by Reuven Kimelman (from First Things, December 2009)
On Abraham Joshua Heschel, see also:
GOD SEARCHES FOR MAN...
In the phrase we need each other is embedded in the concept of Israel’s power to diminish or enhance God’s might. This opinion, which served as a cornerstone of kabbalistic teaching, is already alluded to in a homily in Sifre (319): “You neglected the Rock that begot you” (Deut. 32:18). The word teshi (“neglected”) can be understood in relation to the word teshishut (“feebleness”), whence the interpretation “You weaken the power of the One above . . . .” This approach achieved its classic formulation in the mouth of R. Judah b. Simon, an amora of the third to fourth generation of Eretz Israel: “As long as the righteous comply with the Divine will they augment the Power above, as it says ‘And now, I pray Thee, let the strength of the Lord be enhanced’ (Num. 14:17). But if not, then, as it were, ‘You enfeebled the Rock that begot you’ (Deut. 32:18).” Similarly: “As long as Israel complies with the Divine will they augment the Power above, as it says: ‘In God we shall make [create] power’ (Ps. 60:14); and if not, as it were, say, “and they [i.e., Israel] are gone without strength before the pursuer” (Lam. 1:6). According to the Zohar (2:33a), this idea is intimated in the verse “Give power to God” (Ps. 68:35).
In volume I there is an entire section dealing with the Torat Hashekinah . Without the principle of God in search of man, the whole idea of shekinah is not intelligible . . . . It permeates rabbinic literature and post-rabbinic thought in Judaism, and it is missing in our discussion and in Maimonides’s list of dogmas. Actually the idea of pathos , which I consider to be the central idea in prophetic theology, contains the doctrine of the shekinah . . . Without an understanding of the idea of shekinahwe fail completely to understand the field of Jewish theology or the theme of God in search of man which I consider to be the summary of Jewish theology.
are inspired by a bold and dangerously paradoxical idea that not only is God necessary to man but man is also necessary to God, to the unfolding of his plans in this world. Thoughts of this kind are indicated and even expressed in various rabbinic sources.... In the Zohar this idea is formulated in a more specific way.... The Holy One, as it were, said: “When Israel is found to be worthy below, my power prevails in the universe; but when Israel is found to be unworthy, she weakens my power above, and the power of severe judgment predominates in the world.”
"He (God) needs us even as we need him" was a favorite axiom with certain mystics. In the language of the rabbis we should express the same sentiment thus, “One God through Israel, and one Israel through God." They are his selected people, and he is their selected portion.
This dictum is directed against oversimplified faith. The non-manifestation of God’s power is not indicative of the absence of that power, and one must not come to God with the complaint “where is Thy power?” but there is a nexus between the revelation of this power and the actions of human beings.
Evil deeds and transgressions can banish the shekinah , as it were, from the world. In the view of the Sages, the ethical and religious conduct of man determines both the manifestation of God’s presence in this world and the revelation of his power and might.
The Mystical Meaning of Lekhah Dodi and Kabbalat Shabbat , and the audio books The Moral Meaning of the Bible and The Hidden Poetry of The Jewish Prayerbook.is a professor of Classical Judaica at Brandeis University. He is the author of
GOD SEARCHES FOR MAN...