God Within Us

pillaroffireThey shall make for Me a Sanctuary and I shall dwell among them.

Exodus 25:8

The Midrash notes that God did not say, “I shall dwell within it” (the Sanctuary), but “I shall dwell among them” (the Israelites), i.e. the Divine Presence will be within each person.

There are two types of possible relationships. A person may relate to an object, which is a one-way relationship, since the object cannot reciprocate, or a person may react to God and to people, which should be a two-way relationship. Another difference between relating to objects and to beings is that things should be used, whereas God and people should be loved. Unfortunately, the reverse may occur, wherein people fall in love with things but they use God and people. People who behave this way perceive God and people as if they were objects. Inasmuch as the love of oneself is an inevitable fact, love of God and people can occur only when they are permitted to become part of oneself, because then one loves them as one does one’s own eyes and ears.

If my relationship to God is limited to going to the Sanctuary and praying for my needs, then I am merely using Him, and God becomes an external object. But when I make His will mine, then His will resides within me and He becomes part of me. This is undoubtedly what the Zohar means by, “Israel, the Torah, and God are one unit,” because the Torah, which is the Divine will, is inseparable from God, and when one incorporates the Torah with one’s own code of conduct and values, one unites with God.

Today I shall…

…try to make my relationship with God more than an object relationship, by incorporating the Torah to be my will.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Tammuz 26”

The midrash suggests something about Judaism that most Christians don’t see…the idea that there is something of God’s essence or spirit inside each Jewish person and within Israel, the Jewish nation. We tend to think of the Holy Spirit as being given only at Acts 2 to the apostles and subsequently to each Jewish and non-Jewish person who comes to faith in Christ. In Jewish midrash, this event, or something like it, would have occurred at the end of the book of Exodus.

OK, midrash isn’t scripture, so I can’t say that indeed, a portion of the Divine Presence really did inhabit each and every Israelite who lived during the time of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and beyond. But at least in post-Biblical times, if not before, Judaism had the concept of a personal “indwelling” of God as well as God’s general presence among corporate Israel.

No, I’m not forgetting this:

So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord. Also, he gathered seventy men of the elders of the people, and stationed them around the tent. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him; and He took of the Spirit who was upon him and placed Him upon the seventy elders. And when the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied.

Numbers 11:24-25 (NASB)

Not literally every Israelite had this Spirit, only Moses and the seventy elders. But this event is remarkably similar to the event of the giving of the Spirit in Acts 2 and the Spirit in both scriptures is given for the same reason: empowerment. The seventy elders required the Spirit of Hashem in order to judge with fairness and wisdom that matched God’s standards, and the apostles needed wisdom and empowerment to exceed their own human limits and to boldly go forth as emissaries of Moshiach to Jerusalem, Samaria, and beyond.

But Christianity tends to sell the average Israelite in the Tanakh (Old Testament) short. Some Christians hold themselves up as superior spiritually and personally to the Israelites because of the belief that the Holy Spirit automatically inhabited them when they confessed Christ during an altar call or other similar circumstance.

AbrahamI’m having a tough time believing that I have a closer relationship with God than men like Abraham (who we have no record of a Spirit coming upon) or Moses, both of whom spoke with God personally. What was the experience of an Israelite farmer or shepherd who brought a sacrifice to the Mishkah, who brought a Todah (thanksgiving) offering, who approached a God who actually, physically inhabited the Tabernacle as the Divine Presence? What was it like to actually see the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night?

Can we say that the hearts and souls of the Children of Israel were empty of God as He dwelt among them in an incredibly tangible form?

In Torah-study the person is devoted to the subject that he wishes to understand and comes to understand. In davening the devotion is directed to what surpasses understanding.

In learning Torah the Jew feels like a pupil with his master; in davening – like a child with his father.

-“Today’s Day”
Thursday, Tammuz 26, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe; Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan

Sometimes Christians believe they are more “spiritual” than religious Jews, but one of the reasons I tend to read and quote from sources such as Chabad.org and Aish.com is that they show me a spirituality in Judaism that I don’t always find in Christianity. This isn’t to say that there isn’t great spirituality in the church, far from it. It’s just that I don’t believe we have to make an “either/or” selection. I think that God dwelt among and within His people Israel in the desert of Sinai. I think He did so in a very physical and human way during the days when Jesus walked the earth.

And I believe that God is among His people Israel, the Jewish people even today. This does not undo the fact that God is also among and within the Gentiles who are called by His Name in the church as well.

No man can claim to have reached the ultimate truth as long as there is another who has not.

No one is redeemed until we are all redeemed.

Ultimate truth is an unlimited light—and if it is unlimited, how could it shine in one person’s realm and not in another’s?

