The Sacred Feminine in Judaism II
(The universe envisioned as the "womb" of Ein Sof)
Iggeret ha-Kodesh ("The Holy Letter") is a medieval mystical sex manual, often credited to Nachmanides. Part mystical metaphysics, part "Tantric" practice and part Feng Shui, it teaches the meaning and ideal conditions for sexual union. In it we find this striking remark:
Such is the secret of man and woman in the ways of Kabbalah. Thus, this union is a matter most elevated, [when] it is done properly, and the greater secret is that the Merkavot [also] unite, this one to that, in the manner of male and female.
Iggeret ha-Kodesh (I, p. 49)
The Merkavot ("Chariots") mentioned in this passage is the early Jewish mystical term for the structure of the godhead, an idiom derived from the vision of the celestial order described by the Biblical Prophet Ezekiel (Chapters 1 and 10). So what the author of the Iggeret ha-Kodesh is saying is that our bi-sexual nature (that is, our division into male and female) is a reflection of the larger cosmic structure and when we unite in sex, the act is a mimesis of what happens within the divine realms.
According to ha-Iggeret that reality is the ha-sod ha-gadol, "the great secret" of Jewish mysticism. And by all indications it is indeed one of the most esoteric of all esoteric traditions in Judaism. For many centuries it was truly "occult" in the sense that it was hidden from general view. Until the great Kabbalistic flowering of the 13th Century, this notion of an engendered universe was only rarely alluded to and never (to my knowledge) fully spelled out in Jewish literature. Only occasionally do we see hints of this doctrine appear in Rabbinic literature, such as this passage from Talmud, where one scholar describes the two cherubs that decorated the Ark of the Covenant as actually embracing like two lovers. His colleagues were scandalized this claim. Yet another Talmudic Sage, Resh Lakish, rallied in defense of this claim, remarking:
When the Babylonians entered the sanctuary, they saw the cherubs embracing one another, they took them out to the market and said: 'This is Israel whose blessings are blessings and curses are curses, are involved in such things!?' They immediately denigrated them, as the verse says, 'All their valuables were denigrated for they saw her nakedness (Lam. 1:8)' (Yoma 54a-b).
This brief account was given little attention, even in early mystical texts, but those same mystical texts understand the Cherubs in the Temple to be personifications of the "merkavah," the divine order. It was therefore left to the disciple to "connect the dots." In is only in the medieval work of classic Kabbalah, the Zohar, that this notion of heiros gamos, of a sexual dynamic (and therefore a sacred feminine)in the godhead is made explicit. Thus Zohar states that the two cherubs were visibly males and female (III:59a). Even more revealing is the Zoharic model of the Sefirot, the ten divine emanations. In the classic model of how these divine forces interact, they are divided into "male" and "female" quantities, and it is the "union" of these attributes that enlivens and sustains our material universe.
From the time of the Zohar on, this teaching became more visible to the discerning reader, yet even to this day it remains unknown to most Jews. The mainstream of Jewish thought has cleaved to the rational medieval philosophic tradition which eschews ascribing any "human" qualities to God. Kabbalism also embraces this in the sense that the "essence" of God, the Ein Sof, the incomprehensible, absolute reality God, is beyond all discussion of gender or sex. Yet Kabbalah insists that within that aspect of the godhead that interfaces with creation, this male-female complex is the the organizing principle of the divine order.
To learn more, look up the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism available at Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050/sr=1-1/qid=1159997117/ref=sr_1_1/002-7116669-7231211?ie=UTF8&s=books