Ohad Ezrahi's column in the Magazine "Hayim Aherim" No. 24, September 1998.
Rosh haShanah, the Jewish New Year, is approaching and it is appropriate to know the meaning of this holiday in the context of the Kabbalah. The Mekubalim (Kabbalists) have a unique meditative work which is called Kavanot - "intent". In fact, the whole study of the Kabbalah is conceived by main stream Mekubalim as aiming to enable one to perform Kavanot. Accordingly, there are systems of Kabbalistic Kavanot for each commandment, each prayer and each holiday. The prayer of a common Jew may last for five minutes, but the exact same prayer when performed by a Mekubal mekhaven, may take over an hour of supreme concentration.
Now the Kavanot for Rosh haShanah, if studied well, point to a whole order of spiritual work which aims to raise the feminine dimension in reality and to bring an equality between the masculine and the feminine in the world. The New Year of the ARI (Lurianic) Kabbalah is the holiday of Jewish feminism! How?
Leshem Yihud - for the sake of Unification
We have already discussed (in former issues of this magazine) the systems of different Partsufim - "configurations" or "faces" - through which the Infinite Light (Or En-Sof) is revealed in reality, and we have also mentioned that the two main Partsufim in the system of divinity (the Atzilut) are the male and female faces of the divine or, in the language of the Mekubalim "Ze'er Anpin ve Nukba", which are called in the language of the Talmudic sages haKadosh barukh Hu u-Shekhinato (the Holy Blessed One and His Shekhinah). These two Partsufim symbolize two systems of consciousness through which the divinity communicates to humans: One kind of consciousness conceives of the divinity as something distant, sublime, holy and whole, and therefore also a bit intimidating; whereas another is a softer kind of consciousness - we may feel the divinity as the animating spirit (Ru'ah, meaning also "wind") flowing within everything, enlivening it from within itself, confirming and caressing; the Ru'ah-wind whose wholeness issues from the integration of all the myriad things inside her. The one is a conception of masculine divinity, the other is of feminine divinity. Therefore, the distant and holy face of divinty we call "the Kadosh barukh Hu" (a masculine third person name), and the present and soft face we call "the Shekhinah" (a feminine name), namely: the divinity which dwells (Shokhenet) inside of reality and not above and apart from it.
If we try to condense the uniqueness of the Jewish-Kabbalist concept of divinity in one sentence, we may say that it tries to connect, at each moment, these two concepts into one unity, the transcendental divinity with the immanent one, or in the language of the Kabbalah: to unify (le'yahed) the Kadosh barukh Hu with his Shekhinah. From this comes the habit of saying before every act of holy work "I am doing this for the sake of unifying the transcendental and the immanent - leshem Yihud Kudsha brikh Hu u'Shekhinteh".
Zivugim - Conjunctions
In the language of the Kabbalah we call the act of unifying the Shekhinah and the Kadosh barukh Hu "Zivug", namely conjunction or union. This is what we, as Jews, do all the time: meyahadim, namely conjoin the two faces of the divinity with each other, the transcendental male and the immanent female, and regard them as one, without separation.
For a couple, there are several possible modes of interconnection. There is a physical-sexual connection, there is a connection of partnership in feelings of love, and there is a connection of shared ideas and mutual spiritual fertilization. In the language of the Kabbalah we designate these by three types of Zivugim: Zivug be (among the) Sephirot of Yesod (of both the male and the female) which is the sexual union; Zivug be Tif'eret which is the emotional union, and Zivug be Mohin which is the spiritual-intellectual union. The goal of the Kabbalah is for male and female to realize all three types of union together. Our wish is for the divine "faces", the Shekhinah and her Loving Mate, to come together, not only in the basic sense in which they bring to our world a plenitude of physical vitality, but also in the two higher unions. This is the goal of the Kavanot work of the New Year.
The Feminist Revolt
The Lurianic Kabbala (Kabalat haARI'zl) describes the state of the relationship between the Shekhinah and her Beloved as very dynamic. They do not always merit a full union in all its aspects. On the contrary, the "initial" state is only a sexual union between them, and at times also an emotional one. According to the description, the Shekhinah is of small stature compared to the Ze'er Anpin and her head reaches only to his chest. Namely: what for her is considered "head", Mohin ("brains"), Hokhmah (Wisdom) etc, is for him considered as emotions and feelings (does this sounds familiar?). She is not on his level. So what aught to happen? The Shekhinah should increase, grow, develop and reach a state in which she is the equal of her mate in all repects.
There is a passage in the book of Kavabot called Pri Etz Hayim (the Fruit of the Tree of Life) which I like very much. In this passage, Rabbi Hayim Vital (the disciple and scribe of the ARI) writes that as long as the female receives her vitality, her lights, from the male, she cannot develop into a state in which she is equal to him because she is receiving from him. In order to grow into a state of equality she must first disconnect herself from him and become independent.
The Shekhinah, the woman, the female, the feminine must first disengage from the male, receive her own lights (from the Partsufim above them both: ""Abba ve'Ima" Father and Mother) and develop. The time when this process takes place is Rosh haShanah, the New Year. At Rosh haShanah we engage in Kavanot that facilitate the process of separation between the symbiots, as if aiding the Shekhinah (The Malkhut-Kingdom) to separate and grow by herself, without dependence on the male revelation.
This was the beginning of feminism: a revolt against the male world that was, until then, the intermediary between the woman and the world. The men supported the family (channeled vitality-Hayut), and had a monopoly on education (Mohin) which was "for males only". The first stage of feminism entails revolt and severance: We do not need men! We can be their equals in every way!
The second stage (which the global feminist process is largely at nowadays) entails the return to union (Zivug) and connection between the male and female. This re-union is not based on dependence and inequality, but on the awareness that each is different from the other and nevertheless equal in all, and fructify each other.
This Zivug, the second one, takes place at Shemini Atseret, at the end of the Feast of Tabernacles (the 23rd of the month Tishre), and we may, if the Shekhinah is willing, enlarge about it in the next article. Meanwhile, we have much work to discover and develop the feminine understanding within ourselves (men and women alike), and give it a better chance of expression: to make more room for each other, to be more accepting, to create an atmosphere of partnership and amity and to get out of the critical mind. Shall we succeed in creating a Jewish-Israeli society that will express from within it this awareness , the Shekhinah consciousness?