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“All or No One”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

messiah-prayerI’m not saying that coming to faith in the Messiah doesn’t mean anything, quite the opposite. I’m also not saying there are two paths to salvation, one for the Gentile and one for the Jew (although very soon, I plan on expanding the definition of the “good news” of Messiah considerably in one of my blog posts). I am saying that God didn’t leave His people Israel to save the Gentiles, since we Gentiles only have access to God through the Abrahamic covenant, which comes to us only through Israel; the Jewish people.

I’m also saying this:

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

2 Peter 3:9 (NASB)

This fits with what I just quoted from Rabbi Freeman (though I doubt the Rabbi would have applied it as such). In Christianity, we evangelize to take the good news of Messiah to all people. Judaism doesn’t evangelize but believes that all will be drawn to God through the Messiah, both Jews and Gentiles. From both points of view, God must be present and active in the lives of everybody everywhere, not just “special people.”

A friend of mine sent me a link to a commentary on last week’s Torah reading and pointed me to the last paragraph in the article:

The Midrash of Rav Yitzchak concludes that even today Elijah and Moshiach are still recording accounts of all our deeds to be included in future holy books. These works are sealed and affirmed by God Himself. From this we learn that our actions are not something between us and God alone, but must be done in such a way as to bring the respect and admiration of the surrounding society so as to promote the observance of Torah.

Again, this is midrash and not scripture, but it suggests something that “either/or” literalists may never consider. That the names of the “elect” in the book of the Lamb were written and sealed from before creation, and that names and acts are continually written inside the sealed book. If time were linear for God, words like “before,” “during,” and “after would mean something, but God exists quite outside of linear time. So when something was written before creation, since it is written outside of the linear stream of time and outside the bounds of a created universe, does our concept of “before” that exists within the universe even apply?

Who knows?

Inner lightI was talking earlier to some people at work about genius and “thinking outside the box.” Smart and clever people can be creative and even occasionally brilliant within their own “box” or how they conceptualize the world around them. Only a true genius or arguably a mystic can see themselves, how they think, and what they think about, from outside their own box, observing themselves, observing what they are considering, and realizing that there is an entirely different set of situations and circumstances outside of the box we continually are trying to put God in.

God’s Divine Presence was “contained” in the Tabernacle because God chose to allow it, but God also said that “Heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool” (Isaiah 66:1, Acts 7:49).

There are great mysteries about the nature of salvation, who is saved, and the role of Messiah in the salvation of Israel and the nations. While it is important for us to examine the meaning of all this, it is arrogant for us to assume that we can come to an understanding equal to God’s.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

-Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 5

How is God with the Jewish people today? When God approaches us, are we able to respond to Him? Can we change our mind about God? How does God indwell human beings? I’m not convinced we should be absolutely sure how to answer any of those questions. All I know is that we should all sincerely seek God, and we should all sincerely seek peace, mercy, and justice by performing them day by day.

As it is said, when we study, we are a student and God is our Teacher. When we pray, we are a child and God is our Father. As it has also been said, “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master” (Matthew 10:24). Whether we see ourselves as students, as disciples, as children, or as slaves, we can only humbly turn to God, walk before Him, and wait His good pleasure to reveal what He will.

And only He will judge.

Addendum: See Rabbi Carl Kinbar’s comments below for some corrections to what I’ve written and quoted from in this blog post.


12 thoughts on “God Within Us”

  1. You raised the question of whether concepts like “before”, “during”, and “after” make sense given HaShem’s timelessness and ever-present “now-ness”. One may also ask about distinction between spatial notions like “among”, “upon”, and “within”. HaShem’s Presence is not easy to pin down to specific notions of time and location, and yet clearly He can interact with them at their finest degree of detail. Nonetheless, Rabbi Freeman’s notion that unlimited truth could not shine in one person’s realm and not in another’s might be answered similarly to a response attributed to the Baal Shem Tov on the subject of miracles. He said that they were all around us but that a man may take his little hand and place it in front of his little face and see NOTHING! So it is, I suggest, with the light of truth. Similarly, HaShem’s pervading Presence might be “shut out” in some measure by those who cut themselves off from it.

  2. What would mean that we have free will…the ability to choose to respond to Hashem or not. Would that mean corporately that Israel is inexorably linked to Hashem but individual Jewish people can choose to refuse that connection? What about the Gentiles who come to faith in Hashem through Messiah? Can we later choose to be “unsaved?”

    1. Consider three passages:
      2Tim.2:13 “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.”
      Heb.6:4-6 “4 For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.”
      Gen.6:3 “Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever …”
      The logical inferences (including a particularly midrashic reading of the third passage) are that no one can “accidentally” become “unsaved”, and yet it may be possible deliberately to throw away or reject even the fullest prior experience of HaShem’s blessings by blocking out or denigrating the sacrifice by which atonement was offered and previously accepted — and that HaShem may accept and ratify such a foolish (and apparently permanent) human decision.

