Dr. H. David Burstein 2004.
“We are starting to sense the dangers of our history and our destructive paths. We are beginning to sense the need to restore the sacred feminine” – “The Davinci Code”
I am not a scholar of Jewish history; however I have learned that there have been turning points that led to changes in how Jewish civilization evolved. It was the different mind set of the patriarchs and matriarchs. In having the courage to move forward during times of crisis, how they chose to react and adapt has affected our reality and perceptions of our relationship to God.
Sometimes the change was instant. In leaving Egypt, the story is taught that the window of opportunity for freedom was so small that they did not have time to wait for bread to rise.
But then the religion evolved. Judaism became a way of life. Coming out of Egypt, after 400 years of slavery, the early Hebrews understanding of what was religion was based on the “maleness” of the world they left behind. After all, when Moses failed to come down fast enough from the mountain, they built a golden calf. While we have been taught to reject golden calves, there needed to be a center for religious focus at the tabernacle and later the Temple. People need a place for expressing gratitude, and an external source for inspiration and intensity.
At the same time, the Biblical ethical foundation developed with a paradigm of how we treat the weaker members of the world. This nurturing is more associated with the feminine. While not specifically biblically based, it is not coincidence that two other values central to the rise of Western civilization are symbolized by women; the statue of Liberty, and the blindfolded statue of Justice.
The need for a balance of the masculine and feminine is reflected in much of the writings of the prophets in the imagery of the marriage between God and the Jewish people.
However, Jewish life again had to adapt to change.
Another critical era was after the destruction of the Temples, first in 576 BCE and then in after 70 CE. Judaism emerged from being a Temple/sacrifice centered religion to be a Torah/Shabbat/Home centered one. Losing the Temple meant there had to be portability to the religion. The brilliance of the Rabbis was to realize that the way we lived of our lives was to be a substitute for the loss of the Temple. In Jewish life the new intensity in relating to God evolved with, in the words of Rabbi Mordechai Gafni “an erotic” creativity that expressed itself through study, prayer, ethics, and home life.
In Judaism, holiness means to elevate and separate from the mundane. Rabbi Irwin Kula has said “Holiness is not about separation, it is about an intense and continuous awareness of lifes depth in every act, in every moment. Holiness is an expansion of consciousness that evokes commitment and empathy; it increases our capacity to sustain and nurture life.”
In contrast to the high priests involved with sacrifice in the Temple, in the home, the mother is the high priestess of creation. She is the model. As much as one wonders what really went on inside the holy of holies within the Temple, men can never understand the presence and intensity of what is going on inside a woman during a pregnancy.
Rabbi Irving Greenberg has defined Judaism as the Covenant of the triumph of life. Our tradition emphasizes that we are to focus on the joys and the repair of this world. Although there is so much wrong, and we struggle with so much, there is a vision for the perfectibility of the world. But since all of us are flawed, all we can do is make the world a little bit better, and hope that the next generation will improve on us. But in order for this to occur we need to create life that will carry on after we are gone. This is why birth and renewal is so critical for us. Each child represents the potential for making the world better.
I am not trying at all to idealize the process of pregnancy. Nor am I saying women are inherently more moral. But it is the totality, the consuming nature of pregnancy and the “inwardness” of the feminine experience that provides energy that is fundamental to Judaism.
Rabbi Brad Hirschfield has commented on the Prophetess Miriam, Moses sister. She was a prophet and yet she never directly spoke to God. Hirschfeld contents that Miriam tapped into the God source from within. This is a feminine model.
Several years ago I had a few email correspondences with a gentleman who was a member of a congregation of Humanistic Judaism. This is Judaism without God. It seems like an oxymoron to me, but I could not doubt his sincerity. After going back and forth about his beliefs, I ultimately challenged him, that if when seeing the birth of his children, he was not able to step back and say “My wife and I made love nine months ago, a sperm and an egg combined with one another and now here is a child, yea right”, nothing anyone can ever argue with him would ever soften him up to the possibility that there is a Creator behind the miracles of life. If we do not have a sense of the presence of the Divine in witnessing the process of birth, we never will. That it is the female that is more intimately involved with the experience, should remind us of the sacredness of the feminine in our partnership with the ultimate Creator.
This article is dedicated to my wife Lesley who will be giving birth to our first child in early 2005. I anticipate the witnessing this miracle will be the most intense personal religious experience of my life. But regardless of the process, how I live afterwards will be the indicator if I understood what was going on.
Any feedback is appreciated. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org