When I was a new student of the Hebrew Bible, I marveled time after time when I would find what I considered to be a New Testament concept in the Hebrew Bible. I concluded that there is little new in the New Testament, but more a clarification of pre-existing ideas and a little further development of them.
I find a similar experience at times reading topics in rabbinic literature.
As I read selections for Rosh HaShanah, a few have struck me as being like Christian theology of the Holy Spirit. For example, in Christian theology there is a process called regeneration. The Spirit changes a person to make them able to receive divine help. The idea is that without regeneration we may desire help, but we are so corrupted by sin we are unable to ask for the right help or to receive it if we did. Regeneration is also known as spiritual birth or rebirth.
Regeneration is generally thought of as a one-time event at the beginning of a person’s relationship with God. Yet there is also an idea that we need help continually to be able to receive divine strength. Paul speaks of getting help from the Spirit in prayer because we are so un-attuned to spiritual realities.
There is an idea that we have an ongoing need for God to make us able to receive heavenly benefits. We are waiting for a permanent change to our being, a transformation that has not happened yet. While we wait, the Spirit empowers now.
This morning a few selections from the rabbinic corpus brought this to my mind.
In the Pesikta Rabbati (c. 845 C.E.), a collection of aggadic midrashim (midrashes that tend to be narratives), we read:
Consider the parable of a prince who was far away from his father–a hundred days’ journey away. His friends said to him: “Return to your father.” He replied: “I cannot; I have not the strength.” Thereupon his father sent word, saying to him: “Come back as far as you can according to your strength, and I will go the rest of the way to meet you.” So the Holy One, blessed be he, says to Israel: Return unto me, and I will return unto you (Malachi 3:7).
Jonah ben Abraham Gerondi, cousin to Najmanides (Ramban), reflected on the nature of repentance. He noted that God has given repentance as a gift to humankind. Without repentance there would be no hope as we have all sinned. At the end of his meditation, Gerondi considers the import of a great verse on repentance from Deuteronomy 4. Note how he sees from this verse that repentance is empowered by God and the slightest move toward God from a person is met with divine aid to come the rest of the way:
The Torah in many instances exhorts us in relation to repentance. It is shown that penance is accepted even when the sinner repents because of his many troubles, much more when his repentance proceeds from the fear and love of God, as it is said, In thy distress, when all these things are come upon thee, in the end of days, thou wilt return to the Lord thy God and hearken to his voice (Deut. 4:30). And it is clear from the Torah that God assists the penitents when they are limited by their nature, and implants in them a spirit of purity whereby they attain to the level of loving him.