How can we make ceremonies meaningful?

October 13, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Meaningful Ceremony

How can we make ceremonies meaningful?

Rabbi Ohad Ezrahi

Importance Of Ceremonies

Something that was so common in the ancient world but is often forgotten in modern times is the knowledge of how to create meaningful ceremonies.

I’m not talking about state pomp and ceremony that often includes soldiers and trumpets, but life ceremonies – rituals that individuals experience on a personal level, sometimes in the presence of family and community, sometimes just with a friend, a priest or priestess, or someone that accompanies us on our path. These rituals have deep and transformative significance.

In Judaism, as with any spiritual culture, ceremonies represent milestones in a person’s life. First there is the Brit – circumcision of baby boys – and Brita for girls, and then at age 13 a boy’s Barmitzvah and a girl’s Batmitzvah when she is 12. Later comes a wedding and funeral.

Different daily ceremonies symbolize the milestones of time. For practising Jews there are morning, noon and evening prayers, the welcoming of Shabbat and the distinction between Saturday (Shabbat) and the rest of the week.

There are also the Jewish holiday rituals that distinguish holy days from the rest of the year. For example, the sharing and delivering of sweets at Purim, purifying the home before Passover and lighting candles during Hanukah. All these and more are rituals that originally had deep meaning in order to sanctify our lives. And, if done correctly can effect transformation in a person’s life.

Transformation Through Ceremony

A ceremony can be a defining moment, a kind of gateway. From the moment a person passes through the gateway of a ritual be it daily or a holy day, they are entering a different space.

A few years ago I had a heartfelt conversation with some important Rabbi. He told me about a talk he had with a non-religious woman reporter. In the conversation he said to her that he, and every other religious person,actually has the same thoughts and desires as anyone else. Amazed, she asked him “You pray for hours, go to shule three times a day, and keep the Sabbath, and all this hasn’t made you any different from me?”
The woman’s words touched the Rabbi’s heart and forced him to search deep within himself – he found himself asking “Do these daily rituals have any real meaning?”

Authentic religious ceremonies can transform a person. When I go through a real ritual, I know something within me has changed, and in a sense I am not the same person I was before. But if nothing has happened, if the ceremony has failed to help me transform, I acknowledge that it didn’t work.

The famous American mythologist Joseph Campbell said, “Religion is really a kind of second womb. It’s designed to bring this complicated thing, which is the human being, into maturity.”

‘Second Pregnancy’ in Kabalah

In Kabalah there is a term called the ‘second pregnancy’ whose goal is different from the first one. The first pregnancy is physical, its’ objective is to give birth to the body and soul.

The second pregnancy is meant to give birth to consciousness. This means that the person goes into another kind of fetal state, a kind of pregnancy within the womb of religion and faith, and when he or she are born, they are more spiritually mature, with more mental depth and a wider perspective.

Real Sacredness

A good ceremony or ritual should work just like medicine. Good medicine is an effective one, and if it is not effective – than it is useless, and might even cause harm.

Many people these days make ceremonies that are empty of real content. Empty rituals leave a residue of loneliness. It doesn’t matter how many guests arrive at a ceremony, or how many gifts we receive. The heart still longs to touch and be touched.

Real sacredness touches you deeply, and invites you to touch and be touched. Sacredness is about getting closer to divinity, to the unity of all things. That is why when we come close to divinity we feel united with ever-widening circles of people.
In the beginning we feel one with those close to us, then with people who are different from us, and finally even with those who see themselves as our enemies.

The more that divine all-inclusive-unity is evident in the heart, the more we feel at one – not only with people, but also with nature. When we touch holiness it affects us deeply, and reveals to us that we are not separate beings, but part of a great fabric of wonderful and divine mystery.

Until we feel this in our hearts, we may feel alienated from the world, but the more we feel divinity the more we feel connected and intimate with everything, because real sacredness is ultimate intimacy.

A good ceremony reminds us of what the heart knows deep inside. This is something every child knows and adults sometimes forget – the wonderful and mysterious unity of existence.

A good ceremony encourages the heart to remove defensive barriers and allow the divine to enter. It helps us to be touched by the Great Mystery and be carried away to a new place, different than what we had known before – that is, to the holy landscape that opens beyond the gates of ceremony.


This article was translated from Hebrew by www.eol.co.il


The Revolution of Joy

October 13, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Rabbi Ohad Ezrahi

Most people perceive joy as a response arising in the soul following circumstances, which have led to a wanted result. For instance: I found love, therefore I’m happy! But the Hassidic doctrine doesn’t see it this way.

It sees joy as a working tool, which produces a wanted result. That is: I am joyful, and as a result I will find love! Hassidism sees love as a working tool for life in general.

The Problem With Us

The problem with us is that we take ourselves too seriously. Really. Actors, in theater or film, can develop an unhealthy state called “Over Acting.”

This means an actor becomes fully identified with the character s/he is playing, and forgets that s/he is only an actor playing a character in a play written by someone else. This is what happens to us in our daily life.

We become over identified with our personality, and forget that this is not who we truly are. Therefore we take our problems so seriously, that they drag us down, to the sewers of despair and depression, and sometimes to the sewers of anger, rage, and craze.

For some reason we think it logical that when a problem arises, the proper response is descending into sadness. Or, when our partner gets on our nerves, it seems to us logic to get angry… But we all know already – it doesn’t help! It never solves the problem. The “logical” reactions usually only make the problem worse.

If we all know it doesn’t work, why do we stick to this ineffective strategy? Often it is because we were never given an option, culturally, of considering a different response. The culture into which we grew takes life’s dramas terribly seriously, and thus drama often turns into tragedy. Greek philosopher Plato said that if one can write a good tragedy, one must be able to write a good comedy as well. Rabbi Arieh Leib adds: “a comedy is a tragedy that people stop believing in.”

Turning Tragedy To Comedy

The verse in Isiah (55, 12), which says: “”For in joy shall you go out and in peace be led, the mountains and hills will burst into song and all the trees of the field will clap” is explained in Hassidism as “For in joy will you go out of all troubles.” This means, through joy you will leave all your inner exiles and problems. Joy is the tool that helps with exiting trouble.

There is a story about how Rabbi Bonem of Pshischa went for a walk with his students on the banks of the river Wisla. A sudden wind blew so hard that one of the lads, who didn’t know how to swim, tripped and fell into the raging river. He was swept by the flow and started drowning. Rabbi Bonem did not jump into the water. Instead, he shouted to the lad some macabre joke about drowning, and what transpired was that “The young man’s face changed immediately. He became joyous, gathered courage, and was saved by getting out of the water with the last of his strength.”

The Rabbi saw that the young man was in despair. He was drowning since he did not believe in his own strength. That’s why the Rabbi used a joke, in order to change the lad’s perspective and allow him to gather his strength and exit his trouble. What happened here?

Joy Is Freedom

Rabbi Nahman of Braslev says that sadness and melancholy are types of inner slavery, and only the joyful one is free. When bringing one’s self into joy, a person’s consciousness is freed, and it is from this free place that one can exit the inner exile of troubles. A sad person is enslaved, and can’t get out of his/her own problems.

Here is a quote from Rabbi Nahman: “Know that by melancholy it is impossible to lead the mind, or settle it, for joy is the world of freedom.” Therefore when joy is linked with mind – mind and thought are free, and one is not exiled any more.

The network of relationships we have with life provides an abundance of opportunities for practicing this joyful revolution. Turning joy from an effect into a cause. One of the best places for practice is our intimate relationship.

One of my students told me how she had been having bitter arguments with her husband for years. Something to do with the number of cats in the yard. It was always the same argument, leading to the same results – feeling bad, feeling stuck, misunderstood and disconnected.

Then one day, she decided to focus on bringing joy into the relationship and instead of getting upset to make fun of the whole matter. Her smiling and good spirits helped to stop the arguments.

When To Laugh

Yet there is an important rule here: laugh at yourself, not at the other! Laughing at the other hurts. It is a weapon. It’s cynical. But when you laugh at yourself, in a situation that typically slides into a fight, you are changing a familiar pattern and allow yourself and your partner a type of freedom. You allow both of you not to take yourselves so seriously, and light heartedly get out of it all. “For in joy shall you go out” – of all troubles.


This article was translated and publishecd by EOL


The Hebraic Path Vrs Old Way Judaism

July 30, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

The Hebraic Path is Judaism and Kabbala which is reconnected to nature spirituality, to femininity and to all nations.

Making the efforts to survive in hard times Judaism had created itself over hundreds of years as a insular and “safe” religion, by disconnecting its followers from those three aspects of the Divine (Nature, Femininity & all Nations).  Most of the Jewish Law (Halacha) and many components of Jewish Spirituality (Kabbala) were developed and written as part of this long lived survival effort.

Those three cut-offs had grown and become, with the centuries, into the three chronic illnesses of contemporary Judaism: fear and racism towards the nations, repression of the feminine and alienation from nature.

The Hebraic Path is a path of healing. It is a Neo-Ancient path:  It’s rooted deeply in the indigenous roots of Pre-Rabbinical Judaism. From the rabbinical period it’s embracing and collecting the gifts of divine wisdom (clean from the rubbish of fear, racism and repression) and aiming towards a future of enlightened humanity living in peace on a green healthy planet.

Understanding that a neo-indigenous spiritual path does not require fixed dogma nor does it need a rigid religious authority – we take the passion of the heart from tradition and the freedom of thought from science; including biblical studies that show the variety of theological sources edited into the Torah.

The Hebraic Path we renew is a way of life, and being such it has many levels and layers that can allow every human being to find his or her part in it: children and adults, men and women, lay people, clergies, activists, seekers of enlightenment and lovers of God.

As Rabbi Nachman of BresLove used to say: “Just give me your hearts and I will lead you in a new path, a path that was taken by our ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and yet – it is a new path”

The Hebraic Path Vrs Old Way Judaism



May 16, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 


Ohad Ezrahi / April, 2010

Translated by Yair Ohr

Men and women alike need to know how to respect her and how to give her a place within themselves: Lilith—the awesome, untamed, feminine sexual energy. If we do not give her place, she will strike us harshly: she will destroy our intimate relations and poison us from the inside. But if we learn how to give her place and to work with her using appropriate skills, she will be transformed into blessed energy, to a power that blesses us as women and as men, that blesses our intimate relations with stability and perpetual freshness, with juiciness and with razor-sharp clarity.

In the Jewish mythical tradition,  the Midrash and the Kabbalah, relates that Eve was not the first woman to be created. Eve was in fact the second woman, who was created only after the first woman—Lilith—got into an argument with Adam and fled from the Garden of Eden.

Eve and Lilith are of different natures: Eve is the family woman. She is the mother. Her love is to bring children into the world and to raise them, to cook for them and to be a “housewife.” She accepts the social hierarchy in which the male dominates society, and she functions within that system. She allows for the financial, social, sexual and intellectual superiority of the male, supporting the existing social order.

Lilith, on the other hand, rebels against this “superior order.” From the day of her creation, Lilith perceives herself as an independent woman who will not accept the dominating male authority. She is not willing to accept male superiority in any sphere—not in the workplace, social interactions, academia, or sexual relations. She demands freedom for herself, and even if it will cost her heavily, she is willing to pay the price.


However, we should not make the mistake of perceiving in Lilith the simplistic image of a feminist woman. While feminism has neutralized women’s femininity in order to make them equal with men (see Femophobia – How Women Have Become Men, by Tovi Browning), Lilith is a specifically feminine energy. Lilith is not afraid of the power of her female eroticism, and does not deny her outbursting  of femininity.

In several places throughout the Kabbalistic texts of the Ari it is stated that each woman possesses both of these aspects: within every woman there is both an Eve and a Lilith. However, our society is built in such a way that its members are generally unable to deal with a woman who expresses both of these aspects.

Our society is structured so that each woman must choose between being an “Eve” or a “Lilith.” By causing this split, our society brings untold suffering upon women and their mates. (The many Kabbalistic sources of Lilith’s spiritual roots, spread throughout the prolific literature of the Ari, are collected and analyzed in my book, Who’s Afraid of Lilith? [Hebrew] Modan 2004.)

Based upon ideas already found in the Zohar, the Ari develops the approach that sees in Lilith a very spiritually sublime aspect of femininity, even higher than that of Eve. The ideal, though, according to the Ari, is the integration of both of these aspects anew, into one single feminine image that can fearlessly be either Eve or Lilith.

So that this may happen, women must go through an inner transformation, befriending anew the power of Lilith within themselves, a power that generally speaking they have long ago suppressed into some forgotten corner in order to survive in a socially acceptable way. But women cannot accomplish this transformation on their own. Both sexes are responsible for the creation of a society and its proper functioning. Men must also go through a transformation in order for Lilith to return to live and breathe comfortably among us.


Men feel threatened by Lilith. She threatens their position of power and their self-confidence. But we must understand the male paradox regarding Lilith: specifically because Lilith does not accept male domination nor suppress her wild sexuality from bursting forth as does Eve, she poses an erotic seduction that is very difficult for men to withstand. Men yearn for a woman like Lilith, a woman who is able to express the fullness of her unbridled passions, who is willing to be a sexual creature, to be active in bed, to be a woman who derives great pleasure from sexuality and is not one bit ashamed of it, who is able to be both gross and refined, both sensual and seductive, a woman who is able to be both transparent and mysterious simultaneously. Men yearn in the depths of their hearts for such a woman, who does not lecture them about morals, who does not have “headaches,” who does not all of a sudden need to prepare a child’s sandwich for school… They yearn for a free and liberated woman who can tear them apart with her unbridled passions while never allowing herself to become taken for granted. Lilith is thus the object of male passion, of sexual fantasy, a never-ending adventure for men. But at the same time, she is also a threat for their orderly world. For this reason, “normal” men are very afraid of such a woman.

The Zohar states that both Adam and Jacob were afraid of Lilith’s power, which is why they perceived her in a negative way. But this was only on account of their own smaller statures compared to her, and not because she actually was like that. And in fact—she is at a very high level. Perhaps even too high.

For this reason, a man usually decides to suppress his passions, to denigrate Lilith and to besmirch “women like that.” He may occasionally falter, and then he seeks her out discretely. He will find her in the prostitute, in the courtesan, in the secret lover, in the dark romance, in the Internet pornography. She will seduce him in dreams and fantasies; she will be his femme fatale. Afterwards, he will lash out at himself (and at her), and endeavor to establish a society “without such disgraceful phenomena.” He will decry her, “Abomination!”


The problem with the “Lilith type” is that she too is aware of these social codes. She too grew up in a fearful male society, and though she rebelled against those “ethics,” she still integrated them into herself and assesses herself by their measure. This is the paradox of Lilith herself: on the one hand, she rebels against the society that wants to suppress her, while on the other hand she integrates the standards of that society and judges herself accordingly. Lilith has a negative opinion of herself. She sees herself as a criminal, as a, “bad girl,” as a disgraceful phenomenon.

Even the ancient Midrashic myth tells of Lilith integrating this terrible image of herself, thus transforming into a demon.


And this is exactly the point in need of great rectification: Lilith, whose spiritual root is so exalted, has been transformed in our society into a demon, causing great suffering to men and women alike. Many families fall victim to the incitation of the demon Lilith without even being aware of it. Any couple that separates on account of “betrayal” has essentially fallen victim to the seductive teasing of Lilith. Whoever secretly masturbates in front of the computer screen, with passion accompanied by guilt and shame, hoping to not  be discovered, has fallen into Lilith’s trap. Lilith is a very active demon to this very day.

My understanding of a “demon” is any obsessive/compulsive and mindless drive in the human soul that manipulates it as if it were a choiceless creature. The Kabbalah speaks about the addition of the letter Yud to the Shin and Dalet letters of the word SheD (demon), which transform it into the holy name of Shin Dalet YudShaDaY. The letter Yud represents the enlightenment and sanctification of consciousness.

Is it possible to add enlightenment and consciousness to the Lilith energy so that she will cease being an obsessive/compulsive demon and reveal her true strengths within our society and within our intimate relations? I do believe so. It is not easy, it is not simple, and not everyone is ready for it, but it is possible, and even desirable. As I have already pointed out in my book, Who’s Afraid of Lilith, it is quite surprising to find that the Ari pointed to just such a rectification as the goal of the entire Torah on earth!


In order to know how to contain Lilith’s energy, men and women alike need to do some heavy duty spiritual work. Men need to, “connect with the holy spark in Esau,” as it is called in Chassidic thought, and to be willing to live on the edge. Not to insist to walk only on “safe ground.” This is a decision at a very deep level to surrender control, yet to remain fully alert, for Lilith will not let you get by without full alertness. If you try to control—she will rebel. But if you surrender control in a way that turns you into a wet rag, she will immediately chop your head off!

Lilith can become a great spiritual teacher for man, sustaining him in a state of clarity, strength, and uncompromised alertness. She will not allow him to fall asleep on her watch. But she requires a man at a high level. Men of low stature are unable to contain her.

And what do women need to do? They simply need to allow her to come forth from within. To allow the wild woman that exists within them to come out and wrestle with life. She may arise from some soul-basement full of anger. But that’s OK. We would be mistaken to judge Lilith as a sour and angry creature because of that. After thousands of years of her being suppressed, yes—she is quite angry! But this will pass if we show her love. When a woman allows her inner Lilith to come forth, and begins a process of self-reassessment together with a weaning from guilt and self-affliction, she is able to harness the power of her inner Lilith to the light of love. Then, her love only increases. Then, she is able to shower a razor-sharp and uncompromising love that is as refreshing as it is filled with passion.


A woman who is able to rectify her inner Lilith and integrate it with her Eve becomes a great blessing for the world. She becomes a source of inspiration, of light, and of powerful love. Lilith’s love does not come only in appealing pastel colors. The dark colors of life—black and deep red, for instance—become filled with power and beauty on her account. Men who are able to contain a rectified Lilith are very rare at present. But when such a man appears, he allows for many women to reveal their fullness in his presence, and the circle of rectification continually grows.

The work of rectifying Lilith is an integral part of the processes we lead in “The Garden—A School for Love and Kabbalah.” These processes allow singles and couples to live their love lives in full, without fear or shame, secrecy or suppression. In our opinion, this is a necessary healing for mankind, in which the percentages of betrayals and divorces are so high that one must be blind not to see that something in our “normal” family model of Adam and Eve—of a child, a lawn, and a dog—is simply not working.

for our new workshop working with the Lilith energy - see here

Rabbi Ohad Ezrahi is a co-founder along with his wife Dawn of The Garden – the School of Love in Kabbalah. www.kabalove.org


Lilith, Re-reading 3rd gate

November 9, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

back to 2nd Gate



In this gate we will look at how the Ari defines the unique nature of partzuf Leah. We will observe how, by sanctifying the image of partzuf Leah, the Ari facilitated bringing her shadow image – Lillith – back into the realm of holiness. He abstracted her human image and deified it in the world of Atzilut.

Unless we are specifically referring to the biblical narrative, whenever we speak about Leah, our meaning is the Leah of Atzilut, who is not a mortal woman but rather the connotation for a certain aspect of the Shechinah. There is a certain overlap between the two, since the human image of Leah penetrates into that of supernal Leah, which in turn affects lower Leah, and so on. In hasidic terminology, the human Leah merited to become a “chariot” or “vehicle” (merkavah) – for a certain aspect of the divine.1 This receptacle was molded into the form lent it by Leah and, as such, it is named for her and characterized by her personality traits. In fact, every partzuf is a specific emanation of the divine lights perceptible to human beings, and the emanation’s form is molded according to the nature of the human receptacle. Jacob, Leah, and Rachel, are human archetypes, who represent different ways of perceiving God. For this reason, each divine emanation is created in the image of each of their modes of consciousness.

Leah is a complex partzuf in Lurianic Kabbalah. For example, R. Hayyim Vital, in his book Sha’ar HaMitzvot, presents a list of no less than eighteen different aspects of partzuf Leah and the minute differences between them. He admits that he cannot precisely remember how the Ari explained them all.2 In our discussion, we will focus on the general characteristics of Leah within the partzuf of the Shechina, and specifically on those aspects which are connected to the identification of Leah, the wife whom Jacob hated, with Lilith, the wife whom Adam rejected.

First we will focus on the status conferred upon the two women, Rachel and Leah, in terms of where they are located in the world schema. They express two different faces of woman: one is more spiritual (Leah), the other more practical (Rachel);3 one possesses highly developed intellectual skills (Leah), while the other’s wisdom is more common sense and pragmatic (Rachel).

Illustration no. # (GET ILLUSTRATION) details the structure of the relationships between some of the partzufim of Atzilut. The two wives of Ze’eir Anpin, Rachel and Leah, the two faces of the Shechinah, are each pictured as having a different height in relation to her husband. Rachel, the main wife, has her feet on the same spot of ground as Jacob.4 Rachel’s head, however, is very low in relation to the height of Ze’eir Anpin’s head. Her back is attached to his, while her head only reaches his chest. In Kabbalistic thought, each partzuf receives sustenance from the partzuf above it. Thus, Ze’eir Anpin receives sustenance, called mohin (minds), from the partzufim above it, those of Hokhmah and Binah, which are also called Abba and Imma. Rachel receives her sustenance through Ze’eir Anpin. This means that, when Ze’eir Anpin receives his mohin, it comes together with those intended for his wife Rachel. He first feeds himself with his own mohin, and then, through a hole in the center of his chest, he transfers to Rachel the mohin intended for her. These are the mohin that give her life and sustain her inner core.

Leah, on the other hand, is standing tall. Her head touches the feet of partzuf Imma, while her own feet are positioned on Rachel’s head. This means that, in the diagram which describes the structure of the relationships in the world of Atzilut, Leah is portrayed as being on the same plane as Ze’eir Anpin, located between his chest and the top of his head. Unlike Rachel, Leah is not dependent on Ze’eir Anpin for receiving her mohin. She touches the bottom of partzuf Imma and can therefore receive sustenance from her directly.

Interpreting these symbols, we see that partzuf Rachel, Jacob’s modest and beloved wife, is the shorter of the two. “Short” in this case means spiritually small. Rachel lives on the practical side of life, with her feet firmly on the ground. Not an intellectual concerned with lofty, abstract ideas, she is the woman Jacob prefers. Rachel’s “head,” or her spiritual side – that which the Ari would call her “limb of consciousness” – reaches only as high as the chest of Ze’eir Anpin, which is the location of his heart, his emotional center. A woman whose thinking is closely tied to her heart, Rachel does not venture beyond this plane.5

Leah, on the other hand, is located “above.” Partzuf Leah is closely tied to Partzuf Tevunah (”Understanding”), which is above Ze’eir Anpin, so that her head is on the same level as Ze’eir’s. as a result, upper Leah is capable of deep thinking, deductive reasoning, and abstract contemplation. On the other hand, she is not in touch with the lower aspects of Ze’eir Anpin, the earthy, practical side of life. There, in the legs of Ze’eir Anpin, stands Rachel, who knows how to ground things.

