The term “Holy Spirit” is first found in the Bible and extensively developed in rabbinic understanding. The early Rabbis referred to Ruach (also spelled Ruah) Ha-Kodesh, the Holy Spirit, in two distinct ways.
First, the Holy Spirit is the force of divine inspiration from God that moves and empowers people to lead and to speak for God. Prophets like Moses, Isaiah, Sarah, Deborah, and Esther are said to have the Holy Spirit resting upon them. And even ordinary folks who unwittingly say something prophetic may have experienced a momentary spark of the Holy Spirit kindled within them.
At every morning and evening service, we sing Mi Chamochah, from the Song at the Red Sea. According to an early Midrash, The Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael, the Children of Israel were able to compose this magnificent song spontaneously, in a moment of collective inspiration, because Ruach ha-Kodesh rested upon the entire people at once, in reward for their great faith in God.
Second, Ruach ha-Kodesh is also used as a divine name, a personification of the divine voice speaking to us through the Torah. In this use, Ruach ha-Kodesh continually communicates with human beings in emotional, personal ways: informing, proclaiming, lamenting or praising. This Jewish Holy Spirit is feminine in gender, often identified with the Shechinah (Divine Presence) and with Chochmah (Sophia), the Bible’s feminine personification of Wisdom.
For example, in the same Midrash about singing Mi Chamocha at the parting of the Sea, the Rabbis imagined Ruach ha-Kodesh answering back the praise of Israel with praise of her own, through words of Scripture:
“Israel says, ‘Mi Chamocha ba-Elim Adonai…Who is like unto You, O Lord, among the mighty?’ And Ruach ha-Kodesh calls aloud from heaven and says, ‘Happy are you, O Israel; who is like unto you?’” (quoting Deuteronomy 33:29).
-from the Midrash, Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael, Shirata 3
Featured Image: Crowds crossing the Jindo Sea as it parts due to periodic tidal harmonics, Korea, photo by Bjoern Steinz via NationalGeographic.com