Shekhinah

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Christian artistic depiction: "The Shekinah Glory Enters the Tabernacle"; illustration from The Bible and Its Story Taught by One Thousand Picture Lessons; Charles F. Horne and Julius A. Bewer (Ed.), 1908

Shekinah, Shechinah, Shechina, or Schechinah (Hebrew: שכינה‎), is the English spelling of a grammatically feminine Hebrew name of God in Judaism. The original word means the dwelling or settling, and denotes the dwelling or settling of the Divine Presence of God, especially in the Temple in Jerusalem.

Etymology[edit]

Shekinah is derived from the Hebrew verb שכן. In Biblical Hebrew that Semitic root means literally to settle, inhabit, or dwell, and is used frequently in the Hebrew Bible. In Mishnaic Hebrew the noun is often used to refer to birds' nesting and nests. ("Every bird nests [shekinot] with its kind, and man with its like, Talmud Baba Kammah 92b.) and can also mean "neighbor" ("If a neighbor and a scholar, the scholar is preferred" Talmud Ketubot 85b).

The word for Tabernacle, mishkan, is a derivative of the same root and is used in the sense of dwelling-place in the Bible, e.g. Psalm 132:5 ("Before I find a place for God, mishkanot (dwelling-places) for the Strong One of Israel.") Accordingly, in classic Jewish thought, the Shekinah refers to a dwelling or settling in a special sense, a dwelling or settling of Divine Presence, to the effect that, while in proximity to the Shekinah, the connection to God is more readily perceivable.

Some Christian theologians have connected the concept of Shekinah to the Greek term "Parousia", "presence" "arrival," which is used in the New Testament in a similar way for "Divine Presence".[1]

Meaning in Judaism[edit]

The Shekinah is held by some to represent the feminine attributes of the presence of God (Shekinah being a feminine word in Hebrew), based especially on readings of the Talmud.[2]

Manifestation[edit]

The Shekinah is referred to as manifest in the Tabernacle and the Temple in Jerusalem throughout Rabbinic literature. It is also reported as being present in the acts of public prayer, ("Whenever ten are gathered for prayer, there the Shekinah rests" Talmud Sanhedrin 39a); righteous judgment ("when three sit as judges, the Shekinah is with them." Talmud Berachot 6a), and personal need ("The Shekinah dwells over the headside of the sick man's bed" Talmud Shabbat 12b; "Wheresoever they were exiled, the Shekinah went with them." Megillah 29a).

Absence of the Temple[edit]

The Talmud expounds a Beraita (oral tradition) which illuminates the manner in which the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) is to sprinkle the blood of the bull-offering towards the Parochet (Curtain) separating the Hekhal (sanctuary) from the Kodesh Hakodashim (Holy of Holies):

[And so shall he do in the midst of the Tent of Meeting] that dwells (shokhen) among them in the midst of their impurities (Leviticus 16:16). Even at a time when the Jews are impure, the Shekinah (Divine Presence) is with them.

A certain Sadducee said to Rabbi Chanina: Now [that you have been exiled], you are certainly impure, as it is written: "Her impurity is [visible] on her hems." (Lamentations 1:9). He [Rabbi Chanina] said to him: Come see what is written regarding them: [The Tent of Meeting] that dwells among them in the midst of their impurities. Even in a time that they are impure, the Divine Presence is among them.
Talmud Tractate Yoma 56b

Jewish sources[edit]

The Talmud also says that the Shekhinah rests on man neither through gloom, nor through sloth, nor through frivolity, nor through levity, nor through talk, nor through idle chatter, but only through a matter of joy in connection with a precept, as it is said, But now bring me a minstrel. And it came to pass, when the minstrel played, that the hand of the Lord came upon him. [2Kings 3:15] [Shabbat 30b]

The Shekinah is associated with the transformational spirit of God regarded as the source of prophecy:

After that thou shalt come to the hill of God, where is the garrison of the Philistines; and it shall come to pass, when thou art come thither to the city, that thou shalt meet a band of prophets coming down from the high place with a psaltery, and a timbrel, and a pipe, and a harp, before them; and they will be prophesying. And the spirit of the LORD will come mightily upon thee, and thou shalt prophesy with them, and shalt be turned into another man.

The prophets made numerous references to visions of the presence of God, particularly in the context of the Tabernacle or Temple, with figures such as thrones or robes filling the Sanctuary, which have traditionally been attributed to the presence of the Shekinah. Isaiah wrote "I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne high and lifted up, and his train filled the Temple." (Isaiah 6:1). Jeremiah implored "Do not dishonor the throne of your glory" (Jeremiah 14:21) and referred to "Thy throne of glory, on high from the beginning, Thy place of our sanctuary" (Jeremiah 17:12). The Book of Ezekiel speaks of "the glory of the God of Israel was there [in the Sanctuary], according to the vision that I saw in the plain." (Ezekiel 8:4)

Meaning in Hassidic Judaism[edit]

Hassidic Judaism regards the Kabbalah, in which the Shekinah has special significance, as having scriptural authority.[citation needed] The word Matronit is also employed to represent this usage.[citation needed]

Sabbath Bride[edit]

This recurrent theme is best known from the writings and songs of the legendary mystic of the 16th century, Rabbi Isaac Luria. Here is a quotation from the beginning of his famous shabbat hymn:

"I sing in hymns
to enter the gates
of the Field
of holy apples.
"A new table
we prepare for Her,
a lovely candelabrum
sheds its light upon us.
"Between right and left
the Bride approaches,
in holy jewels
and festive garments..."

