I received this question the other day: I heard you mention that "the Kabbalah speaks of male and female aspects of the divine." Last time I looked at my prayer book, there were no female references to G-d. He is referred to as Father, King and always a "He." Am I missing something, or was your claim that G-d has a feminine side just pandering to modernists?
Look again. We refer to G-d in the feminine in one of the most popular prayers -- the "Lecha Dodi". Every Friday night, we sing to welcome the "Shabbos Bride" and "Shabbos Queen." Who is this royal bride? None other than G-d -- the divine presence that descends on the day of rest. Why is G-d here feminine, while in most other prayers He is He -- masculine? Let's look an one major difference between masculine and feminine attitudes.
The following conversation may sound familiar. Brenda comes home from work to her husband Mike.
Brenda: I have had such a stressful day. My boss is an animal. He just hasn't stopped pressurising me and no matter what I do it's never enough. I can't stand his condescending attitude.
Mike: I've told you a million times you should leave that job. You could do better.
Brenda: (frustrated) I didn't ask for career advice, I was telling you about my day. I'm perfectly happy in my job.
Mike: ????. What Mike doesn't realise is that women deal with their problems differently than men. Men like to offer advice, but women just share their frustrations with each other and then feel better about it -- even if nothing has changed. The mere fact that they have let it off their chest and have been listened to allows them to move on. Brenda wasn't looking for advice, she was looking for understanding. All Mike had to do was listen with an empathetic look and the odd comforting "mmmm." This is the feminine way of dealing with a problem: share it with someone who cares, and by them listening to you it won't feel so bad anymore.
Now let's turn the tables around. Mike comes home from a stressful day at work. Brenda senses his bad mood.
Brenda: What's wrong Mike? Everything alright?
Brenda: What's disturbing you?
Mike: Oh, nothing.
Brenda: (hurt) What do you mean nothing?! I can see something's wrong. Don't you care about me enough to share your feelings?
Mike: ????. What Brenda has forgotten is that men only share their problems with you if they think you can help them find a solution. Otherwise, why burden someone else with your problems? Since Mike feels that his issues at work are not Brenda's area of expertise, he keeps them to himself. She can't advise him, so he'll work it out on his own. Meanwhile she feels neglected and unloved, because women share their feelings not to get a solution but just to share and feel close and loved. She wasn't planning on giving him advice for his problems, she just wanted to be there for him and soothe him.
For a man, a problem needs a solution -- we need to get rid of the problem. For a woman, the reaction to a problem is to share it -- and even if nothing's changed, you'll feel better about it. Men try to change the facts. Women try to change the mood. Men try to improve the situation. Women try to feel better about things as they are.
Now let's look at G-d. G-d has both masculine and feminine modes of expression, because G-d is the source of both. G-d can be the masculine fixer of problems, or the feminine soother of troubled souls. In prayer we appeal to both. It depends on the circumstance; sometimes we want a masculine response from G-d, and sometimes we need the more feminine approach.
Usually we pray because there is a problem that needs fixing. Someone's sick and needs to be healed, someone's down and needs picking up, there are hungry people that need to be fed, and the world is full of pain and sorrow and it needs to change.
It would be out of place to appeal to the feminine side of G-d with these requests. We don't want to feel better about poverty -- we want an end to it. We don't want to come to terms with sickness -- we want a cure. So we pray to "Our Father, our King", the male aspect of the divine. "G-d, fix the problem!"
But then there are times when we are not looking to change the world, but rather to look at it differently. On Shabbos, the day of rest, we take a step back from the noise of weekday life and enjoy the world for what it is. Rather than changing reality, we seek to nurture its innate beauty. On Shabbos we don't try to fix things, we desist from the aggressive mission of improving the world through work and creativity, and enjoy the natural pleasures that the world already has - friendship, family, spirituality.
So on Friday night, we welcome the divine presence in the form of a "Shabbos Queen", or a "Shabbos Bride". It is the feminine aspect of the divine that descends on Shabbos - not to solve the problems of the world, but to soothe us into realising that the world is not so bad after all.
That's why Shabbos is called "a taste of the World to Come", when all humankind will come to the feminine realisation that G-d doesn't have to be superimposed onto the world and our lives -- G-d is already right here within us.