In hasidic Kabbalah this difference in the position of the two images of the Shekhinah indicates two different types of souls. There are “Rachel souls,” practical and grounded in their nature, over against “Leah souls,” more contemplative and spiritual. Two such souls may arrive in the same generation, but they may also appear in successive generations, so that practically-minded eras in history are followed by spiritually-oriented epochs. R. Yitzchak Isaac of Homil, one of the most profound and original of the hasidic Kabbalists, used this teaching in his attempt to characterize the souls of the generation that entered the Land of Israel. R. Isaac understood that Jewish life in Israel would be radically different than the sort of Jewish life he was familiar with in the Diaspora. Diaspora Judaism, like the generation of the wilderness, could pre-occupy itself with lofty, abstract ideals, but an Israeli Judaism would need to find godliness in the earthy, practical, and the natural. R. Isaac based this fundamental distinction on the different positions of Rachel and Leah in relation to Ze’eir Anpin:

The partzuf of the wilderness generation [ = partzuf Leah] is that of a generation of knowledge, the knowledge of God’s glory (and its position) above the chest, (since) that is the place of the respiratory organs. These are spiritual forces, those of intelligence and understanding as related to hokhma, binah, and da’at…(however) the partzuf of the Shekhina of the generation that entered Israel, which is the main partzuf, is that of the Shechina which was present in the holy temple. It is the partzuf of Rachel, (which is located) beneath the chest, where the digestive organs are found, and they are not sensitive to the light and power of intelligence and understanding, since they are concerned primarily with survival and the preservation of life in an orderly and reasonable manner.6

Leah represents the higher woman who is capable of contending with a partner intellectually. The Zohar teaches us that it is Leah’s very superiority which causes Jacob to feel repulsed by her and to prefer Rachel. Threatened by an intellectual woman, he prefers to marry an earthy woman, whom he can more easily understand. At the same time, he turns the image of the woman who threatens him into an other, a demonic being – in the Zohar, the chief ally of the Great Demon himself.

We will later examine the correlation between the female figure who is perceived as a sexual threat, such as Lilith, and the female figure who is threatening because of her spiritual/intellectual talents. Leah embodies both threats. In the biblical narrative, she is a woman whose sexual urge is dominant. For this reason the Rabbis did not hesitate to call her a prostitute. In the Torah’s only description of her, we are told that “the eyes of Leah were soft” (Gen. 29:17).7 We will not be far from the truth if we interpret this “softness” as alluring, seductive, sensual, but also threatening and, therefore, understood by the tradition paradoxically as weak, repulsive and ugly.

For those shaped by patriarchy, it is easy to be repulsed, it seems, by women who openly express their sexual desire.8 It is very possible that Leah’s eyes broadcast her desire, rather than concealing it under some modest veil. In the Kabbalah, female desire is known as “female waters” (mayyin nukvin). These are the waters that moisten and vivify a woman whose yearning for a man is great. Prayer is conceived as the collective arousal of the female waters of all of Israel towards God. The great abundance that God showers on the earth in response to prayer is known as the “male waters,” (mayyin dichrin) i.e. male seed. Leah’s watery eyes symbolize the arousal of her female waters, and they threaten Jacob, just as they would threaten any man used to a certain set of patriarchal mores.

On the other hand, Leah is also sophisticated. She tricks Jacob into a life different from the one he had intended. She uses her head, and he, of course, does not appreciate it. In Lurianic Kabbalah, Leah’s resourcefulness links her to the sefirah of Binah, which is also Partzuf Imma. We can understand something of Jacob’s reaction to her based on this association. Rebekah, Jacob’s mother, was the first woman who, by her cunning and against his will, changed his life into that of a man pursued. She taught him to lie to his father Isaac, and she turned him into the character he is constantly trying to free himself from – that of his brother Esau. Jacob identifies Esau with the ugly, low-down and brutal. But Esau is Jacob’s shadow side and twin. Throughout his life Jacob wants to detach himself from this threatening, bestial figure. He wants to be able to say “I am Jacob, not Esau,” but Rebekah, whose name connects her to the more primal world of animals,9 forces him to put animal hides on his delicate skin, and to go to his father and say, “I am Esau, your first-born” (Gen. 27:19) Rebecca forces her younger son to identify with the primal animal side of his own nature against his better judgment. He does as she commands, but he does not internalize this action by allowing a place in which his own shadow side might be integrate. Jacob remains only Jacob, who needs to run far, far away from Esau, all the way to his mother’s home.

And there he meets another woman in whom he recognizes the same animal nature as that of his brother Esau. “(People) would say … the older one goes to the older one, the younger one to the younger one!”10 Those who knew of them felt that Leah was intended for Esau, because they both exposed their more primitive sides. Rachel, the modest one, was fitting for Jacob. Everyone thought so, except for Leah. She, like her aunt Rebecca, has an almost compulsive desire to bring out the primal – animal in Jacob. It is no wonder that, for Jacob, the figure of Ze’eir Anpin, Leah represents the partzuf of (Imma), his mother Rebecca.


Given the similarities between Rebecca and Leah in terms of their guile, it should come as no surprise that there are also parallels between them in matters pertaining to sexuality. At first glance, it would seem that no one was more chaste than Rebekah. The Torah testifies that she was a virgin: “The maiden was very beautiful, a virgin whom no man had known” (Gen 24:16). Rashi, following the lead of the midrash, comments that she was a “‘virgin’ – in the place of virginity; ‘whom no man had known’ – in an unnatural way. Since the daughters of the Canaanites would guard the place of their virginity but were wanton elsewhere, the Torah testifies that she (Rebekah) was completely pure.”11

Although Rebekah seems to be the very soul and image of chastity, the rabbis of the midrash nevertheless find reason to suspect her of sexual promiscuity. The occasion for this midrash is the moment she fell off the camel,12 upon first seeing Isaac (Gen. 24:64):

“And she fell off the camel” – since she saw that in the future Esau, the Wicked, would be born of her, she trembled and became as if “struck by wood,” and virginity blood came out of her…And when Isaac came to her, he found no sign of virginity, and suspected she had been with Eliezer. He said to her; “Where is (the sign of) your virginity?” She answered him: “When I fell off the camel I became as one struck by wood.” He said to her: “You speak falsely! It must be that Eliezer was with you!” She swore to him that he had never touched her. They went and found the piece of wood that was stained by blood, and Isaac immediately knew that she was pure.13

If the Rabbis needed to emphasize so markedly that Rebekah was a virgin, then there must have been some tale which they needed to discredit. Furthermore, Rebekah’s immediately covering her face with a veil after falling from the camel, elicits another suspicious comment: “There were two who covered themselves with a veil and gave birth to twins: Rebekah and Tamar. Rebekah, as it says: “So she took her veil and covered herself” (Gen, 24:65). Tamar, as it says: “So she…covered her face with a veil” (Gen.38:14). Again, we find that the Rabbis link Rebekah’s behavior at the moment of her encounter with Isaac with the behavior of Tamar, who disguised herself as a prostitute when she met her father-in-law, Judah.14

This all comes back to Jacob, upon meeting Leah in her parents’ house. According to the Zohar, she reminds him of something threatening, which is linked to the image of his mother:

“And God saw that Leah was despised” (Gen. 30:31): From here we see that a man hates his mother’s nakedness. A man can therefore be alone with his mother anywhere, and there is no need to worry. As the Sages have already remarked:15 “A son may be alone with his mother.” Everything was concealed from Jacob, because the higher world was not yet revealed (I:154b).16

Jacob’s hatred for Leah, according to the Zohar, stems from the deep fear a man has of his mother’s nakedness – presumably because of his very attraction to it.17 In Leah’s eyes, Jacob saw glimmers of Rebekah.

There cannot be a more radical yet fitting image for this doubling of the two women than that used by R. Hayyim Vital. Referring to the section of the Zohar quoted above, Vital analyses the architecture of the world of Atzilut and explains that if one knows the exact location of partzuf Leah in relation to partzuf Imma, then the sefirah of Yesod of both these partzufim connect at one and the same point. In Kabbalistic terminology, the sefirot of yesod represent the sexual organs of the male and the female,18 which indicates that (in so far as Jacob’s consciousness is concerned), the sexual organs of Leah and Rebecca are fused into “one womb.” Therefore, R. Hayyim Vital says, with Leah, Jacob feels the revulsion of incest.

And this is what is also written in the Zohar … on the verse “And God saw that Leah was despised” (Gen. 30: 31): From here we see that “a man hates his mother’s nakedness” (Zohar 1:154b), meaning that Leah emerges from the malkhut of Imma, who is Jacob’s mother… The conclusion is that the Yesod of Imma and the Yesod of Leah are connected together, so that they both become one womb to mate in… and this is the secret of “from here we know that a man hates his mother’s nakedness.” Nakedness means just that.19

He meets the taboo of his mother’s nakedness when he comes into Leah, for deep inside her womb is the womb of his mother Rebecca. A mother’s power to give of her goodness, to nourish, to love, and to encourage, but at the same time to withhold nurturing, to ignore, or to suffocate, transforms her from a simple mortal into a virtual goddess in the psyche of the dependent child. During the prolonged encounter between the child and the goddess who rears him, the child learns to attach great values to her. They are fraught with meaning and loaded with symbolical significance. Jung writes, “Many things which awaken admiration and a sense of the sacred can be symbols of the mother,” but adds, that mother-symbols may occasionally take on negative meanings, fraught with terror.20

One of the most widespread symbols of the fearsome mother in primitive art is that of the spider.21 A small creature in itself, it has a web of information extending in all directions. From a distance, it can sense everything that is happening and quickly runs wherever it is most needed. The stereotypical image of the Jewish mother who always knows what is happening, shows up everywhere, pulls the strings behind every scene, and is involved with exaggerated and often smothering concern in her children’s lives, is well represented by the symbol of the spider.21

This description can help us to refocus on Rebekah, the great and fearsome mother in her son, Jacob’s, psyche. Rebekah manipulated and triangulated Jacob’s relationships with his brother and father, putting him through a humiliating ordeal that ended up threatening his life. We can easily see how her son would fear ever getting caught in the web of another assertive woman. For Jacob, loving Leah is returning to the stranglehold of his fearsome mother. So long as Jacob is incapable of rising above and beyond himself, or of transforming himself into “Israel,” then he is constantly running away from those parts of himself which he fears or cannot understand: his shadow and twin, Esau, and his mighty mother, Rebekah. \Given the power of these shadow projections in his psyche, it is inevitable that he would be revolted by Leah.

The significance of the higher level of femininity and divinity that Leah represents is unknown to Jacob. Leah is linked to the world of Binah, which is also the world of the supernal mother. Jacob, however, is only capable of understanding women who represent the sefirah of Malkhut, the world of Rachel – the revealed, lower world that we inhabit.


Traditionally, Torah was seen as the exclusive preserve of men: study, in-depth analysis, and contemplation were considered male pursuits. There were very few women who managed to break out of their accustomed roles as child-raisers and home-keepers in order to enter the scholarly world.

The first to do so, or at least the first we know of, was Beruriah, the wife of R. Meir, who lived in the classic age of the Mishna (late 2nd century C.E.). Beruriah was a scholar with a rebellious attitude to the portion allotted to women by the rabbinic culture that surrounded her. Partly as a result of that attitude, she came to a tragic end, as we will discuss in more detail in the next chapter.

Hundreds of years were to pass until another woman attained the stature of Beruriah in the rabbinic world, and she too came to a bitter end. Hannah Rachel, known as the Maid of Ludmir, who remained single until forty, tried to function as a female hasidic rebbe.22 She was forced to forego both her position and her power due to pressure brought on her by the Rebbe of Tchernobel, who was a central spiritual authority in the hasidic world of that era.23 The Rebbe of Tchernobel pressured her into marriage and into following the only acceptable path for daughters of Israel, regardless of how intellectual they might be.24 However, Hannah Rachel’s marriage was not successful, and she was divorced from her husband three years later.

The unhappy careers of Beruriah and the Maid of Ludmir show that the male protectors of Jewish tradition saw any attempt made by a woman to penetrate the male world of study as deviant. A woman, it would seem, could not be a scholar, almost by definition, and, if she were a scholar, then there must be something abnormal about her. This attitude has been prevalent from talmudic times through the Kabbalah and Hasidism. The tragedy of the Maid of Ludmir indicates that a learned woman could not be considered sexually attractive as a woman and had to give up her learning and teaching in order to marry. In fact, Hannah of Ludmir wanted to remain a virgin. Similarly, Barbara Streisand, in the musical “Yentl,” plays the role of a woman who, in order to gain entry into the study hall, disguised herself as a male yeshiva student, and even became engaged to an attractive, young girl.

Of course, this denial of female sexuality wherever a woman shows intellectual interest, is as far from the truth as possible. It is unfortunately facilitated by the kabbalistic distinction that we have been exploring between two levels of femininity – higher femininity and lower femininity, or, in other parallel terms: mother and daughter, the concealed world and the revealed world, Leah and Rachel, Binah and Malkhut. We have heard that certain women who belong to the Habad sect and study Habad Hasidut, do not say the morning blessing, “Who has made me according to His will” like other Orthodox women, but rather “Who has not made me a woman,” as Orthodox men recite.25 These scholarly Habad women are blessing the fact that they are not connected to the sefirah of Malkhut, but rather to Binah, which is also feminine, but not entirely so. The spiritual fulcrum of Habad is contemplation, i.e., increased attention to the sefirah of Binah as it operates in the human soul, which elevates its practitioners to a state in which they are encompassed by the light of the supernal Mother, the light of Binah. These women are therefore blessing the fact of their not being regular “Malkhut” women, but rather, contemplative “Binah” women, which is to say, not entirely feminine women. It is often stated in the Zohar that Imma (the partzuf of Binah) occasionally functions as a male.26

The purported masculinity of a “Binah” woman does not in any way annul her sexual identity as a woman – quite the opposite. The masculinity of Binah is not a negation of female identity, but rather a way of expressing female assertiveness. A “Binah” woman is usually more active – or, in Kabbalistic language, more masculine – in her sexuality. What is called her “masculinity” is expressed through her willingness and courage to take an active and assertive part in her sexuality, just like a man. This assertiveness thus comes to reinforce her femaleness. While tradition has maintained a grudging respect for those women like Hana Rachel of Ludmir who understood that acceptance into the world of Binah was dependent on denying their sexuality, it has totally negated a woman who chooses to interpret her entering the world of Binah as an expression of female assertiveness. This latter case has been catalogued as threatening and demonic, like Lilith.

By demonizing the assertive female, men have controlled the gateways to knowledge and so safeguarded their a priori supremacy. A woman chooses between the world of knowledge and the world of feminine sexuality. If she chooses the world of knowledge, then she forfeits the latter. If she chooses the world of the senses then she may not enter the study-hall, lest she appear as a warped woman, the sister of Lilith. This is a perverse way of silencing women’s voices in the world of Torah learning. Once she has left behind her persona as Eve, she is forced to choose between identifying with the Adam or with the Snake, between scholarship and sexual identity.

This same dichotomy does not exist in the realm of male scholarship, though there is considerable tension around the issue. The study of Torah can itself be a means of sublimating erotic impulses through spiritual practice. We saw in the story of R. Hiyya and his wife who seduces him in the guise of a prostitute an example of an accomplished scholar who felt he had to renounce his sexual urge in order to lead a life of holiness. We intend to explore a few more sources, which will show that, unlike the standards which have been set for women, for men, there is a very strong link between eroticism and scholarship.

The following excerpt from Talmud is well-known, in which it is implied that greatness in Torah is intrinsically related to a strong sexual drive:

Abaye said: (The evil urge) tempts scholars more than anyone else. Like that story about Abaye, who heard a man say to a woman, Let us meet and go on our way together. Abaye said to himself, I will follow them and prevent them from sinning.

He followed them for three parsangs. When they reached a junction, he heard them say to one another: Our ways part (as they were from different townships), and we must separate, although it is very pleasant to walk together. Abaye said to himself: If it was me who was alone with that woman, I could never have stopped myself from sinning. When he got back, he leaned sadly on the doorpost. That old man (apparently Elijah) came and said to him: Whoever is greater than his colleague, also has a greater (yetzer).27

The old man’s comforting words to Abaye became a common saying in the Torah world: “Whoever is greater than his colleague, also has a greater urge.” This saying cannot be examined apart from the context of Babylonian rabbinic culture, where it originated. Daniel Boyarin has shown, that, unlike their counterparts in Palestine, the Babylonian academies held up the ideal of “the married monk.”28 The most famous example is R. Akiba, whose wife sent him away from home for twenty-four years, till he came back with 24,000 disciples. Torah was clearly “the other woman” in R. Akiba’s life. A less successful “married monk” is R. Hiyya, who was tortured by the inclination to sexuality, the yetzer that he had tried to suppress, and which came out of hiding when his wife dressed as a prostitute. So we can understand that what Elijah taught Abbaye was an important corrective to the competing ideal of married celibacy in that culture. “Whoever is greater than his colleague, also has a greater urge,” is not meant to give Torah scholars carte blanche for acting out their fantasies, but rather to help them attain a balanced acceptance of sexuality as fundamental to an integrated personality. Perhaps with some greater degree of self-acceptance of his own yetzer, Abaye would not have followed the couple so far down the road of his unacted desire.

Why then, should we assume any different of a scholarly woman? The woman scholar is equally incomplete as a human being without successfully integrating sexuality into her personality. R. Tzadok HaCohen of Lublin offers an account of what makes us uniquely human, based on what we make of our “urge:”

Man is primarily the passion in his heart, which is his advantage over the angels. This is what is called the “urge” – the evil urge and the good urge.29 When he increases his desire to do good, it is good, and if not…As our Sages have stated, “Whoever is greater, his urge is also greater” (B. Sukkah 52a); the way a man is greater than his fellow man is only a function of how great his passion for good is, i.e. the good urge.”

Seen in the light of this critique, we can offer as a parallel to Elijah’s statement the following: “Whichever woman is greater than her colleague, also has a greater urge,” that is, for using her sexual passion toward good and holy ends.

Does spiritual greatness always imply intense passion? Surely we can identify situations in which the spiritual takes one beyond the temptations of the physical. Here are two such cases:

R. Gidel was accustomed to go and sit by the gates of the (women’s) bath house, and would say to them, This is how you should immerse yourselves, this is how you should immerse yourselves. The Sages said to him, Is his honor not afraid of the evil urge? He said to them, They are like pure (white) geese to me.30

R. Aha would take the bride on his shoulders and dance (at weddings). The Sages said to him, Should we do the same?

He said to them, If they are like beams (of wood) to you – then L’hayyim! And if not, not.31

In these two interesting examples, the great sages share a dubious intimacy with women. In both instances, the sage justifies what are questionable practices to others through his subjectivity. He compares women to objects, like beams of wood or white geese, which do not awaken any degree of sexual desire in him. In these incidents, the Talmud presents an alternative conception of the great man. He is someone who has totally vanquished the evil urge. Hence, he is able to commit acts such as an ordinary man could not perform without becoming sexually aroused.32 In contrast, Abaye perceives himself trapped in the snare of seduction, much more so than the average man.

In our opinion, the case of Abaye is really no different than that of R. Gidel or R. Aha. What is different is the situation in which we find them. R. Aha carries the bride on his shoulders at a wedding dance, which is a time of great communal ecstasy. The erotic passion of his soul is thus elevated beyond the simple focus of a woman’s body. R. Aha was exactly like Abaye. Both were men with an unusually intense erotic charge. If this were not the case, R. Aha would probably have taken the bridegroom on his shoulders rather than the bride. His greatness and the greatness of his urge are expressed through his ability to rise to sublime heights in moments of ecstasy. He can go beyond the boundaries of permitted physical contact with women, because his spiritual ecstasy enables him to express the erotic passion in his soul while at the same time liberating him from any attachment to the body of the bride.

This is also the case for R. Gidel. He too is a great man with a great urge, and for this reason he chooses to go and see the women who are purifying themselves in the miqve. But, as we have already mentioned, his “urge” is no common urge, but rather, a “great” urge. His greatness is expressed in his seeing beyond a beautiful woman as a sexual object, and going from her to something more transcendent. If we pay close attention to the text we find that R. Gidel does not claim to be indifferent to the sight of the bathing women. Quite the opposite – he says that the women embody a most subtle form of beauty – that of pure white geese. Here, too, eroticism finds a different avenue of expression. It is at once elevated and at the same time sublimated into an aestheticism. Female beauty is reminiscent of the absolute beauty and purity of nature. This is the reason that R. Gidel has no fear of his evil urge, or rather, he suffers no anxiety about his inclinations, for he knows himself capable of appreciating beauty without allowing it to confound him.

Students of the Baal Shem Tov would almost certainly claim that R. Gidel saw divine beauty reflected in the bathing women, whose spark he elevated into its higher root in the Shekhinah. Here is how one of the Hasidic masters describes the meeting between R. Akiva and the beautiful Roman matron who tried to seduce him:

R. Akiva saw her beauty, which was the very essence of beauty. So he began to think to himself: Where did such grace and beauty come to this world from? Behold, all beauty and grace come from the Shekhinah, who is known as “the most beautiful among women…”33

Of course, in order to experience things in this way, a man must first possess a highly developed aesthetic sense. Beauty spoke to R. Akiva, to R. Gidel, and to Abaye. “The greater a man is, the greater his urge is,” and the greatness with which it endows him is expressed through a heightened sensitivity to all dimensions of life, including the erotic. There is no reason why this should not also be true of women, such as Leah, for example.

In Kabbalistic literature, the study of Torah is in itself considered an erotic act: R. Eliezer Azcari, a sixteenth-century Kabbalist from Safed, compares the study of Torah and the relationship to one’s wife to the two wives of Jacob. The highest wife is the Torah, while second in line comes the wife of flesh and blood. R. Eliezer even emphasizes a man’s obligation to have sexual relations with each of his two wives, both the physical and the spiritual one:

“Her food, her clothing, and her times (onah) shall not be diminished” (Ex. 21:10). Her times (for sex) – this means the mind, as all the six days of the week (he should) cause his soul to cling to her, “that he might kiss me with the kisses of his mouth” (Song of Songs 1:2). As it says in the Zohar, at midnight, when common people are with their second wife, this is the time when sages are with their first wife.34

The erotic energy converted during the study of Torah into an experience of spiritual coupling is manifest in the rhythmic swaying familiar to us from times of study and prayer. This is mentioned in the writings of the school of the Gaon of Vilna: “And this is the movement of a person studying Torah, who is then called alive, as in the mystery of the living organ.”35 Thus, we discover that the learning experience that is at the foundation of Torah scholarship is itself analogous to sexual union – and occasionally even more powerful than it.36

The Talmud teaches us that scholars are people with strong sexual instincts, although they may sometimes be able to experience sexual ecstasy on a more abstract than physical plane. While the talmudic, kabbalistic and hasidic examples that we have brought are from the sphere that their authors knew best, namely, male sexuality and its sublimation in Torah study, there is no reason to conclude that the same arguments could not be applied to a woman who excels in her studies, or who reaches spiritual heights.

If, however, this potent energy is sensed only unconsciously, it may suffer social repression and so develop into a complex and a desire to prove just the opposite. Sometimes, when the scholar, male or female, senses their sexual passion to be greater than average, he or she might suffer profound anxiety or neuroses. Attempts may be made to deny this psychological fact, as seems to have been the case with R. Hiyya in our opening story. with Beruriah, R. Meir’s wife, and, hundreds of years later, with Rebbe Hannah, the Maid of Ludmir. We are calling this unfortunate state of affairs , to which we turn in the next chapter.


