_The DaVinci Mode:
Seeking the Sacred Feminine in Judaism
by Aliza Bulow 5766
Seeking the Sacred Feminine.
One of the themes of Western society in the Twentieth century was the exploration of the role of the woman and her developing empowerment through redefining her relationships with her family, her society and her work place. Feminism largely rejected femininity, and women embraced their power by gaining education, shouldering roles, earning incomes and gaining stature in areas once considered the principal domain of men. Many of the strides made in achieving equality were so successful that the positive aspects of the differences between the genders were unrecognized or disregarded.
In the wake of so much success, as well as some confusion and disillusionment, the late twentieth century and early twenty-first have continued by re-exploring the woman's relationship with her work and her society through the prism of her under-explored relationship with herself and her femininity. More and more women are discovering that fulfillment isn't automatically found in a string of degrees, full-time employment and a higher income, as their mothers' generation believed. Many of those mothers are mortified as their daughters leave careers and education behind to stay at home and raise their young children full time. These young women are asking, "Now that I can "have it all", what is it that I want? What is special about me that is different from a man? Now that I can be a man as easily as a man can be a man, how can I be a woman?"
These are some of the questions that have helped make Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code such a fabulous success. Of course, there is the intrigue and the page turning (or seat riveting) suspense, and who doesn't like a good scandal, especially when it involves something that has held such sway for so long? But part of why adults love the Da Vinci Code so much is the same reason that kids love Harry Potter: cloaked in the mysteries of mysticism and the struggle for the triumph of good over evil is the story of an "ordinary" boy, actually, in Harry's case a "sub-ordinary" boy that is, completely unbeknownst to him, destined for greatness. It is every child's dream to be recognized for the inner specialness that is there, if only others could see it. So too, with the Sacred Feminine. For centuries women have been thought to be "ordinary" and in many cases, "sub-ordinary", oppressed, depressed, unrecognized, unfulfilled. Along comes a narrative, weaving history and fiction together with indiscernible boundaries, that taps women on the shoulder and says, "You're not just equal, you're special. In fact you're so special that the establishment is scared of how special you are. So scared that there has been a centuries-long conspiracy to hide your specialness." Wow, what a revelation; and what an invitation.
The invitation issued by the book is, "Buy me and be entertained with the intrigue in these pages and in the theaters". But, if we crack the code, we can see that a real invitation is there: Come explore your specialness. Come discover your unique connection to the Divine. Come see how you too are sacred.
Divinity is not by and for men. Oh sure, there are plenty of religions that are by and for men, or even by and for specific men. But the ultimate, a sacred personal relationship with the Divine, is available to all: every gender, every race, every background, every income level, every educational level, everyone.
In his book, Dan Brown tarnishes Judaism with the same stroke that he dismisses Christianity and Islam for their repression of women and of the Sacred Feminine. "The propaganda and bloodshed [of the church] had worked. Today's world was living proof. Women, once celebrated as an essential half of spiritual enlightenment, had been banished from the temples of the world. There were no female Orthodox rabbis, Catholic priests, nor Islamic clerics. The once hallowed act of Hieros Gamos-the natural sexual union between man and woman through which each became spiritually whole-had been recast as a shameful act." (p. 134-5) Using the thin reasoning that if Jews do not ordain women, we too must vilify them, disregard their sacred potential and view them as temptresses to be supressed.
Nothing could be further from the truth. In Judaism, women, married or not, are the high priestesses of the most sacred place of worship and practice, the home. They are the core of the Jewish world, the foundational pillar of Jewish practice. It is they who are entrusted with the communication of fundamental beliefs, truths and education to the next generation during its most vulnerable and formative years. It is in their hands that the observance of kashrut is primarily placed. Today's essential practice of Mikvah is their sole domain. They create the environment of Shabbat, and through their tzinut (the practice of quieting the voice of the physical so that the voice of the spiritual can be heard) they shape the environment of the entire community. Our sages tell us that "in the merit of righteous women we were redeemed from Egypt, and in the merit of righteous women our future redemption will come." Judaism holds women, and their spiritual potential and power, in the very highest of regard.
Unfortunately, throughout the ages, and even today, there are Jews, and some pockets of Jewish communities, who do not share the opinion of Judaism. They have absorbed negative attitudes about women from foreign societies and Western culture. This does not make their opinion valid, and definitely doesn't make it Jewish. These are just the opinions of some Jews, who have yet to learn enough about what the Torah teaches and what God desires.
The Feminine in Judaism
Judaism is replete with the Sacred Feminine no less than the Sacred Masculine. In order to understand this, it is necessary to delve into the nature of the feminine and the masculine. During the following discussion, it must be understood that both men and women have both masculine and feminine energy within them. To paraphrase Tziporah Heller from her book "Our Bodies, Our Souls", it is like speaking about one's dominant hand. While most of us have two hands and use both on a daily basis, nevertheless, one hand is generally dominant. So too with the masculine and feminine energies: while both genders have both energies within, one is usually dominant. The feminine is most often dominant in females, the masculine, most often dominant in males. Both energies are necessary to make a complete human being and both energies are necessary to make a complete human society. In fact, both energies are necessary to make anything complete.
