Author Archives: Rishe Groner

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June 20, 2017 by

Embodying the Shabbos Queen

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As a little girl, from the age of three, every Friday evening I stood at my mother’s side and would hold her wrist as we lit candles together, waving our arms and circling them three times before reciting the blessing over the Shabbat candles, eyes covered as we silently recited prayers for ourselves, our family, and the entire world. When I would remove my hands from my face, the room would look different. The shabby carpeting a little more lush, the smudged walls more pristine, the tablecloth blindingly white, and the faces of my mother and sister shining like angels.

I’d learned in preschool that this was because of the arrival of the Shabbos queen, the mythical figure that signified the entrance of the Divine presence into our daily lives and the shift from the weekday mundane into Shabbos mode. 

The picture of her long white dress and veil was only amplified when I grew older and started attending synagogue. I marveled over the mythological language in the classic Friday night prayer, “Lecha Dodi.” “Come, my beloved, to greet the bride, let us receive the face of the Shabbat.” Written in 16th century Safed by Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz and popularized by the Kabbalists of that era, the prayer’s image of the bride is spellbinding. But while “Lecha Dodi” is sung in synagogues the world over, it was another Kabbalistic poem of the same era that truly had my six-to-seven-year-old’s heart. The song, “Azamer Bishvachin,” was written by the renowned Rabbi Isaac Luria, known as the “Ari” (“lion,” in Hebrew.) It is part of the Friday night repertoire in homes such as mine, where the Chabad custom is to follow the traditional liturgy arranged by the Ari. In language that describes the opulence of the festive royal table, replete with silver candelabras, shining crowns and platters of delicacies, the Ari paints the wondrous fairy-tale picture of the Divine Bride reuniting with her partner on the Sabbath Eve. In a somewhat clumsy Aramaic, I spent my elementary school years following along with my father as I stumbled over the challenging words, until we embarked on a tradition of singing in English as well, using the same tune. “We herewith invite the Shechinah to the festive table, with the glorious candelabra shining on her head,” we sang.

I knew what the Shechinah was. In the Orthodox school where I was educated, it was often referred to as the Divine presence—that shining light of God that could be brought into one’s home, synagogue or even body by aligning with the traditions we were taught. According to Chabad’s Chassidic philosophy, the Shechinah, though exiled, could be found again when people gather to speak words of Torah, when sacred space is created in the home, when the body and its acts become a vehicle for the sacred in embodied ritual, thereby reclaiming the divine presence that was once present in the ancient Temple of Jerusalem. When I undertook in-depth study of biblical prophets in high school, I learned about the weeping Mother of Zion, the exiled Shechinah with her tattered and muddy gown.

But I hadn’t reconciled this divine, motherly, feminine presence with the idea that God—the God I regularly prayed to, spoke to and negotiated with—could be that same feminine presence which flowed through me all the time.

Beyond the divine mother, the Shechinah represents embodied presence, a shining ray of divine light that is present in physical corporeal form even in the hidden world of duality. This explains her state of exile—for how often do we forget the inherent divinity of the world we live in? Instead, we resort to the classic hierarchical state of things, believing that “work hard, play hard” is all that life is made of.

In Kabbalah, that divine aspect of existence is called Malchut. The tenth of the Sefirot (energetic attributes that form the building blocks of life), Malchut is all feminine, all manifestation, all embodied communicative creative effusive presence. Malchut denies the harsh reality of today’s world of hierarchy and competition. Malchut celebrates receiving for the sake of giving, channeling and creating something new outside oneself.

In my journey to understand my evolving relationship with God, Goddess, Divinity, or the Infinite, I learned that Shechinah—often spelled Shekhina by those who transliterate correctly!—is a term often used by goddess worshippers of Jewish background, carving out a space for the white-gowned queenly figure I’d first embraced as a child on Friday evening.

But beyond transforming liturgy into language of the feminine and realigning my references to God as “she,” redeeming the Shechinah from exile for me has also meant understanding a deeper layer of her transient presence on Shabbat—in the temple, and on the hilltops and trees of ancient Israel.

On Shabbat, all physical acts become holy. Simply eating, sleeping, and having sexual relations are lauded as celebratory acts to welcome the Shabbat bride. Shabbat celebrates the embodiment of divinity into something so physical it appears to be the antithesis of holiness. Yes, paradoxically, in this transmutation, it becomes far more sacred than the most transcendent of mystical experiences. Precisely because it is so physical, with intention and elevation, it becomes divine.

