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Listen to Her Voice

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By Rishe Groner
MyLife Essay Contest 2016

People search for spiritual solutions to practical problems, starting within our own relationships: friendships, coworkers, significant others, and our own self-esteem. Communication in relationships is the subject of every bestselling self-help book of all time, but it’s also the bedrock of our understanding of society as we know it. We battle these questions in the home, in society, and in government, but we often fail to consider how much gender plays a part in this struggle.

As traditional gender roles fluctuate and cause strain on relationships; as workplaces challenge typical leadership structures while negotiating topical concerns such as pay and discrimination, how can the notion of gender be understood to ease communication and collaboration between the sexes?

The struggle to reconcile masculine and feminine; as applied between male and female relationships in society; has existed since the fourth day of creation, when the Talmud tells the tale of the moon (representing femininity) and her fall from being equal counterpart to the sun (representing masculinity)[1]. G-d created two great luminaries, yet the moon was concerned: How can two kings share one crown? G-d took her point and as a result, the moon was diminished, reflecting only the light of the sun rather than her own light, and visible only at night. Although G-d recognized that this was less than ideal and promised to rectify this in future, the results stand in society today. All things feminine were therefore temporarily suppressed, lacking the ability to fully shine their own lights until the utopian Messianic period.[2]

This tale, retold in the Bible as the story of Eve’s subjugation to the will of her husband Adam, also articulates the curse of pain in childbirth and dependency on her husband that is placed upon womanhood, and showcases the original root of all tension between genders in contemporary society.

We can understand this better by examining the true nature of male and female. Male and female aren’t just two types of people. Everyone contains a mix of masculine and feminine – from objects in nature to human beings. Chassidus discusses the difference between these aspects to understand natural tendencies in our everyday lives.

Masculine and feminine energies in Kabbalah and Chassidus are mirrored with the Sefirot on the left and right sides of the Tree of Life, the set of ten attributes (Sefirot) that make up the building blocks of creation, intellect, emotion and expression. Each embodies a specific set: The masculine is giver and bestower of life; the woman, the recipient and nurturer of potential. They mirror one another as active and passive; effusion and containment; abstraction and concrete physicality; and culminate in the creation of totality, knowledge, expression, and of course, fully-fleshed out physical act of childbirth.[3]

The universe that we inhabit was built on a hierarchical, linear system, based on the Kabbalistic concept of “Tzimtzum,” or contraction, where one single point of light generated a line that subsequently emanated into a variety of levels of consciousness, known as “worlds” in Kabbalah[4].

As a result, everything is bestowed from above to below. Rains come from above to water the ground while the feminine earth receives with waters that well up from below, and so new life blossoms; masculine seed is received by the female womb to conceive children; and in a typical day-to-day fashion, our minds comprehend a linear hierarchy in the way we study, teach, and connect to others. Every argument has a winner and loser, every achievement at work is about stepping up the ladder, and every relationship, so it is said, a “giver” or “influencer” and a “receiver”.

In the traditional feminism and its post-feminist evolutions, equality is seen as the panache for this struggle. We comprehend the world based on linear consciousness, so we look for a linear solution. But Chassidic teachings go beyond, to articulate how moving beyond hierarchy doesn’t require equality – rather, it encompasses a non-hierarchical solution overall.

Masculine and feminine is rife with confusion as the world continues to shift towards a paradigm of Messianic consciousness, when it is said that the feminine will return to its rightful place alongside the masculine. So, we see shifting gender roles, and wonder what that means – how will the moon, the feminine, the woman in the workplace or marriage, be restored to her rightful place as large luminary to the sun? What are the Chassidic teachings that can show us how masculine and feminine will finally reach harmony as we approach the seventh millennium?

The moon and the feminine is also represented by the final sefirah (attribute) of Malchut. Malchut appears to be the lowest of the sefirot, yet it originates from the highest point of the preceding level of reality – because it is the conduit, the connector of one realm of consciousness to another. Malchut connotates smallness, synonymous with the moon and her ability to reflect light rather than generate her own from the sun. Yet in this smallness, she is great precisely for her ability to take the vast lights of the sun, incorporate them within her own body, and express them outward to shine over the earth all night long.[5] A truly great teacher displays their brilliance through the simplicity of the language they use, showing their ability to take a complex concept and distil it into something simple, outside of oneself, that can generate practical applications. A brilliant scientist may have the capacity to create abstract theories, but it’s only in the application, in malchut, that the theory has legs as a bona-fide fact. Malchut, therefore, is not just the lowest in the evolutionary process – she is also the highest in bestowing knowledge into something new, and thus, looks forward to a time when she will be “flipped” to the top, during Messianic consciousness.

And so it is with the masculine and feminine energies that are present in our workplaces, our homes and our relationships. While we currently inhabit a linear existence that glorifies the masculine ability to think in the abstract, to crunch numbers and make financial market predictions, to merge companies or shake up a boardroom, the vast majority of day-to-day workplace decisions and efficiencies are carried out by feminine nurturance qualities that glorify communication, creation, and practical embodied solutions. These, two, will see newfound status in the time of Messianic consciousness, a time we have entered and are seeing gain ground in 2016.

