimate giver.
The mystics teach us that the spark and flow if Divine energy is active and dominant in the higher realms. As such, for our human understanding, it has a "male" polarity. With this "male polarity" God reveals himself to us as "G-d the giver." The Shekhinah when it indwells us, is the inner presence of G-d in the heart. As such it "ensouls" us and with this feminine polarity that acts as "G-d the receiver." Paradoxically, in our world that energy is passive and must be acted upon. As such, for our understanding, it can be likened to a "female" polarity that must be engaged by our actions to benefit from her interaction with us. From our perspective in this world, the Shekhinah's energy is basically passive and must be acted upon by doing the mitzvot / commandments commanded in the Torah for Israel. Doing so, we bring out the potential of the Shekhinah's concealed energy into our individual and collective lives. We can do so and "draw her down" by the keeping of the commandments and by asking G-d to imbue us with "her" as the leading and guiding edge of our Souls. The awareness of "her" soft voice, is the "inspiration" of G-d's Guiding Presence within us. It increases as we work with the Torah's commandments to give rather than receive. This process is dependent on giving up our own native demanding inner voice with which all humans are born. From infancy it demands that we receive for ourselves alone. By G-d's plan to raise us as His children, we are to learn to receive in order to give to others. G-d is the greatest giver. If we listen to His Shekhinah's voice within us, we will further His purpose to "ensoul" us with His essence as our Father.
That concealed energy is an aspect of the Divine Life Force that is to empower us, (Zech. 4:6). Paradoxically, when acted upon, it "leads and empowers" our passive souls, and pairs us with the masculine energy from the Higher realms to enable us to be partakers of the Work He has set before us. With such synergy motivating us, we can become partakers of the mission G-d gave us, to improve our world by becoming channels of G-d consciousness into the world. This kind of revelation and the drawing down of the Shekhinah is the part that G-d gives to man to be partakers of His Work to bring about His kingdom. Through repentance, observance of the mitzvot / commandments, focused concerted prayer and right action, we can influence her return into the lives of all Israel. For this reason the sages of Yehudah teach us that "He who studies the Torah with the aim of fulfilling its precepts is worthy to receive the holy Spirit" (Lev. R. XXXV.7). This is our general task as the priestly nation, the firstborn among the children of G-d. It is also the particular task of the first contingent in our times to be awakened by the Creator from the Valley of Dry Bones (Ezekiel 37). As He gave the Ruach ha-Kodesh to Joshua and Caleb, he is waiting now to give His guiding Presence, the holy Spirit to the early hearers of His wake-up call. These early returnees are needed as ambassadors and witnesses to intercede, stand in the gap, and bring to the rest of the Ten Tribes the good report about having returned to the Covenant they made at Mount Sinai. The G-d of Elijah is waiting now to purify those who hear His call and say hineni / here I am for these priestly and ambassadorial functions. The G-d of Israel is waiting to purify those of the returning Ten Tribes, (and all Israel), who call upon Him now to enable them to repent and come out of the sins of the lies they inherited from their fathers, (Jer. 16:11-13). These servants will be needed as "witnesses" to testify to all the world of G-d's mercies upon wayward Israel and the fact that the "resurrection of the ]spiritually] dead" that is to signal that the arrival of the era of Redemption has begun.
To navigate and brake through the obstacles on the way of return out of 2700 years of idolatry, this Divine Guidance is absolutely needed. As we are nearing the approach of the Great Shabbat to come, Israel needs the inspiration of the Shekhinah, G-d’s indwelling holy Spirit to prepare her. We need it to enliven, motivate and guide us in our responsibilities in the work of EliY-h. We need it to guide the Ten Tribes on their homeward-bound journey to the Torah and the Covenant, in order to reconstitute the whole house of Israel.
