The concept of “shekinah” is from the Talmud. It is often identified with the glory of God mentioned in Scripture (Ex. 16:10; 24:16; 40:34), even by Christians, but the Hebrew term for “glory” in Scripture is “kabowd”; “shekinah” is never used.
Shekinah appears often in the Babylonian Talmud, and it refers to a manifestation of God or the presence of God. It is likened to the flow of divine energy or the reflected light of God.
The Talmud says, “Whenever ten are gathered for prayer, there the Shekinah rests” (Sanhedrin 39a), and, “Wheresoever they were exiled, the shekinah went with them” (Megillah 29a).
In Kabbalah, shekinah is supposed to be the feminine aspect of God.
Shekinah is supposed to abide in and permeate particular objects such as the Temple Mount. Many of those who pray at the western wall of the Temple Mount are trying to connect with God via shekinah.
The Zohar identifies the shekinah with the “sabbath bride” (“Shabbat Hamalka”) who visits those who celebrate the sabbath. There is an obvious connection with ancient goddess worship:
“On Friday night, all the men, representing Yesod, went to receive the Bride in the open fields around town. The poetry they recited for the ritualistic greeting included many allusions to the ‘Sacred Apple Orchard,’ a mystical place where God and his consort Shekhina celebrated their union and conceived the Souls of the Just. The connection to Ashera, who was always worshiped in glades and groves, is obvious.
“Each man returned home to be received by his wife, who represented the Shekhina/Shabbat. All other females of the household were also honored on Friday evening. The husband picked up branches of myrtle, the symbol of marriage which was always prepared for weddings as well. He then recited Chapter 31, Verses 10-31 of the Book of Proverbs, describing the ‘Woman of Valor,’ and relating the verse mystically to both his wife and Shabbat Hamalka, thus merging their images for the evening in a cosmic/spiritual context. The ritual and festive meal continued well into the night, leading to the hour of midnight, when it was considered a spiritual duty to retire and have a sacred sexual union between husband and wife. Midnight was chosen because according to Kabbalistic tradition, this was the exact time when the highest aspects of the male and the female sides of the godhead performed their own union.
“Judaism never considered sexual activity to be sinful or distasteful. Nor did it assume it was a pleasure only for the man and a mere duty for the woman, as some other religions or customs did. ... Therefore, the mutual feeling of sanctity and love between husband and wife, mirrored in the mystical union between God and Shabbat Hamalka, was essential in establishing the strong Jewish home mentioned above.
“At the end of the day, the men assembled again, usually at the rabbi's house, for the ‘Melaveh Malka’ ritual, meaning ‘Farewell to the Queen.’ The ceremony included singing songs in her honor, eating and drinking, and a lecture or discussion. The Queen then departed and the work week, full of hardship and sometimes suffering, was about to begin again. The entire community, however, was always keenly aware that Shabbat Hamalka would never be away from them for more than six days” (Ilil Arbel, “Shabbat Hamalka,” Encyclopedia Mythica).
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