A paragraph in the Zohar starts: "One must prepare a comfortable seat with several cushions and embroidered covers, from all that is found in the house, like one who prepares a canopy for a bride. For the Shabbat is a queen and a bride. This is why the masters of the Mishna used to go out on the eve of Shabbat to receive her on the road, and used to say: 'Come, O bride, come, O bride!' And one must sing and rejoice at the table in her honor ... one must receive the Lady with many lighted candles, many enjoyments, beautiful clothes, and a house embellished with many fine appointments ..."

The tradition of the Shekinah as the Shabbat Bride, the Shabbat Kallah, continues to this day.

Jewish prayers[edit]

The 17th blessing of the daily Amidah prayer said in Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform services is "Blessed are You, God, who returns His Presence (shekinato) to Zion."

The Liberal Jewish prayer-book for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (Machzor Ruach Chadashah) contains a creative prayer based on Avinu Malkeinu, in which the feminine noun Shekinah is used in the interests of gender neutrality.[3]

Yiddish song[edit]

The concept of Shekinah is also associated with Holy Spirit in Jewish tradition, such as in Yiddish song: Vel ich, sh'chine tsu dir kummen "Will I, Shekinah, to you come".[4]

Christianity[edit]

In addition to the various accounts indicating the presence or glory of God recorded in the Hebrew Bible, many Christians also consider the Shekinah to be manifest in numerous instances in the New Testament.

The public domain Easton's Bible Dictionary, published in 1897, says,

Shekinah – a Chaldee word meaning resting-place, not found in Scripture, but used by the later Jews to designate the visible symbol of God's presence in the Tabernacle, and afterwards in Solomon's temple. When the Lord led Israel out of Egypt, he went before them "in a pillar of a cloud." This was the symbol of his presence with his people. God also spoke to Moses through the 'Shekinah' out of a burning bush. For references made to it during the wilderness wanderings, see Exodus 14:20; 40:34-38; Leviticus 9:23, 24; Numbers 14:10; 16:19, 42. It is probable that after the entrance into Canaan this glory-cloud settled in the tabernacle upon the ark of the covenant in the most holy place. We have, however, no special reference to it till the consecration of the temple by Solomon, when it filled the whole house with its glory, so that the priests could not stand to minister (1 Kings 8:10–13; 2 Chr. 5:13, 14; 7:1–3). Probably it remained in the first temple in the holy of holies as the symbol of Jehovah’s presence so long as that temple stood. It afterwards disappeared.

[1]

References to the Shekinah in Christianity often see the presence and the glory of the Lord as being synonymous,[5] as illustrated in the following verse from Exodus;

And Moses went up into the mount, and the cloud covered the mount. And the glory of Jehovah abode upon mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days: and the seventh day he called unto Moses out of the midst of the cloud. And the appearance of the glory of Jehovah was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel.

—Exodus 24:15–17 ASV

Lord[edit]

Spirit[edit]

The Shekinah in the New Testament is commonly equated to the presence or indwelling of the Spirit of the Lord (generally referred to as the Holy Spirit, or Spirit of Christ) in the believer, drawing parallels to the presence of God in Solomon's Temple. In contradistinction with the Old Testament where the Holy of Holies signified the presence of God, from the New Testament onwards, it is the Holy Spirit that reminds us of God's abiding presence. Furthermore, in the same manner that the Shekhinah is linked to prophecy in Judaism, so it is in Christianity:

For no prophecy ever came by the will of man: but men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit.

2 Peter 1:21 ASV

Glory[edit]

Where references are made to the Shekinah as manifestations of the glory of the Lord associated with his presence, Christians find numerous occurrences in the New Testament in both literal (as in Luke 2:9 which refers to the "glory of the Lord" shining on the shepherds at Jesus' birth)[6] as well as spiritual forms (as in John 17:22, where Jesus speaks to God of giving the "glory" that God gave to him to the people).[7] A contrast can be found in Ichabod, so named as a result of the Ark of the Covenant being captured by the Philistines: "The glory is departed from Israel" (1 Samuel 4:22 KJV).

Divine Presence[edit]

By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night.

—Exodus 13:21

Islam[edit]

Arabic: سكينةsakīnah is mentioned six times in the Quran, in chapters 2, 9 and 48.[8]

Their prophet said to them: "The sign of his kingship is that the Ark will come to you in which there is tranquility from your Lord and a relic from the family of Moses and the family of Aaron, borne by the angels.