(NOTE TO OHAD AND MORDECHAI: Because Beruriah is such a flash-point for contemporary feminism, you’re going to lose your potential readers over your argument in this chapter. I have developed an alternative feminist context, in which to insert your reading so that it doesn’t crash land.)

Beruriah is known from a half-dozen or so stories scattered in the Babylonian and Palestinian Talmuds and midrashic collections.37 The story that gives the best flavor of the living women’s spirit, without any veil of either idealization or misogyny, is one in which she meets Rabbi Yose Ha-Gelili (”The Galiliean”), on the road. He asks her, “By which road shall we go to Lod?” And she replies, “Galilean fool! Did not the sages say, ‘Do not talk too much with a woman.’ You should have said, ‘By which to Lod?’”38 She did not suffer fools or hypocrites gladly. Daughter and husband of rabbis, a woman with sharp rabbinic learning, known as someone who once learned three hundred traditions in one day from three hundred different masters,39 she engages in learned argument with sages and apostates alike, but she is not accorded the status of either disciple or colleague. She is an anomaly in the rabbinic world.

The most famous story of Beruriah is also the most heartbreaking. It is told in the margins of another story about her husband, R. Meir, and her unnamed sister. R. Meir had gone to Rome at Beruriah’s request to redeem her sister from a brothel, to which the Romans had consigned her when they sentenced their father to death. At the end of the story, we are told that when Meir returned, he left for Babylonia, “because of the Beruriah incident.” That Beruriah incident is not narrated in the Talmud, but Rashi, in his marginal gloss to the Talmud, brings down the following tradition, whether folk or rabbinic we do not know:

“And some say because of the Beruriah incident:” One time she mocked what the sages said: “Women are frail of mind.” He (R. Meir, said to her: “By your life! in the end, you will admit that they are right!” He ordered one of his students to tempt her to sin. And he (the student) propositioned her for a long time, until she finally agreed. When the matter became known to her, she strangled herself, while R. Meir fled because of the disgrace.40

This is the only instance known to us of Rashi’s bringing down a tradition that is not attested anywhere else. (THIS IS MY CLAIM – BUT IS IT TRUE?) We believe that this story was considered so horrific that it was suppressed in written form and only passed down orally, until Rashi wrote it down in the 11th century, about five hundred years after the closing of the talmudic text.

What makes the story so horrific, we believe, is R. Meir’s betrayal of Beruriah.41 A rabbinic sage was willing to have his wife violate the most sacred bonds of marriage and transgress the divine commandment against adultery in order to prove the validity of the sages’ words. What misplaced loyalty! A scholar of folklore has suggested that the story is entirely fictional, based on parallel legends circulating in the ancient world.42 If so, it may have been the sages’ way of killing off the threat that Beruriah, a learned woman, represented to their entire system.

We would now like to suggest another, perhaps even more controversial reading of the story, refocusing our attention on the rabbinic tradition over which Beruriah and Meir argue, namely, that “women are frail of mind.” In context, it is evident that “frailness of mind” signifies women’s inability to resist sexual temptation. Because of our sympathy for Beruriah as a victim of her husband’s machinations against her, it may be hard to acknowledge that Beruriah is her own worst enemy. She denies that she is capable of being seduced, as any average woman might be. She had sought a place among the intellectual elite of her time. In order to prove herself, she feels she needs to be a “man.” She needs to prove that the patriarchal construction of feminine characteristics, such as fickleness or “frailness of mind,” do not play any part in her psychological make-up.

Is Beruriah’s struggle personal or ideological? Is it an attempt to prove that she is unlike other daughters of Eve, who could be seduced by the alluring promises of the snake? Or is her mocking the sages’ teaching an attempt to create a precedent for how the world should rightly perceive her sex? Ironically, it is Beruriah’s very failure to overcome temptation – her “frailness of mind” – that boomerangs on her.

One way of reading the end of the story, Beruriah’s suicide, is to understand that her breaking point occurs at the moment when she is forced to admit her frailness to her husband. She did not commit suicide at the moment that the sexual act was over, as did R. Hiyya, who burned himself immediately upon sinning. If we read the talmudic phrase, “when it became known to her,” as “when it became known” [HL: CAN YOU FIND A DIFFERENCE OF VERSIONS among various Talmudic MS? OTHERWISE, THIS BLAMING THE VICTIM IS HARD TO JUSTIFY.] then the story shifts its meaning considerably. Rather than killing herself over Meir’s betrayal of her, she kills herself when the matter became public. Perhaps she was capable of coping with a sense of personal failure, but not with the publicized version. Coping with the shame of having her weakness revealed to her husband was more than Beruriah could endure, and she committed suicide.

What we see in the story is how a patriarchal construction of gender difference was internalized by Beruriah to the point of self-denial and complete psychological break-down. Her internalization of these mores caused her to feel the need to prove both to herself and to the world that a woman could be as scholarly as a man without falling into sexual impropriety. At the same time, the many stories about men and sexual temptation suggest that men’s sexual desire presented no hindrance to their joining the spiritual and intellectual elite. R. Akiva could chase up the date palm after a beautiful girl and not stand accused of “frailness of mind,” because male sexuality is no threat to the male world. Beruriah, standing closer to R. Hiyya in this regard, required an asexual passport into the world of scholarship, a passport that was a negation of her human nature. Tragically, no amount of proving herself sexually repressed could have gained Beruriah full admittance to the rabbinic elite.

The Biblical Leah, and her kabbalistic counterpart among the partzufim, did not fall victim to the Beruriah complex. Even though Leah, coming from the world of Binah, the highest “feminine” world, is related to a “masculine” mode of being, this did not render her susceptible to the Beruriah complex. Leah never tried to prove herself asexual. Quite the opposite. The Leah archetype joins together two wholly different orientations. On the one hand, Leah is an intellectual, i.e. from the sefirah of Binah, but on the other hand, she is the sexual agent in the story. Her loftiness and her spiritual independence lead her to demand the same rights afforded to men.

She refuses to internalize values constructed so as to restrict her freedom and her desires. The Ari thus limits the rule that “women have weak minds,” and argues that it applies primarily to the Rachel archetype. Leah’s mind, he comments, is not weak at all: “Only the mind (da’at) of Rachel is part of the mystery of ‘women have weak minds,’ as we have often explained.”43

According to the Ari, the “weak mind” is characteristic of the lower female partzuf, whose mores and values men can easily understand. This is not the case with Leah. We have seen already how Leah initiates intimacy with Jacob – how just one look at her wet eyes is enough to disarm him both emotionally and sexually. Jacob realizes that the Leah archetype implies a spiritual, sexual and intellectual freedom, which threatens his status. He therefore tries to push this figure into the margins of society. From this orientation comes the midrash that Leah is first engaged to the much maligned older brother, Esau, and then she becomes the hated and rejected wife of the younger brother, Jacob. Her provocative behavior evokes the rabbis’ not so subtle suggestion that she may be a prostitute. The Ari took this one stage further and recognized in Leah the archetype of the greatest of all prostitutes – Lilith.


In the name of the Baal Shem Tov: One should say the following poem before going to sleep. “Certain is His name, Certain is His fame” (Ha’vadai shmo, ken teheelato – and this is useful for chasing away demons, spirits, and Lilith from him who says it.44

In hasidic tradition, this charm is attributed to the founder of the movement. Its purpose is to chase Lilith and her fellow demons away from a sleeping man, for they are liable to mock him in his sleep by arousing him with erotic dreams and sexual transgressions. The repeated words are meant to inspire confidence, conviction and certainty in whoever utters them before falling into the mysterious and uncertain world of sleep. “Certain is His name, certain is His fame” is a line taken from the liturgical poem “And all believe” (V’khol ma’aminim), recited during the Days of Awe. The significance is clear: doubt will turn illicit, whereas certainty can deliver us from every impropriety.

Lilith can grasp a person who suffers from doubt more readily than someone who has certainty. According to the hasidic masters, the Hebrew word for doubt, safek, has the same numerical value as Amalek (240). In Hasidism, Amalek is the internal enemy who causes nocturnal emissions (keri). Doubt cools (mekareret) a man’s attachment to the sacred, and so the fire in his soul gets channeled into less holy waters. Amalek is perceived in hasidic thought as the cause of both doubt and sexual arousal, which leads to spilling the seed.

Lilith represents longing for the “other woman,” with whom there can be no acceptable family tie, only an illicit connection. Lilith is the “forbidden fruit” that attracted Adam. This is why Lilith remains both seductive and dangerous. Eve, the legal wife, the housewife, the mother of children, is linked to certainty. She represents stability, continuity of the family dynasty, and the safe place one can always come home to. Lilith, on the other hand, is the unpredictable woman. She is the unknown, or doubt in its broadest sense. Hence, the charm of certainty “chases Lilith away,” because it imprints certitude and psychological stability on whoever utters it. It is like an Eastern mantra, which moves one from conscious to unconscious awareness. Thus it protects a person at the deepest levels – even in those parts of himself to which he has no direct access.

The charm might be thought of as an oxygen tank for those diving into the world of dreams, but who do not want to be spiritually awake to the unknown depths of their souls. They prefer to be spiritually asleep. In order to remain anchored during this sleep-state, such souls demand a safe place to which they can retreat and survive. On the other hand, when we do not experience this powerful inner need to fortify ourselves with words of certainty, then we may be feeling more secure in ourselves, in a place where doubt does not threaten us. When we are indeed spiritually awake, then we are capable of containing the dangers of uncertainty and profound doubt.45Lilith represents the negative force threatening the sleeping, unconscious dreamer. Someone in a state of spiritual alertness is quite capable of integrating her. This is why the mantra of certainty “chases Lilith away” from a sleeping person, whereas a person who is awake does not need such a mantra.

Lilith, as we have said, causes sleeping people to loosen their grip on reality, fall into fantasy, and spill their seed. The first man in the Jewish tradition to spill his seed, and incur the wrath of God, was Er, Judah’s firstborn son. Er (in Hebrew, “awake”) is named after the waking state. We need to delve more deeply into the character of Er in order to better understand the connection between Lilith’s powers, which are characterized by sexual failing, and the fact of her connection to doubt and uncertainty.

In Genesis, we are told that Er was the husband of Tamar, but that “Er was displeasing to the LORD, and the LORD killed him.” It was a brother-in-law’s duty to marry his brother’s widow in order to produce offspring who would carry on the dead brother’s name. But Onan, the next brother in line, “knowing that his seed would not count as his, let it go to waste whenever he joined with his brother’s wife, so as not to provide offspring for his brother. What he did was displeasing to the LORD, and He took his life also” (Gen. 38:7-8) The Torah does not tell us the exact nature of Er’s sin, but, based on a comparison with his brother Onan, who spilled his seed on the earth and was killed, the Rabbis claimed that both brothers shared the same dishonorable trait. “Why did Er destroy his seed? So that she (Tamar) would not get pregnant, which might destroy her beauty.”46 He doesn’t want his wife to get pregnant, because he does not want her to look worn-out and so cease to arouse him sexually. He associates pregnancy and birth with a lessening of sexual magnetism, and he wants to be constantly aroused.

Er’s name means that he constantly strives to keep awake. We might conclude that he fears sleep and the loss of control that sleep represents. He fears Lilith’s world, the unconscious world of nightmares and dreams, which might ignite erotic fires in other places over which he has no control.

The name Er also has another meaning, connected to the verb l’arair, to appeal or undermine. When one takes a legal case to the court of appeals, it means that there is some doubt as to the truth of the verdict. Thus, Er is awake as a skeptic. He does not accept things at face value. Such doubt jerks people awake. They start to ask questions. But it can also upset a person’s equilibrium, leading to feelings of inner exhaustion, apathy, and coldness. Then doubt becomes an obstacle and Lilith’s demonic powers take control.

So, Er is subject to Lilith on both counts – fear of the unconscious connected with sleep, and fear of uncertainty, connected with waking reality. His attempt to control Tamar by spilling his seed is a turning away from pregnancy and birth, which are characterized, according to the Mei HaShiloah, by their hiddenness and uncertainty:

For every birth comes only out of concealment and forgetfulness, just as no seed can grow unless it first decomposes in the ground and rots. So it is, too, with the drop of life that comes down from the brain – it cannot cause birth until it firsts materializes and becomes corporeal in human seed. For this is the moment when human consciousness stops and is forgotten. And, if a person would constantly maintain awareness and consciousness of his Creator, he could never come to the state of concealment and forgetfulness that allows birth to occur. Therefore Er….did not want to destroy this. This is the meaning of “he did not want to destroy her beauty.”47

While the Mei haShiloah seeks to characterize Er as a religious seeker, we would suggest that Er wants to remain awake to reality, because he does not have a basic confidence in it. Instead of bravely entering the uncertainty of the night, as the Baal Shem Tov recommends, Er prefers to maintain his illusory stance of total consciousness and control. He attempts to create a situation in which Tamar will always remain an alluring virgin. By spilling his seed and completing neither the sexual act nor their bargain as husband and wife, he treats her essentially as the prostitute she will later impersonate.48 This way, he never stops desiring her.

According to the Baal Shem Tov, to contend with his unconscious, man must dive into the world of dreams (albeit with an oxygen tank). Inner certitude – “Certain is His name, certain is His fame,” – does not contradict the mysterious. In fact, a person is enabled to dive more fully into himself or herself through such protection. Pay attention to the poem’s phrasing: “Certain is His name” – that is, the certainty is ascribed to the name; to name is to be certain. The certainty one needs to safely enter the world of the unconscious is contingent upon self-identity. I must first know my name if I am to step into the world of the unknown.49 Only with such awareness can the forces inhabiting this world express themselves constructively, without injury. Then I will be capable of contending with Lilith in a positive way. I can also allow myself to encounter another, more subtle Lilith, than the one I am habituated to fearing.

The mantra of certainty can be used by any true student of the Baal Shem Tov’s teachings, as a small raft upon which to traverse the immense sea of the unconscious without drowning. This certainty within uncertainty is the real waking state – the ability to be both awake and in a state of reverie. The opposite direction is represented in the figure of Er, who turns out to be “evil,”50 precisely because he is incapable of transforming bad into good. This is why he spills his seed and “gives birth to demons” – they are the demons in his soul, his unresolved fears. Er does not have the spiritual strength it takes to unveil the humanity that every demon conceals.

In his book, Mei HaShiloah, the Rebbe of Ishbitz teaches us that Er is the archetype of one who is afraid to enter uncertain situations, or, as he calls them, “doubts.” Jacob likewise, according to the Mei HaShiloah, was always trying to follow well-trodden paths in his spiritual life, in order to avoid the darkness of uncertainty. According to the Mei HaShiloah, the story of Er, comes to teach his grandfather Jacob, quite explicitly, what happens when you try to steer clear from all doubt:

“Jacob wanted to live peacefully” (REFERENCE)- this means that he wanted to stay away from any deed that would put him into a doubtful situation. This, however, is not the Holy Blessed One’s desire for this world. God therefore showed him – see who “shall issue from your loins” (Gen. 35:11), since he (Er) also guarded himself from any type of deed that brings loss, except that he did so on the physical plane…. for Jacob had the same lack as Er did, except that Jacob’s lack was in the service of God. He protected himself so as not to destroy the beauty of his service (of God).51

Just as Er was concerned about “destroying his wife’s beauty, so too, says the Mei HaShiloah, Jacob was concerned not to destroy the beauty of his spiritual service. The Mei HaShiloah goes on to connect such loss of beauty with “concealment and forgetfulness,” since in every birth experience, creativity and fertility are necessarily associated with “‘destruction of beauty’ – as we quoted above – “no seed can grow unless it first decomposes in the ground and rots.” Because Jacob fears the unknown in his own soul, he prefers certitude, although this is not necessarily God’s will for Jacob, which he could realize were he to contemplate the story of Er, his descendant.52

According to the Zohar, it is for these very reasons that Jacob fears marrying Leah. Leah emanates uncertainty. He prefers, in the words of the Zohar, “to stay attached to what he understands”53 – that is, Rachel, whose beauty symbolizes clarity of consciousness. Jacob’s aversion to Leah’s tender and mysterious eyes demonstrates his fear of the unknown. Entering the darkness of uncertainty implies leaving his housewife, Rachel, behind. Only by entering into the darkness can one know or understand Leah’s fertility and creativity; but this, the Zohar says, is precisely what frightens Jacob.

In this respect, the idea that both Leah and Lilith come from the sefirah of Binah is very significant. One of the most fascinating names the Zohar gives to Binah is “the place that stands in question.”54 Binah challenges a person to study, investigate and ask questions. Hence, a person may savor their attachment to the Divine when faced with those ultimate questions which can never be answered.

The Zohar unequivocally maintains that the people of Israel was spiritually incapable of asking the questions that emerge from Binah. This inability caused them to seek out quick and easy answers, such as the golden calf.55 Those who made the calf said: “This is your god O Israel.” The Zohar points out that the words “this” (eileh)56 and “god” (elohim) have the same letters, and the two extra letters in elohim can be used to spell “who is this?” (mi eileh). The Zohar teaches us that, without the element of wonder, we are left only with conclusions. This is just like removing the two letters that form the word “mi” from “elohim,” so that we are left with the letters that create the word “eileh” – turning the unknown into the transparent – “eileh elohekha Yisrael” – this is your god, O Israel.”57

When we cannot face the question that disturbs us, then each of our doubts becomes a devilish monster; “creating demons,” says the Kabbalah. Both Er and Jacob share in this dynamic; Er symbolizes fear of the unknown, and Jacob suffers deep anxiety when faced with unresolved questions. Following out the Ari’s suggestion that Leah is Lilith, we might say that Jacob’s impulse to run away from Leah’s taunts is what enables him to imagine her as the demonic figure of Lilith. He turns his doubts into unwanted strangers trespassing upon his soul, and these strangers are only entertained at night, in his dreams, when they become capricious and demonic. Because Leah symbolizes the uncertain quest for understanding, she belongs to the sefirah of Binah; the questions she asks really have no answers. Her provocative presence, and the uncertainty it intimates, causes Jacob great discomfort, for he cannot live under the sign of the question mark. He relates to the one who calls his attention to the unresolved expanses of his soul as a terrifying and demonic being.


In the Lurianic writings, the figures of Rachel and Leah are linked to the mysteries of tefillin. Tefillin are composed of two “houses” – black leather boxes containing portions from the Torah. One “house” is worn on the left arm, facing the heart, while the other is worn on the top of the forehead, facing the brain. In rabbinic terminology, woman is also called a man’s “house” or “household,” so it is only natural that, in kabbalistic thought, the two houses of tefillin came to symbolize the two partzufim – Rachel and Leah. It is not difficult to guess how the two women are identified with the two houses: Rachel, the more practical and housewifely is identified with the arm tefillin, facing the heart, while Leah, the more intellectual, is associated with the head tefillin, facing the brain. Rachel is represented by the actual tefillin of the arm, the black box that has the portions from the Torah in it, while Leah is represented only by the knot formed by the two leather straps, which is shaped like the letter dalet.58

This kabbalistic image is based upon two rabbinic sources: one maintains that God, also, wears tefillin;59 the second relates to the dialogue in Exodus 33: 18-23 between Moses and God, in which Moses asks to see God’s face, but God will only allow him to see His back. Moses hides himself, at God’s command, in a cleft in the rock when the glory of God passes over. He does not gaze at the face of God, and only after God passes is it permissible for Moses to look upon his back. But the Rabbis, with their very literal approach, try to determine exactly what Moses saw when he looked upon God’s back. Their answer: “‘Then I will take My hand away and you will see My back’ – R. Hanna bar Bizna said in the name of R. Shimon Hasida: This teaches us that the Holy One, blessed be He, showed Moses the knot of the tefillin.”60

If the Shekhinah in its lower aspect – Rachel – is the hand tefillin, but in its higher aspect – Leah – is the knot of the head tefillin, then we can say that the peak of Moses’s spiritual realization is the revelation of partzuf Leah. Hence, the aspect of the divine universe at which Moses arrives is Leah’s face in the Shekhinah. This is enormously significant. Given that Moses’ s seal is impressed on the entire Torah, the level of consciousness he achieves must then have tremendous influence on the Torah’s essential nature,61 as we will presently see.

According to the Zohar, Jacob did not merit to assimilate the higher Leah partzuf. He preferred to love Rachel, who was on a lower level (we recall that Rachel’s head only goes up to Leah’s feet),62 and more easily mastered by him. Leah was beyond his grasp and Jacob was afraid where he could not understand. Unlike Jacob, however, Moses merits attaining the level of Leah, according to R. Hayyim Vital.

And this is what the Rabbis said concerning the verse, “The effect (ekev in Heb., also means heel) of humility is fear of the LORD” (Prov. 22:4) – just as humility becomes a heel to her sandal, so fear becomes a crown for her head. For humility is the aspect of Leah. And since Moses achieved this and reached the fiftieth gate of Binah, he is called “very humble” (Num. 12:3), because he reached the place of Leah.63

Leah expresses the character trait of humility, while Rachel expresses fear. In the Torah, Moses is regarded as the most humble of people, leading the Ari to conclude that Moses achieved the spiritual intuition of Leah – humility – which enabled him to receive the Torah. Moses perceived the partzuf Leah of the Godhead – the knot of God’s tefillin. He perceived higher feminine reality’s connection to the sacred, whereas Jacob could not. Jacob only sensed how fear and the sacred complement each other – how, in the words of Proverbs, “a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised” (Prov. 31:30) – but not how Leah, who demands equality and expression of the whole of her being, including her sexuality, could possibly belong to the sacred. For Jacob, Leah is far from humility, and closer to audacity, perhaps even to licentiousness.

In order to finally understand Leah, Jacob needed to experience a serious metamorphosis, including changing his name from Jacob to Israel. This name change reflects an archetypal process of transformation that the archetypal image of Jacob needs to undergo before it can face the spiritual challenge that Leah presents. “Because these (…aspects of partzuf Leah) were concealed, and were not revealed to Jacob before he was called Israel as we explained earlier. Only then (i.e., when he was named Israel) could he realize the entire partzuf of Ze’eir Anpin, as is well-known.”64 The name “Jacob” represents only the diminished aspect of the masculine partzuf, while the name “Israel,” represents fullness, which is the mature figure of Ze’eir Anpin. This is why changing Jacob’s name to Israel enabled him to understand where he had formerly not been capable of understanding, and to accept Leah instead of rejecting and hating her.

