My Relationship with the Shechina
On a Recent Episode of my Podcast, I spoke with Benji Elson, author of Dance of the Omer, and he referred to G-d as “she”. Although it has always been part of my understanding of G-d that he is beyond time, space, corporeality, and any other attempt to categorize him, I had grown up hearing G-d being referred to in the masculine. 2 years ago or so, I would’ve been surprised to hear Benji calling G-d “she”.
It was when I was reading Rabbi Shalom Arush’s commentary on the classic Rebbe Nachman tale, The Lost Princess, that I first became acquainted with the idea of the shechina, G-d’s presence in this world, being associated with femininity. I was fascinated. Obviously, G-d does not have a gender, but throughout my life, I couldn’t help but relate to him in male terms. He was my father in heaven. He provided for me, protected me from danger, and gave me advice (the Torah).
I became obsessed with the idea of connecting with the feminine aspect of divinity. Was such a thing possible? I asked my wife (who at the time was still my fiancee) if she had ever felt the feminine aspect of G-d. Yes, she answered.
“What does that feel like? When do you feel that?” I asked in total awe.
She told me that she feels the shechina sometimes holding her, hugging her when she goes through tough times, being there for her when she cries, and listening when she needs someone to talk to.
I was confused. I had never felt anything like that. Maybe it was only women who could relate to G-d in this way? Renewing my investigations, I asked (male) friends if they had felt the feminine aspect of Hashem.
Everyone I asked had felt her in one way or another. I was surprised. Was my relationship with G-d, a relationship I had all my life, stretching both ways into eternity, compromised? Was I missing a piece to the puzzle?
It was only much later that I realized the problem. I hadn’t grown up with a mother. I didn’t grow up being told I was loved. I wasn’t held as a child and I didn’t get notes written for me and put in my lunch. It wasn’t just my idea of feminine divinity that was lacking, it was my very conception of a loving woman that was undeveloped. What was feminine love? I had no idea.
Rabbi Arush had led me to understand that connecting to the shechinah is part of our divine mission and purpose here in this world, but I didn’t know what to do.
In the meantime, I got married. Instantly, responsibilities I had never had before became daily obligations. In many ways, I became responsible for the emotional stability of another human being, and in time, I would see her happiness as mine. How could I ever be happy if she wasn’t?
Having grown up in an unhealthy home, building the foundations for a new healthy home was, and is, an uphill battle. But along the way, I never lost track of the great privilege involved in Shalom Beit struggles. I was grateful. I knew that making peace with my opposite would be the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life, but I also knew that there could be nothing else that could give life as much meaning.
As my relationship with my bride grew, so did, without me realizing it, my relationship with G-d. I began to feel the shechina‘s “needs”. She wants to connect with me. She wants a conversation in the morning and in the evening, and a phone call in the afternoon doing work. She wants me to be in the moment when I’m speaking to her (prayer), and to focus when she is speaking to me (learning). She wants to go on dates with me, and get caught up. She wants to know she comes first. She wants to be there for me, to feed me, to comfort me, and to support me. Feeling feminine love from my wife allowed me to, for the first time in my life, feel that same love from the Divine. And just like in a marriage, maintaining and growing that relationship is constant work, but there is nothing in this world as rewarding.
Interested in reading Dance of the Omer? Click here!
Ethan Yakhin is the co-host of Open Book with Eitan and Itai, a Podcast both with and about Jewish Authors. To stay updated on upcoming episodes, you can follow Open Book on Instagram. The show is available on Spotify, Apple, YouTube, and wherever else you hear your podcasts. You can have a look here at their podcast page.
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