In the last column we began to address the question of “gender fluidity” by taking a look at the view of the body in Jewish thought, which will allow us to better understand the concept of gender in the eyes of traditional Judaism.
We discussed the question of the Torah describing God’s actions in physical terms, such as the “hand of God” etc., despite our core belief that God has no physicality. Many early commentaries explain this with the concept of anthropomorphism, which basically means that it “humanizes” the actions of God in order to make them be perceivable by us who think in these terms.
Although this may be the simple explanation, we find a much more profound explanation in the more esoteric realm of Jewish thought, in the arena of Kabbalistic understanding, based upon the teachings of the Book of Zohar and the writings of the venerable 16th century giant, R’ Yitzchok Luria, known as the Holy Ari z’’l of the city of Safed, perhaps the greatest elucidator of Kabbalistic teachings of all times.
This question of assigning God’s actions to physical terms forms a large part of the foundation of the vast teachings of the Ari z’’l, which, obviously, we couldn’t hope to encompass in a short column in the TJP, or even many columns. We will attempt, however, to touch upon one point he makes to help clarify the Jewish view of the human body (keeping in mind we are barely touching the tip of the iceberg!)
The world that we live in, the physical world, seems to us to be the only reality. There are, however, countless upper worlds which are attached together like the links of a chain, reaching from the world we live in up to the throne of God. These worlds, beginning with our world which is physical, become more spiritual as they climb the chain or ladder.
Although it is difficult to find a number of these worlds, as they are countless, they are nevertheless categorized under the 10 main categories of upper and lower worlds, known as the 10 spheres or levels of reality. Those 10 are further categorized into four main categories.
The purpose of these worlds is that the Al-mighty, upon creating the universe, decided that His connection to our world, the final purpose of it all, would not be direct but through different levels of intermediaries.
Like a powerful king who rules over many lands, the king doesn’t go himself throughout his kingdom to carry out his laws and decrees, but has a hierarchy of command, from the closest advisors and down the chain of command until the local officials and police who enforce his laws.
It would not befit the honor of the king to do all of that himself, even it would be humanly possible to do so. For the kingdom to retain its integrity it must retain its honor and respect.
We are meant to understand, in a way, the Kingdom of God through the kingdoms of mortal kings, and recognize that the world was created for us to honor and respect the Kingdom of God, whose honor it would not befit for Him to carry out His Will directly. Therefore, each of God’s traits or attributes — be it kindness, mercy, judgment, etc. — each of these and more are represented by a spiritual world which manifests that trait.
“Angels” that carry out God’s will in this world are not all the same; each one is a representative of the “world” it was sent from to carry out that particular Trait of God needed to be exercised at that moment in history. (The exception to this rule is when God performs a miracle, which is comparable to when a king will bypass the hierarchy that he has set up and personally grants a pardon or travels to a small town to carry out a decree by his own hand.)
All of this is leading up to the point we need to begin to understand for the purpose of our discussion of the body and gender. The Zohar teaches that all of these upper spiritual worlds or spheres are arranged in the image of man. This celestial image of man, termed adam kadmon or “primordial man,” is the spiritual arrangement of all of God’s traits that He utilizes in connection to our world.
The highest of worlds represent the primordial man’s forehead, others his eyes, ears, mouth, etc., all the way down. They also are set up in the fashion of right and left, as we have right and left eyes, nostrils, ears, arms, etc.
Why would God arrange the upper worlds in the image of man? What does this say about our bodies? Our genders? Stay tuned for next time!