One of the most profound discussions of the power of the woman is a commentary on Parshat Beshalach, called Miriam’s Circle Dance, written by Rabbi Kalonymous Kalman HaLevi Epstein, known as the Meor V’Shemesh. This work presents a glorious vision of the things that will change when woman will recover her full stature and feminine consciousness, now matured, and will exert greater influence on the world and its values.

R. Epstein comments on a brief passage from the Torah that transpires after the miraculous parting of the Red Sea. With everyone safely secured on the other side, Moshe led the people in a hymn of thanksgiving. Immediately afterwards the Torah describes Miriam gathering the women for a celebration of music, song, and dance.

And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took the timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with circle dances. And Miriam answered them: “Sing to the L-rd, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider has He thrown into the sea.” 1

Miriam, in her dance, accessed a higher state of consciousness than did Moshe through his song

R. Epstein builds his commentary on two hints in that passage. First he observes that the Torah presents information about the particular type of dance performed, that it was a circle dance. Second, he notes that Miriam sang her thanksgiving song in the present tense while Moshe formulated his nearly identical praise in the future.2 Based on these clues, R. Epstein demonstrates that Miriam, in her dance, accessed a higher state of consciousness than did Moshe through his song. R. Epstein bases his argument on kaballistic teachings about the unfolding of worlds.

It is known that creation passed through several eras before settling into the stable and familiar form that is our world. The stage immediately preceding ours is called the circle universe,3 while ours is the linear world of straight lines and hierarchy.4 These terms are both technical and metaphorical. They describe their arrangement of sefirot (the former as concentric circles the latter as three parallel lines)5, and the divergent nature of their worldviews.

Kaballah explains that just as creation emerged from the depths of Divinity, so will it return there in a single cycle of extension and retraction. Its worlds will unfold downward till their endpoint of emanation and then begin a reverse course back toward their roots (and beyond). Yet, unlike a yo-yo whose motion is similar, the universe undergoes profound transformations at each stage. The creation that returns has metamorphosed by its experience. It has been fixed, actualized, cleansed, and transfigured along the way.

A higher soul is one that is awake...and always chooses the most spiritually productive option

Nevertheless, its return route is the exact reverse of its original emanation. We are still approaching the maximum point of extension, which will be unmistakably marked by the messianic age, and then we will begin our journey back up to our roots.6 The first stop will be the world of circles, the stage that immediately preceded ours on the way down.7

Looking toward the future, the circle world is a more evolved and rectified state of consciousness than our present linear reality. Its lights are just becoming visible on the horizon signaling our approaching transition from this era to that. R. Epstein explores the worldviews of these two realities and the divergent psychologies that characterize each.

In the linear world everything occupies a unique position along a continuum extending from above to below. Each value imposes a hierarchy that orders the world according to its preferences. The Torah also ranks its members by the standards that it holds dear. A higher soul is one that is awake, in continuous communion, and always chooses the most spiritually productive option; a lower soul is ignorant of spiritual truths and wallows in the entangling repercussions of wrong action. This hierarchy of spiritual status marks a descending flow of enlightenment. Each person receives teachings from the level above and passes them on to the level below. Everyone is a student to those above, and a teacher to those below.

This linear world, with its multitude of intersecting hierarchies creates an encompassing network of incentives (both positive and negative) that motivate the resource demanding labor of self-improvement. Hierarchy of status defines a pecking order that keeps everyone striving to keep up with the Jones’. People occupying higher ranks become role models that inspire others to invest the effort required to obtain similar success. The whole point of the era of hierarchy is to create a context of values, inducements, constraints, and coercions that press out the full potential of each soul down to its last drop. Its straight line presents a clear direction of growth and compelling enforcements to assure forward motion.

Everyone is a student to those above, and a teacher to those below

Eventually, and hopefully quite soon, we will complete this consuming labor of self-development. All potential will be actualized, all impurities cleansed, all deprivations enriched, and all ignorance eliminated. At that point hierarchy will cease for it will have grown obsolete. Its whole point was to instigate the grueling work of self-actualization and to establish clear lines of authority to facilitate the downward flow of teachings. Its worldview, though built on a shaky foundation of relative truths, was (and is) remarkably successful in achieving its goals. But, explains R. Epstein, its days are numbered, its truths will pass, and a new and more rectified order of consciousness will reign, called the circle world.

Just as a circle has no beginning or end and every point is equidistant from its center, so is this true for souls. Truly, it is impossible to rank them, for each is the most beloved in the scale of values that is its perfected virtue.

Each creature will eventually attain its full potential and shine with the unique revelation of Divine beauty that only it can manifest. The spiritual bliss of the world to come is the intensely abiding joy of finally becoming who you are. When that happens the distorting veneer of hierarchy will melt away and, behold, we will find ourselves standing in a circle with HaShem at its center, and we will dance together in holy celebration.

In the future the Holy One will make a circle dance for the tsadikim. He will seat Himself among them in the Garden of Eden and each one of the tsadikim will point with his finger and say, “This is our G‑d for whom we have waited, that He might save us. This is the L-rd for whom we hoped, we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation 89

In the circle world, it will be gloriously clear that every soul is equally precious and singularly beautiful in a way that cannot be ranked. Similarly, it will not anymore be possible to look to one’s neighbors for guidance in serving G‑d, for each person has a unique soul-specialty, and in that area they are the world’s foremost expert. There is nowhere to look for instruction except straight from HaShem, who metaphorically sits at the circle’s center, equidistant from all its holy points.

On that eternal day, everyone will be satiated with knowledge of G‑d to the fullest capacity of their joy and all hierarchies of status will dissolve. In wonderment they will discover that on the scale of enlightenment all have become equal.

Miriam phrased her song in the present tense for she was actually holding that consciousness within

The paradigm shift goes deeper still, for R. Epstein explains that the conventions of gender in kabbalah echo the physical differences between men and women. Bestowal is a masculine role; receiving is a feminine one. Consequently, in the linear scheme, the teacher is masculine in relation to the student who is influenced by him. In the circle world these hierarchical rankings between human beings will end, for no one will receive spiritual guidance from neighbors, spouses or even teachers. All will turn straight to the Holy One for inspiration, and on that day, says R. Epstein, all power disparities will cease, including the archetypal source of them all, the hierarchy of gender, with its asymmetrical distribution of authority and dependency.

All this Miriam knew and intended when she led the women in their circle dance. Miriam drew the future into the present, initiating the Jewish nation into the secret truth, promise, and yearning of the circle world: The day will come, blessed and welcomed by all, when power disparities will cease and perfect equality will reign, when every soul will shine with its glory, and all will become the most dearly beloved of their Creator.

Miriam phrased her song in the present tense for she was actually holding that consciousness within herself as she sang and danced. The lights of the circle world are so vast that they cannot fit into the brain as an isolated organ of consciousness. They require full body participation (for example in dance), and even a collection of them in coordinated activity (in this case all women) to create a container sufficiently spacious to hold their revelations. Moshe spoke in future tense, for he knew about circle consciousness, and that it would eventually reign, but he could not, in the present, access that state himself.

Reprinted with permission from Kabbalistic Writings on the Nature of Masculine and Feminine