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Kabbalah teaches that there are upper and lower spiritual aspects of femininity.

Mystical Aspects of Femininity

Mystical Aspects of Femininity

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Mystical Aspects of Femininity
Kabbalah teaches that there are upper and lower spiritual aspects of femininity.

The Arizal notes that there are two aspects of femininity. These are represented by the two letters hei of G‑d's name Havayah, spelled yud-hei-vav-hei. (The yud and the vav represent the two aspects of masculinity.)

The male-female dynamic is the existential underpinning of all reality….

It is taught in Kabbala that the Hebrew alphabet is the means through which G‑d created the world. The form, name, and numerical value of every letter embody the different energies; by blending these energies together in words, G‑d created the world. Specifically, we are taught that G‑d created the world using the divine name Havayah, which means that the creative process is reflected in the order and "personality" of the four letters that compose it. We thus have here a clear indication that the male-female dynamic is the existential underpinning of all reality. The world was created through the name Havayah, thus, all reality reflects the structure and dynamics of this name; and this name itself reflects two levels of union between male and female, yud-hei and vav-hei.

The four letters of the name Havayah are associated with the ten sefirot or channels of divinity through which G‑d created the world. These ten sefirot are manifest in all aspects of Creation. Specifically, the first sefira, chochma is associated with the first letter of the Name, yud; the second sefira, bina with the second letter, the upper hei; the six sefirot of the emotions with the third letter, vav; and the tenth sefira, malchut with the last letter, the lower hei. The tenth sefira, daat is not specifically associated with any letter of the name Havayah, but is generally seen to come after bina, and therefore may be considered to be something of an extension of the first hei.

yud

chochma

wisdom

hei

bina
daat

understanding
knowledge

vav

midot

emotions

hei

malchut

kingdom

The male principle is the abstract idea and the female principle is its concretization….

From this we see that the first aspect of femininity is bina, usually translated as "understanding". It is in bina that the objective insight that is chochma becomes subjectified and starts to become "real" to the person. The second aspect of femininity, the second hei, is malchut, or "kingdom". Malchut is how a person becomes king over reality, by expressing his ideas and emotions and through them changing, rectifying, and elevating the world from its initial, purely physical state to a spiritualized state. Bina is thus the actualization of chochma, and malchut is the actualization of the emotions. In both cases, the male principle is the abstract idea and the female principle is its concretization. Malchut may be considered a lower form of bina since expression is simply a way of making other people understand the emotions one feels.

The two Biblical archetypes for these two facets of femininity are the two wives of Jacob, Leah and Rachel. Leah is represented by the first hei of the Divine Name, and Rachel by the second hei. Since the four letters represent a sequential, descending process in the act of creation, this means that Leah (the "upper" hei) represents a higher level of spirituality than Rachel (the "lower" hei). Leah personified bina; Rachel personified malchut.

The numerical value of the letter hei is five, which means that there is an innate "five-ness" in femininity; each of these aspects of femininity comprises five dimensions. The ten sefirot are reflected in each of the five dimensions of these two aspects of femininity. This gives us fifty (5 x 10) sub-aspects for Leah, the upper hei, and fifty for Rachel, the lower hei.

There are…fifty subjective levels through which one may conceptualize or relate to G‑d….

This clearly recalls two teaching of our sages recorded in the Talmud. The first is that there are fifty "gates" of understanding (Rosh Hashanah 21b), that is, fifty subjective levels through which one may conceptualize or relate to G‑d. The second is that an additional measure of understanding was given to woman beyond that given to man (Nidda 45b). Thus we see that understanding is an intrinsically feminine quality, which is associated with the feminine letter hei and which comprises fifty "gates", corresponding to the ten sefirot manifest in each of the five dimensions of (both aspects of) femininity.

Now, since each of the two aspects of femininity, the upper and lower hei's of G‑d's Name, comprises fifty sub-aspects, they may each be represented by the letter of the Hebrew alphabet whose numerical value is indeed 50. This is the letter nun. And here we encounter an interesting phenomenon: the letter nun is of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet that has two forms, one used when the letter occurs at the end of a word and another in all other cases. In the usual form, the lower part is bent at a right angle to the "spine" of the letter. In the form used at the end of a word, this bent segment is bent down and is in effect a continuation of the "spine" extending below the normal line of the letters.

The feminine aspect of Creation is that which draws the divine energy into the task of rectifying and elevating the created world….

