Chanukka and the Feminine

chanukkah.2013.thumbnailby Sarah Yehudit Schneider

In Jewish symbology, the masculine archetype conflates with the sun and the feminine with the moon. Based on this equation the Ari maps out a seven-stage sequence from waning to waxing—from diminishment to fullness of stature—that is the secret (and the prototype) of the archetypal feminine. Our messianic goal, says the Ari, is for he and she “to become completelyequal.”[1] These teachings apply on every scale, from the inner feminine inside us all, to woman in relation to man, and to the Shekhina (Divine immanence) in relation to HaShem (Divine transcendene).

     We’ll define the feminine polarity (or Shekhina) as that aspect of the universe that is engaged in hishtalmut (dynamic perfecting) as opposed to the masculine which holds the pole of shelaymut (unwavering perfection).[2] We and all of creation are feminine in relation to HaShem.  We are that aspect of Divinity undergoing hishtalmut, for Divine Perfection, by definition, can lack nothing, even (paradoxically) the experience of perfecting.

Like the gears of a clock where the small wheels rotate once per second, while others take a minute, an hour, a day or even year to chanukka 2013.gearsrevolve. So it goes for the feminine on the inner plane, says the Ari.  There are daily cycles, monthly, yearly and even multi-millennial ones, for the entire course of human history is but a single revolution of the cosmic moon.

And each cycle leaves its residue of tikun. Although, the moon wanes again after she has waxed, each ascent to fullness leaves a permanent trace of growth.  Consequently, in the next descent, her “low point” will not be as low as it was before because of the light she absorbed in the last round.

In all of these intersecting cycles—particularly Shabbat and Yom Tov—the moon waxes and approaches her messianic ideal but never actually gets there. The updraft of that holy day lifts the Shekhina into higher worlds where she unites with HKBH[3] and then returns to her place at the end of the day. The holier the chag the more consummate their union.  We join the Shekhina in her ascent as we also withdraw from the world (i.e. the 39 categories of labor prohibited on those special days).The Ari elaborates upon this in great detail.[4]

But Chanukka is different. It certainly prompts a union between the Shekhina and HKBH for that is the very definition of a Jewish holiday. Yet this deepened zivug occurs in a very different way on Chanukka than on any other day of the year. It is opposite, on some level, from the scenario that occurs on Shabbat and Yom Tov where (as explained) the Shekhina detaches from the earthly plane and ascends to the spiritual realms.

The Ari connects this Chanukka teaching to the gematria of נר (ner,which means candle or flame).[5] In the Chassidic and Sefardic traditions the blessing over the Chanukka lights is different from other holidays.  On Chanukka we do not say, “ner shel Chanukka.” Instead we say “ner Chanukka.”  Because on Chanukka the ner  IS the mitzvah whereas on Shabbat and Yom Tov, the ner (נר) marks the day, but the mitzvah of Shabbat is to refrain from work, etc.

So on Chanukka, ner (נר) is the focus of the day.  And the gematria ofנר (250) actually contains within it, a three step process of evolving relationship between masculine and feminine encoded in what are calledshiluvim.  A shiluv is a meditation on two names of HaShem that are combined into one.  And those two names describe a particular state of relationship between HKBH and the Shekhina. And so the first of these threeshiluvim presents the feminine in her most diminished state relative to her masculine counterpart (and these names add to 91).  Then in the secondshiluv she gains stature but still there is great disparity between them. (These names add to 112). And finally she attains full stature where they meet and match from the crown of their heads to the souls of their feet. (These names add to 47.) This 3rd shiluv depicts our messianic model of consummated relationship between masculine and feminine, Shekhina and HKBH. In the language of the Ari, it is called the seventh stage of feminine development—where he and she finally meet “face to face and completely equal.”[6] This 3rd shiluv is how male and female will relate when they have healed themselves and fixed the world. And the total of these three gematriotis 250, which equals Ner.

And while this meeting of masculine and feminine (Shekhina and HKBH) happens on the inner planes in all of our chagim (though never all the way to the 7th stage), their equalizing occurs by the feminine leaving her domain and entering His heavenly domicile as explained.

