The Motherly Shechinah

“For thus said the Compassionate One…Like a person whose mother comforts him, so will I comfort you, and in Jerusalem you will be comforted.” (Isaiah 66:12,13)


Dear Friends,


In our Hazon letters, we often refer to Hashem as “the Compassionate One.” As our sages taught: “Wherever God is referred to as Hashem, it designates the Divine attribute of compassion, as it is written (Exodus 34:6): ‘Hashem, Hashem, Compassionate God’ ” (Sifrei on Deuteronomy 3:24).


Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains that the Hebrew word “rachamim” - compassion - is derived from the Hebrew word “rechem” - womb. The most sacred Name of God that we refer to as Hashem can therefore connote the compassion of a mother for the life which comes from her womb. (Commentary to Genesis 43:14.)


With "motherly" love, Hashem longs for us when we have strayed, and when we begin the process of “teshuvah” – return  - Hashem will welcome us home. This message is found in the prophecy about “Ephraim” – a name of our people – which is chanted on the Second Day of Rosh Hashana. In response to Ephraim’s cry, “Bring me back, and I shall return, for You are the Compassionate One, My God” (Jeremiah 31:17), the Compassionate One responds:


“Is not Ephraim My precious child, the child of My tender care? For even while I speak against him, I remember him constantly; therefore My innards yearn for him; I will surely have compassion upon him, spoke the Compassionate One.” (Jeremiah 31:19)


The classical commentator, Rashi, in his commentary on the above verse, writes, “These are the words of the Shechinah.”


This loving message of the Shechinah reminds us that we do not need an intermediary in order to return to our Beloved. In this spirit, the noted 13th century sage, Rebbenu Yonah of Gerona, conveys the following universal message:


“O human being who has willfully sinned or erred and seeks to take refuge under the wings of the Shechinah and to enter the paths of teshuvah, I will make you wise and enlighten you in the proper path to travel. On that day, let him cast off all the sins he has committed and consider himself as though he was newly born on that day.” (The Foundation of Teshuvah – cited in the ArtScroll Machzor for Rosh Hashana).


As Rebbeinu Yonah reminds us, returning to the paths of “teshuvah” enables a human being to be born again and to come under the wings of the motherly Shechinah. In this spirit, the Torah mentions that Avraham and Sarah were accompanied by “the souls they made in Haran” (Genesis 12:5). Rashi, citing Midrash Rabbah, writes: “They are said to have ‘made’  the souls, for they took them in under the wings of the Shechinah.”


There is a prophecy about a dialogue between Zion and the Compassionate One regarding the painful exile, and this dialogue can serve as another example of the relationship of the Shechinah to Her children. The dialogue opens with the following statement of Zion, and according to the 12th century biblical commentator, Ibn Ezra, “Zion” in this verse is a poetic reference to the Community of Israel:


“And Zion said: The Compassionate One has forsaken me; the Master of All has forgotten me.” (Isaiah 49:14).


“The Compassionate One has forsaken me” – The Shechinah has left me. (Targum Yonasan)


And what is the Divine response to the Community of Israel? The Compassionate One answers:


“Can a woman forget her baby, or not feel compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, but I would not forget you.” (verse 15)


In this statement we find Divine reassurance that the Shechinah has not abandoned Israel. And even if in rare situations a human mother may forget her child, this is not the case with the eternal and loyal Divine love: “Even these may forget, but I would not forget you."


Just as a child learns to trust his loving mother, so too, we human beings are to develop the humility which will allow us to trust in Hashem in all matters – both physical and spiritual. This concept is expressed in the following prayer of King David:


“O Compassionate One, my heart was not proud, and my eyes were not haughty, nor did I pursue matters too great and too wondrous for me. I swear that I calmed and quieted my soul like a suckling child on its mother, like a suckling child is my soul.” (Psalm 131:1,2)   


“Like a suckling child is my soul” - My soul within me was before You as an infant suckling its mother’s breasts. (Rashi)


In Aramaic, a language which is closely related to Hebrew, the verb “racham” often means “love”; moreover, a beautiful Aramaic name for Hashem which is used by our sages is “Rachmana” – a name which can be translated as, “The Loving One.” The above teachings concerning the Shechinah remind us that the Compassionate One is the Loving One. In this spirit, the Prophet Jeremiah proclaimed to us:


“Thus said the Compassionate One… I have loved you with an eternal love, therefore I have extended lovingkindness to you.” (Jeremiah 31:1,2)


May Rachmana bless us with a Good and Sweet Shabbos.

Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen  (See below)


Related Teachings:


1. Examples of how the word “”love” in Aramaic is “racham” can be found in the ancient Aramaic translation of the Torah known as “Targum Onkelos.” (See Genesis 25:28, 29:18; Deuteronomy 6:5,7:8,10:18,10:19.)


2. The High and Exalted One is also the Loving One, as it is written: “For thus said the High and Exalted One, Who abides forever and Whose Name is Holy: I abide in exaltedness and holiness, but I am with the despondent and lowly of spirit - to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the despondent.” (Isaiah 57:15).

In this proclamation, explains Rashi, the Loving One is telling us, “I am with the lowly and the despondent, upon whom I rest My Shechinah.”


3, Just as a mother hovers over the bed of a sick child, so too, the Shechinah hovers over the bed of a sick person. As the Talmud teaches in the name of Rav: From where do we know that the Shechinah rests on the top of the bed of a sick person? As it says (Psalm 41:4): “The Compassionate One will support him on the sickbed.” (Nedarim 40a)

Hazon - Our Universal Vision