The first Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman, discusses the eventual ascension of feminine power with regard to the final two blessings of the traditional prayer said during the wedding celebration.[6] The second-to-last blessing refers to the time when we will hear, “The voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride.” The blessing, referring to present times, concludes, “Blessed is G-d, who gladdens the groom and bride.” The next blessing, discussing the future, is almost identical in syntax, except this time, we bless G-d, “who gladdens the groom with his bride.”

This second blessing refers to the evolution of male and female relationships throughout time, moving into the Messianic Age of which we stand on the brink. This time is no longer far from reality – as global political structures change; as consciousness awakens; as movements come to the forefront it is apparent that this change is real and surrounding us.

One such movement, of course, is the women’s movement. The women’s movement was lauded by the most recent Chabad Rebbe for its forward-thinking ideology, yet criticised for the approach to “full equality”. Feminism was heralded as a positive move forward for this new stage of consciousness, where the feminine elements will be prized above the masculine in a new way of relating to Godliness, Torah, and the world around us.

In Chabad Chassidic thought, the man and woman are not equal – on the contrary, they have separate and unique roles that must be inhabited and embodied in order to fulfil the purpose of creation. Although these roles are, indeed, different, it’s important to honor that each human has within them both masculine and feminine energies – and therefore, true reconciliation is not about simply classifying each in their own category and creating harmony overall, but reconciling the differentiations within our own selves, our relationships, and finally, in the outside world.

This is explained in more detail when viewing the Alter Rebbe’s commentary on the final blessing, the one that rewords the statement of the current times, blessing the bride and groom, to the future, utopian times, wherein the groom will rejoice “together with his bride.” Why does the groom join the bride? Referring to the earlier part of the blessing, we examine the words, “The Voice of the bridegroom and the Voice of the bride”, each elucidated separately. Why is the woman’s voice given her own mention – surely, based on the patriarchal interpretation of Torah, her voice fuses with her bridegroom as one to create the sound of joy as we unite masculine and feminine, male and female?

The woman’s voice is unique, because she speaks with an added level of wisdom, the feminine attribute of Binah. Binah is actualized potential, it is the gestation of the seed of Chochmah – inspiration – into a fully fleshed out idea of Da’at (Knowledge)[7]. The feminine attribute of Malchut represents communication in its essence, due to its ability to distil information into a neat and tidy package that can be conveyed to the recipient – such as a highly complex scientific concept relayed to a student; teaching the ideas of nature, sky blue and grass green to a small child; or in physical reality, gestating the seed of masculinity into a fully grown child with ears and eyes and fingers and toes.

Union in marriage can only happen when man and woman meet on an equal stature. In order for woman to be fully present in a relationship, she needs to achieve full stature on her own, drawing down supernal lights of consciousness so she becomes her own person in fullness. Her voice must be heard so that her groom stands alongside her, to actualize his full potential into a communicated aspect of malchut, of creating the “other” outside of himself.

It is only through the smallness of Malchut that She is able to transform into something greater than herself. It is only through the subjugation of females throughout history that womanhood has risen into her true role in the present time. Like King David who was chosen for kingship despite being the smallest of his brothers; like Mount Sinai that was chosen for giving the Torah despite being smaller than the other mountains; it is the nature of the smallness of Malchut, of the moon, and the feminine that she can move into her position as the true giver and bestower of lights.

The feminine attributes of Malchut, in today’s day and age, are not prized as they should be. Nurses and caregivers, teachers and stay-at-home parents, are not recognized for the expansiveness of this ability and are instead paid poorly, while accolades are given to the more masculine-trait-favoring roles in society such as sales, war and corporate monopoly. True feminism represents an understanding of the core feminine qualities and bringing them to the fore; and that includes an honor and respect granted by the opposite gender to those talents.

Bringing Malchut from the bottom of the totem pole to the top, as she supercedes the “Keter” “Crown” to bestow upon those below is an active process, one which is articulated in further detail by the Alter Rebbe while explaining the role of husband and wife as they move into sharing the voice of joy and gladness.

According to the Alter Rebbe’s teaching, a crucial part of actualizing this within the home and within society is to begin by giving voice to the woman, acknowledging her statements, as God said to Avraham regarding his wife Sarah, “Listen to her voice”; as well as in the world: In corporate organizations, where female CEOs are growing in number; in new, non-hierarchical industries, where creating “flat” teams with designated roles to each that don’t impede or superimpose on one another; and of course, in relationships, where the lights of Torah are granted to the woman with the added dimension of understanding, to help the males in her life begin to comprehend the new lights of Torah as we usher in the time of the Moshiach.

Contemporary feminism seeks to eradicate women’s roles, designating equal opportunities and ensuring equal pay – a noble and important task in today’s society. However, Chassidus moves us one level beyond. This indicates the importance of acknowledging the true stature of feminine roles, whether inhabited by men or women, for each being contains elements of both within their souls. Teachers, writers, communicators and nurturers should be awarded accordingly by society; and in those areas where women excel, they should be granted the platform to do so, as writers, teachers, judges or mentors.

 

[1] Rashi on Bereshis Chapter 1

[2] Sicha of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, Shabbos Parshas Toldos 5752

[3] Various Chassidic sources

[4] Tanya, Sha’ar Hayichud V’emunah Chapter 7

[5] Maamar Basi Legani

[6] Tefilos Lekol Hashana, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi

[7] Likkutei Amarim Tanya

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