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The Circle and the Line

The Circle and the Line

Celebrating Tu B’Av

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David and Rachel have just finished dinner and are discussing the events of the day. It is getting late, and Rachel says she is exhausted and going to bed. She gets up, clears her plate and rinses it off. She unloads the dishwasher, puts in her dish and makes lunches for the kids for school the next day. Then she signs the permission slips for their trips, puts their homework in their respective backpacks and picks up the toys off the floor. On her way up the stairs, she grabs a pair of shoes, takes out the kids’ clothes for school, switches the laundry into the dryer and puts in another load. After tucking the kids into bed, taking off her makeup and washing her face, she gets into bed and falls asleep.

Meanwhile, David has just finished reading the paper. He stretches his arms and realizes that he is also exhausted. He murmurs to himself that it is getting late, and that he should also go to sleep. And he does . . .

I know, I know, that’s a major generalization. Tu B’Av is known as the most auspicious time for soulmatesBut you must admit, it is true a lot of the time. If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be a generalization. And generally speaking, women are considered to be the multitaskers and men to be the experts at doing one thing at a time in a very directed and concentrated way. Yes, we easily can switch David and Rachel around. It ultimately doesn’t matter. What does matter is that there are two distinct ways of doing things, and that they work together, or in many cases overlap.

Kabbalah refers to these two dynamics as the circle and the line. Two of the most basic of shapes, yet representative of two extremely deep and complex ideas. Feminine and masculine—the circle and the line.

When it comes to gender theory and the Torah, more often than not, the emphasis is placed on the qualities of masculine and feminine, rather than male and female. This is because both men and women have both masculine and feminine qualities.

Generally, men are more dominant in their masculine qualities and women in their feminine. There are clearly exceptions, which is why David and Rachel can easily switch roles. Yet, as mentioned above, what is important is that there is always a circle and there is always a line.

This week we celebrate the holiday of Tu B’Av, the 15th day of the month of Av. It is known as the most auspicious time for soulmates to come together. It is the day that Judaism celebrates the concepts of love and marriage. In Talmudic times, the Jewish women used to dance together in the fields, in a circle, while the men would come to meet them.

But this is only the first of many circles that we see when it comes to relationships in Judaism. The most foundational and important is traced back to the Torah itself when it discusses the building of the Tabernacle: Makbilot ha-lulaot ishah el achotah (Exodus 26:5). The Torah teaches us that there were 50 paralleling loops that held up the curtains, and uses the expression “a woman to her sister” to represent the idea that they paralleled one another. These 50 loops represent the concept of the woman, which is why the term “woman to her sister” is used to describe them. Furthermore, these loops held up the curtains alongside the pins. These pins, a symbolic line, represent the concept of the male.A healthy balance is to function using both the line and the circle

Circle and line. Feminine and masculine. These shapes can be understood simply on a physical level, in terms of the differences in the bodies of men and women. They can be understood emotionally, in noticing the ways a person reaches a conclusion, an end goal. And they can be understood spiritually.

If you want to get from point A to point B, there are two ways of getting there. One is to go straight, take a direct route and reach your point. The other is to go around full circle. In both cases, you’ll reach your destination. Each one has its advantage and disadvantage.

By creating a circle, you are left with many common points, each equidistant to the center of that circle, but all connected and related.

At the same time, it will probably take a lot longer for you to reach your destination. When you take the straight course and walk the line, you do stay focused and directed and get where you want to get quicker, but you don’t necessarily see all the other connections that you might have picked up, had you veered just a bit off the way.

Clearly, a healthy balance is to function using both the line and the circle, using each when it is most appropriate. For example, if you are holding the baby, and the phone rings and the pot is boiling over and someone is at the door, you better learn how to use the circle dynamic—and fast! Multitasking becomes a requirement, not an option. At the same time, there is no question that if one was in need of an operation, he would never want that surgeon multitasking. Man or woman, that doctor better stay focused and in line.

Achieving this balance is a challenge, and is therefore a goal and purpose of marriage. Although we learn of these concepts in the Torah, we see allusions to this circle-and-line concept in many of the traditions of a Jewish wedding ceremony.

