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The Loving Friends

The Loving Friends

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"Grant abundant joy to these loving friends..." So begins the sixth of the seven blessings recited under the canopy at a Jewish wedding. One does not need graduate training in social science to appreciate that there is currently precious little joy among the loving friends.

The current, pre-Redemption state of the world is compared by Jewish sources to a dream. Dreams consist of a mélange of disjointed events in which truth and illusion are inextricably mixed up. Nowhere is the dream analogy more applicable than in the interaction between the sexes. The relationship between men and women is, and has been, chaotic, bewildering and contradictory. In no other domain of life have the opposites of attraction-repulsion, dominance-submission, indeed, love-hate been so intertwined. Preoccupation with the male-female conundrum has dominated the fields of psychology, literature and now sociology and politics. Although many impressive solutions have been proposed, the sex paradox remains as intractable as ever. Neither Freud nor Friedan has made the slightest difference. They have simply propounded new misconceptions, unleashing cascades of novel frustrations and social woes. Marriages and families continue to fail, as men and women persist in misunderstanding themselves and each other.

Why is the species divided into two sexes? What does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to be a woman? We can eliminate, at the outset, the obvious biological explanations, as these are not answers, but are rather aspects of the question.

As it happens, maleness and femaleness are built into the very fabric of existence. They originate in two diverse modes of Divine manifestation, the interaction of which comprises the process of Creation.

The concept of creation emerged as a consequence of G‑d's will to give, to do good. Obviously in order to satisfy the desire to give, there must be someone to receive. The problem is, however, that G‑d is alone. There is naught but Him, and, therefore, there is no one to give to. G‑d's solution to this problem is creation, the bringing into existence of seemingly independent, self-aware beings that are dissociated from His being.

This is effected by a diversification or a particularization of G‑d's essential will, resulting in two divergent modes of Divine expression that collaborate with each other to produce creation. These two influences recur in different guises endlessly throughout existence. Thus, there always seems to be two of everything, e.g., sun and moon, natural and supernatural, holy and profane, finite and infinite, etc. Moreover, the "two" are not only different from one another, they are antonymous and, therefore, ostensibly incompatible with each ether. Nonetheless, remarkably, they are wedded to one another and the offspring of this marriage is creation.

The marriage metaphor is not merely a cute figure of speech. The two general modes of Divine revelation alluded to above are referred to in Torah as Hakodesh Baruch Hu and Shechinah. Hakodesh Baruch Hu, meaning "The Holy One, Blessed be He," is masculine in gender, and Shechinah, generally translated as the "Divine Presence," is feminine. In the figurative language of Kabbalah, these two manifestations of Divinity are called "man and woman," or "father and mother."

Perhaps the easiest way to approach the roles played by these two categories of Divine emanation in the creative process is to examine another well-known metaphor for creation, namely speech. As every child who has studied Genesis knows, G‑d created the world through speech. Although children, and not a few adults, tend to picture the various components of the world popping into existence as they are called forth, products of a spectacular cosmic magic trick, this is not what is meant by Divine speech.

Torah's use of anthropomorphic metaphor, in this case speech, enables us to approach, albeit indirectly, the fundamentally ineffable phenomenon of Creation using human language as a model. Of the large range of human potentials, speech is unique in that it is devoid of intrinsic content. The meaning or content of speech is provided by other faculties. The faculty of speech receives information or revelations from elsewhere in the mind. A person is capable of a remarkable variety of self-expression, from the loftiest intellectual perceptions to the most intense emotions. Feelings and thoughts are generated constantly by the mind and these produce a rich unique inner world which reveals the thinker to himself. In fact, the activity of the mind and the thinker are really one inseparable reality. A person is his thoughts.

Very few people are content to live with their thoughts, which is to say, with themselves. People want to make a difference, to give of themselves. The problem is how to exteriorize or actualize the private realm of self-expression such that others can receive.

The obvious answer is language. One can enclothe ideas or feelings in letters and words of speech. The faculty of language thus receives revelations from a rich variety of creative potentials and it provides "garments", i.e., words, in which the self-revelations are concretized and turned into something objectively real that can be appreciated by others.