In the Lurianic writings, it is Moses, the giver of the Torah, who sees the knot of God’s head tefillin, and receives spiritual enlightenment from this revelation of partzuf Leah. The revelation of the feminine received by Moses is that the real meaning of humility is to be truthful about who you are. When people fail to admit things about themselves, they become sly, the opposite of humility, which entails simplicity and straightforwardness. A humble person is capable of saying that he possesses positive qualities in the same direct way that he is capable of confessing his failings. This is why Moses was capable of writing all of his praises in the Torah, including the fact that he was “a very humble man, more so than any other man on earth” (Num. 12:3). This, too, was said simply, without craft, without hypocrisy, i.e. humbly. In the Babylonian Talmud, there is a list of many things that ceased to exist the day the Temple was destroyed, or the day a certain tzaddik died. The Talmud tells us that the amora R. Yosef said to the man who had quoted the mishna before him that he should not say “from the time that Rabbi died, humility was abolished,’ – since he, i.e. R. Yosef, still lived, and he is a humble person. The amora, R. Nahman, went on to say that people should not say that fear of God was also abolished, since he, R. Nachman, is still alive, and he fears God. R. Nahman of Breslov learns from this talmudic text that humility does not mean that I hide my merits. Quite the opposite – humility means my ability to accept my merits without being haughty about them, as Moses did.65

Moses received the attribute of humility from partzuf Leah. This implies that Moses’s humility is connected to his ability to perceive the role of Leah within the divine image, and to recognize that, what Jacob saw as brazenness, was in fact her modesty. Leah was faithful enough to herself to seek out the proper place for herself in the world. Unfortunately, the society in which she functioned saw her as “someone who goes out,” like a prostitute.

We are arguing that patriarchy is forged in the image of Jacob. But Moses, in Lurianic Kabbalah, represents a different approach. He looks at Leah eye to eye. The root of Moses’s soul comes from partzuf Leah, and the highest level of his perception of the Divine is rooted in supernal Leah. He recognizes that Leah’s psychological vulnerability is an expression of great humility, and so his entire teachings are sealed with the image of her partzuf.66 The Kabbalah sees Jacob and Moses as two separate beings symbolizing one essence. Jacob represents the external, while Moses (and Israel also) represents the internal: “Moses from the inside, Jacob from the outside.”67

According to the Ari, the purpose of the Torah that Moses brought down from heaven was to bring the entire people to a sublime state, so that those insights Moses had merited to receive would become accessible to everyone. In the Lurianic writings, the “Torah of Moses” is read as an effort to bring society to a state in which Leah can wholly belong. Lilith became a demon only because she could not fit into Adam’s patriarchal paradise. The children of Israel in the generation of the wilderness were not so high as Moses as to be able to receive Leah-Lilith into the realm of the sacred. The general level of Israel, as the Ari explains, were souls from the lower, Rachel partzuf. Moses, however, heralds a new era. He has a message for a simplistic, patriarchal, Jacobic society, a message that is geared toward changing that society step by step in order that it reach a new state in which it can truly answer to its name – Israel. The Torah’s goal, conceived in this way, is to change the Jacobic world, to expand it, and make it more flexible – more Israeli. When this happens, Leah-Lilith will no longer be relegated to a state of separation and alienation, and she will no longer be perceived as a demon. She will be seen for what she is – an essential part of all women. As long as Lilith is playing the role of the demon, she is murderous and jealous, and she seeks to kill Eve’s children. The moment she is liberated, however, she no longer has any need to usurp Eve or Rachel’s place. On that day, all aspects of women’s experience will be fully expressed. and Lilith can return to the Garden of Eden.

We find an example of this of revaluing of Leah over Rachel in the writings of the Ari, where he offers his interpretation of the sin of the golden calf. The Torah tells us that, after the sin of the golden calf, God wanted to create a new people out of Moses. In the Kabbalah, “erasing the people” means destroying its root in the world of Atzilut, or, as the Ari puts it, “to abolish partzuf Rachel.” God wanted to establish a new people from partzuf Leah, who would be the spiritual descendants of Moses. However, it was Moses himself who halted this plan:

The intention of the Supreme Emanator was to annihilate the entire reality of the lower wife of Ze’eir Anpin – Rachel – and to make a new wife for Ze’eir Anpin out of the aspect of the higher Dalet – Leah – which would have ten complete sefirot. As the rabbis have already stated, this blessing was realized in Moses’s seed, as it says, ‘And the children of Rehavya were very many’ (I Chron. 23:17) – more than six hundred thousand.68

But Moses did not want this, and God listened to him, and kept His word and the word of His servant Moses. Both (intentions) were realized. He did not destroy the lower Rachel, while higher Leah, which was at that time one solitary point, He developed into ten sefirot, making her a complete partzuf, but not bringing her back (to the) face to face (relationship). And this is the secret of ‘and you shall see My back’- this is the knot of the Tefillin that was fixed. However, “My face,” which means returning face to face with Ze’eir Anpin, must not be seen” (Ex. 3:23), this can not be.69

Interpreting this quotation requires a review of human history until this time. At first, femininity belonged to the Leah partzuf, since Lilith, who is Leah, was the first Eve. Then Lilith flees, and the second Eve, who is also Rachel, becomes the mainstay of the household. Rachel is the dominant wife and Lilith is perceived as a demonic figure. Now, after the sin of the golden calf, God suggests turning back the course of history. He is prepared to erase partzuf Rachel, and build a new society based exclusively upon partzuf Leah. However, Leah herself (represented by her human counterpart, Moses), does not agree to this plan. Rather than the erasure of Rachel, she awaits a reunion with her sister and a healing of women’s divided self.

In the Zohar, the sin of the golden calf is associated with human beings’ inability to bear the spiritual state of questioning and uncertainty. Those who worshipped the calf said “eileh elohekha Yisrael” – “This is your god, o Israel” (Ex. 32:4), eliminating the letters mi from the word elohim, which is composed of the same letters as mi eleh (”who are these”)?70 The ideal concept of the divine assumes uncertainty, thus making faith the human being’s facing of the Divine unknown. Divinity perplexes man, who constantly seeks to understand it with his rational mind. The sin of the golden calf is the attempt to escape from the unknown to the comforting bosom of the familiar – “This is your god, o Israel.”

In patriarchal society, the housewife, Eve or Rachel, will always be in the place that men deem fitting for her. She poses no threat. On the other hand, Leah, with her soft eyes, broadcasts threatening messages; facing her, a man must have courage to face the unknown, without needing to escape to the familiar bosom of that which he already knows. Rachel symbolizes the exact opposite – the need for boundedness and fortification in a revealed, and familiar universe.

With this Lurianic paradigm in mind, we can appreciate that religion itself can become an obstacle to a believer’s facing the unknown. This is why R. Tzadok HaCohen of Lublin maintains that the sin of the golden calf was an attempt to hide behind the commandments of the Torah and to make them into a statue and a graven image. If we take the Torah and see it as a closed system of familiar rules, which are not open to the Infinite, then we are making the Torah itself an idol:

For this is the entire Torah: that there should be no fence or known boundary, which is also called a statue and a picture…but…they wanted something tangible and accessible, and they therefore eliminated the face of the ox from the divine chariot – meaning that they made its picture tangible, making the observance of the commandments like the harnessing of an ox to its yoke, which becomes their primary focus, since they do not perceive anything deeper. And this need for a statue and a picture in order to grasp the Holy One or His Torah is idol worship. For just as God is infinite and has no end, so His Torah is infinite and has no end.71

In R. Tzadok’s remarkable refocusing, God wants a people who are constantly open to questions and to wonderment, which, like His Torah, is infinite and has no end. To make this point, R. Tzadok reverses the import of his talmudic source concerning ox-like observance of the commandments, where this was seen as a positive value. According to B. Avodah Zarah 5b: “It is taught from the House of Elijah: A person should always be towards the Torah as an ox to the yoke and an ass to its load.” But this is what R. Tzadok calls “making a calf out of Torah.”

It is our characterization of Leah as the higher partzuf of the Shekhinah – open to wonder and uncertainty – which has brought us to this point of understanding the role of Torah and faith in God’s unfolding plan. Now that we have become familiar with the characterization of Lilith in Jewish thought, and with the nature of the bond between her and Leah – both in the Torah, and as the higher partzuf of the Shekhinah – we need to answer a few questions that present themselves in the wake of our discussion: What is the meaning of the change from Jacob into Israel, and what is it that finally enables him to understand and accept Leah? What is the meaning of the change that Leah-Lilith undergoes, from a murderous, demonic, evil creature into someone who protects Rachel, as Moses did? How does the Ari think that the Torah manages to create the means by which Lilith will be liberated from her excommunicated state and returned to the circle of sacred legitimacy? These questions will be addressed in the next two gates, where we examine the processes leading to Lilith’s redemption, as they are described in both the Torah and Lurianic Kabbalah. The next gate will focus on dynamic processes rather than static situations. We will be looking at changes undergone by man, symbolized by Jacob, and also at changes undergone by woman. Through myriad reincarnations, woman gradually takes leave of her divided self and paves the way for her eventual redemption.


1. Bereshit Rabba 47, 6: “Reish Lakish said: The patriarchs are the divine chariot.” See also in the Tanya, which was written by R. Shneur Zalman of Lyadi (Section one, chap. 39): “This is what is meant by the sages’ comment that the patriarchs are the divine chariot: that all their limbs were holy and separate from this world, and they were a vehicle for the Divine Will all the days of their lives.”

2. Sha’ar Hamitzvot, on the mitzvah of Shiluach Haken. See also Sha’ar HaKavanot, Discourses on the Amidah, 2, explanation of the word Eloheinu.

3. An interesting viewpoint on the conflict in the feminine soul between these two identities can be found in the myth of Eros and Psyche, specifically in the analysis of this myth by Erich Neumann. REFERENCE In the saga of Eros and Psyche, which describes the course of development of the female, Aphrodite gives Psyche four tasks. The first one is to clean a giant stack of seeds mixed with garbage. Aphrodite, who both fears and loathes Psyche, throws the following dart at her: “I cannot imagine how a repulsive handmaiden like yourself could ever allure her lovers, other than by working very hard and diligently, in order to satisfy their desires…” Erich Neumann approaches this myth using depth psychology, and he notes that “the conflict between Psyche and Aphrodite takes place within the domain of the feminine sphere”, and is no longer a “conflict between individuation….and female motherhood whose chains the individual seeks to free himself of.” The struggle between Psyche, who expresses a femininity that has developed to the point of equal consciousness, and Aphrodite, who wishes to imprison her within the borders established for woman in patriarchal society, is a conflict that takes place for all women. In our terms, between partzuf Rachel, which seeks to secure her position through the simple labor of her hands, and partzuf Leah and its shadow image – Lilith – which seeks to break out of the state of back-to-back relationships (which in the Psyche-Eros myth is expressed by intercourse in the dark, when it is forbidden for Psyche to see who her lover is), and to achieve equality in diversity, face to face.

4. Rachel, who was the housewife (akeret habayit – usually understood as the term for a barren wife) – was the mainstay (ikar) of Jacob’s household, as it says (Gen. 46:19) “the children of Rachel, the wife of Jacob” (Bamidbar Rabbah, 14, 7).

5. See for example Jesse Rapport’s book, Feminism and its Opponents, the chapter entitled “Women are Motivated by their Emotions,” p. 53. After serious hesitation, we decided to use the word “intellectual” to describe someone with mohin. We feel the need to clarify that in our opinion, modern language does not have a term with a meaning as rich as that of mohin in Lurianic Kabbalah. Mohin means the light intended for the brain. In Lurianic Kabbalah, in every world, level, configuration, or point of time, there is a slightly different definition of mohin. Notwithstanding, we have chosen the word “intellectual,” to describe abstract, conceptual, pure thinking.

6. R. Isaac of Homil, Chana Ariel (Berditchev 5678), Par’shat Va’etchanan, p.24

7. The Baal HaTurim, cited above, understands softness as love-talk. Soft words are words of love and kindness, so that “soft eyes” would imply eyes that express longing and desire for intimacy. The Baal Haturim, true to his usual form, is very terse. He leaves us to understand the meaning of his interpretation.

8. In her book Women Above, devoted to women’s sexual fantasies, Nancy Friday describes how the publishers originally reacted to her manuscript (pp. 15-17). At first they were very curious to see something usually not accessible to them. They later reacted aggressively, making comments like “I threw your book on the other side of the room,” or even, “I wanted to kill you.” She notes that female editors did not react any differently than male editors in terms of the hate they expressed towards the accounts of the real nature of women’s sexual fantasies.

9. If we re-arrange the order of the letters in her name, Rebecca comes from the root b”k”r” (cattle). On this association, see the Radak in his commentary on Jer. 46:21: “Like fattened bullocks – like calves waiting to be fattened up, so they sit and eat and drink…marbek, [like Rebecca], means fattening up…just as our Rabbis said, “they took her in for fattening up (ribka).” Rebecca is linked with animal life-force. She wants to impart this to her son Jacob, who is instinctively repulsed by this side of nature.

10. “That (people) would say: “This was the condition – the older one will go to the older one, the younger one will go to the younger one.” And she would cry and pray: “May it be your will that I not fall into the lot of a wicked man” (Bereshit Rabba 70, 16).

11. Bereshit Rabba, 60, 5: “Reish Lakish said: The daughters of idol worshippers guard the place of their virginity, and are wanton elsewhere. This one, however, was a virgin in both the place of her virginity, and no man had known her elsewhere.” The wantonness from which they are excluding her is anal intercourse.

12. The JPS translation of va-tipol as “alighted from the camel,” misses the drama in the moment.

13. Yalkut Shimoni, ?? entry 109; “Smitten by wood” is a talmudic way of describing a woman whose hymen was injured, as Rashi says in B.Ketubot 11a: “smitten by wood – that she was struck by wood in that place… (she and others like her) if they marry, they do not lose their ketubah,”, i.e. they are still considered virgins. It should be noted that according to the opinion of R. Shimon and R. Yossi in the Talmud, (B. Yevamot 60a), she who was struck by wood is not considered a total virgin, as the high priest, who is obligated to marry a virgin, cannot, in R. Shimon’s opinion marry her. The above-mentioned midrash concerning Rebecca’s virginity also enters into a halachic discussion about she who was struck by wood, and brings the opinion of the Rabbis who held that she who was struck by wood is not considered a virgin: “‘And the girl was exceedingly beautiful, a virgin…’ we learned: A maiden who was injured by wood receives a ketubah of two hundred, in R. Meir’s opinion. The Sages say that she receives one hundred. R. Hanina in the name of R. Eliezer says that R. Meir’s reasoning is (because it is written: ‘And no man knew her,’ (which implies) that if she was injured by wood, she is still a virgin. The Sages base their opinion (by emphasizing the word) ‘virgin’ – if her hymen was broken by a piece of wood, she is no longer a virgin.” (Bereshit Rabba, 60, 5). This is probably an echo of the midrashic tradition quoted in the Yalkut Shimoni which says that Rebecca was injured by wood.

14.In addition to the two points mentioned in this midrash, there are many other similarities between the cases of Rebecca and Tamar: 1. Both of them come from outside local family circles, that is, they are both “outsiders.” 2. They are both assertive: (Tamar initiates the encounter with Judah; Rebecca is responsible for Jacob’s deception of Isaac). 3. Both of them appear at critical points in the continuing saga of the Abraham/ Isaac/Jacob dynasty, and the story develops positively only because of their presence at the right place and at the right moment. 4. Both of them are described as seers, while the men do not see (Judah doesn’t see Tamar, but thinks she is a prostitute, while she sees straight into him. And when Isaac meets Rebecca, the events that occur are described subtly – Rebecca sees Isaac, but Isaac only sees camels: “And Isaac went out to meditate in the field at evening time, and he lifted up his eyes, and he saw camels coming. And Rebecca lifted up her eyes and saw Isaac” (Gen. 24:62-63). 5. Peretz and Zarach, Tamar’s twin children, are a recapitulation of the story of Jacob and Esau, Rebecca’s twin sons (or, to put it differently, reincarnations of them). Yair Zakovitch noted this point in his article, “The Heel of Jacob,” REFERENCE, and developed it according to his way of understanding. Zerah, who should have been the first-born, is similar to Esau in a few respects. For instance, the midwife ties a scarlet thread on Zerah’s hand (this is the reason he was named Zerah, which is derived from the word zrihat hashani, i.e. the rising scarlet), and Esau, too, was red (adom), as he is the father of Edom. Jacob, whom the dynasty develops from, is similar to Peretz, who broke forth (paratz) and unjustly took the birthright and went on to become the patriarch of the Judean dynasty.

15. Lit. “as the Sages awakened (our attention to)”. For more on the concept of awakening in the Zohar, see Melila Helner-Eshed, “That You Stir Not Up, nor Awake My Love, Until it Please – The Language of Awakening in the Zohar,” (forthcoming) REFERNCE. See also our later discussion of the mystery of Er, Judah’s firstborn.

16. The Zohar refers to M.Kiddushin (4:12), which says: “A man may (be alone in a room) with his mother, and with his daughter, and may sleep close to them. And if they are already grown up, she sleeps in her blanket and he sleeps in his.” The phrase, “a son may be alone with his mother,” does not appear in the mishna, but does in the Gemara (B.Kidushin 60b).

17. Nitzah Abarbanel, Eve and Lilith (pp. 14-15, and p. 41), touched on Freud’s analyses of the incest taboo and the Oedipus complex as the factor responsible for the schism between the two aspects of the female image: the loved one, and the one that is despised but desired. See our discussion in the introduction.

18. In the male body, the sefirah of Yesod symbolizes the genitals, and in a woman, it is the womb, as R. Hayyim Vital says elsewhere: (Etz Hayyim, Gate 1, Branch 5): “For in her, yesod is the womb, and the crown is her fleshy apple, which the Rabbis call “the lower part of the intestines.”

19. Etz Hayyim, Gate 38, chapter 2, second edition. In order to understand this subject in terms of the structure of the worlds, see the original, as we have summarized here.

20. C.G. Jung, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, REFERENCE – check for quote pages 81-92.

21. Michah Ankuri, And This Forest Has No End, p. 199. Ankuri illustrates his point with an anecdote from his clinic:

A divorced man would occasionally tell me about a new relationship with a woman, and explain why he had left his previous girlfriend. In one of our conversations he said that he occasionally has feelings of pain and anxiety, accompanied by a hallucination of a huge spider which is holding him by his stomach with tremendous strength. (205. The anxiety and the hallucination that accompany it are the flip side of the Don Juan. He leaves the woman slightly before the spider embraces him with its hug of death. Behind the persona of the successful Don Juan there is a frightened man, whose weakness is fed by the power of the terrible woman (205). We highly recommend the chapter “Shekhina h and Malkhut,” in which Ankuri presents important guidelines for understanding the connection between Depth Psychology and the Kabbalah in the field of female symbolism.

22. Chana Rachel Werbermacher (b. Ludmir 1815 – d. Jerusalem 1892), the daughter of R. Moonish Werbermacher, a Tchnernobler Hasid, was known for her scholarship and extreme piety from the time she was a young girl. She wore tzitzit, and prayed wearing talit and tefillin. When her father died, she said kaddish in his memory and built a synagogue in Ludmir from the money she received from her inheritance. She would give discourses there from behind a curtain so as to conceal herself from her audience. The synagogue of the Maid of Ludmir existed until the time of the Holocaust. There are many legends concerning the figure of Chana Rachel which describe her as a miracle-worker, and many sought her out, including Rabbis and scholars. However, her unusual behavior outraged local Jewish leaders, and the Rebbe of Tchnernobel eventually persuaded her to marry at the age of forty. After that, the number of her followers decreased. In 1858, when she was 43 years old, she divorced her husband and emigrated to Israel. In Israel she continued to conduct a hasidic tish every Shabbat for the traditional third meal, and went to Rachel’s grave every New Moon together with a group of women. Yohanan Twersky (whose family name indicates that he comes from the Tchernobel dynasty) wrote a novel about her entitled “The Maid of Ludmir” (Mossad Bialik, no mention of publication date), and the Chan Theater produced a play written by Yossefa Even-Shoshan about her in the late nineties (see the Hasidic Encyclopedia, Mossad Harav Kook, vol. one, p. 627, and the footnotes, for more about her).

23. R. Aaron of Tchernobel is cited in The Hasidic Encyclopedia for pressuring her to stop acting like a hasidic rebbe. However, in Twersky’s novel (p. 70), R. Mordechai of Tchernobel, rather than R. Aaron, is credited.

24. Compare the career of Hana Hava Horodetsky of Tchernobel, the daughter of R. Mordechai Twersky of Tchnernobel, lived during almost the exact same years as the Maid of Ludmir (1810-1893). Surprisingly enough, she too is described in the Hasidic Encyclopedia as “having taught Torah interspersed with Kabbalistic teachings…both Hasidim and Hasidic Rebbes sought out her counsel…she received both pitka’ot (slips of paper with petitions and the name(s) of the petitioners that were traditionally given to Hasidic Rebbes) and pidyonot (monetary donations)…her father testified that the Holy Spirit was with her since birth, and her eight brothers said that she was as righteous as they were.” If it was R. Mordechai who refused to allow the Maid of Ludmir to function as a hasidic rebbe, then the fact that he himself had a daughter (Hana Hava) whose behavior was very similar to that of Hana Rachel of Ludmir throws a very interesting light on the story.

Hana Hava of Tchernobel was the mother of the Rebbe of Tulna, the founder of a well-known Hasidic dynasty. Chana Bracha Shapira, the mother of R. Kalonomus Kelmish of Piasetsna (the author of Hovat Hatalmidim, Bnei Machshava Tova, Eish Kodesh, etc.) was also a great scholar, wore tzitzit, and also received pitka’ot and pidyonot from Hasidim (see the Hasidic Encyclopedia, p. 626). See Nehemia Polen, translation of her autobiography (forthcoming grom JPS)

25. This “inverse blessing” is obviously not common practice in the Jewish world, and it can be assumed that the official Habad institutions would prefer to deny that such a practice exists at all.

The blessing “Who has not made me a woman” is also a thorn in the side of Orthoprax Rabbis sensitive to feminist issues. On the one hand, a blessing like this, which is part of the standard version of the prayers, cannot be changed or omitted according to the Orthodox tradition. On the other hand, they cannot accept it. One of us once heard from a certain Rabbi who claimed that when he says the blessing “Who has not made me a woman,” his intention is this: “I thank the Lord for not giving me feminine attributes as part of my nature. I am thankful for the opportunity I have received to work on myself spiritually in order that I merit to develop the female sides of my personality.” It is clear that as long as there is no inner model based on traditional sources that could offer a basic change in the way the new reality of women’s lives is dealt with, we will be treated to all kinds of silly apologetics of this kind. In our opinion, in Lurianic Kabbalah we find an alternative and dynamic model for understanding the possibilities of women in Jewish culture. In his discourse on the nesira, the myth of the original hermaphroditic creation of the human (man and woman created back to back and then separated) the Ari presents a diagram of a gradual process by which we can map and analyze all the stages in the development of women’s status. REFERENCE

In light of this, it seems that the present situation in which women say the blessing “Who has made me according to His will,” while men say the blessing “Who has not made me a woman,” is no longer acceptable. It is also very unjust, as this blessing contradicts what we said at the outset is the central divine revelation of our time, that of the female voice. It is clear that it is the task of the rabbinical establishment to right this wrong. As long as they procrastinate in doing so, it is incumbent on both men and women, as a sort of “positive commandment relevant to this time in history,” to bring pressure on the rabbinical establishment by every legitimate means. It is equally important that women claim their right to serve as rabbis, thereby becoming a part of the halakhic and Torah establishments, so that change will take place within the very fabric of this framework. Until that time, it is our halakhic opinion that a person who feels that, by saying this (possibly insulting) blessing, she is being dishonest to her basic tenets of belief should either omit the blessing “Who has not made me a woman” entirely, or find a creative re-phrasing. The Conservative movement has adopted the traditional form of the women’s blessing for both men and women: “who has made me according to your will.”