Rabbi Akiva Tatz, in his book "World Mask", explains that the masculine energy is that of giving. It is a causative agent that inspires and offers the raw materials for a project. Whether it is the initial flash of a thought, or the rain and the glow of the sun, or the genetic material encased in a seed, it is the energy that is necessary to start off a project, to create the impetus, to give direction. The feminine energy is that of receiving and expanding. It is that which makes things happen, that which concretizes, that which transforms potential into reality. It takes time to manifest, it's a process, it is often difficult and sometimes requires overcoming obstacles. The result of the combination of these two energies is a synergy that is greater than the components of either. This energy pattern, found in every aspect of life, is most easily identifiable in the birth process. The father gives, the mother receives and expands upon over time, the synergy is the baby, which is neither the "gift" nor the "expansion" but greater than both and impossible without either.
In this light, the Written Torah, the five books of Moses, is masculine. It is a causative agent, directing our actions, delineating our mission. But with that alone, we can not know the details of how to behave. The expansion, the explanation, the feminine, is the Oral Law, the Talmud. It delves into the how's, what's, and why's of the written law and clarifies specific points. The synergy is our behavior. The way that we Jews weave the two together in our lives.
God is neither masculine nor feminine, both being subsets of a whole. God is whole, unlimited, omniscient, omnipresent. The Tetragrammaton, the holiest name of God, is a perfect blend of the masculine and the feminine. It is spelled yud hey vav and hey. It is only pronounced by the high priest in the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur. We, who do not ever pronounce the name, substitute "Hashem" (meaning "the name") or Adon-ai when we read it. The name is full of meaning, including the blend of the Hebrew words for past, present and future since God is above time. In addition, the letters themselves show us something very deep. Our Sages teach us that the world was created through the medium of the letters of the Hebrew aleph-bet. Specifically, the celestial world was created with a yud, and the terrestrial world was created with the letter hey. Yud is a masculine letter. It even looks like the seed of human life. It is a causative agent that reflects the causative energy that distinguishes the spiritual world. Hey is a feminine letter. It even looks like the channel through which human life enters this world. It is the letter of the breath, the letter of manifestation. Vav is also a masculine letter, looking like an extension of the yud. The four letters together describe four worlds, including two above the celestial world as well as the four levels through which the world is made manifest (see The Way of God, IV:6:13).
Imagine a builder conceiving of an apartment building which he thinks will be a good investment (step one). He makes an appointment with an architect who hears his idea and draws the plan (step two). A contractor then takes the blueprint (step three) and orders supplies, hires workers and builds the building (step four). Step one is masculine, the flash of an idea. It is barely distinct from the thinker. This stage is a parable for the world of Atzilut, the world just "next to" God. Step two is feminine, the drawing out of the idea and making it manifest on some level (but still not as a finished product). This is akin to the world of Briah. Back to the masculine, step three flips the blueprint from feminine to masculine changing it from a receptive agent to a causative one. This is parallel to the world of Yitzirah. Finally there is step four, the building, action, corresponding to the world of Asiyah. The synergy is the building itself. When one enters it, they are not touching the idea, the blueprint, the raw materials or the time and the skill that it took to put it all together. They are touching the compilation of it all which is more than the sum of any of its parts. It is the perfect balance of the masculine and the feminine together. Yud followed by hey, followed by vav followed by hey. God is One, more than the sum of it all.
As humans, we perceive God in different lights. We see God behaving in various ways: kind, merciful, angry, giving, commanding, jealous, loving, forgiving etc. but God is all. Humans most often experience God, the ultimate source of all, as a giver, hence the use of the masculine language when referring to God. In this paradigm, we are the receivers. Humanity, both men and women, is therefore often referred to in the feminine. For this reason, King Solomon uses the language of bride and groom when referring to God and Israel: masculine and feminine in a special relationship. It is this relationship that is the goal of creation ("The Way of God" I:2).
In order to be in a very meaningful relationship, some parity of essence must exist. Since mankind was created to be in relationship with God, God choose to make man "in our image, after our likeness" (Gen. 1:26). Among other things, this meant that like God, Adam had to be one. Everything else was created in multitudes; only the Adam-creature was created as a single unit. "And God created the Adam in His own image. Male and female He created them" (Gen. 1:27). Rashi, commenting on the grammatical discrepancy between the singular "the Adam" in the beginning of the verse, and the plural "them" at the end of the verse, explains that the original Adam-creature was an androgynous being with two faces. The verses in chapter two (18-23) tell the story of how the feminine essence was extracted from the Adam, dividing the one and creating two, a man and a woman. The very next verse instructs that the job of the two is to become one again. "Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave unto his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (Gen. 2:24).
Marriage as a Parable
Why create them as one, divide them in two and instruct them to become one again? In order to understand the answer, one needs to understand why "It is not good for man (lit. "the Adam") to be alone" (Gen. 2:18). Rashi explains that "people shouldn't say that there are two domains with unique authorities, with God unique (alone) in the upper realms without a mate, and this (Adam) unique (alone) in the lower world without a mate." It seems there was a danger of a misunderstanding on the part of human kind that they may equate the uniqueness of Adam to God. To solve this problem, Adam was divided and woman was created. This, by the way is a proof that women are co-equal to men in the eyes of the Torah, for if woman was on a lower level (or higher) than Adam, the problem wouldn't have been solved by her creation. Adam needed a co-equal so that he would not be unique (alone) in the lower realm.
