Sunday, July 21, 2013

Tu B'Av: A fixing of the wholeness of women


Last night I was working with one of my students on moving her weight forward and backward on her feet. I told her to "take her pelvis with her" as she rocked back and forth, keeping it together as part of the whole picture. This is not just another part of her body, but the place that defines her womanhood.  Just as there is a "throat" that connects her head and heart, there is another "throat" below. In Hebrew, the cervix is actually called the "throat of the womb", and as Rebbe Nachman teaches, when it comes to a woman's body, as in all things, "as above, so below". I recently read of a new vaccination against cervical cancer, which now has been shown to prevent throat cancer as well.

I shared with my student how, the last time I sang in a mixed group of women and men, I had a feeling that I had to sing "from the waist up", effectively cutting myself off from the lower part of my body, in order to protect my modesty and privacy within the group. That was my experience. It disturbed me, because I had made so many changes in my life to try to come to wholeness, and here I was cutting myself up into pieces.  That's was when I was finally able to begin to embrace the Jewish approach to singing for women, to women only, after a long struggle, as the free bird within me wants to be able to sing out at any moment.

Our feminine organs are directly connected to our singing as women. Those dreaded words, "Kol B'Isha Erva" :) (a woman's voice is a kind of nakedness or exposure of her hidden places), hides this truth, which has been rediscovered by women singers of all persuasions across the world. To truly sing in wholeness, I have to connect my whole body, with all my emotions, my mind and spirit, and resonate that oneness with the oneness of G-d. It is this ingathering of all my "parts" that parallels the ingathering of the exiles for which we pray daily. And it is glimpses and flashes of this oneness in song, that connect us to a supernal Jerusalem, revealing a vision of oneness in a fractured world. As above so below, this flashes of the rebuilt Jerusalem on high parallel our flashes of holy unification here in the lower worlds. The Ramchal writes in his "Treatise on Hope" that by hoping towards G-d, with a prayer or a song, we pierce the space between our existence in the lower worlds, up to the heavenly heights, and G-d reaches down to us, putting His ear near our mouths, as above reaches down to below.

Since the time of Eden, there has been a fracture and collapsing of the feminine as it is expressed in this world. (See Sara Yehudit Shneider's book, "Kabbalistic Writings on the Nature of Masculine and Feminine")  As this is fixed, we, as women, come into our wholeness and full stature. And men also fix their way of looking at women, overcoming the tendency to see us as a collection of parts, as an object to be used, enjoyed, and feared, instead embracing our wholeness and the wholeness brought about by the union between man and woman in love and honor. It is ironic that this coming together, which has the potential to bring about the greatest unification in all the worlds, can also bring down so much brokenness.

The story of Tu B'Av is one that spans many generations. In the story of Pelegesh, a horrible crime is committed against a woman by members of the tribe of Benjamin. In hopes of avenging her gang rape and murder, her avenger cuts her body into pieces and sends one to each of the tribes. The horror that this crime sparks causes a civil war that eventually leads to this tribe being cut off from all of Israel, and left without women to marry and continue their legacy. This parallels the cutting of Pelegesh into pieces, both in making her an object to be abused, and in actually desecrating her body into pieces. This is as about low as it gets.

Tu B'Av is the fixing of this. Women wore white dresses, which they lent to one another. They lent across social lines of status, as a way of saying, "we are all one" creating a feminine circle reality in a hierarchical male dominated consciousness.  And then they went to dance together, circle dances of the vineyard, affirming the circle consciousness in the light of the full moon, which represents the feminine in its wholeness and fullness. There, the menof the tribe of Benyamin were invited to fix their way of looking at women.  As Rabbanit Yemima Mizrachi teaches on this holiday, the women were in effect saying, "don't look just at my pedigree. You are not getting married just to have children with important family ties…there is more to it than that. And don't look just at my beauty, for it will fade in time, and I am so much more than how I look. And don't say 'I will marry a woman who isn't beautiful or pedigreed, for then I won't have to give her much in order to satisfy her', because you have to give, and have to want to give to her so deeply. This is your real essence as a man."

This fixing of the man's way of looking at a woman parallels the fixing of the Israelites' way of looking at Eretz Yisrael. With the incident of the spies at the time of the desert, there was a problem in the way that the spies viewed the Land of Israel. The spies gave a negative report of the land, saying that its inhabitants were giants who would crush the Israelites. They saw themselves as much smaller and weaker than they really were. They went on to cry all night in fear of going into the land. This was Tisha B'Av, the beginning of the brokenness and lack of unity in doing G-d's will to love and respect one another that would haunt us throughout the generations. The Temple was destroyed on that day in the future, beginning a long and tortured exile that reached its low in the Holocaust of our people in Europe in the last century. Because of the sin of the spies, it was decreed on high that most of the men of Israel would not enter the land of Israel, but would die in the desert. The women were not subject to this punishment because we did not take part in this sin. The word "Eretz" is the same root as "Ratzon", which appears in the blessing we say every day as women "Blessed is the One who made me according to His will."   The Midrash says that every year on the ninth of Av, the men would dig their own graves and lie down in them. A number of them would die, and thus be ready for burial. The last year in the desert, they dug their own graves and waited….but no one died. They assumed that their timing was off, until the full moon of Tu B'Av revealed that the curse had been lifted, and the fixing had been made: The people were ready to enter the land, too see it in a deeper way, to see it from up close.

But now there is something deeper. The sense associated in Kabbalah with the month of Av is actually hearing. Perhaps the way to fix the brokenness, the fractured perception of both women and the Land of Israel, is not through seeing, but through hearing. As Reb Shlomo Carlebach said about Av, "seeing is only on the outside with your eyes, you cannot see the inside. Listening has to do to with the inside. On the level of seeing, you see G-d threw us out. On the level of hearing, I hear he is taking us back…if you have this deepest depths, the house can be rebuild by itself. Who needs a house? What is a house without people knowing how to hear each other?"

Shema Yisrael: Hear Israel, G-d is One; this prayer was given over in the parasha before Tisha B'Av; the medicine given before the illness. Reb Shlomo gives over from the Gemara that the destruction of the Temple and the coming of the Mashiah is like a woman giving birth to a baby. That the nine months of giving birth to a baby is also like the letter Tet, nine, which is Tisha B'Av, the day that Mashiach will be born.  A woman sounds 70 voices as she gives birth to her baby. We women are sounding 70 voices as we live from inside this long birth of a new Mashiach consciousness, all the pain and joy and beauty that it contains. 

The oneness and wholeness is revealed in listening. People listening to each other, our words and songs, to the silences between the words, what is unsaid;  listening to our stories without judging, listening to our own hearts, knowing to hear and value our own thoughts. We can hear past the illusion of ourselves as a collection of parts, to the essential oneness that is revealed in a woman's voice, which can bring together heaven and earth. In hearing, we are allowing that voice be a reflection of G-d's will, as opposed to an object to be possessed, in thought or in action. And as we learn to hear the depth of oneness expressed in women's voices, perhaps we will come to hear the hidden voice of our beloved Eretz Yisrael. Singing a new song. And she will be finally treasured: an expression of G-d's will, a free bird that can never be caged.