Under the Wings of the Shechina

Heavenly world


Question: What does it mean to be brought “under the wings of the Shechina”?

Answer: See Rashi’s explanation of Genesis 12:5

Genesis 12:5. “And Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had acquired, and the souls that they had acquired in Haran. And they went to go to the land of Canaan, and they came to the land of Canaan.”

Rashi first explains the Midrashic meaning of the underlined phrase:

“and the souls that they had acquired in Haran”: whom he [Abram/Abraham] had brought under the wings of the Shechinah. Abraham would “convert” the men, and Sarah would “convert” the women. Scripture ascribes to them [a merit] as if they had made them. (Hence, the expression אֲשֶׁר עָשׂוּ, [simply translated as “that they had acquired”, but] literally, “that they made”.)…

This was before the Torah was given at Mount Sinai, when the Israelites became the Jewish people. So the “conversion” referred to by Rashi means that Abraham and Sarah convinced many people in their home city of Haran to reject idolatry and to accept and follow the One True G-d. Those people were inspired to became their followers. Abraham and Sarah not only taught their followers to believe in the One G-d, Creator of Heaven and Earth. They also taught them to observe the Seven Commandments that G-d commanded through Noah.

In simple terms, these people became Righteous Gentiles, which uplifted their souls. With this faith and obedience to G-d, they merited to receive blessings and a close attachment to G-d’s Divine Presence (the Shechina). This also brought them spiritual reward in this world and in their afterlife. The euphemistic term for this spiritual advancement is to be brought “under the wings of the Shechina”.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe expounded in a talk:*

Speaking of Avraham and Sarah, the Torah refers to “the souls that they made in Haran.” Rashi explains that they are said to have “made” the souls, “for they took them in under the wings of the Divine Presence [the Shechina]. Avraham would ‘convert’ the men, and Sarah would ‘convert’ the women. Scripture considers this as if they made them.”
Rashi does not mean conversion to Judaism in the literal sense, for that is a phenomenon that began only after the Torah’s revelation [at Mount Sinai]. Rather, he emphasizes, “they took them in under the wings of the Divine Presence.” This also explains why Targum Onkelos [the Aramaic translation] renders the verse as: “those whom they made subservient to the Torah,” and not “those whom they converted.”

*Originally published in Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 5, pp. 143-144, fn. 16. English translation published by Sichos in English, in To Perfect the World, p. 4.