We of the Ten Tribes in the "Occidental world of the West" will need the Shekhinah acting on us, and make us tremble, for "she" does not dwell where there is sin, strife and uncleanness, (Num. 35:34). We will need that "spirit of repentance" to lead us out of our idolatries. Hosea tells us that:
"Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone." / .חֲבוּר עֲצַבִּים אֶפְרָיִם, הַנַּח-לוֹ ― Hos. 4:17
These idols are with us to this day, for we are joined, (H: חֲבוּר) i.e. coupled with them as in "married" to them. These are the "idols" in our hearts, in the deep psyches, individually and collectively, (Ez. 14:1-7). It is because of these spiritual "whoredoms" that the Tribes of Israel have been cast out of the Land. This message is repeatedly told us with the stern reminders of calamities and destructions that came upon Israel throughout history on the 9th of Av. On this day both Temples were destroyed, which is commemorated by Judaism as a fast day of mourning. If these terrible destructions occurred on this day, then it must be that the G-d of Israel is telling us something extremely important we need to note very carefully. We "note" it by "mourning." "Mourning" means, contemplating the loss of someone we loved. We cannot but be emotionally affected, to weep and be profoundly sad when we "mourn" the loss of one dearly beloved. As such, the horrific events on the 9th of Av are like a shofar blasts we need to "hear" and listen to and contemplate its recurring message throughout history. It seems that all the destructions that have come upon us, were the results of grievous sins; basically blatant departures from the Covenant and its commandments to which we have agreed at Mt. Sinai. If so, for the returnees in the camp of Joseph, the 9th of Av takes on a special significance for on this date the "light" of the Shekhinah departed from Israel and spiritual darkness descended on her. She is in that darkness to this very day. The 9th of Av message like a shofar's blast, shouts into our ears:
"You have departed
from the Covenant, and by leaving it you have chosen death!
Acknowledge [confess] today the sins of your fathers and your own sins in this
regard! Choose life, by returning to
Then He said unto me: 'Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel; behold, they say: Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off. ― Ez. 37:11
This message is part of the "coming alive process" in Ezekiel 37. Though the bones have come together, and the bodies stand on their feet, they say: "Our hope is gone." Why? Because "coming alive to the extent of knowing their identity as Israel is not enough. Because they are NOT connected to their true "lifeline" from G-d which brings them "truly alive" as G-d intends. That "lifeline" is the holy Spirit of G-d, that is to combine with our spirit, form it, shape it, lead it, suffuse it, and ultimately to "ensoul" us with it in a new way. Without it, we are just so many "zombies" as it were, who have come out of the grave, but are not truly "alive." Without the enlivening and empowering assistance of the holy Spirit / Shekhinah of G-d, we will not know what to do much less be able to do it. we need to realize that this is G-d's Work into which we have been drafted. If Zerubbabel was told that he needed the Power of G-d's Spirit to do the restoration in his time, (Zech. 4:6), how much more will we, who have been in 2700 (!) years of idolatry need the same assistance to be loosed from our idols and partake of the restorative Work of EliY-h at the end of days?!... Such contemplation tells us what to do. It is "this [Shekhinah] Face" which we are to seek, for without it we cannot find our way home from the wilderness of the nations' religions, isms, beliefs and mindsets. With this "Shekhinah to "guide" us we cannot truly repent and truly return to G-d, root out the idols from our hearts / psyches, be taught and empowered by Him, and become His servants in the Great Restoration to come, which has already begun. This is why G-d tells us in the Book of Hosea, expressly written to the Ten Tribes in the "latter days:"
As a people we are told
the key to national salvation:
the Psalm that tells of Joseph's example, we are told:
David instructs us:
Zacharia, the prophet of the restoration tells us:
"Therefore say thou unto them, Thus saith the LORD of hosts: Return unto Me, saith the LORD of hosts, and I will return unto you, saith the LORD of hosts." ― Zech. 1:3
Let us with great expectations and effort prepare by changing our garments and come clean with G-d's assistance. Let us ask for the
Shekhinah to indwell our prayers and point and guide us all back to the G-d of Yaakov.
"Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in." — Psalm 24:9
Suggestions on what to do:
This description of the Shekhinah is by
no means complete, but is an attempt to present a small collection of
descriptors, i.e. metaphors, similes and descriptive phrases to assist in some
ways for humans to get an initial grasp of how God interfaces with
humanity. The best way to find out what it is, is to actually do what we
are supposed to do with it and concerning it.