26. R. Hayyim Vital quotes the Zohar: “Supernal Mother (Imma Ila’ah) is called male, as is written in the Zohar parshat Vayechi”. (Sha’ar Mamarei Razal – tractate Shabbat).

27. B. Sukkah 52a, translated according to Rashi’s commentary.

28. Boyarin, Ch. 5, esp. 165-66.

29. Tzidkat haTzaddik letter 248. See also his Resesei Lailah. letter 13, and Poked Ikarrim, letter 6.

30. B. Berakhot 20a

31. B. Ketubot 17a

32. This is the way that the author of Sefer HaHinukh understood this story (mitzvah 188). He explains that we should not learn from these sages since “they, may their memories be blessed, were like angels, and were always occupied with the Torah and the commandments, and their intentions were as clear to everyone as the sun is bright, and they had no sense of evil in anything due to their intense devotion to the Torah and its commandments. We today, however, may not disregard even a small fence (which protects) these matters, but must rather respect all the distancing mechanisms which the Sages of blessed memory taught us.” The deification of the sages of earlier times is useful for the author of the Sefer HaHinukh, as it was for other rabbis, as a means of exempting these stories from the category of those teachings whose intention was to instruct the students to follow in their footsteps and to do as they did. Sefer HaHinukh and similar thinkers sought to present spiritual man as a being indifferent to sensuality. We would like to go down a different path. R. Tzaddok HaCohen of Lublin discusses this matter at length in his book Yisrael Kedoshim (entry 4, opening words “but”). He maintains that it is permissible for someone who is spiritually developed to decide for himself as to the degree of care he needs to exercise in erotic matters insofar as rabbinical decrees are concerned. King Solomon took more wives than he was permitted to, but his mistake, according to R. Tzaddok, was that he thought that he could do so even in relation to “that which was commanded in the Torah, which applies to all souls, and can never be superceded. This is not the case with rabbinical decrees, for they did not intend their edicts for a person who knows themselves” (see the entire source from R. Tzaddok, who chose to conceal his extremely profound opinion by scholarly debate and many references. In contrast, see Rabbi Y. Hankin’s article , REFER TO TITLE, Dayot no. 3, Feb. 1999, p. 15. He understands this issue differently than R. Tzaddok, seeing it as erotic indifference, which he also attributes to other authorities such as the Ritva and the Maharshal. The truth is that a simple study of their words shows that it is entirely unnecessary to understand them in this fashion. R. Tzaddok’s interpretation is much more complex.

33. R. Wolf of Zhitomer, a student of the Maggid of Mezeritch, in his work Or Hamaier, p. 16. For the expression “most beautiful among women,” see Song of Songs 1:8; 5:9; 6:1. This could be explained in the tradition of the Hassidic contemplative schools as follows: The Shekhinah is the element of beauty that is found amongst women. See also M. Idel, “The Beauty of Woman,” REFERENCE

We will later discuss the story of R. Akiva and the wife of Turnus Rufus, who became R. Akiva’s second wife (see B.Avodah Zarah 20a). According to Lurianic Kabbalah, R. Akiva’s first wife, who was named Rachel, was part of the Eve matrix, while the seductive Roman wife is part, of course, of the mystery of Lilith.

34. Sefer Haredim, entry 99. See also entry 98. The obligation to have sexual relations is derived in the Talmud from the word “times” in Ex. 21:10. See also Shulhan Arukh, Even HaEzer, No. 76, par. 1: “What are her times? Every man is obligated (to have sexual relations) at certain times according to his strength and according to his profession.” “The times for sages” is a talmudic expression which, in its original usage, referred to the frequency recommended for sexual relations between sages and their wives. As the Shulhan Arukh stipulates (there): ‘The time for Sages is once a week, and it is their custom to have sex every Friday night.:

5. Azcari’s use of the word “times” signifies that when one is obligated to be with the first wife, i.e. the Torah, then the “times” are observed intellectually, as spiritual union. Kissing is used as a metaphor for such spiritual union with the Torah. There may also be a sense that the mouth, the bodily organ which is used for study, is also responsible for union.

“The living organ” is the name used to describe the erect male penis in Jewish sources. The source is from Yahel Or, the Gaon of Vilna’s commentary on the Zohar (Vilna 5673, p. 18, column 2). See also Y. Liebes, “On Sabbateaism and its Kabbalah,” p. 351, footnote 202. The importance of this is its surprising similarity to the comment of the Maggid of Mezretch on the swaying movements of the body during religious practice, which he compares to mating with the Shechina. See also Liebes ibid. p. 99, and O. Ezrahi, “The Two Cherubs,” footnote 154.

36. As it says in Sefer Hasidim: “‘To love God’ (means) that the soul becomes full of love, and that love is connected to joy, and that joy chases away from his heart the pleasantries of the body and the pleasures of the world. And that joy is so strong and overpowering, that even (the pleasure of) a young man who has not been with his wife for many days, and is full of desire, and has intense gratification when he shoots out his seed like an arrow, is as nothing compared to the intensity of the power of the joy of the love of God.” Sefer Hasidim, No. 300

37. For a survey of the textual traditions, see David Goldblatt, “the Beruriah Traditions,” Journal of Jewish Studies 26 (1975), 68-86.

38. B. Eruvin 53b. The quote from the sages is from M. Avot 1:5, repeated in B. Nedarim 20a.

39. B. Pesahim 62b

40. Rashi on B.Avodah Zarah 18b; the tradition in question is from B. Kiddushin 80a.

41. See Rachel Adler, “The Virgin in the Brothel and Other Anomalies: Character and Context in the Legend of Beruriah,” Tikkun, vol. 3, no. 6, 28-32, 102-05.

42. A parallel Roman story about the stoic philosopher Secundus testing his mother’s virtue was in circulation in various European and Middle Eastern languages. For a description of this and other tales of faithful men and faithless wives, some couched, like this one, as a “chastity wager,” see Haim Schwartzbaum, Studies in Aggadah and Jewish Folklore (Jerusalem, 1983), 66-71, n. 38.

43. Sha’ar Hakavanot – Drushei HaAmidah (the second discourse, commentary on the word Eloheinu). In spite of what we said here, as is often the case with Lurianic Kabbalah, this rule concerning the weak mind of women is occasionally applicable to other partzufim which are expressions of the feminine, such as Supernal Mother: “During the repetition of the silent Prayer, they both (Ze’eir Anpin and Nukva) ascend into the sefirah of Binah in Imma, but not into her Da’at….the reason being that women’s minds (da’at) are weak and therefore bereft of da’at and they can therefore only ascend into the binah of Imma, as she comes from the sefirah of Gevurah of Arikh Anpin, as is well known” (Sha’ar HaKavannot – Drushei Rosh Hashanah, discourse 5).

44. Toldot Yaakov Yosef, Deut.; Keter Shem Tov 6; Sippurey Tzaddikim, Levov 5628, 11; Midrash Rivash Tov, vol. 1, 77.

45. We heard this interpretation from R. Yitzhak Ginsburg.

46. “Displeasing to the LORD” – like the evil of Onan, who spilled his seed. As it says concerning Onan, “and He took his life also” – the death of Onan was like the death of Er. And why did Er destroy his seed? So that she (Tamar) would not get pregnant, which might destroy her beauty.” Rashi, based on B. Yevamot 34b. In Jewish tradition, spilling seed is therefore associated with Er as it is with Onan (the source of the word “onanism,” which is also the word for masturbation in modern Hebrew).

47. Mei Hashiloah, volume one, parshat Vayeshev, source beginning with the words “Vayehi Er,” commenting on Rashi, ad locem, cited above.

48. On the connection between completing or not completing the act and prostitution, consider the Hebrew word gomer (finishes, stops) as the highly symbolic name of the prostitute that God commands the prophet Hosea to marry. This was a symbol of how Israel had been unfaithful to her husband, God, and the Midrash has a very apt comment on this incident: “The Holy One, blessed be He, said, What should I do with this old man? I will tell him to marry a prostitute who will bear him children of prostitutes, and then I will tell him to send her away. If he actually sends her away, I too will drive Israel away. Immediately (it says) “the LORD said to Hosea, Go and take a wife of whoredom and children of whoredom… So he went and married Gomer the daughter of Diblaim” (Hos. 1:2-3). Why was she called Gomer? Rav said, Because everyone finished (came) in her. “Bat Divlaim” – wicked slander (dibah) the daughter of wicked slander. Shumel said, Because everyone plowed her like a ?. R. Yohanan said, Because she was sweet to everyone like a cluster of figs (d’vila). (Yalkut Shimoni, Hosea 1, entry 515).

49. C. G. Jung has supplied us with an excellent example of this in his autobiography. He describes a series of experiences occurring deep within his unconscious, events that were so powerful that they threatened his very sanity. In order to enable himself to penetrate to the depths of his unconscious without being damaged, he had to establish a few basic, definite truths about himself. See Memories, Dreams, and Reflections, p. 181. REFERENCE: NO RELEVANT QUOTATION APPEARS ON THIS PAGE IN MY EDITION – HL).

50. Evil is ra in Hebrew, which is Er’s name spelled backwards.

51. Mei Hashiloah, volume one, parshat Vayeshev, source beginning with the words “Vayehi Er.”

52. As far as the Mei Hashiloah is concerned, the soul of Er derives directly from the mind of his grandfather Jacob. That which existed in the grandfather’s mind as a thought and state of awareness became transformed into a soul whose saga is realized in his descendants, and brings to the surface that which previously existed only in a latent state in the soul of Jacob. See the remainder of his comments there.


54. Introduction to the Zohar, 1b.

55. Later we quote the Ari who says that God wanted to destroy the partzuf of Rachel after the sin of the Golden Calf, and rebuild the people from Moses’ seed, which belongs to the partzuf of Leah. In light of what we have developed here we can see that the sin of the golden calf can be ascribed to those who are incapable of living with doubt and questions. They are impatient, demand immediate answers, and want to return to the world of certainty as soon as possible. This is a psychological state characteristic of someone who comes from the partzuf of Rachel. This is why God wanted to erase them from the world of Atzilut after the sin of the golden calf. NEED REFERENCE>

56. Based on the verse in Isaiah 40:26: “Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who has created these things” (mi barah eileh). It is interesting to note that the first person in the Tanakh to use the two words “mi eileh” was Esau, when he encountered all of Jacob’s entourage (see Gen. 33:5). There was good reason for people to think that Leah, who comes from the sefirah of Binah, the place where the unknown can be studied, was right for Esau. He too asks, “who are these?,” while Jacob, at least until he is healed, is frightened of questions. Looking for definite answers, he prefers Rachel’s beauty.

57. See the Introduction to the Zohar, 1b

58. In Lurianic kabbalah, this tefillin is worn by the Ze’eir Anpin partzuf. This means that Leah, the aspect of the female experience that is connected to the female image of the mother (malkhut d’Imma), is present in the consciousness of the maturing son (da’at d’Ze’eir Anpin). As R. Chaim Vital explains:

But Leah is the concealed world (alma d’itcasya), as we have explained, which is the image of the Dalet in the knot of the head Tefillin. …since Leah emerged from the back of Ze’eir Anpin, i.e. from the malkhut of Imma which is in the Da’at of Ze’eir Anpin, this being the mystery of the (letter) dalet that is in the knot of the head tefillin

(Etz Hayyim, gate 38, chapter 2, second edition).

In the Sha’ar HaKavannot, four reasons for Leah being the secret of the letter dalet are presented: “[1] For this reason also she is called dalet: Since she emerges from in back of the four minds of Za’ir Anpin, which are four sections from the Torah (which are placed) in his head tfillin. [2] She is also called dalet because she is poor and destitute (dalat in Hebrew means the poor one), since she represents powerful judgment (dinin takifin), as she is the backside of Supernal Mother. [3] She is also called poor and destitute since she is not an entire partzuf like Rachel is, as she is only skin, being the mystery of the knot of the head tefillin, as previously mentioned. [4] This is also the reason that she is the large dalet (of the word echad, the last word of the shma). This is because the entire alphabet of the large letters (referring to all the enlarged letters that appear in the Tanach, e.g. the enlarged dalet in the word echad) is in Imma Ila’ah, and Leah is the backside of Emma Ila’ah, so she is therefore the large dalet.” Sha’ar HaKavannot, Discourses on the Kavannot of Kriyat Shma, Discourse no. 6, on the meaning of the word echad.

In Lurianic Kabbalah – Leah is only leather, skin, while Rachel has mohin – minds, a box full of sections of the Torah. At first glance, it would seem that Rachel has an intellectual advantage over Leah, but a closer reading of R. Hayyim Vital’s comments leads one to arrive at the opposite conclusion. R. Hayyim Vital deals with the difference between Rachel and Leah, in which Leah is considered to be “nothing more than skin:” “I have already told you about the two wives of Ze’eir Anpin, Leah and Rachel. Rachel was his true soul mate, because she is the mainstay of the house, the tenth of the ten sfirot of Atzilut. It therefore says that “Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah,” since Leah comes from the back of Malkhut of Imma, which fell together with Jacob, at the time of the Death of the Kings. And she is not really Ze’eir Anpin’s wife, only temporarily, like something borrowed. I have also told you that Leah does not take light for her mohin from the mohin of Ze’eir Anpin themselves, but rather from their garments, which are the (sefirot of) Netzah, Hod and Yesod of (partzuf) Imma. She is therefore the knot of the head tefillin, which is only leather, and she has no real portions of the Torah, as does Rachel, who is called the tefillin of the arm, and takes actual lights of mohin. Therefore, everywhere that it says leather refers to Leah, and in the Sha’ar Ruah HaKodesh I pointed this out on the verse “and after my skin is torn from this (my body)” REF, how the lights that go out to Leah have the same numerical value as the word or (=276)” (R. Hayyim Vital, Sha’ar HaPesukim, the Book of Job). Rachel does, in fact, get mohin, but they are the mohin of Ze’eir Anpin. The mohin of Ze’eir Anpin represent what he thinks, and what he thinks is that Rachel and everything she represents, is the right woman for him. This is why he loves her, because she is the housewife. Rachel’s mohin are indeed mohin, but they are mohin placed as tefillin on the arm, facing the heart, not the mind. In other words, Rachel’s mohin are both more pragmatic and more emotional. She is the housewife, so her wisdom is the wisdom of women, a practical wisdom that is part of her function as a woman according to the standards acceptable to Jacob, standards that do not threaten him. Leah may not be so practical (remember that her feet do not touch the “ground” of the World of Atzilut). She is positioned on a plane with the head of Ze’eir Anpin, tied to the thinking side itself, not only to its pragmatic side. Jacob, however, who is Ze’eir Anpin, does not make space for such a woman, so she cannot be his mohin, i.e. be his tefillin box. In spite of this, and possibly because of this, Leah receives her lights from the deep impression left in the soul of Ze’eir Anpin by the garments of his mohin, which he received from the partzuf of Imma-Binah. The concept of an educated, spiritual woman exists in his soul as a sort of inheritance received from above, from his mother (Rebecca), but these concepts only encase his own understanding, and he cannot accept them. It is equally difficult for him to accept Leah as a soul mate before he attains the level of Israel. (”The back of Malkhut of Imma, which fell together with Jacob, at the time of the Death of the Kings” refers to what Ze’eir Anpin can conceive of the ceaseless coupling of Abba and Emma. He understands what relates to him. The Death of the Kings, which is the mythic name for the breaking of the vessels in Lurianic Kabbalah, is sometimes in a person’s adolescent traumas. In Jacob’s biography this took place when he left his parent’s home and went to Aram Naharayim, to the house of Lavan HaArami. He leaves his mother Rebecca in a physical sense, but her character is deeply engraved in his soul print, as the archetype of the Great Mother. This archetypal engraving was earlier called the “back.” For a more extensive discussion of how Leah becomes the secret of the knot of the head tefillin, see Etz Hayyim, Sha’ar HaKlallim, chapter 12.

59. B. Berachot 6a: “R. Yitzhak said: How do we know that the Holy One, blessed be He, puts on Tefillin? As it says, ‘God has sworn by His right hand and the arm of His strength’ (REF). – ‘by His right hand’ – this is the Torah, as it says ‘From His right hand a fiery law was given to us’ (Deut. 33:2) and the arm of his strength – this is Tefillin, as it says ‘God will give strength to His people’ (Ps. 29:11)…R. Nahman bar Yitzhak said to R. Hiyya bar Avin, Those tefillin of the Master of the World, what is written in them? He answered him, ‘And who is like Your people Israel, one nation on earth II Sam. 7: 23)?’”

60. B. Menahot 35b. The rest of the quotation is also very interesting: “R. Yehuda said, The knot of the tefillin should be high up in order that Israel be above rather than below, and it should be towards the face, in order that Israel should be towards the face, not the back.” The parallel between the knot of the tefillin and the situation of Israel is evident from this comment, and it will suffice to say that the entire feminine partzuf, which includes both Rachel and Leah, is the partzuf of the Shekhinah, which is also called K’nesset Yisrael, the “congregation of Israel.” But what is the intention of the directive that this knot should be towards the face in order that Israel be towards the face rather than the back? Rashi, too, has some difficulty in explaining this, and suggests two ways of understanding it: “Towards the face – in the back of the neck, not on either side of the head. Another way of understanding: Towards the face – that the actual knot be inside and the shape of the dalet outside, as they said, ‘and their beauty shall be outside’ (REF). It is still rather difficult to understand the usage of front and back when describing Israel’s situation.

61. R. Isaac of Homil, the greatest thinker of the early masters of Habad Hasidut, points out in his book Hanah Ariel (Vayikra, 2a) that Moses’s personality had a definite effect on the Torah that he brought down from heaven. He comments on the following Midrash: “‘Write for you’ (Ex. 34:1; Deut. 10:1) – the ministering angels began to say to the Holy One blessed be He, You have given Moses permission to write whatever he wants! Because he will say to Israel, I have given you the Torah, I have written it and given it to you! God said to him, God forbid that Moses would do such a thing, and even if he were to do so, he is trustworthy, as it says, ‘Not so my servant Moses, in all my house he is faithful’ (Numb. 12:7). R. Isaac, who relies on an early Kabbalistic tract, the Sefer HaTemunah, explains why the Torah is called Torat Moshe (the Torah of Moses), even though the Rabbis said that ‘whoever says that even one verse of the Torah was written by Moses is a non-believer’ (REF). R. Isaac explains, “as it says in the Sefer HaTemunah, whatever God actually said to Moses cannot be fathomed by any living creature.” R. Isaac compares this to a minister in the king’s court, who has a much deeper understanding of the king’s intentions than do the other citizens, so he takes care of the country’s needs according to his understanding of the king’s will, even though the king did not go into the specific details of how he wants everything done. In order to explain the Midrash’s meaning when it says that, even if Moses were to have written ‘whatever he wants,’ it would have been fine with God, R. Isaac says: “even if (Moses’s) nature and inner order would have influenced him in any matter – he is still trustworthy, because the inner supreme will be actualized through his words, as is known concerning the matter of ‘both these and these are the words of the living God…’ (REF). The reader will note that R. Isaac is here minimizing the traditional gap between the Oral Torah and the Written Torah.

62. See illustration #REF and our discussion there.

63. Etz Hayyim, gate 38, chap. 2, second edition. According to the Talmud (B. Rosh Hashana 21b, B. Nedarim 38a), “Fifty gates of Understanding (Binah) were created in the world, and all of them were given to Moses except one, as it says, ‘You have made him a little les than divine’ (Ps. 8:6).”

R. Hayyim Vital’s words are a combination of two rabbinic sources: The first, from which the style is taken, is Y. Shabbat, 8b: “R. Yitzhak bar Elazar said: Just as wisdom (not fear) becomes a crown for her head, so humility becomes a heel for her sandal, as it says; ‘The beginning of wisdom is the fear of God’ (Ps. 111:10).. And it is also written: ‘The effect of humility is fear of the LORD’ (Prov. 22:4). See also Shir Hashirim Rabbah 1, 9. The second source, Tanhuma Bereshit REF?a, is the origin of at least some of the text, although it may be taken in the opposite sense: “….that the Torah’s sandal is humility and its crown is fear. Its sandal is humility as it says, ‘The effect of humility is fear of the LORD’ (Proverbs 22:4). And its crown is fear as it says, ‘The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the LORD” (Ps. 111:10). Both are attributed to Moses, as it says, ‘Now Moses was a very humble man’ (Num. 12:3). Fear as it says, ‘For he was afraid to look at God’” (Ex. 3:5).

64. Etz Hayyim, gate 38, chap. 2, second edition

65. Liqutey Moharan, first edition, 147, citing B. Sotah49b.

66. “And know, that our teacher Moses, of blessed memory, about whom it says in the Zohar that he reached the level of Binah, is from this Leah, which comes from the Malkhut of Binah and becomes the dalet, the knot of the Tfillin. And this is the mystery of ‘and you will see My back’ (Exod. 33:23), as the Rabbis said in the Talmud: ‘This teaches us that he showed him the knot of the eefillin.’ It also means to say, that Leah, whose place is where the knot of the tefillin is, sees the back of Ze’eir Anpin, since she stands with her face towards the back of Ze’eir Anpin, as we explained earlier. And Moses is therefore in Leah, as it says, “and you will see My back,” and this is understood (Etz Hayyim, gate 38, chap. 2, second edition). The meaning is that since Leah is positioned in a manner that does not allow her to see the face and only the back, and since Moses is part of this aspect of Leah, it is evident that he too only sees the back, and not the face.

67. Tiquney Zohar, 29b?. REF

68. R. Hayyim Vital is quoting B. Berachot 7a. “And R. Yohanan said in the name of R. Yossi: God does not take back any word that left His mouth with good intention, even if it was conditional. How do we know this? From Moses, as it says, ‘Leave Me alone, and I will destroy them, etc., and I will make you into a great nation.’ Even though Moses beseeched God (to forgive the people) and the decree was annulled, (God’s original intention) was still realized through Moses’s children, as it says (I Chron. 23:17), ‘The sons of Moses were Gershom and Eliezer, and the sons of Eliezer were Rehavya, the chief, etc., and the sons of Rehavya were very many,’ and R. Yosef said, More than six hundred thousand.

69. Etz Hayyim, gate 38, chap. 6, second edition. Until this juncture, Leah was only one point, the malkhut of Tvunah.

70. Zohar, Introduction to Bereshit, 2b. See our discussion above.

71. Divrei Sofrim – Liqutey Amarim, at the completion of the Shas, beginning with the words “v’yadua.” This is based on Shemot Rabba 42, 5: “And God said, I have certainly seen (Heb. ra’oh ra’iti) – God said to Moses, You see one seeing, and I see two seeings. You see them coming to Sinai and receiving My Torah, and I see that, after I came to Sinai to give them the Torah, and after I retun to My four beast chariot, they contemplate it and delete one of them and this angers Me, as it says ‘each of the four had the face of an ox on the left’ (Ez 1:10) and they anger Me through it, as it says, “And they exchanged their glory for the image of a bull” (Ps. 106: 20). R. Tzadok is reversing the import of the source concerning ox-like observance of the commandments. According to B. Avodah Zarah 5b: “It is taught from the House of Elijah: A person should always be towards the Torah as an ox to the yoke and an ass to its load.”

