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Voice of the Bride

Voice of the Bride

Man and Wife, G-d and the Jews

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It is taught in Chassidic and Kabbalistic literature that the polarities of masculine and feminine will eventually invert. There will come a time, blessed and welcomed by all, when the feminine will have greater access to transcendent consciousness, and when that happens, she will bestow and man will receive from her. This is what we learn from the text, The Voice of the Bride, which was written by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, known as the Alter Rebbe (1745-1812) who expounds upon a model from the Arizal (a 16th century Kabbalist who revolutionized the study of Jewish mysticism.)

When a Jewish man and woman wed, seven marriage blessings are recited for them beneath the bridal canopy. Rabbi Schneur Zalman comments on the last of these special prayers which heralds an idyllic time when "…the jubilant voices of both groom and bride will be heard on the streets of Jerusalem… and the groom will rejoice with his bride."1 R. Schneur Zalman reads these lines in the context of his encyclopedic knowledge of Jewish teachings where even the most subtle hint reverberates in ever-widening circles of association. He interprets this prayer as depicting a profound transformation of gender relations that will culminate in messianic times.

There will be a profound transformation of gender relations in messianic timesRabbi Schneur Zalman identifies two shifts in status quo anticipated by the prayer's carefully selected words. First is the emergence of woman's voice from passive silence to full expression (as indicated by the blessing's unnecessary repetition of the word voice both in relation to groom and in relation to bride). Second is a reversal of polarities between man and woman. Now when consciousness (and its associated joys) descends from above to below it passes first to man and from him to woman. In this sequence, he gives and she receives. In messianic times, the polarity will invert and consciousness will move in the opposite direction; it will pass first to woman, and from her to man (as derived by comparing this prayer's closing words to a nearly identical line in the sixth blessing that precedes it). Rabbi Schneur Zalman elaborates on these remarkable teachings and explores their implications both for Israel's relationship to G‑d, and woman's relationship to man.

He compares this messianic progression to Judaism's two-stage process of marital relationship which defines a stepwise sequence of deepening intimacy, called betrothal and marriage. These are precisely defined terms in Jewish law. Betrothal is a legally binding commitment to marry. Though the couple is not permitted to relate sexually, in most other respects, they are as if legally married and the dissolution of their engagement requires a divorce. The second level of matrimonial commitment occurs when the bride formally enters her husband's home. The wedding canopy symbolizes their coming together under one roof and so effects this change of status. The marriage is finalized by its physical consummation. These legal categories have metaphysical correlations as well. In betrothal the couple's outer layers of soul engage; in marriage their core selves touch and bond.

Betrothal requires one of several specific deeds to activate the obligations associated with that commitment. The Mishna states, "A woman is [betrothed] in three ways: When she receives a sum of money [or a gift of equivalent monetary value…]"2 Nowadays this is fulfilled by the exchange of a ring,3 a gold band that encircles her finger.

This model also applies to the relationship between G‑d and the Jewish nation, where He is the groom and they are the bride. Their commitment evolves through a similar progression of intimacy. Rabbi Schneur Zalman proves that the Torah's revelation effected G‑d's betrothal to Israel, the first stage of intimacy where externalities engage. Their relationship will consummate in messianic times.

Just as a man effects betrothal with a ring, so did G‑d, for the ring's circular form parallel's the metaphysical concept of surrounding lights. In kabbalahh, lights that can be grasped and integrated are called inner and internalizable (אור פנימי), lights that are present but too "high" or "deep" or "vast" to be contained within their vessel of consciousness are described as surrounding or hovering (אור מקיף). Both types descended at Sinai.

A searing revelation of Presence engraved the souls of an entire nationAccording to Jewish tradition, the Torah's revelation was the most profound manifestation of G‑d that ever transpired on the planet. An estimated four million people experienced that historic event. A searing revelation of Presence engraved the souls of an entire nation with the-truth-of-the-universe compressed into a single burst of light. Its impact continues to impel their generations to be seekers and servants of G‑d, and will do so till the end of time.

Sinai is different from all other prophetic encounters not only in its amount of light but also in its quality. Other Biblical prophesies only accessed the aura of Divinity, the glow that surrounds the Blessed Luminary. At Sinai, the Infinite Light itself, the actual source of illumination, was manifestly present. And yet, the people could not contain that intensity of revelation. Its bolt of insight impacted their souls, but only a fraction integrated as conscious awareness. The rest overflowed into a ring of surrounding light that holds all the possibilities of future consciousness within its glow. With each passing moment, the vessel of awareness expands and a drop of surrounding radiance slips inside and integrates there. Eventually all the encircling lights will be internalized by our infinitely expanded capacity to know G‑d.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman defines both integrated and surrounding lights by their relationship to Torah. Integrated lights are truths and teachings that are accessible to us now, at this point in our development. All the accumulated wisdom of the Jewish people, its Torah commentaries, legal rulings, moral lessons and mysticism are all integrated lights to the extent that they are known and incorporated into life.