Language, then, is a miraculous act of creation in which an illumination from the soul, as it were, is detached from its source and given independent life. Not only may this transplanted bit of soul long outlive its source, but its influence may far exceed that ever imagined by its author.

The essential point is that language is comprised of two disparate elements. The "soul" of language, its content, consists of abstract, nonverbal revelations from intellectual and emotive faculties. The "body" of language consists of the words, tangible garments in which the "soul" can manifest itself. Language, then, is a product of the synergism between two necessarily distinct functions. The power to reveal what is hidden in the intellectual and emotional faculties of the mind or soul is the male component. The power to receive illuminations from soul potentials and to actualize them is the female aspect of language.

In order to grasp more fully the nature and significance of "man" and "woman," we should consider another analogy, complementary to that of language. Suppose you have a dear friend who delights in the beauty of cherry blossoms in the spring. Because of your great affection for this friend, you send him, for his birthday, the pit of a cherry that you have just eaten.

Your reasoning is sound. The pit contains all features, components, and possible developmental scenarios for a cherry tree from the time it sprouts until it dies. Everything is there, roots, branches, blossoms, cherries and more cherry pits. It is a perfect and complete packet of information. Nonetheless, your friend is not likely to be overly impressed.

His reasoning is also sound. You in fact gave him nothing, or rather nothing palpable. The cherry tree, with its blossoms, is only a possibility latent within the pit. It is pure potential. In order to release the myriad revelations condensed in the cherry pit, one must do a very strange thing; one must bury it in the earth.

The earth contains no information. It is, however, capable of receiving any and every diverse revelation from the plant world (seeds) and endowing them with objective reality. The earth can actualize an onion just as easily as a banana, a skunk cabbage as readily as an orchid.

Mother earth, then, like the female aspect of language, is a recipient. She has nothing of her own. This, at first glance, could be perceived as a deficiency. However, the reason that the female creative element lacks definitive properties is because its source is limitless and transcendent. The provenance of speech, for example, is the essence of the intelligent soul. In contrast, the various revelations of intellect or emotion that inform and animate speech (the male elements) originate in specific faculties that are no more than limited derivatives or emanations from the soul's essence. The faculty of intelligence can only produce intelligence, whereas speech can actualize anything: intelligence, stupidity, love, hate, etc.

Thus, the contribution to the creative process of male and female elements differs considerably. The male component provides information or illumination, the product of a specific attribute. The female component supplies the essential power to translate the illumination into objective creation. It is a limitless power, reflecting the root of the female creative component in essence of the Creator (as opposed to one of His attributes).

The nature of the relationship between these two fundamental forces is determined by their definitive characteristics. Thus it is the male element that is attracted to, and actively seeks out, the female element. He is bursting with possibilities with which he can do nothing. Since he is a particular aspect of G‑d's desire to give, his very essence reflects that intent. Consequently, the male creative element pursues the female element. She, being rooted in G‑d's infinite will, partakes of G‑d's infinite creative power and thus can turn the male's potential into reality.

The unlimited unified creative essence of Divine Will that gives rise to the female element is often referred to as ayin or "nothing". The reason is that it transcends particularization and definition, and hence is unknowable. The female element, then, truly has "nothing to give," i.e., she is uniquely capable of giving "nothing" (ayin).

The nature of the female element reflects her origin. She is silent and still, waiting to receive possibilities. This female characteristic has often been misinterpreted as passiveness or submission stemming from weakness. The extreme, although popular and politically correct view of her role, is that of a victim, conditioned by the powerful male need to dominate. This perception is shallow, self-serving and erroneous, as should be clear from the previous analysis.

We can perhaps better appreciate this point by drawing a parallel to the Medical Research Council of Canada. The Medical Research Council of Canada (MRC, for short) does not do medical research. It generates no theories and does no experiments. Nonetheless, as the major government funding agency, the MRC is the ultimate power deciding what biomedical research will be done in Canada. The MRC sits quietly, expectantly, waiting for ideas. The ideas come from the scientists. Scientists bubble with speculations, hypotheses, and experimental designs. However, the most brilliant, innovative proposal conjured up by the most distinguished scientist is merely an unfulfilled dream, a frustrated potential without MRC funding. Thus, scientists aggressively pursue the MRC. The MRC, however, does not pursue scientists. Its role is to receive possibilities (grant applications) and turn the ones it likes into reality by providing the necessary support. Since there is no medical science without the MRC, the contribution of this agency can hardly be described as weak or passive.