The divine feminine presence is not about meditating far off into the cosmos. Unlike the transcendent nature of the masculine God, Shechinah is about embodiment, embracing the physical to elevate it into the divine. It’s about cooking an exquisite meal to share with loved ones, reveling in the feeling of grain transforming into bread beneath the fingertips. It’s about singing and dancing with elation, moving limbs in ecstasy with the divine flow. It’s about elevating every mundane act into something sacred; and respecting that these acts are just as holy as a lifetime of fasting and prayer.

In the Jewish vision of a messianic, utopian future, referred to in Kabbalah as “l’atid lavoh“—”the future time”—the Shechinah is discussed as being fully present and fully expressed constantly, divine feminine and masculine united in oneness just as they were during the time of the temple represented by the cherubim of the holy ark.

It has become my understanding that this unification is an act that we can all take part in, today in our universe, by allowing the Shechinah’s presence into our homes, our temples, our kitchens, our bedrooms, and our bodies. In eating intentionally with gratitude to the earth and its divine abundance. In dancing with joy to release pain and trauma from our bodies for the sake of loving ourselves. In singing with delight to children, pets and just ourselves as we allow our truths to erupt free from our blocked throats. And in embracing every physical act of sacredness with intention and consciousness—kavanah, in Hebrew.

By bringing the Divine into our lives through the sacred feminine aspects of embodied practice, and thus achieving universal balance and harmony, we can create the day that is always Shabbat, a utopian existence for all.


Rishe Groner is a writer and strategist living in Brooklyn. She is the founder of TheGene-Sis.com, a post-Hasidic embodied approach to self-transformation.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Lilith Magazine.  

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May 30, 2017 by

What We Learn From Ruth: The Brazenness of Vulnerability

A 1795 William Blake painting of Naomi asking Ruth and Orpah to go back to Moab.

A 1795 William Blake painting of Naomi asking Ruth and Orpah to go back to Moab.

Judaism has no shortage of feminist heroines—it’s what we learn from them specifically that’s often puzzling to the modern day feminist. We struggle to map our knowledge of present day concerns for the everyday woman against ancient mores while witnessing the inherent strengths in those who bucked the trend.

One such figure is Ruth, a woman I’ve always puzzled over, for her wants and needs are no mystery—but to any of us raised within Judaism, they seem awkward and bizarre. Why would a Moabite princess, privileged and pampered in her position, choose to follow an Israelite widow back to a ravaged land of famine? Why would a woman choose to leave behind the only life she’s ever known to learn at the feet of an old, wise woman? It seems contrary to most of what we learn from society, really.

And it’s not normal, that’s clear. Even Naomi, the Jewish mother-in-law of Ruth, recognizes the societal trend being ignored by her devoted daughter-in-law. Though Ruth’s husband—the son of Naomi—is gone, and Naomi bids her daughter-in-law adieu with a wish to find another husband and bear children, she refuses. She chooses to follow Naomi: for your people are my people, your land is my land, your God is my God.

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April 7, 2017 by

Why the Miriam Story Stops

Feuerbach_Mirjam_2Miriam the prophetess has been an acclaimed character in Jewish feminist lore for years, but I wasn’t raised among feminists, and so when we talked about Passover, Moses was our hero and Miriam a loyal sidekick.

Moses found the burning bush, transformed his staff into a snake, and split the Red Sea. We heard of little Miriam early on. She chastised her parents for separating to prevent their future children suffering the same fate, indignantly calling them out on their preventing even girl babies from being born, when Pharoah had outlawed only baby boys. When her brother Moses was born, she peeked between the reeds at the Nile riverbank, watching as he floated down the river in a basket to be adopted by the Egyptian princess; Miriam then recommended her own (and Moses’s) mother as a Hebrew wet-nurse, according to commentators.

But it’s there that Miriam’s story stops.

She’s not visible when Moses and the third sibling, Aaron, spend their time negotiating with Pharoah for the Israelites’ freedom, and when the plagues take over Egypt, she’s not present. Miriam rises only later, as the Hebrews cross the Red Sea, as the woman who takes her timbrel in hand and leads the women in a dance with songs of praise, celebrating freedom and taking her place as heroic leader throughout the ensuring 40 years’ desert wandering. In fact, Miriam’s magical well sustains the people with water in the wilderness, and the entire nation mourns her death.

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