They Say She is Veiled
They say she is veiledJudy Grahn, from The Queen of Wands
and a mystery. That is
one way of looking.
is that she is where
she always has been, exactly in place,
and it is we,
we who are mystified,
we who are veiled
and without faces.
I dedicate this post to You, Shekhinah/Malkhut, Divine Female,
the Sacred Feminine in each and all of us who identify with or embody Your qualities
On the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, you are the portal through which all the energies of the tree become alive on earth… It is through YOU that we see, hear, breathe, celebrate, mourn, taste, feel:::
It is You who embody all of the attributes of the sefirot, all the divine attributes that enable us to be fully human as we mirror each other. It is You, whose strength, love, empathy and compassion embrace, guide and support us, enabling us to go about our lives. Your always-powerful emanations are our foundation, the wings that hold and protect us, the river that moves us forward, the very air that we breathe.
Shekhinah is She Who Dwells Within, as I may have first learned from the title of Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb’s book. Shekhinah is God as the Presence, mother, nurturer, protector, Sabbath Queen, the Moon, the community of Israel, the Torah, compassionate one and so much more. Rabbi Leah Novick notes that She “hovers over all creation as the guardian of truth and justice” in On the Wings of Shekhinah: Rediscovering Judaism’s Divine Feminine. In his article “How Shekhinah Became the God(dess) of Jewish Feminism”, Luke Devine calls Her relational and experiential. Theo/thealogian Asphodel Long (z”l) spoke of Shekhinah consciousness, writing: “The idea of the Shekhinah is full of contradictions and yet of inspiration.” Among the contradictions: the fact that She can be frightening as well as nurturing, fierce as well as sweet, embodying darkness as well as light. According to Zohar scholar Melila Hellner-Eshed, Shekhinah “never leaves humanity; She is in our blood and is connected to our body, our soul. As well as being immanent, She is the loving presence of the Divine in our midst.”
At times She feels, embodies, and holds our, and Her own, suffering and is in exile with us at times of great imbalance. As I wrote a few weeks ago in this space, Shekhinah is said to meet in Divine Union with Tiferet on Friday nights, as we enter the holy temple in time that is the Sabbath. When these sacred energies unite, it is a Sacred Marriage, though different from the type I first learned about as existing in ancient Mesopotamia. There it was an act believed to assure the people an abundant agricultural harvest, an interesting thing to remember in this time of counting the Omer. Of course both unions have been understood as a way of bringing our world into balance.
This sefirah, also known as Malkhut or Malkhut/Shekhinah, represents sovereignty on the Kabbalistic Tree of Life and is the earthly realm, the created human world, a place of materiality, action, sexuality, manifestation. In A River Flows from Eden, Hellner-Eshed writes that Malkhut “represents time and movement; the dynamics of birth, growth, and death; differentiation and duality…” and that she holds both divine and demonic aspects.
A Turning Point
The Tree of Life itself has fascinated me as a concept and organizing principle since I was a grad student in 1997. I knew very little of its fuller meanings then, but a feeling in my kishkes prompted me to work with it as a model for women’s psychological development. Still fairly new to the concept of a female deity and in a Women’s Spirituality MA Program, I walked into Afikomen Judaica in Berkeley and saw Jackie Olenick’s painting of the Tree. It was a beautiful depiction, surrounded by Hebrew letters, but that wasn’t what jumped out at me. It was the English words which caught my eye first, which said simply, “For She Is a Tree of Life…” – a phrase I’d heard for much of my life but only as “For IT is a Tree of Life…”.
In that moment, the Torah, Judaism itself was no longer just a Torah read and supposedly written only by men. It was now a living part of my life, a lineage I could now feel I had full access to through all my cells, a process already begun through my study of a Hebrew Goddess. It returned me to a place from which Jewish feminist theologian Judith Plaskow has noted women were excluded: Mt. Sinai, at a critical time in Jewish history. I could now feel seen, one of the people receiving Torah at Sinai and so able to be fully present in the world of my birth, a full member of the “tribe”, a leader and decisionmaker in my own contemporary Jewish life.
This painting, these few familiar words with one vital change—a new gender pronoun—inspired me to finally feel Judaism as a tradition which recognized, included, and held opportunities for women as full participants. Woman as carrier of the Divine spark, Woman in and of Nature. It was Shekhinah in the flesh, in me, emanating from the letters.
Pesukey D’Zimra / Verses of Song, A Prayer and A Practice
I also want to bring in these words, excerpts from performance artist and poet Joseph Zitt’s Shekhinah: The Presence, which beautifully convey a felt sense of Shekhinah/Malkhut:
She is spirit
She is air
She is earth on fire
above, below the waters
…She is everywhere
the creator is;
she is everywhere
yet she is,
summoned by prayer
summoned by our intent
summoned by our wishes
from the silent world of dreams
Arise, most ancient!
Arise, our mother!
Arise, our bride!
Arise, our daughter!
We raise our eyes
unto the hills
and sing together
“a song for the dedication of the house”
“a psalm for the thanks-offering”
“a hymn of praise”
and psalm after psalm
…we move to melt into the Presence,
lose ourselves in her,
she who loves and comforts,
she whose power is such
that we forget ourselves and
May we never forget Her face, the brilliance, the radiance She emanates, which we can only begin to envision through moments of quiet, of prayer, meditation, loving, sensual connection with other beings, with food, with Nature, with music.
Let us never stop being able to hear Her voice, especially in our darkest moments but also in our moments of joy. At the times we feel alone, when we most need comfort or need to be able to share our triumphs, let us remember the Presence is there, offering us channels for both Divine and human connection, through direct conversations with Her or our ancestors, or by looking in the eyes of another.
Suggested practices for the week:
Rabbi Leah Novick wrote: “The contemporary emphasis on wholeness and intuition provides the opening for receiving Shekhinah energy once again.” What do you think she means?
Record yourself reading Judy Grahn’s poem “They Say She Is Veiled”.
One morning as part of your spiritual practice—or anytime you feel called to go within, or to put on your tallit and pray:
- Cover your head, or just sit with your eyes closed in a quiet place
- Recite the poem, if you have memorized it, or play the recording
Then open your eyes and say/listen to it again. What do you see/hear/feel in your own soul?
Sit with this for a few minutes, or longer if time allows. After that, you may also want to record your thoughts in your journal, or on your phone—or not.
Kohenet Ruach D’vorah Grenn, Ph.D, Mashpi’ah Ruchanit
Kohenet Ruach D’vorah Grenn is the Founding Director of The Lilith Institute™. Yerusha and The Lilith Institute™ have co-created a self-paced course on Encountering The Tree of Life.
She co-directed the Women’s Spirituality MA Program, Institute of Transpersonal Psychology/Sofia University in Palo Alto, California, and founded Mishkan Shekhinah, a movable sanctuary honoring the Sacred Feminine in all traditions. Her Talking To Goddess anthology includes sacred writings of 72 women in 25 spiritual traditions. Other publications: Lilith’s Fire: Reclaiming our Sacred Lifeforce; “The Kohanot: Keepers of the Flame” in Stepping into Ourselves (Key & Cant); the Jewish priestess and Lilith entries in Encyclopedia of Women in World Religions.
Sign up for Encountering The Tree of Life to learn more about integrating Hod and the Sephirot into your life.