In a traditional Ashkenazi wedding ceremony, Circle and Line are featured prominently. Bride and groom join together, each one using the strength of the other(This is not the case in many Sephardic traditions, where customs differ.) Granted, this is not an aspect of Jewish law, but when understanding the importance behind the concepts of the circle and the line in Judaism, we can then make the connections to how they play into the wedding ceremony, and learn the lessons they teach.

The allusions begin at the very start of the wedding ceremony, when the chatan, the groom, walks under the chuppah. Once there, he stands still and waits for his bride. When standing still, he is the line. He begins with his primary strength. Then the kallah, the bride, is brought to the chuppah, and the first thing she does is circle her groom seven times. Each circle brings down a higher level of spirituality as she walks around him. Just as her groom is a line, she begins as a circle, each in their primary strength.

When she finishes circling him, she stands at his side. Though both began with their exclusive differences, they are now the same, two lines, side by side. They recognize that even though she may not naturally be a line, in order for their marriage to succeed, they will both need to actively work not only by using their strengths, but also by strengthening their weaknesses.

The groom then presents his bride with a ring. The ring is perfect, an unblemished and unmarked circle. He holds this ring, this circle, and presents it to her. The bride accepts the ring by pointing out her first finger. They have switched roles. In this ceremonial act, the groom takes on the role of the circle, the bride the role of the line. He places the ring on her finger, and they join together, each one using the strength of the other.

This is then followed by the giving of the ketubah, the marriage contract, to the bride. We become that scroll where we are not limited to a beginning, middle or endTraditionally, the ketubah is rolled and is handed to her like a scroll. The scroll is reminiscent of the Torah scroll, which is also rolled. What is unique about a scroll is that there is no beginning or end, but rather “the end is enwedged in the beginning and the beginning in the end” (Sefer Yetzirah). A scroll is thus simultaneously a circle and a line. The length of the scroll when standing upright is that of a line, but when looking at the scroll from its side, we see the circle that exists within it. This scroll, the ketubah that the bride is handed, is the idea of the circle and line not only working together, but completely merging and coexisting, as both two independent parts and also completely as a unified whole.

Following the chuppah, the wedding celebration begins. The men form a circle on one side and dance, while the women form a circle on the other. Under the chuppah they stood as two lines, but as they celebrate their marriage, they celebrate as two circles.

As we approach this Tu B’Av, may we remember the power of both the circle and the line, and find our ability to unite together as a whole unit within our personal lives, as an entire Jewish nation, and in our relationship with our Creator.

And may we recognize that when we use both our strengths and our weaknesses—and work together—we become that scroll where we are not limited to a beginning, middle or end, but merit for our wedding to be a binyan adei ad, an everlasting and eternal edifice.

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
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Mary N. Highlands July 29, 2015

Peace is One-meant celebration.. She is the daughters of light.. He’s the sons of God.. While the female is in the spirit He is her consort when He is governing the earth She is his consort.. Together they rule heaven and earth.. they are not opposed to each other.. They are the parallel to and support of each other.. They are the guardians of earth.. Reply

Anonymous from July 24 July 28, 2015

It seems like the words "sasson" is spelled with the letter "sin", not samech. Oh well.

This doesn't dismiss a connection between the shapes in the wedding (and the spiritual processes they represent) and the concept of joy, of course.

In fact, it's almost certain such a connection exists, which is why a person might be inspired to write an article like this one.

Understanding, on a practical level, how this works, though...would require a rather sharp mind.

(Relatively speaking, versus my own mind, which I know for a fact has been dulled severely.) Reply

Anonymous July 24, 2015

"Under the chuppah they stood as two lines, but as they celebrate their marriage, they celebrate as two circles."

If I'm not confusing myself, this dancing (and the prerequisite relationship, created in the very interesting process you describe) is alluded to in the word "sasson": two samechs, a vav, and a nun.

