The terms in this excerpt: woman, man, mother,and father refer to kabbalistic archetypes, the partzufim of Nukva, Zeir Anpin, Imma, and Abba, respectively - and, by extension, to the masculine and feminine attributes found in both men and women.
This excerpt identifies seven (really eight) stages in the feminine life cycle of waning and waxing. He describes woman's recovery from diminishment and her path of attaining full-statured equality. In the end, woman stands equal and opposite to man and they meet for the first time…
In the last stage, woman stands equal and opposite to man and they meet for the first time as spiritual, intellectual and emotional mates. Until then, woman needs man to pull down her transcendent lights, for she cannot reach them on her own. In the final and seventh stage she becomes self-sufficient in that regard. Only when perfectly equal in stature, intellect, and access to resources, can man and woman unite in consummate union. When they meet on every level, from the crown of their heads to the soles of their feet, every part of each finds its match in the other.
This is the Jewish vision of how man and woman should and will relate when they have healed themselves and fixed the world. The joy of their consummate union underlies all the anticipated pleasure of messianic times.
The diminishment of the moon - what is it? G‑d said to the moon, "Go and reduce yourself". (Chulin 60) As a result she and the feminine components of the entire universe disintegrated [a part of their light was reabsorbed back up into the higher realms] and a part descended below. [Only a bare remnant remained in its original place.] This [experience of exile and self-collapse] is unique [to woman and] distinguishes her from all other sefirot.
Each [partzuf and sefira] includes an entire set of [ten] sefirot [within it i.e. each] keter contains ten, and similarly each chochma, etc. She is his tenth sefira…
The kabbalistic universe is holographic; every piece contains something of every other piece inside itself. This is always true. No matter how small the fragment, no matter how many subdivisions one executes, the resulting particles always contain a complete set of the whole. Consequently, one always finds a malchut as the bottom point with nine other sefirot above it.
The only exception is man in relation to woman, where she is his tenth sefira. Unlike every other partzuf, whose malchut is exactly like its other nine sefirot, man is different. His tenth is not like his other nine; rather, it is a full partzuf unto itself. His malchut is on the same level as he himself.
Consequently, [man] has only nine secondary sefirot, and his tenth [is external to him, a personality unto itself,] the partzuf "woman" ["Nukva"]. [This is true at every level of his being.]
Each of man's secondary sefirot also only contains nine subunits, and their tenth also appears in woman, upgraded a notch, to a level equivalent to themselves. And so on, ad infinitum. This section is very difficult and not critical to an understanding of the ideas that follow. Don't get stuck here. Keep moving. All of these feminine elements combined together form the moon…
Consequently, "woman" [Nukva] is built from the feminine components that had originally been included in "man". Similarly, in the larger extended family of partzufim including mother, father, grandfather and great-grandfather, each contains a piece of woman inside itself (which it can hold in trust or transfer directly to her).
All of these feminine elements combined together form the moon.
Though her visible base of operations is the actual partzuf "woman", and that is what we point to and call the moon, in fact, the bulk of her lights are dispersed throughout the universe. Such is her condition since the fourth day of Creation, when she consented to her fateful decree.
One is struck by the parallel to the "cold, dark matter" that physicists postulate to be scattered throughout the universe but with properties that make it undetectable by visual or heat-sensitive instruments. See Michio Kaku, Hyperspace (New York: Anchor Books-Doubleday, 1994).
[When G‑d diminished the moon,] the feminine in [all its forms and] all its habitations plunged [into exile].
"Woman" was most drastically affected, for all of her pertains to the moon. In contrast, her husband's nine sefirot were only affected in their lowest interincluded spheres; the bulk of him remained immune to the moon's ordeal.
No corner of the universe escaped unscathed. As long as the feminine presence within each creature remains diminished, the entire organism lacks completion…
Since the world is holographic, every piece contains its share of moon dust. Consequently, no sliver of the universe can achieve perfection until the moon recoups her losses and recovers her light. (Perfection means to possess ten fully integrated, actualized, and manifesting sefirot.)
As long as the feminine presence within each creature remains diminished, the entire organism lacks completion. Thus, the primal drive of the universe is to restore woman (and all her shattered pieces) back to her place on high. There is no other way to fix the world except by inviting her back up and in.
The repercussions of this primordial trauma still reverberate through the cosmos, for every female soul recapitulates these events in the course of its life journey. In this sense woman's maturational process is different from man's, though they pass through the same milestones of development. Man's and woman's life cycles parallel the stages of human development. Their sequence divides into three primary intervals called: gestation, nursing, and intellectual maturity.
Concerning the pregnancy of man and woman, know that they gestate together in the womb of mother, [beginning their fetal period as incomplete partzufim.] Man has only six sefirot [instead of ten] and woman has only one, malchut (though it contains a full set of ten lower-level sefirot within it). Man passes through [these three developmental stages] (gestation, nursing, and intellectual maturity) and attains completion, becoming a full partzuf of ten [counting woman as his tenth].
Mother's provisions of milk and nurturing supply the materials from which he fashions the three upper sefirot that he was previously missing.
Woman's path of development is different from man's, and she needs him to facilitate her passage. When mother raised man, she [gave him his inheritance of resources and] designated a special energy fund earmarked for woman's growth. [This, too,] she transferred into man's possession [, and he became its trustee]. He [serves as an intermediary between mother and woman and] passes these special resources on to woman, thereby enabling her development. [With his help] she, too, evolves into a full partzuf of ten sefirot. The inter-included malchut of each of his nine sefirot actually belongs to woman…
Until woman attains maturity [and absorbs the lights she was previously missing, which will become] her upper nine sefirot, [these lights] are held [in trust] by man, temporarily absorbed into his upper spheres. [In truth, man] really has only nine sefirot, for his malchut is [a personality unto itself, that is,] the partzuf woman. Consequently, [at maturity,] between the two of them, they have only nineteen sefirot, his nine and her ten. She is called his "tenth" since [she has two distinct roles; she is a personality unto herself, yet] she is [also] his malchut, and he only becomes complete by joining with her as his tenth. She, [in her maturity,] comprises a full set of ten.
Before her legacy from mother is transferred to her, it resides with man, absorbed into his upper sefirot [i.e. the lights that will become her crown are integrated into his crown (her wisdom into his wisdom, etc.), yet they are not randomly dispersed there. Rather,] the inter-included malchut of each of his nine sefirot actually belongs to woman, even while it resides with man [and fills an absence in him. It is not that while he holds woman's inheritance from mother, he has certain lights in duplicate. Rather] the malchut included within each of his secondary sefirot belongs to woman [and when that transfer gets made, he is left with nine].
Woman's development [into full intellectual] maturity does not happen in one smooth stretch, [but] rather in spurts and starts [and numerous regressions.] Yet, slowly but surely, she blossoms into [a full partzuf].
Here follows a general outline [of woman's development,] though each step contains a myriad of details [and qualifications that a full and complete understanding must incorporate.]
It is especially important to note that while each stage displays certain features that situate it at a specific point along woman's life path, in truth, it spans a whole range of development from its lowest point (which is its definition) to its highest point (which is just before the next stage begins). Consequently, it is more accurate to think of these seven steps as dynamic chapters of growth rather than static points along a timeline.
[from "The Diminished Moon" in the Writings of the Ari, Etz Chaim
We have reproduced here approximately the first half of "Kabbalistic Writings on the Nature of Masculine and Feminine." The rest may be found on pp. 73-92. The book is available from the publisher (Jason Aronson, Inc.) and from the author's website: www.amyisrael.co.il/smallvoice]