After the first human couple violated the Divine mandate, the Torah records:
"They heard the voice of the Compassionate and Just One passing through the Garden toward evening, and the man and his wife hid from the presence of the Compassionate and Just One among the trees of the Garden." (Genesis 3:8)
The verse begins by stating that they heard the voice of the Compassionate and Just One "mishalech" - a term which means "passing through" or "walking." The Midrash notes that this Hebrew verb is in the reflexive form - describing an action directed back upon the doer. According to the Midrash, this alludes to the following idea: The Shechinah was withdrawing from the earth. And the Midrash adds:
“The primary dwelling of the Shechinah was in the lower, earthly world; however, when the first man/woman sinned, the Shechinah retreated to the lowermost heaven.” (Genesis Rabbah 19:7)
The Midrash then describes how the Shechinah began to return to the earth through the deeds of our righteous ancestors. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch cites this teaching of the Midrash, and he explains that the goal of our spiritual path is our reunion with the Shechinah on earth. He writes: “To reopen the gates of Paradise; to restore peace and harmony on earth, peace for both the human being and beast; to bring the Shechinah back to earth – that is the aim of the Torah and its reward” (commentary to Genesis 3:8).
In Letter 5 of this series, “Back to the Garden,” we began to discuss the Divine Promise that the Land of Israel will become like the Garden of Eden, if we fulfill all the mitzvos – the Divine path of tzedek. The Compassionate One mentions the various blessings that we will then experience in the Land, including the following blessing:
I will set My Presence among you, and My spirit shall not reject you." (Leviticus 26:11)
"I will set My Presence among you" - "My Shechinah will dwell in your midst, wherever you shall be." (Commentary of the Sforno)
The Compassionate One adds:
"I will walk among you, and I will be your God, and you will be My people." (26:12).
Rashi explains the above Divine promise in the following manner: "I will stroll with you in the Garden of Eden like one of you, and you will not tremble because of Me. One might think that you will not revere Me; thus, to teach otherwise, the verse states, 'I will be your God.' "
It is written, “All your mitzvos are tzedek” (Psalm 119:172). When we fulfill “all” the mitzvos of tzedek, we will return to the Garden and be reunited with the Beloved Shechinah, Whose name is tzedek.
Although this intimate reunion will take place in the messianic age, we can get a “taste” of this experience on the holy Shabbos, for, as we hope to discuss in the future, the arrival of Shabbos represents the arrival of the Shechinah – the “feminine” Divine Presence. This is a reason why we refer to Shabbos as the “bride” and the “Queen.” For example, the Talmud describes how certain sages would welcome the arrival of Shabbos: Rabbi Chaninah would say, “Come, let us go and greet the Shabbos Queen.” And Rabbi Yannai would say, “Enter, O bride! Enter O bride!” (Shabbos 119a).
Have a Good and Sweet Shabbos,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen
1. The People of Israel are to have a pioneering role in the “return” of the Shechinah, and some of the biblical commentators find a reference to this role in the following prophetic proclamation of Noah concerning the future role of his son, Shem – the ancestor of the People of Israel:
“He (God) will dwell in the tents of Shem” (Genesis 9:27). Rashi explains, “He will cause His Shechinah to dwell in Israel.”
Rabbi Hirsch, in his commentary on this phrase, explains that the “Shechinah” is the Torah’s ideal, for the Torah teaches what we must do so that God will draw near to us in “this” world. Rabbi Hirsch adds:
“This is the Torah’s aim and goal for the Jewish people, and this is destined to be the lot of all humankind, when they return to ‘the way that leads to the Tree of Life’ (Genesis 3:24).
2. Torah teachings can have several levels of meaning. We can therefore understand the “withdrawal” of the Shechinah from the earth in the following manner:
From the perspective of the human being, the full glory of the Shechinah is no longer apparent, and it seems that the Shechinah has withdrawn from the earth. The Shechinah has not truly withdrawn, however, from our earthly world, as the Midrash states, “There is no place on earth which is devoid of the Shechinah" (Exodus Rabbah 2:5). The Shechinah is therefore present everywhere, but to the self-centered human being, the Shechinah is now hidden from view. The self-centered human being cannot perceive the Shechinah, for when he views the world, he sees only himself. In other words, he views everyone and everything as objects for his gratification.
When we speak of the return of the Shechinah, we speak about the human being’s ability to once again perceive the Shechinah, Whose name is tzedek. Our tradition finds a reference to this idea in the following verse: "As for me, through tzedek, I shall behold Your Shechinah" (Psalm 17:15 - translation of the Talmud, Baba Basra 10a).
3. The Vilna Gaon, a leading sage of the 18th century, offers the following insight on the phrase, "They heard the voice of the Compassionate and Just One passing through the Garden toward evening.” He explains that before the sin, Adam and Eve merited a revelation of the Shechinah “face to face”; however, after the sin, they no longer saw the Shechinah; instead, they only heard the voice of the Shechinah. (Cited in Sha’arei Aharon)
4. Letter 5 of this series, “Back to the Garden,” appears in the archive on our website, and the following is a direct link: http://www.shemayisrael.co.il/publicat/hazon/tzedaka/newbeginning.htm