Conversely, the inner dimension of Torah, the repository of secrets hidden within the text elucidating the deeper reasons behind its laws, stories, and textual structure, this came down at Sinai but was not actually revealed at that time. Embedded within each letter, word, and story are all the unrealized possibilities of interpretation daily elucidated. These ungraspable lights (along with the higher states of consciousness that accompany them) form a shimmering halo around the integrated lights of the revealed Torah, enclosing them as if in a sphere of radiant consciousness. With this encircling band as His engagement offering, G‑d betrothed the Jewish people at Sinai and secured their commitment to marry at the end of days.

Throughout their engagement period, Israel's relationship to G‑d daily ripens. It is not a time of passive waiting; only active preparation will do. Our task is to labor in Torah, to release its hidden teachings and allow ourselves to be transformed by its truths. Each day, the Jewish nation exposes another layer of concealed lights and soon there will be no secrets left. The Torah's soul-satisfying wisdoms will illuminate every question, resolve every doubt, and explain every suffering.

The Torah's wisdoms will illuminate every question and explain every sufferingThe fullness of Divine light will shine through the Torah and fill Israel's collective heart, bones, cells and spaces with Holy Presence. There will be no place inside them that is not permeated with G‑d and nothing of G‑d that does not fit inside them. A perfect marriage, a consummate union of glory and awe.

This transition from betrothal to marriage happens through the gradual integration of surrounding lights. The transfer of consciousness from above to below, from its infinite source on high to its final expression as expanded awareness in the minds of mankind, follows one path of descent now, in the engagement period, and will follow an alternative route in messianic times. Now, this stepwise relay of consciousness begins with mother who passes it on to man. He internalizes what he can and the rest spills over as surrounding light. Man then separates out a portion of his newly integrated lights and passes them on to woman.

The rule is stated thus: The higher the partzuf, the personae, the greater its capacity to hold light. Consequently, at each transfer, only some illumination actually fits into the vessel below. The rest gets displaced into a ring of transcendent awareness that holds all the possibilities of future apprehension, and that encircles the head of the lower partzuf. In this way each upper level becomes a crown to the level below.

This is the order of descent in pre-messianic times, while the moon is diminished and woman's stature is less than man's. In this configuration, woman cannot access her own transcendent lights, for she cannot reach them on her own. She needs man to draw them from mother and pass them to her.

Woman's preparation for marriage requires that she heal all traces of diminishment and re-attain her full stature. Consummation can only happen when man and woman match from the crown of their heads to the soles of their feet, and this is only possible when they meet as equal statures. As long as woman remains diminished, their union can never consummate and "marriage" cannot happen.

Then, explains Rabbi Schneur Zalman, their relationship evolves to a higher level still. Woman recovers her full stature and then supersedes man. When this happens, their polarity inverts. Now she becomes "the crown to her husband," holding the super-conscious lights that are destined for him, but which he cannot reach on his own. Like a rubber band stretched and released, she springs beyond man and becomes the intermediary in their relationship, a service he will have provided for six thousand years. Since she can now access levels that he cannot, she transfers their illuminations to him, some of which he integrates and some of which he cannot, for his vessel of consciousness is too small to contain them. Instead, they encircle his head as a crown, fulfilling the verse which states "the woman of valor will become a crown to her husband."

Woman will receive her lights straight from the source of consciousnessThe seventh marriage blessing depicts this shift in the polarity of man and woman with its closing words, "…Blessed is G‑d who rejoices the groom with the bride." Its use of the word with (as opposed to the word and which is in the sixth blessing) indicates that woman is now the primary source of joy and man comes along with her. In the first six millennia of history, consciousness (and its joys) flows from man to woman, but this dynamic will change in messianic times. The super-conscious lights of G‑dly awareness will pass first to woman, and then, afterwards, to man.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman depicts this gender transformation as a two-step process. First, woman comes into her voice. Her current lack of voice manifests in two ways. Now, her betrothal happens through a one way flow of speech. The groom talks while the bride stays silent. He pronounces his intention, "Behold you are sanctified [betrothed] to me…" and she does not respond. Her silence expresses her lack of protest which establishes the criteria of mutual consent. Their engagement, with all its contractual responsibilities, activates by her muteness. Second, in the Shemone Esrei (the central prayer of Jewish worship), the epitome of prayer and woman's essential expression of Divine service, (as opposed to Torah study, which is man's) is a silently offered prayer.