Al-Qurtubi mentions in his famous exegesis, in explanation of the above-mentioned verse, that according to Wahb ibn Munabbih, Sakinah is a spirit from God that speaks, and, in the case of the Israelites, where people disagreed on some issue, this spirit came to clarify the situation, and used to be a cause of victory for them in wars. According to Ali, "Sakinah is a sweet breeze/wind, whose face is like the face of a human". Mujahid mentions that "when Sakinah glanced at an enemy, they were defeated", and ibn Atiyyah mentions about the Ark of the Covenant (at-Tabut), to which the Sakina was associated, that souls found therein peace, warmth, companionship and strength.

Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj Nishapuri says in his Sahih al-Bukhari, that a certain man (during the time of Muhammad), was reciting the sura al-Kahf from the Quran by his tethered horse, and as he was reciting, a cloud engulfed him, which was encircling and descending, whose sight caused his horse to jump and move, and so when morning came he went to Muhammad and informed him of what occurred, to which Muhammad replied that it was the Sakinah that descended for the Quran.

According to Sunni traditions, when Muhammad was persecuted in Mecca and the time came for him to emigrate to Madinah (Medina), he took temporary refuge with his companion Abu Bakr in the cave of Thawr. Seeking to be hidden from the Makkans who were looking for him, it was at Thawr where God brought down His sakina over them, protecting them from their enemies. According to Sufism, it was at Thawr that Abu Bakr was blessed with divine secrets whose transmission from him to the latter generations formed the Naqshbandi path of Sufism. It was this experience that led the second Caliph Umar to say that all the good Umar did cannot stand as an equivalent to Abu Bakr's sole virtue of companionship with Muhammad at the Thawr cave.

Muhammed's grandson Hussein ibn Ali named one of his daughters Sakina. She tragically perished in a Syrian prison during the imprisonment of Hussein's family members, mostly women and children, who survived the Battle of Karbala. She was the first person in the history of Islam to have been given the name Sakinah. It is currently a popular female name in most Islamic cultures.

Contemporary scholarship[edit]

Raphael Patai[edit]

In the work by anthropologist Raphael Patai entitled The Hebrew Goddess, the author argues that the term Shekhinah refers to a goddess by comparing and contrasting scriptural and medieval Jewish Kabbalistic source materials. Patai draws a historic distinction between the Shekhinah and the Matronit.

In the bestselling thriller The Torah Codes by Ezra Barany, the storyline refers to the Shekhinah as a goddess and one of the characters is even named Patai. In the appendix are essays by Rabbi Shefa Gold, Zvi Bellin, and Tania Schweig about the Shekhinah.[9]

Comparative religion[edit]

  • The Qur'an mentions the Sakina, or Tranquility, referring to God's blessing of solace and succour upon both the Children of Israel and Muhammad. Interestingly, Sakina, or Sakina bint Husayn, was also the name of the youngest female child of Husayn ibn Ali, ostensibly the first girl in recorded history to be given the name.
  • "Shekhinah", often in plural, is also present in some gnostic writings written in Aramaic, such as the writings of the Manichaeans and the Mandaeans, as well as others. In these writings, shekhinas are described as hidden aspects of God, somewhat resembling the Amahrāspandan of the Zoroastrians.[10]

Gustav Davidson[edit]

American poet Gustav Davidson listed Shekhinah as an entry in his reference work A Dictionary of Angel, stating that she is the female incarnation of Metatron.

Branch Davidians[edit]

Lois Roden, whom the original Branch Davidian Seventh-Day Adventist Church acknowledged as their teacher/prophet from 1978 to 1986, laid heavy emphasis on women's spirituality and the feminine aspect of God. She published a magazine, Shekinah, often rendered SHEkinah, in which she explored the concept that the Shekinah is the Holy Spirit. Articles from Shekinah are reprinted online at the Branch Davidian website.[11]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Neal DeRoo, John Panteleimon Manoussakis, Phenomenology and Eschatology: Not Yet in the Now By, Ashgate, 2009, p.27.
  2. ^ Eisenberg, Ronald L. The JPS Guide to Jewish Traditions. The Jewish Publication Society, 2004. ISBN 0-8276-0760-1
  3. ^ Rabbis Drs. Andrew Goldstein & Charles H Middleburgh, ed. (2003). Machzor Ruach Chadashah (in English and Hebrew). Liberal Judaism. p. 137. 
  4. ^ Ruth Rubin Voices of a people: the story of Yiddish folksong p234
  5. ^ Zechariah and Jewish Renewal Fred P. Miller
  6. ^ Acclamations of the Birth of Christ, by J. Hampton Keathley, III, Th.M. at bible.org (retrieved 13 August 2006
  7. ^ The King of Glory, by Richard L. Strauss at bible.org (retrieved 13 August 2006)
  8. ^ 2/248 9/26, 9/40, 48/4, 48/18, 48/26.
  9. ^ Barany, Ezra. The Torah Codes. Dafkah Books, 2011 pp. 349–366.
  10. ^ Jonas, Hans, The Gnostic Religion, 1958, p. 98.
  11. ^ General Association of Branch Davidian Seventh-Day Adventists, page found 2010-09-14.

External links[edit]