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Lillith; A Re-Reading of Feminine Shadow. 2nd Gate

November 9, 2009 by · 2 Comments 

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from the book by Ohad Ezrachi and Marc Gafni

Those who see Lillith as the first feminist are following in the footsteps of the Ari. For, in the writings of the Kabbalists who preceded the Ari, Lillith is not even a human being, but a foul (though very sexy) demon. The Ari, on the other hand, turned Lillith’s story into a saga spread out over the length and breadth of biblical and world history―a saga whose express goal is to witness Lillith’s return to paradise, and to her original status as the soulmate of Adam.

The starting place for this drama of tikkun is in the household of Jacob, which we have described above as an archetypal matrix within Kabbalah for discerning divine patterns in the events of the human world. In this chapter, we will deepen our understanding of these correspondences between human and divine. According to the Ari, the Godhead reveals itself through many faces, some masculine, some feminine, and some – the highest ones – are androgynous.1 Some of these divine aspects are named after Jacob’s family and their history. In the language of early Kabbalah, the highest revelation of God is usually called Ze’eir Anpin, but the Ari often refers to Him as “Israel.” Alongside the central system of the sefirot, there is a lower, parallel image known as “Jacob.” Just as Jacob merited two names, which expressed two different levels of his existence, there are two levels of revelation of the divinity, or two types of divine personality systems – one, as it were, “Jacobic” and the other “Israelic.”

When attributing divine aspects to Jacob’s image, the Ari is following in the sages’ footsteps. In commenting on Genesis 33:20, they maintained that God called Jacob a ‘god:’

“R. Aha said in the name of R. Elazar; How do we know that the Holy One, blessed be He, called Jacob a “god?” As it says, “He called him El-elohe-yisrael, i.e. God, the god of Israel” (Gen. 33:20). If you were to claim that Jacob called the altar ‘god’ – it should have said, ‘Jacob called it ‘God…’ However, (the proper reading is) ‘He called Jacob god.” And who called him a god? The God of Israel!2

The Zohar continues this line of thought and comments: “The Holy One, blessed be He, called Jacob a god. He said to him: “I am God in the upper realms, and you are God in the lower realms.”3

We see then, how both the Rabbis and the Zohar speak of the deification of Jacob. The Ari, following the Zohar’s lead, interprets everything that happens in the house of Jacob as events occurring both in human time and in the divine world concurrently. Jacob’s wives and concubines must therefore play a corresponding role in the divine drama, and they too become expressions of the different aspects of the Shekhina. This viewpoint has deep roots in the rich imagery of the Zohar and in the literature of the early Kabbalah. In Zoharic literature, Abraham represents the sefirah of hesed, Isaac the sefirah of gevurah, and Jacob the sefirah of tiferet, which unites and combines the first two. The Ari, by making a transition from discussing the world of sefirot to a discussion about a world of partzufim, turned Jacob into a much more central figure than his ancestors, as all the lower six sefirot were united into one partzuf – that of Ze’eir Anpin, which is primarily characterized by Tiferet. This is the reason why there are no partzufim bearing the names of Abraham and Sarah or Isaac and Rebecca in Lurianic Kabbalah. Only Jacob and his extended family reflect the totality of the divine. This choice of Jacob as a representation of the forefathers can be found in the midrash on Bereshit: “The chosen one of the forefathers is Jacob, as it says, ‘For Jacob was chosen by God (CITE BIB. REF.)’”4
With this background, we can now begin to read and unpack the highly condensed, coded and symbolic language of the Zohar. In our example, Jacob will be mentioned explicitly, while Leah and Rachel are in the text only implicitly or allusively. They come into play through their associations with the higher and lower worlds, the sefirot of Binah and Malkhut. The higher world is called “who?” inviting wonder and questions. The lower world is called “this,” embodying the revealed face of the Shekhina. The presentation of these two worlds is suggested through the exegesis of a verse from Song of Songs:

“R. Shimon opened up (and said): ‘Who is this that looks out like the dawn, beautiful like the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners’ (Song of Songs 6:10)? ‘Who’ and ‘this’ – the mystery of two worlds which come together as one… ‘that looks out’ – when the two of them combine as one…Jacob, the complete one, sends love into the two worlds … if other people were to do so they would be incestuous both below and above; they would cause strife in the two worlds, as it is written, ‘Do not marry a woman as a rival to her sister’ (Lev. 18:18), as they will become as rivals to each other…”5

Jacob could marry two sisters, despite the prohibition from Leviticus, because it is necessary for his love to unite the upper and lower divine worlds, in the language of the Zohar, for the two to “combine as one.” The idea of Jacob marrying two sisters in violation of Leviticus and sending love into “the two worlds” collapses human events and Torah laws with divine realities. This mode of kabbalistic thinking is possible only because the concrete figures of the physical Jacob, Rachel and Leah, are interchangeable with the spiritual Jacob, Rachel and Leah, who represent various divine energies or sefirot. For the Ari, they represent Ze’eir Anpin and the two aspects of the Shekhina partzuf – the higher Shechina, Leah, and the lower Shekhina, Rachel.

We may ask to what extent, in the Kabbalists’ eyes, Jacob and his wives were aware of themselves as a reflection of the divine countenance. Or, to put it differently: are we speaking of two parallel but separate systems functioning as different reflections of the same set of relationships – one heavenly and one earthly – or is there a crossing of the boundaries between these two orders?

A partial answer to this question may be found in the words of the Maggid of Meziretch, the student of the Baal Shem Tov. He describes how it is possible, through inner meditation on the physical beauty of woman, to unite and become one with the beauty of the Shechina. In this context, the Maggid mentions Jacob, who sees Rachel and her physical beauty as a reflection of the splendor of the heavenly Rachel: “…that by seeing this Rachel, Jacob became attached to higher Rachel, as all of this lower Rachel’s beauty stems from that of the higher one.”6

So we see how, in kabbalistic-hasidic thought, the constant movement between concrete biblical figures and their spiritual counterparts in the realm of the divine has what we might call a diagonal aspect as well. The physical Jacob draws a line of relationship not only to the Leah and Rachel who share the experiences of the material world with him, but also to the supernal Rachel and Leah, through the medium of his relationship with his concrete wives. Of course, this experience is mutual. Leah and Rachel, through their relationship with the physical Jacob, become connected with the divine Jacob.

In the eyes of Kabbalah and Hasidut, the patriarchs and matriarchs were chariots for the divine and so it follows that the movements of their souls also reflected the events of the divine universe. It would be even more accurate to say that their soul movements not only reflected the higher course of events, but actually caused them. When Jacob was in an enlightened and open state of consciousness, known in kabbalistic language as mohin d’gadlut (expanded consciousness), Ze’eir Anpin of Atzilut would also receive mohin d’gadlut, and when he would fall into depression and limited consciousness, this would also be the case in the supernal world. We can deduce this from the teachings of the students of the Baal Shem Tov regarding each and every human being: “‘God is your shadow’ (Ps. 121:8) – this implies like a shadow. This means that
every movement a person makes below awakens the same above, meaning that the Holy One, blessed be He, parallels (people) with a similar movement.

If we look at the Biblical narrative through this lens, then a psychological analysis of the figures in the story of Jacob also sheds light on the events taking place in the internal world of the Godhead. In other words, the relationship of Jacob to his wives, and their relationships with each other, are keys by which it may be possible to unlock the Divine.


In the Ari’s world of divine-human correspondences, the goal of tikkun is constantly in view: restoration of what had been broken by the shattering of the cosmic vessels and by the human fall from Eden. The inner dynamic of Scripture is a steady moving forward toward that end. In this light, we can approach his comments linking the primal family of Adam, Lilith and Eve with the later Israelite family of Jacob, Leah and Rachel:

…and so we can understand the matter of Adam, who had two wives, one named Lilith and the other named Eve. Adam is in the image of Ze’eir Anpin, and Ze’eir Anpin has two females, Leah and Rachel … and, in fact, supernal first Eve [i.e. Lilith] is the aspect of Leah, and lower Eve is Rachel.8

This is in accordance with the spirit of the Zohar, which sees Jacob as an improved version of the figure and story of Adam.9 Leah and Rachel, reflect the two faces of the Shekhinah, and they conduct a complex and changing system of relationships with the male partzuf Ze’eir Anpin, also known as Jacob. Notice how these two women are presented: Lilith, who returns in the figure of Leah, is both the first wife chronologically, and the first wife hierarchically, while Eve, who becomes Rachel, is positioned below Leah, towards the bottom of the world of Atzilut.10 The hierarchical positions of Leah and Rachel were already known to the Ari from the Zohar. It was the Ari’s innovation to link Leah, who is the higher face of the feminine divine, back to Lilith, and to link Rachel, who is the lower face of the feminine divine, back to Eve.

Let us now return to the Zohar (I: 154a) to discover how it explains the fact that Jacob loved Rachel and despised Leah. Would it not be more fitting for Jacob to prefer his more spiritually elevated wife? In the Zohar, Leah reflects the higher world, which is also the concealed world.11 Jacob, the Zohar says, did not willingly attach himself to hidden things, preferring that which was revealed. So he loved and clung to Rachel and was repulsed by Leah. “This is the secret of the verse, says the Zohar, ‘and he will cling to his wife’ (Gen 2:24).” Jacob can understand Rachel because her soul is laid bare before his eyes, and consequently she does not threaten him. Leah, however, is concealed, and Jacob cannot begin to fathom her.

There are three steps to the Zohar’s argument. The first is a comment about the despised wife, “‘And God saw that Leah was despised’12(Gen. 29:31). Why was she despised? We also know that the children of a despised wife are not virtuous, yet we find that all of Leah’s children were excellent, although it says ‘that Leah was despised.’” There is an assumption here that if one hated a given wife, one would think of another during intercourse. Such illicit fantasies made the intercourse improper and ought to produce, as the talmudic rabbis believed, deformed children.13 According to the rule of “the children of the despised one,” Jacob and Leah’s children should have been born evil and rebellious, if their lovemaking had been dependent only on their natural inclinations. Since they were born “excellent,” some other force must have been at work in their conception.

At this point, the Zohar jumps to the second step in its argument, the secret of the Jubilee year, which is understood as a code name for the Sefirah Binah, to which Leah is connected. The essence of the argument is that the level of Jubilee, like Leah, is always hidden and is therefore not addressed directly as ‘you,’ but by the third person pronoun, ‘he.’14 The third step in the argument is that when Jacob slept with Leah, the text uses the pronoun “he,” not his name Jacob. The implication is that the hidden level called ‘he’ intervened in Jacob and Leah’s coupling.15 An even more radical interpretation would be that “He” slept with Leah, that is, God, through the medium of the concealed level of the higher world of the Jubilee, in order to draw a blessing from above for her children.

Representing the hidden, Leah is from the world of freedom; and her uninhibited freedom threatens Jacob, just as Adam was threatened by the freedom Lilith demanded for herself in the Ben Sira story. It is little wonder that the Ari identified Leah, the wife Jacob rejected, with Lilith, the wife Adam rejected:

“Because ‘the beauty of Jacob was like the beauty of Adam.’ Just as Adam had two wives, the first and second Eve, so Jacob had Leah and Rachel. The first Eve was the shell (qelippah) that covered the Leah of holiness. And because Jacob thought that she was similar to the first Eve, he did not want to marry her.”16

Jacob, the Ari maintains, did not want to marry Leah because he sensed that she was an incarnation of Lilith. This is the real secret of why “Leah was despised.” Jacob thought that Leah should be given to Esau, just like the first Eve, Lilith the wicked, was the bride of Samael, who was considered the ministering angel of Esau. In the end, though, Jacob married her because of her prayers and tears.17

The Ari continued a line of thought already extant in the Zohar in identifying Jacob’s family with Adam’s. The Ari’s claim that Leah is the Lilithian face of the feminine goes beyond any explicit arguments in the Zohar. As will be seen in the following chapters, an in-depth study of the biblical narrative and the rabbinic commentary on them leads us to make exactly the same claim.


The Torah tells us that Jacob loved Rachel with all his heart. But did Rachel love Jacob? Did Rachel desire Jacob as he desired her? Nowhere in the Torah does it state otherwise. But there are two significant instances in which the Torah tells us that Rachel was willing to forego intimacy with Jacob. The first time was on their wedding night, when Laban deceived Jacob and put Leah, his firstborn daughter, in Jacob’s bed instead of Rachel. It is difficult to imagine that this could have occurred without Rachel’s knowledge or consent.18 The second time Rachel was willing to forego physical intimacy with Jacob took place a few years later. Reuven, Leah’s son, found mandrakes, an herb considered to increase a woman’s chances of pregnancy, in the field. She promises Leah one night with him in return for the mandrakes. Rachel is willing to temporarily forego intimacy with Jacob for the sake of that which she desires more than anything, children.

Tragically, what Rachel wants most of all, more than life itself,19 Leah already has, and in abundance. But Leah has her own tragedy. Leah desires Jacob, and she is willing to pay any price and to make almost any necessary sacrifice to taste of his love. She is prepared to get into his bed on the night of his wedding to her sister Rachel, even at the cost of the terrible shame that will certainly be her lot the following morning. Then, she is prepared to give Rachel her son’s fertility-enhancing mandrakes in order to gain another night with him.

The Rabbis go into more detail to describe Leah’s embarrassment the morning after Laban’s deception of Jacob has been discovered:

“And Laban gathered all the men of his town and made a party” (Gen. 29:22) – He gathered all the men of his town … and they were singing to Jacob and saying “Ha lia, ha lia” – she is Leah, she is Leah (hee Leah,20 hee leah)…”

In the evening they brought her to him, and extinguished the candles. Jacob said to them: “What is this?” They said to him: What did you think, that we are immodest21 like you?” All night long he called her “Rachel,” and she answered him. When morning came, “and behold she was Leah!” “Deceiver! Daughter of the deceiver! “he said to her. She said to him: Is there a scribe without students? Did your father not call you “Esau” and did you not answer him? So, too, you called me and I answered you…22

Leah’s answer embodies the rabbinic principle of “measure for measure.” Jacob, as the deceiver of his father and brother, got what he deserved, the daughter of a deceiver and a deceiving wife. As a soulmate of Jacob, Leah is prepared to undergo whatever humiliation may come for the sake of intimacy with him. Just imagine her torment! The memory of her wedding night with Jacob (when he believed he was with his beloved Rachel), must never have left Leah’s heart. She could not forget how ardently Jacob was capable of loving when he was really in love. She could not forget the night when Jacob thought she was her sister. That night set the standard for her expectations. Its memory must aggravate her sense of rejection, and intensify her desire to once again experience the fullness of Jacob’s love.23

Consider the names Leah chooses for her sons. They reveal that Leah regards childbearing as a means to an end. Her real aim in life is the love of Jacob. The Hebrew names of Leah’s children represent and express her desire for intimacy with their father: Maybe Jacob will love me because of the children I have born him (Reuven); maybe he will stop hating me (Shimon); maybe I will finally be joined with him (Levi). However, when Judah, the fourth son, is born, Leah experiences a sense of gratitude towards God and names her son for this profound awareness.

The Rabbis were sensitive to this shift. They arrived at the conclusion that Leah had expected only three sons, by doing the simple arithmetic of dividing twelve sons amongst four mothers. Consequently, when her fourth son was born, she felt blessed with an unexpected gift,24 and she stopped naming her children after her relationship with Jacob, and instead gave her fourth son a name describing her relationship with God. This spiritual independence in the naming must have greatly altered and influenced Leah’s relationship with her fourth son. We can surmise that Judah was the only one of Leah’s children to feel loved on his own merit from the time of his infancy. Woven into his brothers’ very names and identities was the idea that they were all means to an end, existing to bring their mother closer to their father, with what negative consequences for them we can only imagine. Reuven even brought mandrakes to his mother in the hope of winning her love! Judah, though, would have grown up with a secure identity, without the feeling that he had to win her affections. As an end unto himself, Judah could become a person in his own right, with his own relationship to God. He therefore goes on to become the father of the tribe that sires King David and the messianic line.25

The Ari’s conception of messianic times, as we have said, entails the emancipation of women. This liberation, which the Ari portrays within very precise parameters, is dependent on the healing of Lilith. The fact that Judah is born to Leah, is enormously significant, given the Ari’s suggestion that Leah is one of the central embodiments of Lilith in this cosmic drama. Judah is born when Leah first experiences liberation. R. Tzadok HaCohen of Lublin taught that such inner freedom can only be achieved when a person feels with her entire heart that she is no longer a pawn in someone else’s game.26 Everyone has his or her individual story, but not everyone lives it. That is why, of all Leah’s sons, Judah is the most liberated. He was born at a moment of grace, when Leah was spiritually uplifted and gave thanks to God from the depths of her heart; in so doing, she enabled Judah to live his own story. Unfortunately, Leah’s liberated state does not last very long, and the children born to her after Judah are once again given names that reflect her hopes and expectations of meriting Jacob’s love.

Leah’s behavior stands in marked contrast to that of Rachel. Rachel wants children, and she is prepared to forego her intimate connection with Jacob in order to obtain them. She even puts her maidservant Bilhah in his bed in order to be blessed with surrogate children through her. When Bilhah’s first son is born, Rachel says: “God has judged me, and also heard my voice, and has given me a son; she therefore called his name Dan” (Gen. 30:6).

In reaction to the birth of Bilhah’s children, Leah also gives her maidservant Zilpah, to Jacob. However, while Rachel relates with indifference to the fact that her husband has been intimate with her maidservant, it is evident that, for Leah, this practice is very painful. After she gives Zilpah to Jacob, and they conceive a son, she claims that Jacob has betrayed her with Zilpah: “And Leah said Bagad (lit. betrayal, read as ba gad (fortune has come), and she called his name Gad” (Gen. 30:11). Similarly, when Leah gives birth to her fifth son, she names him Yissachar: “And Leah said, God has given me my reward for giving my maidservant to my husband, and she called his name Yissachar” (30:18), implying that giving her maidservant to Jacob was very difficult for Leah, and so she saw her fifth son as a reward for her self-sacrifice.

When Joseph, Rachel’s yearned-for son, was finally born, his name expressed her desire to bear additional children. “And God remembered Rachel, and God heard her, and He opened her womb. And she conceived and gave birth to a son, and she said, ‘God has taken away my disgrace.’ And she called his name Yosef, saying, ‘May the Lord add another son to me’” (30:22-24). Again, it would seem that Rachel longs to be a mother much more than a wife: Even though she has a loving husband, without her own children Rachel feels humiliated. Only when she gives birth to a son is she reconciled within herself. Then, when her next son, Benjamin, is born, Rachel passes away, and is buried by the road to Bethlehem. This roadway is befitting for Rachel who symbolizes home and hearth (Bet – home; lechem – bread). Rachel is the goodly housewife who experiences fullness of the soul by raising children, while her husband manages his own spiritual life. This is why, even in biblical times, Rachel became the symbol of the gentle mother and protector of children, so much so that the prophet Jeremiah hears the cry of mourning for Israel in exile coming from her lips.27

We have called this pattern the magic square of the house of Jacob, which we can summarize as follows: Jacob wants Rachel, but Rachel wants children, which is exactly what Leah, her sister, has, but doesn’t really want, since she loves Jacob, who really loves Rachel, and so on and so forth.

In Lurianic Kabbalah, when someone desires intimacy with another, it is said that he “faces” her. Or, when a relationship involves someone who desires less intimacy with the other, it is said that he “turns his back” on her. Turning one’s back on another person is to relate to another human being as though he or she were a means in service of some goal. In Martin Buber’s philosophy of dialogue, this is called the I-it relationship. In contradistinction to the I-Thou or intersubjective relationship, the I-it relationship denotes subject-object relations.28 Rachel (who wants children) relates to Jacob as an “it;” Jacob (who wants Rachel) relates to Leah as an “it;” and Leah (who wants Jacob) relates to her children as “it.” We can therefore say that Jacob faces Rachel, who turns her back on him, unlike Leah, who faces Jacob, who he turns his back on her. This analysis of the family dynamics of the house of Jacob helps us to appreciate the striking symbolic language of the Lurianic writings, in which Rachel stands back-to-back with Jacob and Leah stands face-to-back with him: “Rachel and Ze’eir Anpin29 stand back to back. And Leah and Ze’eir Anpin stand with Leah’s face turned towards the back of Ze’eir Anpin.” What is being depicted is a level of alienation that needs to be overcome before face-to-faceness, true spiritual intimacy, can result.


Let us return to the story of the mandrakes. When Jacob comes home from the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him, and said, “‘You are to sleep with me tonight, for I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.’ And he lay with her that night” (Gen. 30: 16). There can be little doubt that Leah’s behavior in this case, sex for hire, borders on prostitution. One only need glance at the uproar this incident caused among the classic biblical commentators to realize just how problematic they found the story. They tend to act as apologists for Leah, claiming that nothing here can be understood in its simple sense. Leah’s intentions, they claim, were entirely for the sake of heaven.30

The Rabbis of the midrash, on the other hand, were quite willing to consider Leah’s behavior as that of a prostitute.

“No woman is a prostitute unless her daughter is a prostitute also.” They said to him: “Does this mean that our mother Leah was a prostitute?” He said to them: “‘And Leah went out to meet him…’ She went out dressed up like a whore. It therefore follows: ‘And Dinah the daughter of Leah went out’”31

What led the sages to the unpleasant conclusion that “our mother Leah was a prostitute” (which implies that we are all begotten of whoredom), is the fact that the Torah uses the word “going out” when describing how Leah approached Jacob and how Dinah approached the daughters of the land, just before she was raped by Shechem:32

“And Dinah the daughter of Leah went out” – was she not also the daughter of Jacob? The Torah associated her with her mother – just as Leah was “a woman who goes out”, so was Dinah. From where do we know this? As it says, “Leah went out to meet him.” The prophet Ezekiel said: “Behold, whoever uses proverbs will use this proverb against you, saying, Like mother, like daughter. You are the daughter of your mother…” (Eze. 16:44-45).33

The general context of the Exekiel verses, we recall, compares the kingdoms of Judah and Samaria to adulterous and whoring women, who intermarried and worshipped foreign gods. Dinah likewise “went out” to women who were not of her family and who, presumably, did not share her family’s theology and values. The connection between idolatry, sexual immorality and fear of the foreign were deeply connected in the biblical and rabbinic imagination.

What did the rabbis mean by prostitution in the case of Leah and Dinah? In modern Hebrew, a prostitute is called a yatzanit, that is, one who “goes out,” – that is, we submit, goes out from herself. In order to understand what in the nature of prostitution links it to the concept of “going out,” we need to consider the idea that each and every one of us has his or her own “story” and that we can live either inside or outside that story. Spiritual prostitution occurs when a person looks for self-realization anywhere other than within — even if that other should happen to be the one and only beloved, as in the case of Leah with Jacob. If I “go out” from myself and try to become someone else, or to “be” through someone else, I am prostituting myself.