If there needed to be two, why not create two in the first place? Because of the need for "in our image, after our likeness." One of the few things we know about God is that God is One; we say it every day in the Shema. In order to be like God, we needed to be created as one. In order to create the right environment for humans to emulate God, we needed to be two. In order to actually emulate God, who is One, we need to become one.
Marriage is the construct in which two can become one. It is not automatic; couples do not emerge from the chuppah as a perfectly blended unit. It usually takes a lifetime of work to achieve. But it is that very work which transforms a person into a being that can understand, appreciate and be part of an eternal relationship with the Divine. Marriage on earth is a parable for the soul's relationship with the Divine, as well as the ultimate workshop for achieving the greatest human congruence with the Divine image, providing opportunities to develop oneself as both a giver and as a blended part of a "one".
While marriage is perhaps the strongest pathway, it is not the only pathway to bringing oneself into congruence with the Divine. One of God's names is Shalom. The root of the word is shalem, wholeness. It is the opposite of chelek, part, the root of the word machloket, meaning strife or argument. When one works in any realm (friendships, family, workplace, diplomacy), to achieve unity, wholeness, peace, shalom in the world, one engages in the highest work and becomes a channel for God's presence to dwell in the world and one becomes transformed thereby.
The Sacred Feminine in Judaism
Dan Brown postulates that the Holy Grail is not an actual cup, but rather the vessel that holds life, the receptacle from which life itself is made manifest. He posits that the Holy Grail is in fact a womb. In a religion where God is understood to be male and sexuality is outside the realm of the holy this "news" would be truly shocking.
For Jews, understandings of the womb and its role form the foundation of our understandings of mercy and God's application of this essential quality. The Hebrew word for womb is rechem. It has the same root as the word rachamim, mercy. Rabbi David Fohrman, in his tapes about Jonah, explains that the question "asked" by the womb of the presenting zygote is not "what have you done to deserve my sustenance?", because the zygote has accomplished nothing and has no merit at all, but rather, "who or what will you become that I should grant you sustenance on your journey to get there?" Mercy, Rachamim also has its question. Unlike Justice, which asks "what have you done? How should I deal with you now in the face of your deeds?" Mercy asks, "What can you become? Given what you have learned from your past deeds, how will you transform yourself in the future to become something worth my patience?" It is through this quality that God can extend us life in the face of our failures.
The Torah sees the womb as the place from which one emerges, not stained with sin, but full of potential, ready to actualize one's Divine image. The mikvah is compared to a womb. It is a transformative body of water in which one can immerse in a state of lowered spiritual connectivity and emerge in a state of greater potential and readiness for heightened connectivity. This is one of the reasons that it is part of the cycle of a married couple's intimate life. The marital act is seen in Judaism as extremely holy. It is the fulfillment of the verse, "and they shall become one flesh." It is the way a couple most deeply emulates God, by becoming one emotionally, spiritually and physically. At that point in a couple's relationship, the couple's bedroom becomes like the Holy of Holies and the couple becomes like the cherubs on the Holy Ark. During Temple times, the Shechina, the dwelling presence of God, entered the word at the point between the cherubs. Today it is the married couple engaged in unity that draws the Shechina into our realm.
This is not accomplished through division or the elevation of one gender over another, but rather through blending. It doesn't happen when one is stronger than the other, but rather when both are in balance. As Jews, we do not seek only one half, either masculine or feminine in a vacuum, but rather we strive for the merger of the two. In his book, Dan Brown constructs an explanation of the meaning of the Star of David, "The blade and the chalice. Fused as one. The Star of David. the perfect union of male and female." (p. 481, see also p. 257-8). While he clearly departs from Jewish thought in many places in his book, and Jewish sources do not back up his theory on the genesis of the star, certainly the balance of the masculine and the feminine is a fundamental Jewish concept.
Each of us, being borne of a mother and a father, is descended from an equal number of males and females. We are all the blend of exactly one half male and one half female. The goal of humanity is not to elevate either the Sacred Feminine or the Sacred Masculine, but to create a Sacred Relationship with the Divine. Sacred Relationship is realized when we seek unity through our human emulation of the non-gendered Divine. In Judaism, the Sacred Feminine in not a goal in and of itself, it is an essential part of the Sacred Whole.
The gift of the Da Vinci Code is the opportunity it has created for all of us to discuss the deeper levels of our fundamental religious principles and find out more about our beliefs. Jews, Christians, Muslims, Deists and Pagans are all wondering what is real and what is fiction. Here the book or the movie can be masculine, raising questions in so many minds. Our discussions and research can be feminine as we grapple with understandings and learn more about what is true. The synergy is when we put what we have learned into practice and align ourselves more closely with the Sacred Whole.
C Aliza Bulow 2006