Esther and Purim

It’s pretty well understood among those who have taught and studied Kabbalah, the mystic side of our tradition, that a major imbalance in the world, and one which must be corrected in order for the world to enter a new and much higher state, often code-named World to Come or Mashiach (Messiah), is the relationship between the masculine and the feminine.  We describe our present state of universal turmoil, as well as the continuing, despite the establishment of the State of Israel, exile as the galut, exile, of the Shechina, the Divine Feminine.

Purim, with the central role of Esther who co-leads, along with Mordechai, the Jewish people, leads to thoughts of women’s roles in our tradition.  My thoughts turn to how we can actually contribute to this process, often described as the יחוד, yichud, uniting of Keter and Malchut, the sources of Divine Masculine and Divine Feminine.  So much of what I observe seems to be at best, merely tokenism and often actually counter-productive.

I will “come out” here stating that I enthusiastically endorse and support ordaining women as rabbis, or whatever other label you please, within the orthodox tradition.  Teaching women who are engaged in other denominations for many years now, my heart has been repeatedly broken with the tragedy of how much essential wisdom the orthodox world loses.  Merely allowing our most gifted women to only teach other women and address their specific halachic issues does not even begin to allow the Torah tradition to continue growing.  There is absolutely no way that men can, on our own, learn the full reality.  We need to enable our gifted women teachers and we, orthodox men, need to open ourselves to enthusiastically welcome what only they can teach us.

That being said, I’m extremely skeptical of women adopting specifically masculine practices such as tefillin and kippah (phylacteries and male head-covering).  It seems to be tokenism to me.  Additionally, the energy spent focusing on these particular practices is energy diverted from discovering and developing practices which will engage and enlarge the feminine, which should be the goal.  Even more than that, it displays a total lack of understanding the purpose of many of these male-only rituals.

Take tefillin, for example.  Often overlooked in this mitzva, we place the tefilla shel yad, the box and strap for the hand, on our left arms (or functionally “left” for lefties (i.e. our right arm).  Generally, our left side, standing in for the Kabbalistic Tree of Life arrangement of the Sephirot, the spiritual energies that sustain and power the universe, represents the feminine.  When a man places his tefillin on his feminine arm, he is activating and strengthening his own feminine nature.  In other words, one of the important functions that occurs when men wear tefillin is that they open themselves to engage with the still-not-fully-activated feminine energy.  It’s been my experience and observation, though, that when women pointedly perform this ritual, they’re making a statement of equality with men, i.e. masculinizing themselves.  It not only misses the point, but works against it.

Granted, this is a single ritual practice, but it seems to have become central to “feminist Judaism”.  I think it misses the boat.

No, I don’t have specific suggestions as to “appropriate” or effective new feminine rituals.  If they are really needed, I’m pretty confident that they will be developed and evolved by women.  I do observe that women are about equally non-observant of mitzvot already aimed at them as men are of mitzvot aimed at them.

This situation, really, is one of the main reasons I do so strongly support feminine leadership in traditional Judaism.  Just as our Gedolim, great (male) leaders, have an understanding that goes beyond the linear/binary and an intuition how to work with men, our Gedolot, great female leaders, will develop the intuition based on Torah, rather than on passing political enthusiasms, to guide Jewish women to a position of equality and balance (not imitation and identity) which will enable and herald our final, complete and perfect evolution.

Purim, along with the costumes and drinking and fun, is also the holiday when the Jewish People fully accepted the Torah they only provisionally did at Sinai.  I look forward to a more fully revealed and understood Torah to be fully and wholeheartedly accepted soon, in our days.

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3 Responses to Esther and Purim

  1. Ted says:

    Kol ha kavod, Harry! One comment: If women wound the tefillin around their right arms (or, for lefties, functionally their left arms), they would be reflecting the same balancing act invited by men. Just as we men need to honor and develop the feminine energies we carry, so, too, women need to honor and develop the masculine energies. We wear, so to speak, one on the outside and the other on the inside. That said, I am grateful for your teachings. Shabbat Shalom.

    • Hi, Ted,
      The explanation I gave isn’t a definitive argument, but just a way of illustrating the principle. I think we’ve got plenty masculine energy floating around as is, although I do agree that women probably do need to honor and develop an understanding of masculine energy. But, I don’t think that a process that is designed for one set is necessarily adaptable so simply.
      The bigger problem, as I see it, is an unstated assumption that only the “boys’ jobs” have importance so let’s split them up. Rather, I think specific techniques (which I don’t claim to know anything at all about) for women are needed. Again, it’s the idea that equality is not the same as identity, because we would then lose the power of polarity and complement.
      It’s all much more complex than I can ever begin to understand–this is just my honest groping towards a better place.
      Shabbat Shalom

  2. Also, read the previous article–I actually think it’s more important.

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