The seventh marriage blessing reads, "Let there soon be heard …the voice of the bride." Rabbi Schneur Zalman reads this as an invocation: Let the bride come into her voice. Let her express herself and project herself in fully audible speech, the very opposite of the whispered prayers we now employ in our Shemone Esrei.

In the future, woman will return to her root and receive her lights straight from the very source of consciousness itself, the inwardness of the Infinite light. The relationship between groom and bride, G‑d and Israel, will then be fully consummated, as woman attains her full stature and they now meet at every level of their beings. Woman will recover her voice, and the roles of man and woman will invert. Man will receive his light and bounty from the transcendent levels of G‑d via the agency of woman as his intermediary, a state described by the seventh marriage blessing, "Blessed are You, G‑d who rejoices the groom with the bride." All the promised pleasures of the messianic times are merely effects of this profound shift in gender relations.

Footnotes
1.

The full text is as follows: Blessed are You, G‑d, our G‑d, King of the universe, Who created joy and gladness, groom and bride, mirth, glad song, pleasure, delight, love, brotherhood, peace, and companionship. G‑d, our G‑d, let there soon be heard in the cities of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem the sound of joy and the sound of gladness, the voice of the groom and the voice of the bride, the sound of the grooms' jubilance from their canopies and of youths from their song-filled feasts. Blessed are You, G‑d Who gladdens the groom with the bride.

2.

TB Kidushin 2a. The passage continues, "…or by a document, or by sexual relations."

3.

Shulchan Aruch, Eben HaEzer (IH), 31.

Sarah Schneider is the author of the books Kabbalistic Writings on the Nature of Masculine and Feminine and Eating as Tikkun, as well as numerous journal articles. She is the founding director of A Still Small Voice, a correspondence school that provides weekly teachings in classical Jewish wisdom to subscribers around the world, and lives in the Old City of Jerusalem.
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ruth housman marshfield hills, ma June 17, 2013

NOW: if not NOW, then, WHEN? I found this article very revealing, and it does seem, and it makes me happy, that even Orthodox Judaism is saying women are going to move into a more acendant position, meaning their voices will be heard, increasingly, as we move forward in time, and "her story". When we look at history overall we see women struggling and yet they were once the "goddesses" of the world, revered for their wisdom in many cultures, and the Moon was associated with women's wisdom. Luna, not Lunacy. And yes, many women, subjugated in various ways, around the world, did at times feel "crazy" because voices do need to be heard, as we too, have souls, and we are the receptive part of that greater whole. We carry children. We nurture them in the womb and beyond: Mother's Milk. I think this thing about the milk of human kindness must of necessity involve women moving into far greater roles everywhere, including the rabbinic community. Reply

Anonymous Palm Beach, f May 21, 2012

Question for Author Loved the article. Who is the "Mother" who supersedes the man? Is this every woman when she becomes a mother or a spiritual state? Reply

Anonymous New York, New York May 11, 2010

Physicality? With the inversion of giving and receiving, does that also mean that the physical bodies of men and women will change or switch? The act of marital intimacy would not follow the newly inverted spiritual natures if it does not also change. Reply

maxie morris toronto, ontario/canada September 7, 2009

THE VOICE OF THE BRIDE G-d has given the woman a beautiful role of being both HIS bride and the bride for the man to display HIS love for us.I enjoyed this article it was beautifully inspired.shalom. Reply

Celine Bennett Elliot Lake, Canada, Ontario June 2, 2009

A prayer May women around the world find liberty and freedom very soon, from oppression. How many thousands of year of oppressions?
Thank you! Reply

Vanessa Paloma Waltham, MA, USA September 18, 2008

woman's voice I think the readers comments don't understand that it is our responsibility as women to start to express our voices... this will facilitate the ushering in of Messianic times. It is only through our active engagement in the process and letting go of ideas of victimhood that we will grow into our own strength and understand the deep primal power of woman and what we have to say and offer to the world. It is an issue of balancing creation through correct speech. Reply

Malka S Jerusalem August 11, 2008

Not Conscious I don't think so, Malkah. Our voices are becoming stronger because of the belief in Moshiach's coming immediately, not in a far-off future.

It's when women are not conscious of the shift, that they "put up with what is being done to them," thinking that this is normal and good.
These are the women who, despite their involvement in Women's issues, are really the least able to make a difference. Reply

malkah June 12, 2008

OKay... but the problem is, we are not in the messianic age. women have diminished voices RIGHT NOW and this is a great injustice. this article seems to imply that instead of righting an injustice RIGHT NOW, we should wait suffer through it until a far-off messianic time when it will go away by itself, and women should just have to put up with what is being done to them until that time. thats absolutely ridiculous. Reply