We can carry this analogy a little further. Since the MRC has the power to turn any theoretical formulation into reality, it must exercise extreme vigilance in deciding which proposals to accept. It is no accident that the MRC panels are comprised of the finest scientific minds in Canada. The need for discernment, intelligence and caution applies to all expressions of the female creative element, including women.

The central role of the male and female influences in the process of creation can lead to a serious misunderstanding. It is crucial to keep in mind that these two modes are not autonomous powers, but are rather emanations from a single, indeed the only, reality. It is not without good reason that the prayer Adon Olam emphasizes the fact that "He is one, and not two..." Since the male and female elements are ultimately rooted in G‑d's unity, they are, prior to their evolution as separate modes with unique, definitive properties, one essence.

This is alluded to in the Midrashic literature describing the primal human as a single individual comprised of male and female aspects. The two elements subsequently were separated, giving rise to man and woman. Thus, when the male element in whatever form and at whatever level of existence finds and "marries" his female counterpart, the original unity is reestablished. Marriage, therefore, is not a union of two different individuals, but rather a reunion of the two halves of a single self.

This is not, however, merely a return to the initial state. The original dissociation of two elements from each other allows each to develop and express its own singular potentialities. Thus, when they are finally reunited, each is endowed with the specific, unique qualities necessary to effect the miracle of creation.

Now that we have some idea of the nature, origin and behavior of the two primal creative elements, we can apply this information to the relationship between men and women. Since all that exists is the product of the interaction between male and female creative forces, these two modes are ubiquitous. Nevertheless, the final goal of creation in this material world, and within this world, the supreme representation of the Divine creative attributes, described as male and female, are men and women. Indeed, G‑d's primary intent is that men and women utilize their respective G‑d-given powers to create Divinity on earth.

In other words, the ultimate interaction between the male and female mode is intended to be accomplished by us, living and actualizing Divine Will as set forth in Torah. We, then, are responsible for transforming the world into a "new" creation, thus fulfilling G‑d's original intent.

When viewed in this context, many aspects of Jewish life that have been subject to question can be understood and appreciated.

The Jewish family, then, is instrumental in achieving the ultimate goal of creation. It is this entity that is designed to realize G‑d's Will, which is synonymous with His Torah. The groom brings to the marriage an ability to reveal G‑dliness. The bride's dowry is a power to actualize Divine revelations. Together, these loving friends are capable of revealing G‑d's essence, an accomplishment that will bring abundant joy to their Creator, to themselves, to the Jewish people, and indeed to the world.

Dr. Yaakov Brawer is Professor Emeritus of the Faculty of Medicine at McGill University. He is the author of two books of Chassidic philosophy, Something From Nothing and Eyes That See
Artwork by Sarah Kranz.
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RS Los Angeles, CA February 13, 2012

Truly Amazing I find this extremely fascinating and illuminating. I wonder what Dr. Brawer would have to say about the article on Chabad.org's "Hasidology" blog entitled "Emotive Intelligence: A Letter to Sonia Rozenblum by Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn " and if the two modes referred to in the letter are indeed gender-based or otherwise. Reply

Blanca Lios Angeles, CA February 13, 2012

What a fantastic article! Clear, illustrative and so profound. Thank you. Reply

Albertos NY, NY April 23, 2010

Absolutely brilliant! The sheer intellectual might displayed by this essay is inspiring. Perhaps for that very reason it is not pop-culture, and hardly viewed and commented upon. it is a study, and the culmination of decades of chasidic understanding and sensitivity. Please Prof. Brawer write more. Reply

arif John Mirpurkhas, Pakistan November 3, 2005

Information Dear Sir,
These information is very best regarding cluture & traditions in different areas which is necessary for especial focused communities I like it very much. Thanks, Reply