The idea of extending "below the line" in Kabbala represents the idea of penetrating into the lower aspects of reality. As we said, the feminine aspect of Creation is that which draws the divine energy into the task of rectifying and elevating the created world. This entails a certain danger, since through prolonged contact with aspects of reality that are not conscious of holiness their perspective on life can "rub off", and it is possible to lose sight of the goal of the work being done. For this reason, whenever malchut descends into the lower realms, she must take adequate precautions not to let the negative forces latch on to her and drag her down to their level.

Thus, the final form of the nun, which extends below the line, represents bina, the upper hei, Leah. Since bina is on a higher level of spirituality than is malchut, its higher consciousness of spirituality enables it to descend into the realms of impurity without fear of attack. The regular form of the nun, in contrast, is bent upward, signifying the need for malchut to refrain from getting too involved with its task of refining reality. What this means is that on an intellectual level one can freely contemplate and discuss strategies of how to go about rectifying even the lowest realms, the aspects of Creation that are inimical to divine consciousness. But when it comes to actually engaging in the struggle with these elements, it is necessary to refrain from venturing into levels where one could be exposed to attack.

The emotions oscillate…between renewing themselves in the intellectual ideas that gave rise to them and the means for their expression….

In between these two nun's (or two hei's) is the letter vav, which signifies the emotions (or "midot", the six intermediate sefirot), as we said. The emotions oscillate between bina and malchut, between renewing themselves in the intellectual ideas that gave rise to them and the means for their expression. The Biblical archetype for the emotions is thus Jacob, who was married to both Leah and Rachel. When the letter nun is spelled out as a word, it is spelled nun-vav-nun; the vav is wedged between the regular and the final nun.

The propensity of the feminine force of Creation is to get so involved and active with the challenge of infusing divinity into reality that it runs the risk of exposing itself to the attacks of the unrectified elements. In its enthusiasm to bring divine inspiration into all corners of the universe, it may focus too much on the task and cross the subtle line between influencing and being sucked in or sucked upon. By focusing too much on the exigencies of the job, it may lose track of it ultimate goal. The syndrome is unfortunately all too well known: An inspired young couple dedicates their lives to raising a Jewish family. But to provide a proper home and a proper education, the parents must go to work and expend great effort and concentration on succeeding in business and building the home. Before they know it, their focus has shifted and they have sunk into the pursuit of materialism and the quest for greater and better ways to provide the proper setting and home for the spiritual life they never seem to get around to living. This scenario plays itself out in a thousand ways in different settings all over the world.

Therefore, G‑d calls upon us to donate some of the fruits of our labors to the Holy Temple (and other holy pursuits). By donating, by freely giving up some of the precious goods we have labored so exhaustingly to acquire, we are re-orienting them back to the goal of our involvement with them: the ultimate reunification of reality with its divine source. The Hebrew word for "donation", "teruma", literally means "elevation". This is the feminine aspect of reality, which needs to be "donated" or elevated, for it is specifically our captivation with the romantic idea of infusing reality with divinity that is in perpetual danger of leading us astray into the quicksand of materialism.

Moshe Yaakov Wisnefsky is a scholar, writer, editor and anthologist, living in Jerusalem. He has recently produced two monumental works: "Apples from the Orchard: Arizal on the Weekly Torah" and a Chumash translation with commentary based on the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe (Kehot).
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Anonymous great neck, ny November 8, 2011

Great Atrticle! Wow, I throughly enjoyed reading this, thank you!! Reply

Julie Durham, UK June 6, 2011

Very interesting article I am amazed to see written down the patterns of my life. Yes, it is easy to get carried away into the material, one is driven by everything from necessity to ideals.
One way for the feminine to become stuck in the unrectified elements is to become involved with a man who is in need of "straightening out". This I believe could be the root of abusive relationships.
Your wisdom is immense and quite clearly goes way beyond my small understanding. Reply

Anonymous Palm Springs, California October 27, 2009

Good Article I realized after I posted my comment, that in my conclusion of “safety”, I was not including your key point in the equation. Your point is well taken concerning the inherent danger of malchut descending into the lower realms. Thank you for the wisdom and good counsel. Reply

Anonymous Palm Springs, California October 26, 2009

Good Article "The need for malchut to refrain from getting too involved with its task of refining reality" which goes along with what you were saying about teruma, reminds me of the Akeidah: Isaac’s willingness of "freely giving up" his "precious" life for "elevation" demonstrating "the ultimate reunification of reality with its divine source.” By binding our flesh, we may safely refine reality without contamination, elevating it to divinity. Reply

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