Living inside a personal story, however, a person gains an original perspective on life, influenced by that individual’s unique character and by the environment he/she inhabits. Moreover, each person possesses a unique way of “reading” the script of his or her life. The people I encounter, the events and the physical fabric of my life create a text; which I am reading and interpolating simultaneously. As I navigate my way around life, I also interpret my movements. I make my next move based upon my understanding and interpretation of my previous move. Consciously and unconsciously, I am choosing a perspective and mode of interpretation for every event in which I take part. This is my personal legend. There is no other story quite like it.34

In an ideal situation, I discover meaning within my personal story, and I do not need to seek meaning elsewhere, in places which are foreign to me. But who among us has not been tempted to look for meaning outside of ourselves? Which of us has not turned our gaze vicariously towards another’s experience, in the hope of finding that which has not yet been found in our own domain? The hasidic movement has read God’s call to Abram, Lech Lechah – literally “go to you,” as a call to the inner quest, to go into your own story, to discover the meaning of your life: “When our father Abraham began to search after the source of his life,… God said to him, Lech Lecha, meaning Go to yourself! Because the truth is that all the things of this world cannot really be called life. The essence of life can only be found within.”35

Each of us is born unique, and each of us weaves a unique story in life. However, there are times when we are less inclined to accept our own destinies. When our self-esteem drops, we are accustomed to grasp for any straw lest we drown in our emptiness. In such a state, it is easy to abandon our own story and leech on to another’s tale. Thus, we become dependent on others; we look to justify our own existence through theirs. This is an addictive disposition: finding oneself outside of oneself, be it through drugs, food, sex, career, flattery, or occasionally even love. A sexual encounter occurring outside of a couple relationship, where members of the couple have strayed, is usually one in which there is a “going out” from the personal story, implying that such a relationship “has no story.”36 There are parents who lack their own story and become addicted to their relationship with their children,37 and there are students who become addicted to their teachers. There are famous rabbis, Hasidic masters, and all types of gurus who become addicted to the worship and adoration they evoke in their disciples.38 In all these examples, a person abandons his own story and looks for an identity elsewhere.

This analysis can provide a structural analogy to the case of prostitutive or promiscuous behaviour. Bereft of her own personal story, the prostitute attempts to fill the void with borrowed content from the story of others. She may be a young girl who was abused by “trusted” adults, and consequently gave up on herself and the adult world. Not understanding her trauma but seeking to reenact it, lacking in self-esteem, she seeks comfort in the temporary esteem strangers seem to have for her body. Her absent sense of spiritual worth is not really compensated by the transitory and illusory ego-fulfillment these strangers sometimes afford her. But she is paid and therefore convinces herself that if so many men desire her then she certainly must be worth something. She is a yatzanit, one who goes out of herself in order to find solace in the moments of pleasure that others experience through her body.

Thus, prostitutive relationships attempt to find meaning through that which is foreign. If I prostitute myself, then I intentionally choose someone who has no real part in my story or my life. When I do not love myself or my story, then I am liable to evade my life by searching for situations whose otherness and strangeness comfort me precisely because they have nothing to do with me. Therefore I imagine that illicit encounters will sweeten the bitterness of my life with myself. This process of leaving myself and searching for my identity through an ephemeral connection with a complete stranger can occur in each and every one of us in subtle ways. Each of us is at times liable to fall into such a prostitution.

Of course, not every departure from one’s personal story should be considered so negatively. Vicariousness is certainly a sign of dependence, and a lack of personal meaning in one’s life, but it is not necessarily evidence of the drive to prostitute oneself. Prostituting oneself is simply one possible result of such a dependence. When I depart from my own story and try to create an alternative story through the other, I will often try to attract him/her by externalizing things that have previously remained concealed in intimate chambers. I may try to seduce him/her to enter into relationship with me – a relationship by means of which I hope to find some self-esteem. I leave myself and attempt to form a pseudo-intimate connection with the other – to live vicariously through the stranger. This way, I give up on my own life.39

We have already discussed how Leah’s seeking to forge an identity through Jacob was a giving up on herself. She imagines that her life will have meaning only if she latches onto him. This is why she cries; this is why her eyes are “weak” or “soft.” This is why she is incapable of seeing her children as separate entities, rather than as means by which to measure the degree of her closeness to Jacob. In this respect, Leah, just like an addict, knows the heavy price she will pay the morning after, when Jacob discovers that she is not Rachel, but she cannot stop herself. Leah is addicted to Jacob and will pay for her habit, whatever it costs. This is the reason why the rabbis sense that, when Leah goes out to meet Jacob and says “You are to sleep with me tonight,” there is something in her brazen, yet dependent behavior reminiscent of a prostitute. The case of Dinah is more complicated, because her “going out” led to her being sexually assaulted by Shechem. In this case, the rabbis are willing to blame the victim, for her “going out” meant to them leaving behind the theology and morality of her people.

Lilith, of course, is the archetype of the prostitute,40 and our analysis fits her story as well. The moment Lilith runs away from Adam, she immediately sleeps with Samael, the Great Demon, to fill the vacuum of her life. She begins her long-term career as “the wife of harlotry,” and under that title drawn from Hosea 1:2, the Zohar locates her in Haran, Leah’s home town.14When the angels come to look for her, after she has run away from Adam and taken up with Samael, “She said to them – My friends, I know that the reason God created me was so that I could make the newborns weak…”. She now has a satanic goal, but Lilith’s link to evil is not axiomatic. Her new and inauthentic life-story, prostitution, is a departure from her real story. Everything that happens to the Lilith archetype afterwards is directed towards one purpose – bringing her back to her real story, re-uniting her with Adam and liberating her once and for all.


Jacob had before him two sisters. According to Genesis, “Leah had weak eyes; Rachel was shapely and beautiful” (29:17). On the basis of this description, it is not hard to explain Jacob’s choice for the beautiful sister. The midrash explains Leah’s unattractiveness; her eyes were watery and tearful from crying, out of fear that she would have to marry Esau. At least one later commentator, however sees sexual yearning in the description of Leah’s eyes. Choosing the alternate translation, “soft,” rather than weak, the Baal Turim notes: “As it says – ‘Will he speak soft words to you” (Job 40:27). For she spoke softly to him, and, even so, he did not love her.”42 Given this interpretation, why would Jacob not have loved Leah?

We can evoke here three distinct archetypal images of woman in the male psyche: there is the virginal, demurely beautiful maiden – innocent, pure and holy, often presented as an image of the soul. And then comes the time for lovemaking, when woman loses her virginity – her innocence, her newness and, if virginity is seen as a sign of purity and holiness, then she loses these also. Sexual woman may be lauded, in the language of Song of Songs, as a “love-making doe,”43 but she is also liable to be construed as seductive and dangerous, as we have seen in the Lilith myth. After the sexual stage comes woman as mother and housewife – the childbearing woman, the nursing mother who raises the children and is responsible for the organization of the entire family unit. At this stage, there is usually a correlation in the male psyche between the image of the woman who raises his children and his own mother. Woman as mother is no longer perceived as highly sexual. Later, with maturity, menopause and old age, this de-eroticism becomes even more pronounced. The grandmother is already perceived as a totally asexual being.

We can give these three personae the following names: The Divine Virgin; The Loving Doe; The Mother of Children. The first and the third stages are usually sanctified by patriarchal society. However, the middle stage, in which woman expresses her sexuality, is not so revered. Man relates to this persona with a frenzy composed of desire and fear. At the time of passion, he calls her all sorts of affectionate names – loving doe, graceful roe, etc. – but when fear takes hold of him, he has an inherited store of derisive terms with which to degrade her.

Within this patriarchal framework, woman is sanctified when she is simultaneously both virgin and mother. Mother Mary, for example, was successful in omitting the middle stage, which, in Catholic doctrine, is perceived as an aspect of the “original sin.” Mary went straight from being the divine virgin to becoming the mother of children, without getting tainted by sexuality on the way. The second stage, that of sexual woman, is played by a different Mary, Mary Magdelena, who, with Jesus’s help, escapes the trappings of original sin.44 Woman’s sexual stage is such a great threat for the male that Tratolian, an African head of the church, called the female genitalia “the Devil’s gateway.”45

This three stage schema is helpful for understanding the relationships of Rachel, Leah and Jacob. According to our characterization of Rachel, she would have been happy to omit the middle stage, and go directly from being a beautiful virgin to her role as the mother of Jacob’s children.46 As far as she is concerned, sexual intercourse is a necessary evil. Rachel is more than ready to forego this dubious delight, as exemplified by her exchange of a night with Jacob for fertility-enhancing mandrakes. For Leah, however, the sexual stage is critical.47 And so, Jacob is terrified.

To shed further light on these relationships, it will be helpful to return to the Lilith of the Ben Sira version:

“When God created Adam and saw that he was alone in the world, He said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone.’ He immediately created woman who, like him, was from the earth, called her name Lilith, and brought her to Adam. They immediately began to argue. He said, ‘You should lie underneath,’ and she said, ‘You should lie underneath, as both of us are equal and both of us were created from the earth.’ Neither one could convince the other.”48

Adam and Lilith begin to argue about sex immediately after being created. Lilith demands equal status, which is expressed in the sexual position she prefers. It frightens Adam, it threatens him – he prefers a woman created out of his rib – a number two, a faithful homebody, someone who will remain beneath him. This is also the case with Jacob: he prefers Rachel because she is unthreatening. In Rachel, Jacob finds holiness and purity, a feminine perfection uncomplicated by sexual desire.

This is not the case with Leah. She asserts her sexuality and is not ashamed of it. She is an immediate threat to Jacob’s superior status. A woman who takes the initiative in intimate relations, as Leah does when she says “You are to sleep with me” – is symbolically saying to her partner that “you will be underneath” – you will be the passive one. This, of course, is a threat, but it is also very seductive. Such women symbolize forbidden passion, which are powerful, alluring and exciting, but which easily turn threatening, dangerous, and deadly.

It sounds altogether like Lilith, the original femme fatale.49 While they sleep, Lilith takes possession of men who are trying to maintain the sanctity of their relationship with chaste and modest wives. She excites them with erotic dreams of wild and forbidden sex, and impregnates herself from the seed they spill. She dominates them and they are powerless over her. She sucks from them their life-force without asking their consent. Essentially, she makes fools out of them.50 Consequently, these men view her as satanic, impure, the soulmate of Samael, the Great Demon. This is why commentators had an intuition that Leah should marry Esau, the impulsive man of the field, the hunter who is closer to nature than to the confines of culture, whose entire body is covered by a mantle of hair that makes him seem animal-like and wild. Leah and Esau, in this view, deserve each other.

Jacob, by contrast, is characterized as a “mild man” (Gen. 25:27) He prefers to avoid uncertain and doubtful situations.51 He would not have received his father Isaac’s blessings were it not for the courage of his mother Rebecca, who overcomes his doubts. it is totally in character that Jacob, who tries to avoid such tricky moments, clearly prefers Rachel to Leah.

If Leah were in Rachel’s shoes, if she were the woman who was desired but barren, she would never have cried like Rachel: “Give me children, or I shall die” (Gen. 30:1). Leah would probably have been delighted to hear tender words of comfort from Jacob and would easily have foregone her desire for children.52 But Leah, like Lilith, was destined to be the unwanted wife all of her life, pining away for a deeper connection with her man, a yearning which only pushes him further away. So, when the Ari maintains that, in Jacob’s eyes, Leah embodies Lilith, he is providing us with a provocative and fruitful reading of the biblical narrative.


1. As R. Hayyim Vital says concerning the partzufim of Keter: “And you therefore see that Atik includes the (divine names) of 45 and 52 letters, and they are both male and female in one partzuf.” (Etz Hayyim, Gate 19, chap. 9, final edition).

2. B. Megilla 18a.

3. Zohar, I, 138a; free translation of the Aramaic.

4. Bereishit Rabba ??? 76a.

5. Zohar, NEED REFERENCE. to standard edition, (2:126b).On the two combining as one, the notes of the Nitzotzei Zohar comment that the word nishkafa is a combination of the two words, nishak peh, “the kiss of the mouth.”

6. Maggid D’varav LeYaakov, Oppenherimer edition, pp. 29-30. For early kabbalistic sources for this approach, see Moshe Idel: The Beauty of Woman – On the History of Jewish Mysticism.”

7. Degel Machane Efraim, Pareshat Behar, commentary on u-ve-chol. R. Levi Yitzchak of Berditchov quotes this teaching in the name of the Baal Shem Tov, adding a moral emphasis: “And just as I heard in the name of the Baal Shem Tov on the verse (Psalms 121:5) ‘God is your shadow’ – just as when a living being stands in the light and his shadow echoes his movements, so it is as if He, blessed is He and blessed is His name, does the same above according to the actions of earthbound man. For example, if a man acts with kindness towards his fellow man, so God acts towards him.” Kedushat Levi – Discourses on Chanukah.

8. Hayyim Vital, Etz Hayyim, gate 38, chapter 2, second edition.

9. “The Beauty of Jacob was like the beauty of Adam” (Zohar 1:35b).

10. “The secret of these things is the following: It is already known that the partzuf of Ze’eir Anpin has two women: Leah and Rachel, and they represent two aspects […] because at the beginning man was created, and God took his rib and magnified it, and this was how woman was created. And from the chest (of Ze’eir Anpin) on up, which is a concealed place, is the place of Leah from the back side, and she is called alma d’itcasya (the world of concealment). R. Hayyim Vital, Etz Hayyim, gate 38, chap. 4, second edition.

11. This is related to the general Zoharic conception of Binah as the “concealed world,” “a place which elicits questioning.” Anyone exposed to it will ask “who,” but ultimately, after descending from level to level, he/she reaches the other extreme known as “what,” and he/she is asked, “What did you seek? What did you find? Everything is still as mysterious as ever!” (Introduction to the Zohar, 1/b.). The very fact that the more personal question “who” is considered to be higher than conceptual queries whose nature is that of “what-ness” is a fascinating idea, representative of the mythological outlook characteristic of the Zoharic debate on the mystery of the Godhead. If we understand the “what” question not as a conceptual question of what (ma) is the essence (mahut) of the matter, but rather as a practical question of what needs to be done, and if we continue this line of thought, we can say that the “what” question relating to essence is the query being posed in the realm of chochma, above binah. It therefore follows that the proper order of the questions is what-who-what. What in chochma, who in binah, what in malkhut, which is also known as “lower chochma.” Again, however, the Zohar did not propose this approach, and as far as the Zohar is concerned, the most critical and relevant question is that concerning the personal figure of the Divinity – Who are You, God? This is the question that should be asked, even if one obtains no concrete result; (this section of the Zohar may have served as the basis of R. Y. D. Soleveitchik’s comments in his book “The Lonely Man of Faith,” p. 15, see there).

12. The JPS translation here, “unloved,” does not capture the force of the Hebrew s’nuah. We will use “despised” throughout.

13. “And do not stray after your hearts” – Rabbi learned from this verse that a man should not drink out of one cup while his eyes are straying to another. Ravina said that this is the case even with his two wives. “And I will purge out from you the rebels and those that have transgressed against Me” (Ez. 20:38). R. Levi said: “These are the children of nine attributes: the children of Osnat, Mashga’ach, the children of terror, the children of rape, the children of the despised one, the children of excommunication, the children of exchange, the children of strife, the children of drunkenness, the children of she who was driven away from the heart, the children of mixed seed, the children of audacity”.(B. Nedarim 22b.). In kabbalistic thought, there is a parallel tradition concerning Lilith, for which see appendix, n. #REFERENCE.

14. “But certainly the Jubilee is always the hidden world, and nothing about it is revealed, and all its deeds were therefore concealed from Jacob. Come and see: The lower world is revealed, and it is the (place) where all begins to ascend, rung by rung. Just as Supernal Wisdom (Hokhma) is the beginning of all things, so too the lower world is also Hokhma, and is therefore also the beginning of all things. We therefore call it you,’ since it is the revealed Sabbatical year (shmita). And the higher world, the Jubilee (yovel), we call ‘him’(third person), since all its matters are concealed” (REF).

Commentary: The sefirah of Hokhma is the beginning of the revelation of the divine world from above, just as Malkhut is the beginning from below (or in later Kabbalistic language: malkhut is chochma in the form of returning light). Malkhut occasionally receives characteristics of Hokhmah, which are different than those of supernal Hokhmah, and is usually called “lower Hokhmah”, or “the wisdom (Hokhmah) of (King) Solomon,” or “the wisdom (Hokhmah) of women” (see Proverbs 14:1: “The wisdom of women builds her house”) or Oral Torah. This idea of the daughter of the king, who is the shechinah, who is the reflection of the unique nature of Hokhmah, can already be found in Sefer HaBahir (Margoliot edition), paragraph 65.

15. “The secret of this matter is that concerning Leah it is written: “And he slept with her on that night” (Gen. 30:16). He refers to the higher world, which is always concealed. Jacob did not willingly cling to anything concealed, he (preferred) only that which was revealed. This is the secret of the verse: “and he will cling to his wife” (Gen 2:24). REF.

16. REF.

17. This is according to the midrash in Bereshit Rabba, 70, 16, which is also quoted by Rashi in his commentary on the Torah: “‘And the eyes of Leah were soft’” – R. Yochanan’s translator translated it in this manner: ‘And the eyes of Leah were tender.’ He (R. Yochanan) said to him: “Your mother’s eyes were tender! What does “soft” mean? It means soft because of weeping. Because (people) would say: “This was the deal – the older one to the older one, the younger one to the younger one. And she (Leah) would cry and say; “May it be Your will that I not fall in the lot of the wicked one” (i.e. Esau). See further discussion of this point below.

18. In midrash, the rabbis added that Rachel actually gave Leah the secret signs that she had made with Jacob so that they could identify each other in the dark: “And morning came, and behold it was Leah” (Gen. 29:25) – but at night it was not Leah, because Jacob had given certain signs to Rachel, but when Rachel saw that Leah was being taken to Jacob, she said, now my sister will be shamed. So she gave her those signs” (Rashi on Gen. 29:25, based on B. Megilla 13b). It should be noted that Rachel consciously agrees to Leah’s being substituted for her, and she doesn’t even hint to Jacob that anything is amiss. It is also interesting that the Targum Yonatan translated the verse thus: “And it was at morning time, and he looked at her, and behold she was Leah all of the night.” Leah is of the night (laila). This may possibly be an early hint of Leah’s later identification with Lilith, who is named for the night and the wailing (yilala).

19. “Give me children, and if not, I will die” (Gen. 30:1); in the end, Rachel did die in childbirth, and takes comfort in the knowledge that her second child is also a son; see Gen. 35:17-18.

20. The Midrash means to say that the townspeople were giving a hint to Jacob by singing a song about the deception: instead of singing la-la-la, ya-ba-ba, or the like, they sang “ha lia, ha lia.” Jacob did not get the hint.

21. In the original Aramic, the word is dichrin “males,” but in Yefet and in Theodore-Albek’s edition of the midrash it says d’bzayon (disgraced). Irit Aminof, in her article “The Soft Eyes of Leah,” REFERENCE, translated it as “immodest,” and we have adopted her translation.

22. Bereishit Rabba, 70:19; the last line is in accordance with the Theodor-Albek edition, p. 819.

23. See Nechama Leibowitz, Studies in Bereishit, Parshat Vayetze. Thanks to Naomi Regan for calling our attention to this point. (***REFERENCE – if this is in one of her novels)

24. “Since the mothers thought that they would each give birth to three sons, when Leah gave birth to her fourth son, she said, ‘This time I will thank the Lord.’ “(Bereshit Rabba, 71: 4).

25. The intimate relationship between the house of David and God is clearly emphasized in the words of the prophet Nathan to David, which describe how God will act towards his son Solomon, who will reign after him: “I will be his father, and he will be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men and with the plagues of the children of man; but my love shall not depart from him, as I made it to depart from Saul, who I took away from before you” (II Sam. 7:14-15). It should be pointed out that, in Zoharic terminology, “plagues of the children of man”, with which God rebukes the house of David (and especially king Solomon) as a loving father chastises his children, are in fact the spirits of demons and Liliths, created by the spilling of man’s seed.

26. “Just as a person must believe in the Holy One, blessed be He, so he must also believe in himself. This means (the belief) that God cares about him, and that (his actions) are not taking place in a void… he must believe that his soul emerges from the source of all life” (R. Tzadok Ha Cohen of Lublin, Tzidkat haTzaddik, entry 154.

27. “Thus said the LORD: A Cry is heard in Ramah/ Wailing, bitter weeping/ Rachel weeping for her children. She refuses to be comforted/ For her children, who are gone” (Jer. 31:15-16).

28. Buber, I and Thou

29. Sha’ar HaKavannot, Discourses on Pesach, discourse no. 4. We did not find in either the writings of the Ari or his students a description of a state in which the back of the Rachel partzuf faces the face of either the Jacob or Ze’eir Anpin partzuf.

30. Sforno, the Italian Renaissance era commentator, makes the following comment: “In this story, which may seem disgraceful to those who find their own interpretations for the Torah, we are told how, for our patriarchs and matriarchs, intercourse was like it had been for Adam and his wife before the sin. Their intention was not at all for personal pleasure, but rather to bear chidden for the honor of their Maker and for His service. When our mothers gave their husbands additional wives, or this matter of the mandrakes, their intention was acceptable to God, and their prayers were therefore accepted…”And he lay with her that night”…willingly, when he saw how eager Leah was and how pure was her intention.” See also: Or HaChayyim ad locem.

31. Bereshit Rabba, 80, 1, free translation of the Aramaic.

32. “And Dinah the daughter of Leah that was born to Jacob went out to see the daughters of the land. And Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivvite, the prince of the land saw her, and he took her, and he raped her (Gen. 34:1-2).

33. Tanchuma Vayislah chap. 7. We find a similar comment in the Talmud Yerushalmi (freely translated from the Aramaic): “What is the meaning (of the verse): ‘Behold, whoever uses proverbs will use this proverb against you, saying, Like mother, like daughter?’ Was our mother Leah a whore?, as it says, “And Dinah went out?” He said to him: Since it is written: “And Leah went out to meet him’, we learn one “going out” from the other.” NEED SOURCE FOR YERUSHALMI

34. The opening sentence of Sefer Yetzirah states that the Holy One, blessed be He, created His world through sfr, sfr, and sfr. There are different opinions as to how these three forms of “sfr” should be punctuated, each lending a different hue to how the creation story should be understood. One of the most interesting interpretations, via Shai Agnon (NEED REFERENCE), is to read them this way: sefer, sofer, v’sippur – meaning that God created His world through a book, an author, and a story. There is a text, the book (sefer), there is an author (sofer), and there is a process by which this text is read so that it becomes a story (sippur). Let us attempt to understand this in relation to our present context, in which a person is asked to find themselves through their own story, rather than abandoning it for someone else’s story.

Each soul has three “cumulative states:” 1. Before descending into the world, which is the primal state. 2. During physical existence in this world. 3. After death.

In the primal state of the soul, she is seen as a letter in the supernal sefer Torah. Only after her descent into this plane of existence does the soul begin to tell her story (sippur) and to develop it, which she does by living it out. This implies that life itself is a process of developing and unfolding the data imprinted on the primal letter, which is the representation of the soul’s higher root. This leads to the conclusion that, after death, it becomes clear how an individual’s deeds were in fact a living commentary on that “letter” of the heavenly Torah. The totality of her life constituted the essentials of this Torah. It therefore follows that each person is an author (sofer), who wrote, by means of every choice he ever made, the commentary to the heavenly Torah scroll.