      On the one hand this presents the most extremely significant example of human freedom-of-choice, and the high value HaShem places upon it; and on the other, this is conceivably the most terrifyingly frightful notion, probably ranking right up there with cliff-diving directly into the apocalyptic lake of fire.

  3. I think some of the most interesting theology being done today is by scholars like Amos Young of Regent University who see God’s spirit as active and engaged in the whole of God’s creation including those of non-Christian faiths. It is odd that on one hand we proclaim the goodness of God’s creation, his death to redeem it, and his coming again to bring it to fulfillment it and then go on to proclaim this only applies to the Christian religion aspect of that creation. May we all have the grace to see thru the Lens of God’s good creation and embrace those aspects that are in accord with Him.

  4. I believe God talks to everyone. If He didn’t, then no one would gain an awareness of Him and come to faith. On the other hand, I don’t believe that “all roads lead to Rome,” so to speak. If we believe that the God of the Bible is the God, the one and only, then people who follow other religions and philosophies not based on the Bible are not going to have a very good understanding of Him, if they have any understanding at all.

    Oh, I assume it is Amos Yong to whom you are referring, gj.

  5. Hi James,

    Anyone who claims superiority because “God dwells in me” may also be proclaiming judgment on himself if he does not live a consistently godly life. Hebrews 11 should be warning enough not to disparage the Jewish heroes of faith who came before us.

    This may seem nit-picky, but there are problems with Rabbi Twersky’s quote which begins, “The Midrash says . . .”

    The Midrash as a whole was produced by Chazal, the enormously honored sages of early Judaism. If Judaism’s most honored sages say something as a group, it has the highest status; but the interpretation of an individual sage must be weighed against the interpretations of other sages of the Midrash. Therefore, the wording “The Midrash says . . .” is common but somewhat misleading when, in fact, the quoted midrash may be entirely inconsistent with the vast majority of midrashim. The idea that individual midrashim are, in themselves, authoritative is a modern aberration. You won’t find it in the Midrash itself.

    There are at least two more problems with Rabbi Twersky’s quote. First, there are numerous midrashim that interpret the entire passage in Exodus to say in only one way: the Holy One would dwell in the Sanctuary , among (not within) Israel, and that Israel would meet with here there (see Ex. 29:42-43). The consensus of midrashim is that the Sanctuary, not the inward being of Israel, is the place where God would dwells. Second, I can’t find the midrash he quotes and the words “i.e. the Divine Presence will be within each person. is actually the comment of a 17th century Polish rabbi known as the Tzeidah LaDerech.

    I’m just trying to say that I’m not at all sure that the idea can be attributed to Israel’s most honored sages. I’m open to the idea that I could be wrong, but it seems to be a later speculation (which would not have have nearly the same status, especially if most of Chazal says differently). If I am right, it should not be claimed that “Judaism” makes these claims.

    Of course there’s no inconsistency between the Holy One dwelling in a Sanctuary among the people and simultaneously dwelling within the people. It will certainly happen in the future: Ezek. 36:26 and 37:27-28 which say that the Holy One will put Spirit within Israel (the word for “within them” differs from the word for “among them” in Ex. 25:8) andrebuild the Sanctuary and dwell there.

    BTW, there is no claim that any of this applies apply to Abraham or others who lived prior to setting up of the Sanctuary.

    1. One significant Hebrew linguistic consideration here is that “b’toch” in Ex.29:45 & “b’tocham” in Ex.25:8 & Exek.37:26 can be rendered both as “among” and “within” (them), so there is solid justification for the notion that HaShem intended both senses, of among the people generally, and within individuals specifically, to be understood. The verses in Ex.29 about the tent of meeting state that Hashem will meet and speak at its doorway, but nothing about His Presence remaining in that location. In Ezek.36:26-27 the phrase describing where HaShem will place His Spirit is “b’kirbechem”, which is undeniably “within you” in a more individual manner.

      Nonetheless I agree that the notion of HaShem’s Presence inside of individuals presents a significant challenge and responsibility to live up to.

  6. Hi Carl. Thanks for your detailed and insightful comments. It’s far more likely that I’m wrong in my commentary than you are. I inserted an addendum at the end of this blog post pointing readers to your statements here. One of the things that I’ve discovered is that I often learn a lot more by how you and others respond to what I write than I do just in the process of writing (although that too has its rewards).

  7. To “Proclaim Liberty” – Ex. 25:8 reads, And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. Of course Hashem is not limited to one place. But I can’t find the midrash that Rabbi Twersky refers to (just a later commentary), so I am not ready to say that our Sages (or even one sage) interpreted Ex. 25:8 in reference to Hashem dwelling in individuals. The midrashim I know do not interpret it that way.

  8. To James: Considering how many words you write every day, on the difficult subjects you tackle, it would be remarkable if you didn’t make the occasional mistake. I appreciate your blog immensely.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.