On Chanukka, says the Ari, the opposite occurs.  HKBH comes down and meets the Shekhina on her turf. And it is quite remarkable that (according to the Ari) these yamei Chanukka are the only days of the year where the Shekhina and HKBH meet and match in a full, 7th stage equality—from the crown of their heads to the souls of their feet—a union here enabled by HKBH coming down (so to speak) and infusing the below with His full Presence.

And yet, this profound shift is so hidden, we can’t hardly sense it, except that it pokes through just a bit, as the nerot (candles) themselves that are peepholes into the inner layer of things. Just as eyes are windows to the soul, so the Chanukka lights are windows into the soul of the chag, and the profound union of Shekhina and HKBH that happens in these days, down here below, on the inner planes. Hence the custom to meditate on our candles for half an hour after lighting them.

And so, says the Ari, all of the laws of Chanukka, are designed to facilitate (and to reenact) the powerful feminine-centered nature of this festival:

1)     The menorah, ideally, should be lower than ten amot, so that we have to bend down to light it, and in that sense, imitate, HKBH, so to speak, coming down to the Shekhina.

2)     The menorah is placed to the left of the entrance, and in kabbalistic symbology left associates with feminine and right with masculine.

3)     The Chanukka lights are directed outward toward the marketplace—the worldly realm where G-d is hidden and the Shekhina resides. Most of our rituals happen in the privacy of our homes which are cloistered relative to the rough and tumble public domain. Yet that worldly layer is the primary focus of this mitzvah, whose purpose is to shine light into the darkness—to radiate the truth-of-truths that G-d rules down here below just as He rules above…and the Chanukka miracle proves it.

So I want to bless us as individuals and collectively, and as part of the larger world community—that we tap into the spiritual resource of this Chanukka time and shine its holy lights out into the world, in a way that brings a deep healing to the masculine and feminine on all its fronts: HKBH and Kenesset Yisrael, husband and wife, leaders and lay folk, Israel and the nations, soul and body, head and heart.

A related Chanukka tale:

In the household of Reb David of Tolna, the kindling of the Chanukka lights was a major event and his chassidim would gather around.  On the first night of Chanukka one year, as the Rebbe prepared to light, he turned to one of his chassidim and said:  “Your wife is short, is she not?  When you want to speak with her, what do you do? Do you bend over towards her, or does she stretch up to your height?!”  And without waiting for an answer he recited the blessings and lit the Menorah. The man was baffled (and so was everyone else).

Later that evening the Rebbe’s nephew explained: The Talmud states: “The Divine Presence never descends below ten handbreadths from the ground”. This is true EXCEPT for Chanukah when the menorah rests on a table that is (ideally) less than ten handbreadths high.  In this case HKBH does descend “lower than ten.”  And, says the Ari, this is the secret that lies at the root of the Talmudic dictum: “If your wife is short, bend down and hear what she has to say.”

———————

[1] R. Isaac Luria, Eytz Chayim, Nechal Nuka, Shaar Miyut HaYareach, Chapt. 1.  See Kabbalistic Writings on the Nature of Masculine and Feminine for an  elaborated translation of this text.

[2] R. Avraham Yitzchok Kook, Orot HaKodesh, 2:529-532.

[3] HaKadosh Boruch Hu (The Blessed Holy One).  Before fulfilling a mitzvah one says: “For the sake of the unification of HKBH and His Shekhina…”  Meaning, “for the sake of the unification of the Divine transcendence and the Divine Immanence.”  Kenesset Yisrael (the Mystical Body of Israel) is synonymous with Shekhina in our Kabbalistic texts.

[4] Luria, Eytz Chayim throughout and particularly Shaar HaKavannot.

[5] Luria, Pri Eytz Chayim, Shaar Chanukka, perek 4.

[6] R. Isaac Luria, Eytz Chayim, Nechal Nuka, Shaar Miyut HaYareach, Chapt. 1.  See Kabbalistic Writings on the Nature of Masculine and Feminine for an  elaborated translation of this text.

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