There are very few people in whom we can identify this quality. Even fewer know it about themselves. Such people experience their lives as a theological exercise, like R. David of Lelov, who said that when the Messiah comes, the “Tractate of David of Lelov” will be studied, just as today we study the tractate of Baba Kama. This experience is not common to most of us other than in moments of deja vu, in which we sense that everything is happening exactly as it was written, as it must be, as it was intended to be. Can the story of my soul be told in only one way? In other words, is there only one, predetermined way by which I must unfold the meaning imbedded in my supernal letter? This is one of the meanings of the mystery of the transmigration of souls – the story is told a little differently each time, in order that a new light be shed on it each time anew. This shows that the divine text of the heavenly Torah, of which I am one letter, can be read in various manners. My entire life story is a suggestion of one possible reading.

In terms of Beshtian Kabbalah, these three stages can be understood as the process of “surrender-separation-sweetening” in the mystery of the hashmal (see Keter Shem Tov, letter 28). For the implications of this teaching in the theological biography of R. Nachman, see O. Ezrahi, “The Descent into the Dark Hollow of Childhood,” (Hebrew) Dimui, NEED REFERENCE.

A practical application of this line of thinking can be found in M. Gafni, Soul Prints.

35. R. Mordechai Yosef Leiner of Ishbitz, Mei HaShiloah vol. 1, at he beginning of the section on Lech Lecha.

36. A “couple relationship” does not necessarily imply marriage. A steady couple relationship without marriage, which we call “living together” (in early sources pilagshut, i.e. a relationship without chuppah and kiddushin), would not be considered “illicit” or “prostitution” by most halachic authorities: “What is considered ‘wives’ and what is considered ‘concubines’? R. Yehudah said in the name of Rav: Wives are with ketuba and kiddushin, concubines are without them.”. Both these categories are considered legitimate (B. Sanhedrin 21a.). The talmudic discussion is actually dealing with the wives and concubines of King David, while as regards a regular layman there is disagreement among the halachic authorities: Rambam holds that “a concubine is forbidden for a layman” (Hilchot Melachim 4:4) so, in his opinion, any sort of sexual encounter outside of marriage is similar to prostitution. However, many of the Rishonim and the Achronim disagree with him, as the Rama writes in a footnote in Shulhan Aruch: “If a man singles out a woman for his own, and she immerses herself in the ritual waters (miqve) for him, some say that this is permissible, as this is the concubine (pilegish) which is mentioned in the Torah (this is the opinion of the Ra’avad and some other authorities). Others maintain that it is forbidden and (he who disobeys) receives a lashing, as it says “There should not be a harlot among you” (Rambam, the Rosh, and the Tur). The reason provided by the Rosh and the Tur is that a single woman will be embarrassed to go the miqve, as everyone will know that she is having sexual relations with someone. This will cause her not to go, and to lie about it, so that she and her boyfriend will transgress the prohibition of sleeping together when the woman has not been purified from her menstrual blood. After all, in those times there was one miqve for the whole town, so everyone knew everything that was going on with everyone else. In our days, both the Rosh and the Tur would probably have agreed that it is preferable that an unmarried woman be allowed to go the miqve, so that she can have sexual relations with her partner in a state of purity.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow has opened a discussion on creating a sort of graded scale, rather than presenting a black and white picture of this matter. We could describe a continuum whose one extreme, the most desirable situation, is marriage – while the other extreme, the most repulsive, is rape. On this continuum relationships based on seduction and deception would be located very close to the rape-extreme, followed by prostitution in which the prostitute receives payment for a deed she does of her own free will. One-time sexual encounters occurring with the consent of both partners would obviously be better than prostitution, while deep friendship based on love and intimacy would be closest to the opposite extreme, where we have placed marriage. If we look at things this way, we see that, among the various sorts of relationships common between two unmarried people today, “living together,” which in Biblical language was called pilegesh (that is, plag isha – a “half-wife”), is a relatively positive institution. See Arthur Waskow, Down to Earth Judaism.

See also an interview with Rabbi Arthur Green by O. Ezrahi, “Sold on Freedom,” in Chayyim Acheirim (Sept. 99): “In an era where people are getting married at ages 25-35, but are becoming sexually mature at 12-13, it is both difficult and undesirable to postpone sexual experience until marriage. It might be necessary to think up some sort of a ritual that would express a couple’s decision to begin living together even before marriage, some sort of an engagement ceremony, although the issue of a ceremony is secondary. The main point is to discover a basis for a loving and responsible relationship even before marriage. When I conduct a marriage ceremony for a couple I try to omit the blessing which says “He who forbade to us those we are engaged to, and permitted to us they who we married by means of huppah and kiddushin.” I think that today, when we know that the couple was probably living together for a few years before getting married, this is a total lie.”

37. These parents often identify themselves as “X’s father” or “Y’s mother,” as if their identity was dependent on their children. Sisra’s mother has no personal name and is satisfied to be known as the mother of Sisra: (”She was watching from the window, and Sisra’s mother was crying…” (Judg. 5:28). When her son dies, she experiences total loss of identity. This may be the reason why her cry becomes a model of the type of cry that the shofar reproduces every Rosh Hashana (see B. Rosh Hashana 33b.). This is the cry of the shedding of false identities. Rosh Hashana is a new beginning, when we try to free ourselves of these addictions, and to touch our own living, vibrant, but threatening stories once again.

38. R. Nahman of Breslov calls these teachers and Rabbis “famous lies.” See Liqutei Moharan 1 and 67.

39. In studying “The Concept of Autonomy in the Female Experience,” in her book She Comes with Love (HEBREW?), Ariela Friedman quotes a study by the social psychologist Nitzah Yanai on the concept of autonomy as perceived by (ISRAELI?) women. According to the study’s conclusions, the concept of independence or autonomy is not defined by women as separation from the other and lack of dependence on him, but rather “as the capability of authentic expression… the capability to express oneself authentically in the framework of the connection with the other” (p.43). We are in total agreement with this concept of autonomy.

40. Chaim Vital, Sha’ar HaPesukim, Pareshat Vayetze (??): “Any given prostitute is Lilith, because she was originally in Adam’s household, and then went out, and always abides in the desert, as is well known.

41. Zohar, Vayetze (VOLUME?), 148a

42. Baal HaTurim, ad locem.

43. Song of Songs, REFERENCE

44. Luke 7:37-50. Nicholas Kazantzakis wrote The Last Temptation of Christ about this sexually charged figure and the tribulations that she caused Jesus. In the Gospel of Luke, there is no identification of the “sinner woman” who washes Jesus’s feet, but according to the decision of Gregarious the Great, Mary Magdelena was identified both as this sinner woman and also as Miriam of Beth Anna (Luke10: 39-42). As a result, Mary Magdelena became the patron saint of those who repent.

45. Shlomit Steinberg in “The Face of Temptation” (REFERENCE) quotes Anatole France who said to one of his students: “Everyone knew that hell exists, but its exact geographical location was unknown. Until one day, a brutal African church father revealed that the gates of hell are located in a very specific spot – between women’s legs.” A reference in Sefer HaChinuch (mitzvah 188) shows that Jewish sources also identified a “door to hell” in women. When he explains the commandment that forbids a person any intimate contact with sexually taboo persons, the author recommends to his son, for whom the book was written: “And if a man, when meeting a beautiful woman, will think that hell opens between her eyelashes, and whoever comes close to her will burn forever, and he focuses all his thoughts on similar images, she will not become a stumbling block for him.”

46. This trait seems to have been passed on to Rachel’s chosen son, Joseph, who does not succumb to the sexual enticements of Potiphar’s wife in Egypt. Tradition has awarded him the title “Joseph the Tzaddik” (Righteous). Particularly in the opinion of the Kabbalists, maintaining sexual purity is considered the chief attribute of Joseph.

47. This attribute also seems to be passed on among Leah’s descendants. Judah, Leah’s chosen son, lies with his daughter-in-law Tamar, who is disguised as a prostitute. Boaz, a dignitary of the tribe of Judah, gets into a dubious situation by marrying Ruth the Moabite. According to the midrash, Jesse, his grandson, intends to sleep with his Canaanite handmaiden but at the last minute she is replaced by his wife, and David is born. David has a sexual fall with Bathsheba, who gives birth to Solomon, whose many wives turn his heart, etc. The entire dynasty of the tribe of Judah, from whom the House of David and the Messiah emerge, place themselves in very questionable sexual relationships. This is dealt with at length in the hasidic literature, especially in Mei HaShiloah. It is noteworthy in this context that critical biblical scholarship attributes the second creation story, the one in which consciousness is achieved through the sin of eating from the tree of knowledge, to the J source, from the tribe of Judah. This source, it is argued, shows how good and evil are bound together and how it is that through evil, good is revealed. See Yisrael Knohl, The Many Faces of Monotheistic Faith (Hebrew) pp. 31-32.

48. Eli Yassif, The Alphabet of ben Sirach

49. Popular culture deals extensively with the dangerous and seductive woman. Sharon Stone in “Basic Instinct” is one recent example of the misogynist tendency in this genre.

50. See Kehillat Yaakov, written by a student of the Seer of Lublin, the entry on “Laughter.” He maintains, on the basis of a midrash and Rashi’s commentary on this verse, (WHICH VERSE?) that laughter in the Torah is mentioned in connection with the three cardinal sins, concerning which the law is “he should let himself be killed rather than transgress.” They are idol worship, murder, and incest. Idol worship, since it says concerning the golden calf, “and they rose to make merry;” murder, as it says (concerning David’s general, Joab), “Let the lads rise and make merry before us;” and incest, as it says (concerning Potiphar’s wife and Joseph), “They brought us a Hebrew man to laugh at me.” The author claims that these three sins cause damage to the first three sefirot – keter, chochma, and binah – and that is why they are so severe. The “laughter” of incest damages the sefirah of Binah, which is relevant to our study of Lilith, since Lilith, who is the kelippah of Leah, is the lowest level of Binah.

51. See Mei Hashiloah, Pareshat Toldot, beginning “And Isaac loved Esau”, and Pareshat Vayeshev, beginning “And Er the firstborn son of Judah.” He describes Jacob as someone who does not want “to put himself in doubt, a theme that will be developed at greater length in the Fifth Gate.

Compare Elkanah’s unsuccessful attempt to comfort the barren Hannah, who, like Rachel, values children, more than her husband’s love, for which, see I Sam 1:8.


Full Moon Death and Love Celebration in Maui

August 1, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

Full Moon


Death and Love celebrations
of the Hebraic Kabalistic tradition

For thousands of years the full moon of August has been a sacred time in the Hebraic tradition. A celebration of Love and ecstasy that flows from the exploration of the dying process and a recorgnition of what’s in us that can never die.

The Radical-Kabalist teacher Rabbi Ohad Ezrahi from Israel and his partner Dawn Cherie,  founders of “The School for Love in Radical Kabala” are in Maui for a short visit, and are offering an open and egalitarian Shabat ceremony folowed by a day of experiential Radical Kabalistic teaching and practice.


Friday: 6:30pm to 10:30 pm an Ecstatic Shabat ceremony + pot luck feast. (the program will start at 7pm and will include Kabalistic teachings, devotional music, singing, chanting, story-telling, meditations and devotional dance).

Saturday: 10:30am to 6:30pm – the celebrations of Death & Love, a daylong workshop: Three two hour sessions of teaching and experimental work take you through the dyeing process to learn to live wide open AS Love and Freedom.

Following the ancient teaching on the energy of the August full moon, guided meditation will allow you to drop off all that needs to die in each of us. This is a careful and subtle process that breaks the heart open to explore the undoubted love force that’s alive in us all. Teaching and exercises, combined with meditation and movement will guide us to explore life and love from a different perspective – that of Radical Kabala.


  • Rabbi Ohad will be available during his short visit in Maui for some private sessions, using palm reading, or his card reading method of “the BresLove Cards”. To book a private session call Dawn at (716) 491-4970.

After the workshop ends – all are invited to a full moon party. more details TBA.

Where: at Sam and Amanda’s 1880 Piiholo Rd. Makawao.

When: Friday-Saturday Aug 7th-8th . Friday at 6:30 pm \ Sat 10:30 am

How much: Friday – donation in a magic hat. Saturday workshop – sliding scale $45-$65. No one will be turned away for luck of funds.

What to bring: food to share. For the workshop bring your journal and a pen. Women come in white. Men please come in dark clothes.

for more details call (716) 491-4970


“Collective Consciousness” – A Workshop in New Mexico

July 13, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

Collective Consciousness

Kabalistic principals for living

and working in a healthy community

With Neo-Kabalist Rabbi Ohad Ezrahi*
and members of the Tribal Hebraic Community

  • If a community is a living organism – what are the different organs of it and how do they give and receive abundance?
  • What are the different qualities of leadership needed?
  • How to balance between togetherness and the needs of the individual?
  • How to prevent manipulations of power?
  • The role of rituals in making sacred energy flow
  • The rainbow of empowerment
  • How to work wisely with Sexual attractions?
  • And more….

The workshop will include teachings, rituals and practices of social and individual tools, combined with sacred live music, wisdom stories and exploration games.

Where: Arawaka, north-east of Santa-Fe

When: July 13th-14th

For registration and directions please call 575-421-7713

the 10 Sefirot

*Ohad Ezrahi is a Kabalistic spiritual teacher from Israel, an artist, a community leader and a constant student of life’s wisdom. Coming from the world of Radical Kabbala, trained in Torah, Talmud and with vast knowledge in Jewish inner wisdom, he reaches out to people of all nations with the search towards the co-creation of an enlightened society on Planet Earth.  Ezrahi was ordained by the elder of the Jewish Renewal movement – Rabbi Zalman Schakter-Shalomi as a Rabbi and a Spiritual Teacher. He was a scholar in residence at the University of Oregon in the Science, Gender and the Sacred research program. He is also the author of many books and projects including Worlds of Doubt ( a commentary on Job, about certainty and doubt); The Old Shall Be Renewed and the New Shall Be Sanctified (erotic aspects of the Hebraic Temple); Paths of Power (commentary on the  Rabbi Nachman of Braslov story “The Master of Prayer”); The BresLove Cards (based on The Master of Prayer); Whose Afraid of  Lilith (rectification of sexuality and fear in Lurianic Kabbalah); and In the Secrets of Leviathan (with Dr. Micha Ankori) Psycho-Mythology in Jewish Thought. He is also the author of hundreds of articles in contemporary Radical Kabalistic thought (mostly in Hebrew). R. Ohad was the founder of “Hamakom Community” and its Yeshiva-Ashram by the Dead Sea, and of “The School for Love in Kabala”. He is also an artist and his unique photography work is presented in various galleries.


Being the Peace: An Israeli-Iranian meeting!

June 22, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Being The Peace


One Nation

In the high mountains of Turkey, there was a gathering that some would call miraculous and unbelievable, but seemed for everyone that was there so natural, as if it couldn’t have been any other way.

In those mountains we sat around a campfire, Israelis, Turks, and Persians, about one hundred men and women, young and old. We sang, cooked, ate and laughed, played and danced like best friends, as if we were one nation with no state borders, a nation at peace.

How I Got There

My good friend Gabriel suddenly arrived at my weekly Kabala lesson. Gabriel has a sense for locating places in which our society can grow. Therefore, I pay close attention to his suggestions. “Are you coming to Turkey? It’s one of the most important things going on right now. We’re meeting with people from Iran, with our Persian brothers. Come!” he tells me. And so a few days later my wife and I find ourselves making our way through a small remote village in the mountains west of Anatolia.

Hours of travel bring us to a small Turkish village so rural that the paths beyond it can only be navigated with a tractor. A villager communicates with us using hand gestures, and takes ten Israelis at a time, crowded into a cart with their camping gear by tractor up the mountain. We climb higher and higher. With each new turn we are sure we have arrived, but who ever chose this place opted for a truly remote location.


The Rainbow Tribe began in the 1960’s in the United States. Rainbow gatherings don’t have a defined structure or leadership. Everything is done for free, and out of good will. People hear about gatherings by word of mouth and arrive from every corner of the world. And, in every Rainbow Gathering that you come to you will be greeted with “Welcome home.”

At gatherings, volunteers build a communal kitchen in the outdoors. They also collect money into a magic hat in which every person contributes what he wants and can, and then supplies are purchased at the nearest town. One day there might be a lot of money in the magic hat and the meal will be especially lavish, and another day there might be little money and the entire circle will feel it in his or her belly, but the food is divided equally, everyone eating what there is.

During a Rainbow you learn how to be in nature, how to be part of a circle, respect the space of others, and how to sing prayers before meals. You also learn that the work that needs to be done can only be accomplished through good will and joy, and that part of the “work” is also about creating a positive atmosphere. Therefore, if for example you are a musician, you are likely to find yourself making music for people peeling potatoes in the kitchen and this may be your contribution to the community effort.

A few years ago there was an International Rainbow Gathering in Turkey where Israeli friends were surprised to meet Rainbow friends from Iran that challenged all their preconceptions about Persians.

There was a definite feeling that this was a gathering that should be repeated. And that is how we found ourselves having many conversations with new Persian friends and discovering some sophisticated and open minded people with a wonderful sense of humor.

Revelations About Iran

One evening we had a conversation with Istahar. Istahar told us about the place she grew up in. Her parents used to read Osho to her in Persian, and sometimes translated and published Osho’s materials in Iran.  She grew up in a house of spiritual people who aspires to create an Osho-style ashram in Iran. According to Istahar, books and other materials pertaining to the spiritual world, yoga and meditation classes, avant-garde theater performances – a whole world of open life reminiscent of the Western spiritual world – exists underground in Iran.

Ishatar told us that it is illegal for a woman in Tehran to wear make-up in public. If a woman is caught wearing make-up she will be arrested by the police and thrown into jail, but many women do it anyway. They will not surrender their right to wear makeup; they go to jail and meet other women who were arrested for the same crime, and then are released after a day or two. The Iran prisons, in her words, have revolving doors – people come and go.

“I’ve been living with my boyfriend for two years now, even though it’s technically forbidden. We have learned how to deceive the government and play the game in order to live the way we want and believe,” she adds.

I have met with peace activist Muslims many times before, but meeting these people from Iran was a pleasant surprise. Unlike other occasions, I felt almost no cultural gap. To my surprise I didn’t meet any supressed women or chauvinistic men that spoke about peace between nations without knowing how to have peace in their own homes.

Rather I met men that allow the women to be themselves, and spoke to us as friends, without victim or inferiority complexes. It seems to me that these people that live under extreme Islamic occupation passionately desire equality.

Peace Begins Within248

Also these Rainbow people know peace is not a political slogan, but something that lives within, something that you project outwardly when you truly seek to live in awareness, without letting fear draw the map of your world.

Next year, ‘inshAllah’ we will met again in Turkey, the only county that both Israelis and Persians can easily visit without too much fuss.

Next year the gathering will be dedicated to deepening our connection. And, maybe we will even be blessed with a few Palestinians, and rainbow sisters and brothers from Kuwait or Qatar will join the Middle East peace celebrations…People that want to come together to live and be peace. Because, as one of the Persian woman said, “We are the Peace.”


How to create a meaningful ceremony?

June 22, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

(This article was translated from Hebrew by the Esence of Life organization, and was published in their webpage)

Meaningful Ceremony
How can we make ceremonies meaningful ? asks Rabbi Ezrahi.
Rabbi Ohad Ezrahi

Importance Of Ceremonies

Something that was so common in the ancient world but is often forgotten in modern times is the knowledge of how to create meaningful ceremonies

I’m not talking about state pomp and ceremony that often includes soldiers and trumpets, but life ceremonies – rituals that individuals experience on a personal level, sometimes in the presence of family and community, sometimes just with a friend, a priest or priestess, or someone that accompanies us on our path. These rituals have deep and transformative significance.

In Judaism, as with any spiritual culture, ceremonies represent milestones in a person’s life. First there is the Brit – circumcision of baby boys – and Brita for girls, and then at age 13 a boy’s Barmitzvah and a girl’s Batmitzvah when she is 12. Later comes a wedding and funeral.

Different daily ceremonies symbolize the milestones of time. For practising Jews there are morning, noon and evening prayers, the welcoming of Shabbat and the distinction between Saturday (Shabbat) and the rest of the week.

There are also the Jewish holiday rituals that distinguish holy days from the rest of the year. For example, the sharing and delivering of sweets at Purim, purifying the home before Passover and lighting candles during Hanukah. All these and more are rituals that originally had deep meaning in order to sanctify our lives. And, if done correctly can effect transformation in a person’s life.

Transformation Through Ceremony

the Ceremonial Gate

the Ceremonial Gate

A ceremony can be a defining moment, a kind of gateway. From the moment a person passes through the gateway of a ritual be it daily or a holy day, they are entering a different space.

A few years ago I had a heartfelt conversation with a Rabbi. He told me about a talk he had with a religious woman. In the conversation he said to her that he and every other religious person actually has the same thoughts and religious desires. Amazed, she asked him “You pray for hours, and go to the temple three times a day, and keep the Sabbath, and all this hasn’t made you any different from me?”
The woman’s words touched the Rabbi’s heart and forced him to search deep within himself – he found himself asking “Do his daily rituals have any real meaning?”

Authentic religious ceremonies can transform a person. When I go through a real ritual, I know something within me has changed, and in a sense I am not the same person I was before.

If nothing has happened, if the ceremony has failed to help me transform, I acknowledge that it didn’t work.

The famous American mythologist Joseph Campbell said, “Religion is really a kind of second womb. It’s designed to bring this complicated thing, which is the human being, into maturity.”

Kabalah ‘Second Pregnancy’

In Kabalah there is a term called the ‘second pregnancy’ whose goal is different from the first one. The first pregnancy is physical, its’ objective is to give birth to the body and soul.

The second pregnancy is meant to give birth to the mind. This means that the person goes into another kind of fetal state, a kind of pregnancy within the religious womb, and when he is born, he is more spiritually mature, with more mental depth and a wider perspective.

Real Sacredness

A good ceremony or ritual works like medicine. Good medicine is effective, and if it is not – than hopefully it won’t do harm.

Empty rituals leave a residue of loneliness. It doesn’t matter how many guests arrive at a ceremony, or how many gifts we receive. The heart wants to touch and be touched.

Real sacredness is a thing that touches you deeply, and invites you to touch and be touched. Sacredness is about getting closer to divinity, to the unity of all things. That is why when we come close to divinity we feel united with ever-widening circles of people.

In the beginning we feel one with those close to us, then with people who are different from us, and finally even with those who see themselves as our enemies.

The more that divine unity is evident in the heart of man, the more he feels at one – not only with people, but also with nature.

When we touch holiness it affects us deeply, and reveals to us that we are not separate beings, but part of a great fabric of wonderful and divine mystery.

Until we feel this in our hearts, we may feel alienated from the world, but the more we feel divinity the more we feel connected and intimate with everything because sacredness is intimacy.

Good ceremony reminds us of what the heart knows deep inside. This is something every child knows and adults sometimes forget – the wonderful and mysterious unity of existence.

A good ceremony encourages the heart to remove defensive barriers and allow love to enter, to be touched by the mystery that carries us to a new place, that is, to the holy landscape beyond the gate of ceremony.

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