Intro: This is a big one, and one I've been studying for a while. If you're looking for a quick fix, stay tuned for the TL/DR. If you're interested in understanding gender equality from a Kabbalistic framework, read on.
The conversation's been going on longer than any of us can remember.
"I'm not a feminist. I believe in women being women, and men being men."
"Yeah… I’m not really into feminism… but I suppose I'm just sick of living in a patriarchal society, where everyone needs to be better than anyone else - including women, who squash others to get ahead, in dating and in the workplace."
“Women are actually higher in origin than men… but we have to wait for the world to reach a perfected state to witness that.”
"Is equality in feminism about being equal or being different but equal?"
And so, the narrative goes.
But as we work to build a better society; and watch the structures that were once thought to be invincible crumble around us – much as the formidable Nation of Egypt did in the weekly Torah portion, Beshalach – we can look at redemption and start to think about getting out of the cycles and patterns of our stuck society to reach a higher consciousness and a better universe.
And the talk, here, in our existing universe, is about how we can recoup humanity to our original state; leaving the patriarchy behind – perhaps to return to the mythological matriarchies of old; or to find this higher consciousness where female empowerment is real, not just the talk of Instagram quotes and Tumblr gifs, but a reality that suffuses through paychecks, healthcare, retail prices and dinner table conversations.
So let’s look at the Torah portion and see what we can learn about the Lady Element of utopian society, and how that breakthrough began during the quintessential redemption from corrupt society – our favorite topic of conversation of late, the Biblical Exodus from Egypt.
Here’s the vision: A line of women, clad in simple cotton robes that speak of tribal origins, barely influenced by the Egyptian styles of their birthplace, clutching timbrels and all kinds of percussion instruments, dancing in a line following their leader, a beautiful, holy, fiery woman with passion and principle who exits the miraculously dry seabed of the Red Sea and begins to lead the women in song and dance.
They join together and form a circle, and the great Miriam, leader of the women starts the chant, “Sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously, horse and rider He has thrown into the sea.” And all the women follow her, creating a circle of ecstatic dancers giving thanks to their Creator and Redeemer.
Nearby, the men are singing too, but they're following their leader Moses, who’s been singing a lengthy song, filled with poetry and metaphor. He’s been singing "I will sing to The Lord", in future tense, as he describes the triumphs just witnessed.
But now that the women have come out, they’re dancing hard, and they’re talking about singing in the present tense. There’s no future, just the here and now. What’s the difference with Miriam’s dance? What secrets do the ladies know that are keeping the men in the dark?
Well, let’s start with the dance.
Circle dancing is a glorious activity for those who like to perform the Hora, to reenact Chassidic movements, to hang out at Balkan music festivals, but it’s also a ceremonial dance, taking place at Jewish weddings, under the Chupah, and in specific religious ceremonies and celebrations.
That’s because the circle is unique. In the circle, we’re all equal – from the central point. Our circle dance invokes a future time, when hierarchy will be a thing of the past, and we each learn from one another in truth.
Mythical matriarchal societies, anthropologists tell us, had less to do with women being authorities than they had to do with a change in how authority is perceived altogether. Rather than one tribal ruler, decisions were made in community. When the patriarchy came along, of course, we began to live in this world of hierarchy. There’s also a “reacher” and a “settler”, someone giving, someone receiving. A bestower and a taker; a teacher and a student.
We see that in heterosexual gender relationships; we see that in classic workplace relationships; we see that in the Kabbalistic map for creation which showcases how this current plane of our universe was built as a series of lines that connect higher consciousness to the next level, one giving purer, more source-connected light; the other receiving the level below.
But it hasn't always been that way. Teachers of Jewish mysticism articulate how originally the world was crafted with circular consciousness. Energies of the Sefirot were designed in a circular manner; so each and every soul is equidistant from the center. Each with their own unique role to play in teaching and helping their fellow soul to reach their absolute potential.
For the ladies dancing at the edge of the Red Sea, the circle wasn't just a mere exercise in creating a future circular society. They didn’t sing about One Day in Future “I Will Sing To The Lord”, thanks Moses and the Boys – they knew that they could bring this into being in the Here and Now; and so they sang, “Sing to the Lord!”
It was a here and now state, of future circular consciousness when equality is not a word -because hierarchy doesn't exist anymore. Why be equal when there is no such thing as equality? Miriam and her ladies held the key to higher consciousness and they knew the only way to do it; the only way to incorporate the future into the present is with your whole body - not just meditation, not just thoughts and prayers, but action where action goes, in the prayer practice that is conscious dance. With every bodily part and every organ; every hand and foot mimicking the heartbeat in unison with the drum, bringing the great lights of circularity into being through the container they created in their circle dance.
Miriam was a prophetess, a powerful figure in Jewish history, for men as well as women. As we followed the Torah portions of the last several weeks, we’ve seen her grow from being the child at her parents’ side, encouraging them to stay strong despite Pharoah’s decrees; to the formidable woman who leads the people out of stuckness and slavery, through the wilderness, across the sea and into redemption. She continues to be a person of note for the rest of the Jewish desert narrative, and we’re not leaving her here. But let’s remember the lesson from Miriam at the Crossing of the Red Sea, of Miriam’s dance.
When the future is far away and the present seems stuck, when we know what it might look like and try to bring a taste of utopia into the present, it’s not enough to wish, to say, “I will sing to the Lord”. It’s time to live it, to experience it, with every fiber of our being. To let the arms and legs and body move as it will, to dance it out, to act it and live in it and bring the future into the present.
Miriam knew the secret, the other women did too. When we don’t think we know the secrets, when we don’t have the tools within our measly human consciousness to understand, we bring in our entire bodies, and we dance.
And when it comes to understanding the reality of gender constructs; when it comes to battling the forces of a society that doesn’t quite get it yet – we remember what our goal is, the goal we see in the circle dance. The same circle dance we enact under a Chupah or in the Hora; or on the Jewish ceremonial days towards the end of Sukkot when we pray for rain in circle dances.
That when it comes to hierarchy, the trick is not to draw the same pattern of lines and symbols and try to come up with equality. It’s time to redefine the pattern, to view it differently – to realize that to achieve the true balance of gender, there is no giver and no receiver – there is only each soul, equally distant from the central point, drawn together in one dancing circle, learning from one another at an equal distance as we move forward in achieving our own personal mission, no one better than the other.