True meaning of Shechinah

One of the popular mystical and intriguing buzzwords these days is Shechinah, simply defined as the indwelling of divine presence, as seen in the biblical verse: “Make me a sanctuary and I will dwell amongst them (Exodus 25:8).” The term Shechinah is used to describe a hovering holiness that enters into a lower reality.
It begins with a famous verse in Song of Songs: “I came into my garden, my sister my bride…”
In this metaphorical allegory by King Solomon, depicting the love between God and Israel, the possessive form — “my garden” — is used, implying an intimate setting, similar to the chamber where the union of groom and bride is consummated. The commentaries explain the context of the verse, whereby the voice of the Creator reminisces about the Shechinah, distant for ages, finally returning to this world with the construction of the Mishkan, Sanctuary.
Jungle or garden?
“This world is a jungle,” people often declare. To succeed, especially in the marketplace, you need thick skin and resiliency. Wherever you turn, there are challenges. While destructive pleasures and decisions come naturally and easily, most meaningful and fulfilling accomplishments are the result of a steady grind.
Nevertheless, the verse relates a simple message — life on earth must be viewed as a potential garden. By sifting and sorting through moral muddiness (spiritual growth), planting seeds (career), and bearing fruit (raising children), one can leave an enchanted legacy for generations.
From a mystical viewpoint, this physical world in which we live — “the world of action” — is at the bottom of a vast system, a chain of endless and intertwining universes. This world is, however, unique in its physical composition, a mixture of goodness and immorality, providing concealment of divinity altogether.
The natural order of the world, although blinking from being to non-being, appears solid and self-sufficient.
The reason for creation
What was the reason for creating such a world? It seems a profound yet basic inquiry for any believer who ponders our existence. Yet when asked this question, many religious figures flounder for answers, or draw a blank. Test it out. To be sure, you could find explanations speaking of companionship between Maker and children, or fashioning our world out of compassion. But a truly infinite being is not lonely, and certainly doesn’t need anything.
Jewish philosophical texts provide various reasons for our world — in order “to become known,” or as a kind gesture “for our benefit,” or to “display the range of His boundless abilities.” But those accomplishments can easily be fulfilled, even more so, by upper worlds filled with celestial beings with heightened perception. Creating a coarse concealed physical existence isn’t necessary.
Yet, “the Holy One had an essential desire for a home in the lowest realm,” to dwell with complete comfort here below (Midrash Tanchuma, Bamidbar Rabah, Tanya). Furthermore, God has a longing that we, the prime features of this lowest dimension, should be the facilitators for creating that home, bringing in a further influx of light, the Shechinah. The main method to accomplish this — our spiritual craftsmanship — involves effort and free choice in “subduing” and “transforming” our nature. The Zohar explains that when we toil to change our character, a transcendent light — beyond the peak of all creation — floods the entire spectrum of worlds. The real accomplishment takes place in our world.
Highest within lowest
Paradoxically, at the onset of time, this lowest of all worlds was a fit place to contain the most intense revelation of the Shechinah. The deepest and most precious within the Creator penetrated into the lowest dimension of creation, analogous to deep pleasure pervading one’s entire body.
Then sin came onto the scene. Being the opposite of divine desire, this act inherently repels the presence of holiness and the primordial fall (of the tree of knowledge) pushed away the Shechinah. Successive iniquities drove it further upward, into the heavens, until seven righteous warriors, tzaddikim — beginning with Abraham and culminating with Moses — brought it back. Thus, despite the original human fall, each generation, with its individual inhabitants, has the potential to bring down the Shechinah further.
“Every fall is for the purpose of reaching a higher level at a later stage.”
This principle applies on a grand scale, from the unraveling of worlds until our physical existence, to the fall of the soul into this world in order to accomplish something greater. The same rule applies to each person’s story within this world, wherein even sins, the opposite of divine desire, are intended to eventually lead us to a higher accomplishment.
The broader personal takeaway is that what may appear as a dark stage in a life process, even a result of our own mistakes, is for the purpose of ultimately seeing a stronger light. The fall will lead to a higher rise. Or from another angle, there is a secret benefit within the delayed path — a maturing process, a lesson learned, wisdom gained during that time — that we can extract for constructive use.

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