People who are uncovering psychological and spiritual truth experience the power of knowing something in the body—not just in the head or even in the heart. Jewish mystical writings, called the Kabbalah, use the word daath for the insight that is true because it is accompanied by great feeling. Daath is the knowledge that comes from the union of conscious and unconscious minds, a kind of knowing that is a deeply erotic experience. Daath is the word used by Kabbalistic writers to refer to the union of God with His Bride, the Sabbath, or the Shekhina. The Zohar, the principal book of the Kabbalah, says, “[On the Sabbath] all is found in one body, complete, for the Matronit clings to the King and is become one body, and this is why blessings are found on that day.”
Shekhina, meaning Sabbath, is the name for the Feast of the Full Moon, which once celebrated the menstruation of the Great Goddess. Originally honored once a month. Her holiness came to be observed once every quarter moon (once a week). The Friday evening that began Her honor was the night in which the man and woman of the home made love, recapitulating the union of the God and Goddess. The following day, Saturday, was devoted to the postcoital reverie of washed perceptions and the leisurely depth of feeling that should not be disturbed by mundane doings or materialism.
Patriarchal influence, however, lessened interest in the power of love between the male and female deities within and outside of humans. Consequently, the Sabbath became more an observance obsessed with the minutiae of the law, and the Shekhina, once Goddess of Babylon and then of the Jews, went underground.
Her light still glows, however, in the holiness of passionate love, and the braids of Her hair are suggested in the shape of challah bread. Study of the Torah, said to be Her outer garments, can be symbolized in erotic imagery: like a Bride within Her curtained chamber, the Shekhina must be courted with the heart, soul, and entire being of those who would know Her wisdom and joy.
Silver candlesticks, white candles, and challah bread all help me to call the Shekhina. I wrote this story from the point of view of the young ascetic in me who is still waking to the peace of her own body.
Once a young woman asked herself these questions: Who am I? And how am I connected lo all others? She wondered and wandered and asked the quesitons again and again. She yearned for the answers.
One day she approached a teacher and asked, “Who am I? And how am I connected to all others?” The teacher said, “Study will answer those riddles.”
“What must I study?” asked the young woman.
“Study the thousand and one books,” said the teacher, “it is through your study that you will gain wisdom.”
So the young woman piled the thousand and one books, some dry bread, and some candles on a cart. Then she took herself in cap and shawl, with paper in her shoes for warmth, to a small house at the edge of a town.
Inside the house, at (he desk she sat, day after day, leading (he thousand and one books. “Who am I?” she wrote on a paper. “How am I connected lo all others?” she wrote on a second. Outside the trees turned fiery and lost their leaves. Inside, the young woman filled page after page with learning from her books. She stopped only to swallow a little of the dry bread and sometimes to renew her candle or lo drop her aching shoulders before her on the desk to sleep. The young woman’s wrists grew thin and her eyes burned. The thousand and one books stacked themselves around her in wobbly towers, and the pages of her writings heaped themselves before her like a fence.
One night a freezing rain beat in a torrent against the walls of the house. The young woman pulled her shawl tight around her, but she felt the damp like a knife in her back. Her feet were numb. The marks on the page before her began to swim. Suddenly the young woman lei out a moan and flung the book toward the window. “I don’t know!” she yelled. “I DON’T KNOW!”
At that very second the rain outside hailed and a howl of wind blew up. It clattered the panes and then, in a rush of power, ripped open the catch of the window. The room was filled with the shock of cold air. The candle blew out, and the papers on the desk flew apart, lifting like the feathers of a giant white bird.
The young woman staggered to the window and wrenched it shut. Then, turning slowly and looking across the room, she drew back to see that a small light had formed on the other side of the swinging doors that led to the next room. “How can that be?” said the young woman. “There is no one in this house but me.”
The young woman felt afraid. But the light glowed so softly. After a moment, the young woman followed the glow to the other side of the doors. The pale light went on before her. This time she had to part a curtain to enter the next room. Still the glow went forward, and the young woman found herself walking through room after room. She had not known the house had so many rooms. Was it possible she’d forgotten them? Had they been here before?
Finally the light drew her to a tightly closed door. She pushed it open, and the light settled on a bed in the small room. The young woman breathed out as she saw the light falter, then flare up, and then turn before her eyes into a beautiful Woman.
The Woman’s skin was dark and Her hair curled about Her face. Her garment was like the shadows of leaves. She looked quietly at the young woman. The bed on which She sat was covered with quilts the color of shells. The walls seemed soft as clouds.
“Who are you?” asked the young woman.
“I am your Soul,” said the Woman. “I am Shekhina.”
The Woman turned and lifted to the bed a great tray laden with a feast. “Eat and be full.” Fruit of every sort filled the tray. The young woman fell into it and ate her fill.
‘The Shekhina handed her a cup of I steaming broth. The young woman felt the warmth seep into her bones. “Bathe now,” said the Shekhina.
Around her the young woman could feel hot, lapping, washing water. Afterward a towel folded around her held in the sweet heat.
“Now. Come. Sleep,” said the Shekhina. She helped the young woman into the bed.
For six days the young woman clung to the Shekhina, wrapped now in the deepest sleep, then awake and gazing into Her eyes, and then holding Her completely as she could. And then again drifting into the lovely snow of sleep.
On the seventh day, the Shekhina rose up and kissed the young woman on her lips. Then Her skin seemed to melt and she could no longer see Her features. She faded again to a glow of light. The young woman lay unable to move, her breath caught in her throat.
The young woman didn’t know how long she slept after that. But the next time she opened her eyes, the sun was shining. She gathered up the pits of the fruits she’d eaten and went outside. There in the soil she planted a garden. At the center of the garden she placed a stone. On the stone she wrote these words: “I am one with all. All is one.”
Years passed by. The seeds of the fruit grew into a mighty orchard. The young woman was no longer young. Now she was an old woman who carried her grandchildren.
Always on the seventh day, the old woman lit the candles and whispered the story of the calling of the Soul. “Come, Shekhina,” she would say to the breeze that flickered the candle flames bright. “Come Shekhina, come. Fill this garden with Your rest.”
Note: When this story, which has been adapted from The Storyteller’s Goddess: Tales of the Goddess and Her Wisdom Around the World by Carolyn McVickar Edwards. (Harper SanFrancisco. 1991). originally ran. the young student was portrayed as male. I phoned the author and asked her who I, as a female reader, was supposed 10 identify with in the story—the male student or the Shekhina? “That’s a problem,” she answered. I then asked her if she would consider re-writing the story with the student as female. Edwards replied enthusiastically. “I would have done that from the start. ” she said. “But I felt compelled, as a Christian writing about Judaism, to preserve the classic patriarchal male-female dichotomies of Judaism. “