If someone wants, please think on this...my focus is waning today. It should have a relationship to the chuppah standing over us now. Reply

Daniel Masri Modiin July 25, 2013

OMG! Amazing read! Reply

Dr. Elyas F. Isaacs New York, New York July 30, 2012

Food For A Party .... Why a wedding reminds me of food .... perhaps it is the idea of beginning a life together where sharing occurs and what is more fundamental for sharing than food!
I like pies, pies of all kinds.
Crumbed apple or dutch apple pies are a delight. Chocolate cream and custard pies are sweet treats. Strawberry, raspberry, and black berry pies are fruity and healthful. Mincemeat and molasses pies are ethnic treats. And what of peach, key lime, lemon meringue, pies go on and on and on .... delicious, wonderful pies.
So, a marriage is like finding the just right pie and eating until happy. Reply

Keila Lucy Lemos M.B. da Silva Brasilia-DF, Brazil August 20, 2011

Very true!!! I fully agree!!!! G-d made us able to work together one with each other and the G-d's love is the connecting factor!!! Very excellent article!!! Reply

Anonymous Winnipeg, Canada August 18, 2011

KETUBAH SCROLL, ANDROGENYOS If any human androgenously compose of feminine and masculine attributes and can be a homemaker or a home work provider for instance if given opportunity.necessity to opt for either use of attributes, then any human contains the circle and the scroll and is complete within self and if staying single all of life is able to cope/learn to cope and survive. So a straight line through the circle's centre as if a spoke on a spiritual wheel can be rotated around the inside of the circle to show the possible ways that the feminine and masculine attributes inside a human person can interact creatively and imaginatively.perhaps and if a mate meets another mate in one case the circle can be shut down for the other mate's circle and the line remain in the first mate or the line can be shut down in the first mate if the other mate plays the spiritual role of the line for the circle in the first mate. So GLBTTQQ et ceterae people have equal place in life, alongside one another gender-wise. Reply

Anonymous Seaside, Oregon August 18, 2011

THE CIRCLE AND THE LINE
TO SARA:

Thank you for helping my inner heart and soul on such a deep and Jewish Core. Beautiful and Inspirational! I am a senior - almost 75 and going through some very heavy changes in my personal life. My Jewish Faith has always been my core and soul - but 'You' and the way in which you write truly brought to light - addressing 'who and what' I am and how I am evolving.

I did not realize that we are upon the time where 'Soul Mates' come together on an eternal level - Beyond Beautiful! Reply

Anonymous Cleve, OH August 1, 2010

Very Interesting. very interesting. Especially that it is the woman who is given the ketubah scroll (the symbol of unified merging of strengths). Reply

Reuven Hertaliya, Israel July 26, 2010

Exquisite Thinking and Feeling Beautifull article. Integrates things so smoothly- even in your article we see and feel the line(the clear, precise thinking) with the circle(the loving understanding you have for us as we read the paper because we're so "tired").
Yeshar Koach! Reply

Valianth Antwerp, Belgium July 20, 2010

'Spiral' Matters Nice writing!


quote Sara:
" Clearly, a healthy balance is to function using both the line and the circle, using each when it is most appropriate. "


consideration:
The 'inner' Beginner-point' that smoot moves to the 'Circle' is here 'the first option'. This 'Lines' the 'Spiral'; it is "The Spiral of Life".

One should be 'Total'-accurat in these grateful 'circumstance' (It's ABout Life!).

"A best Begin, is half a Win."

for a Total-revision, see the GRAIL-Manuscripts:
search for: Graal & Valianth


Valianth Reply

M.H. North Miami Beach, Florida August 15, 2008

circle and line Very interesting--when I teach art to elementary school students, from 1st grade up to 5th, I explain to them that Hashem has given us a beautiful world and that we can draw anythng and everything in this world, by using Hashem's (G-d's) generous gift of sight, along with our brain and hands.

And how do we proceed to draw "everything and anything"? Five basic shapes: the dot and the circle (the dot is merely a filled in clircle) and 3 types of lines (straight lines, angle lilnes-a series of liinked-together straight lines, and curved lines-"s" shapes, curlique shapes, etc.)

Up until now, I had no idea how profound a concept this actually is--putting together the masculine and feminine apects in an infinite amount of combinations to recreate on paper (or canvas) all that we can see of the visible, the physical manifestations of G-dlilness.

And THAT is one beautlful picture! (Should we change the title of "Art Class" to " The Kabbalah of Drawing"? Hmmmm...) Reply

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