When Love was Strong We could have Made Our Bed on the Blade of a Sword
“And they shall make an ark of acacia wood (Exodus 25:10). Thus it is written, Shaddai, whom we find not, is lofty in power (Job 37:23). Our great teacher [Rabbi Yehudah ha-Nasi] said: We are indebted to Job, because he added to everything Elihu said. Job said to his companions: ‘Do you imagine that even all you have said exhausts His praise? Who can declare all the praises and mighty deeds of the blessed Holy One? All the things you have said, Why, these are but the least of His ways [the tag-end of the word that is heard of Him] (ibid. 26:14).
Elihu said: Shaddai, whom we find not lofty in power. He that hears this verse may exclaim: ‘Perhaps, perish the thought, this is blasphemy!’ [since Elihu expressed it so ambiguously as to make it possible to think that he was actually blaspheming]. But this is what Elihu meant: We will never find the blessed Holy One’s power [fully] displayed towards any of His creatures, for He does not visit His creatures with burdensome laws, but comes to each one according to his strength. For know that if blessed Holy One had come upon Israel with the full force of His strength when He gave them the Torah, they would not have been able to withstand it, as it says, If we hear again the voice of YHWH our God, we shall die (Deuteronomy 5:22). However, He came upon them according to their individual strength, for it says, YHWH’s voice in power (Psalms 29:4). It does not say בְּכֹחוֹ (be-khoḥo), in His power, but בַּכֹּחַ (ba-koaḥ), in power, that is, according to the strength of each individual [cf. Pesiqta de-Rav Kahana 12:25].
Another interpretation: Shaddai, whom we find not, is lofty in power—when the blessed Holy One said to Moses, Make Me a Tabernacle, [that I may abide in their midst] (Exodus 25:8), he exclaimed in amazement, ‘The Glory of the blessed Holy One fills the heavens and earth, and yet He commands: Make Me a Tabernacle! Moreover, he saw prophetically that Solomon would one day build a Temple, much larger than the Tabernacle, and yet would say before the blessed Holy One: But can אֱלֹהִים (Elohim) really dwell on earth? Look, the heavens and the heavens beyond the heavens cannot contain You. How much less this house that I have built (1 Kings 8:27).
If Solomon said this of the Temple which was so much greater than the Tabernacle, then how much more could this be said of the Tabernacle? For this reason Moses said: He who dwells in the Most High’s shelter (Psalms 91:1), which Rabbi Yehudah son of Rabbi Shim’on explained: He who dwells in the shelter is Most High above all His creatures; and what does it mean by בְּצֵל (be-tsel), in the shadow of, Shaddai (ibid.)? בְּצַלְ אֵל (Be-tsal El), in the shadow of God. It does not say here In the shadow of the Compassionate, or In the shadow of the Gracious, but In the shadow of Shaddai; that means, in the shadow which בְּצַלְאֵל (Betsalel), Bezalel, constructed; and for this reason it says, In the shadow of Shaddai lies at night. The blessed Holy One said, ‘Not as you think do I think; twenty boards on the north, twenty on the south and eight in the west [suffices Me]; moreover, I will descend וַאֲצַמְצֵם (va-atsamtsem), and confine, My Shekhinah within one square cubit [cf. BT Berakhot 8a: ‘Rabbi Ḥiyya son of Ammi in the name of ‘Ulla: Since the day that the Temple was destroyed, the blessed Holy One has nothing in this world but the four cubits of Halakhah alone’]” (Shemot Rabbah 34:1).
“When love was strong, we could have made our bed on the blade of a sword; now that our love has grown weak, a bed of sixty [cubits] is not large enough for us. Rav Huna said: This is alluded to in the verses: At first [when Israel was loyal] it is said: And I shall meet with you there and speak with you, from above the covering [between the two cherubim that are on top of the Ark of the Covenant] (Exodus 25:22); and it is taught: The Ark measured nine handspans high and the cover one handspan, i.e., ten in all. Again it is written: And the house that King Solomon built was sixty cubits in length and twenty in width and thirty cubits in height (1 Kings 6:2). But in the end it is written: Thus said YHWH: The heavens are My throne and the earth is My footstool. What house would you build for Me [and what place for My resting, when all these My hand has made and Mine all these are?—said YHWH—But to this do I look, to the poor man and to the broken of spirit who trembles at My word] (Isaiah 66:1)” (BT Sanhedrin 7a).
Close is YHWH to all who call Him, to all who call to Him in truth (Psalms 145:18).
“Rabbi Pinḥas said in the name of Rabbi Yehudah son of Shim’on, ‘An idol appears to be near, but is actually far… the blessed Holy One appears to be far yet nothing is closer than He… like a person who speaks into his fellow’s ear and he hears him. And is it possible that a god could be closer to his creatures than this? For He is so close to His creatures it is as if they speak directly into His ear” (JT Berakhot 9:1, 13b).
“An idol is near but far. The blessed Holy One is far but near” (Devarim Rabbah 2:6).
From afar YHWH appeared to me: With everlasting love do I love you, therefore did I draw you in kindness (Jeremiah 31:2).
“Rabbi Shim’on son of Azzai said: The Glory of which is written, Do not I מָלֵא (male), fill, the heavens and earth? (Jeremiah 23:24)—see how love for Israel caused the Glory to דָחָק (daḥaq), compress, as it were, in order to appear over the cover [of the Ark of the Covenant] between the two cherubim!” (Sifra, Nedavah 2, cf. Tanḥuma, Vayakhel, 7).
I am אֵל שַׁדַּי (El Shaddai). Walk in My presence and be blameless, and I will grant My covenant between Me and you (Genesis 17:1).
“Rabbi Yehudah raised a contradiction: [and the cherubim sheltered the Ark and its poles from above. And the poles extended, and] the ends of the poles could be seen [from the Holy Place in front of the sanctuary] (1 Kings 8:8), and it is written but they could not be seen from without (ibid.)—how is that possible? They were seen and not seen. Therefore it was also taught: ‘The ends of the poles could be seen—one might have assumed that they did not protrude from their place, thus it says: And the poles extended. One might assume that they tore the פָּרוֹכֶת (parokhet), curtain, and emerged, thus it says: but they could not be seen from without. How then? They pressed forth and protruded as the two breasts of a woman, as is said: A sachet of myrrh is my lover to me, all night between שָׁדַי (shaddai), my breasts (Song of Songs 1:13)’” (BT Yoma 54a).
“A sachet of myrrh is my lover to me (Song of Songs 1:13)—of all the spices, none is sweeter than this myrrh. Similarly, the blessed Holy One is the most fitting thing in the world. And why does he compare the blessed Holy One to a sachet? Because it is written of Him: [If a man should hide in secret places, would I not see him? said YHWH.] Do not I fill the heavens and the earth? said YHWH (Jeremiah 23:24). But He צַמְצֵם (tsamtsem), contracts, His Shekhinah between the poles of the Ark, as it says, all night between my breasts (Song of Songs, ibid.)” (Midrash Shir ha-Shirim 15b [Grünhut]).