By Rabbi Leah Novick
For most of our history, the Shekhinah has been our way of embracing the Divine Mother through the filters of our culture, literature, myth and religious rituals. All of these have been part of the retention of the memory of “God the Mother”; albeit in subtle forms. While we have loved and protected her as our ethno-particular variation on understanding the Divine Feminine; Shekhinah is beyond all of our previous conceptualizations.
In the present era, Shekhinah is already planetary Gaia and source of inter-galactic connectedness. The future Shekhinah is Mother to the entire Cosmos---“Eym Kol Ha Olamim.” In that scheme of things, what would the simplest “Shekhinah theology of the future” look like?
1) Universal awareness of the divinity in all beings that elicits the tenderness, respect, love, and caring that we associate with the Divine Mother.
2) Widespread experience of the holiness in all the earth or Gaia, which would make it impossible to pollute, destroy or to exploit this planet or others.
3) Universal sharing and teaching of all spiritual wisdom traditions.
Such a messianic era will involve the unification of consciousness across all boundaries, genders, ethnic identities and religions. That collective awareness, based on the unity of all beings in the Source would foster respect for the beauty of differences; allowing humanity to enjoy real mutual tolerance.
The challenge as I see it is that we are still in the process of developing Gaia consciousness. That process was given a “jump start” by the moon landing and space program which enabled us to see our planet as a living organism. It has not yet translated into committed protection of the environment or the election of national leaders with such priorities.
Likewise the accelerated development of the computer and its by-products of the Internet and e-mail have enabled people all over the world to access technology rapidly and enjoy almost instantaneous contact with each other. Those developments, which have the potential for international networking and the cultivation of greater harmony are already providing a great deal of information, but are not necessarily filtered for more enlightened functioning.
So we are still reliant on the writers, the healers, musicians, the poets, the teachers, the spiritual leaders, who must provide not only the new thinking, but the capacity for sharing their own experiences of illuminated states to larger numbers of people around the world. That issue of widespread experience of the presence of God on this earth, and in all the beings is the basis of the Shekhinah future.
We might also consider a parallel scenario in which the great beings of all the religions are returning together to the planet; providing a spiritual epiphany to the earth; a kind of universal and rapid enlightenment process. This will speed-up the ability for all of us to enter the state of harmony we have so long struggled for.
Jewish prophetic literature is replete with poetic descriptions of that time in the future when all people will come to worship at God’s holy mountain. Our mystical literature is rich with understanding of altered states and the human capacity to reach the Divine. In fact, that kabbalistic wisdom of the nature of the universe may well be our main contribution to the future.
To disseminate that knowledge in a more crystalline form will require some internal clean up of both language and attitude. The literature is burdened with the preoccupation of assuring the Jewish future and the unique place of Klal Yisrael (the community of Israel) in the redemption. It is that zenophobia and focus on separation that needs to be sorted out of our holy literature if we are to cleanse our collective psyche and pass our mystical wisdom on to future generations.
To move from the particular to the universal requires a shift in thinking and language, not only around the holiness of the people, but the land of Israel. In this time of major challenge to the health of the planet, we need the larger view (mochin d gadlut) of seeing all the earth as holy and all its residents as children of the Shekhinah. As Mother of all she must hover over all places of worship, all study groups, all good deeds; she cannot remain the proprietary guardian of minyanim of male Jews.
The other major klipah or flaw is the medieval association of the feminine with the demonic. In the progression from Gevurah to the Sitra Achra we see the fear of the feminine asserting itself and vetoing both spirituality and logic. Over and over again in the Zohar, we are confronted with the concept of the Divine Feminine in Malchut, deriving her light and power from her union with her consort Tiferet (even though we have examples of her deriving it from the upper Mother, Binah or connecting directly to Keter).
While we may appreciate this carryover of the "Hieros Gamos” from pre-Judaic times, it places the Shekhinah in a state of perpetual dependency on the masculine sexual energy for her empowerment. Likewise her penetration by the forces of evil makes her the equivalent of the raped woman who is now defiled and unable to continue in her legitimate role (the Zoharic concept of the servant women Lilith taking over in place of the Matrona and cohabiting with the Divine King).
We know that these concepts must be taken to a metaphorical level; we all do that in our teaching. The Divine Union does not have to remain in its heterosexual human model, but can become the focus on the union of the disparate parts of the self (which is how we explain that yichud on the Sabbath especially for those not in partnership or in same sex relationships).
The demonic can be seen in terms of the negative components in the human psyche (rage, violence, rape, etc.) emerging because we are cut off from the feminine, both Divine and human. However, we have reversed the sequence; placing the Sitra Achra on the Shekhinah when it is we who hold that energy.
And what of the man who learns from our sources that his connection to the Divine Presence is based on a sexual relationship with his wife in a Jewish marriage? (“Shekhinah is present only where male and female are united”) It is as if he is being told: “Yes, you can stay in tantric connection with Shekhinah through proper prayer and study, but ultimately you must be married and have children, to be accepted.”
I offer these suggestions as a devoted student of Kabbalah. I have been charmed by the Zohar for decades, and can never get enough of it’s imaginative interpretations. It is as if I have been dancing with these texts, always telling them “enchanté,” I am enchanted with you and your divine insights. In that process, I look the other way or choose to omit those passages that disturb my worldview. And I take recourse in not knowing enough, and waiting for those more expert than myself to do the necessary “make over.”
One question often raised is whether our traditional God-names and energies, including our concept of “Shekhinah” need to be retained in their specificity, in order to provide gates to the Divine for particular cultural or historical groups (Hindu Gods and Goddesses, the Christ, Buddha, Wakantanka, all gateways for leading humanity towards God).
The issue is not homogeneity or giving up who we are, but how to lead a spiritual life in the modern world with all of its distractions. For some people, the return to a more profound and spiritually fulfilling version of their own tradition is essential. For others who cannot, or do not wish to re-create that reality, the inspiration may come from nature or in new spiritual communities with more eclectic paths to esoteric wisdom.