The Darkness of Male Supremacy

michele_obama_barack_obamaIn 1947, amidst the struggles of the birth of the State of Israel a young Bedouin shepherd boy stumbled across a half-dozen or more clay jars secreted in a cave in the area of Qumran. His findings, which he sold for less than $50, are the priceless Dead Sea Scrolls, a collection of mostly Hebrew manuscripts argued to belong to the Essene community, religious Jewish separatists in the last centuries of Jewish dominion of the Land of Israel before the Common Era. One of these manuscripts from antiquity is a lengthy scroll fragment describing a battle between the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness.

 

I first became acquainted with this scroll back in the late 1970’s when I was enrolled in graduate studies and was privileged to study it with Professor Sid Z. Leiman. We were all young twenty year olds trying to decipher the words that were written and missing in the text and then to consider their meaning. Was this a narrative of an actual conflict, projection of an apocalyptic war or a metaphor of the author’s sensitivity to the never ending spiritual-cosmic collision of light and darkness; a battle of ideas and ideology.

 

To be a Kabbalist is to observe closely the parallel developments of light and darkness, to see clearly what is the underlying thought and ideology that promotes one view and, in contrast, another view.

 

I have written before about Heterosexism and its relation to patriarchy—and would now like to extend those thoughts to a broader understanding of what is transpiring in our world regarding light and darkness. It can be summarized in two words: Male Supremacy. I know I am way behind those who have made these links before but all I am about to write about is culled from observing what is going on in the battle between the daughters and sons of light and the sons of darkness.

 

Let us start with Mother Earth. She is dying. This is not a natural death—it is a slow form of matricide. We have enslaved and continuously raped her; and now, as she convulses under our indiscriminate disregard; she that sustains us, she that is our home, she that gives birth to vegetation, to trees, to flowers, is in the throes of a death spiral. It is a form of subjugation perpetrated by a mythology of male supremacy (perpetrated by both men and women) that purports that God is male, that God has granted the dominion of the male over the female and the dominion of man over nature.

 

There are those who are yet unable to recognize the folly of such supremacist ideology—whether it is perpetrated against Mother Nature’s ecosystem or against mothers and daughters. Religious fundamentalism continues to promote and idealize the subjugation of the feminine—the indiscriminate disregard for the sanctity and honor of the feminine and its heinous escalation manifesting in brutality and force against women.

 

Writing on Tony Blair’s Faith Foundation, Ed Husain draws our attention to the underlying issue of atrocities perpetrated against women in Muslim societies. “These atrocities,” he states, “are mere symptoms of a deeper problem: fear of female freedom. From Turkey to Indonesia there is a civil war of ideas happening within Islam and the role for women in society is at the crux of it.”

 

Mr. Husain is outraged by the stoning of women in Raqqa, Syria by the order of the Islamic Caliphate for their “sexual promiscuity” (a bride was found not to be a virgin, another woman was sentenced to death for an extramarital affair). “Nothing hits me deeper in the gut,” writes Mr. Husain, a Muslim and a father of two daughters, “than seeing a defenseless woman being attacked by a mob.”

 

Those doing the stoning are male supremacists. Those kidnapping, raping and selling young girls and women into forced marriages are indoctrinated with male supremacy. But this doctrine of male supremacy is not a phenomena limited to fundamentalist Islam, it is a doctrine that permeates all fundamentalist religious ideology and practice (from Buddhism to Judaism) and permeates and is expressed at all levels of society. Fundamentalist religion is not the sole repository of male supremacy—it is though the ideological foundation for this indoctrination in society at large.

 

The daughters and son of light have much to fight for and fight against. There is hope though as we begin to see changes within religious institutions. Markers of this hope are seen in general society by women taking their deserved positions of leadership, of access to professions and work, and for equality of pay and in religious circles, through women being ordained or rising to other leadership roles, and in policy (rule) changes regarding women’s freedom of choice.

 

There is a vision espoused in Kabbalah that the coming of a new consciousness is predicated on the recognition of the equality of the feminine and masculine—male and female—women and men. May that light shine forth not only from the face of the moon, but be championed by all those who are now ready to let go of the ideology of male supremacy.

 

P.S.
“ Make no mistake” reads the headline in the Washington Post, “Michelle Obama just made a bold political statement.” I n a country with a very strict dress code for women (face and hair covered, and long, flowing robes) who are not allowed to drive and who live under a system of male guardianship, Michelle Obama went with a flowing blue top, black pants and no head covering.

 

 

A Calendar of Blessings

vatican-pope.jpeg51-1280x9601When Pope Francis assumed the papacy almost two years ago he greeted the thronging crowd in xt” The he bowed his head and beseeched those in attendance (and around the world) to bless him. Do leaders need our blessing?

 

In Hebrew, the word for blessing is Baruch (Beit-Reish-Kaf) and as pointed out in an early Kabbalah text (Sefer Bahir—The Book of Illumination) this Hebrew word not only means blessing, it has two other meanings: the knees (Berech) and a gathering or pool of water (Braycha).

 

What is the connecting concept of these three meanings?

 

A literal explanation of these words is suggested by the idea that people and camels bend their knees to receive (drink) water. Rabbi Marcia Prager offers a beautiful connection between the idea of blessing and knees bent in gratitude and the flow of water: “When we offer blessing we offer our gratitude not only for a particular gift but for the opportunity to experience our connection with the whole of life. Our blessing opens us to the flow of divine goodness moving through us, filling us and flowing back to God.”

 

Pope Francis has emerged as a change agent with his willingness to call into question Church doctrine. I reserve each Thursday morning to pray for the Pope. It was on Holy Thursday (that the Pope, as is customary before Easter, washed the feet of others. Instead of washing the feet of priests though, Pope Francis went to a jail in Rome, a youth detention center, and washed the feet of 12 of the inmates (including two young women).

 

I am often awake at 3:30 in the morning, the time when the Dalai Lama starts his daily morning prostrations and meditations to reflect on emptiness. Whether in Dharmsala or in Denver it is a quiet time to reflect on the self. The Dalai Lama spends another 5 hours (after breakfast) in meditation—this is his morning routine. I reserve early mornings for Yoga practice and blessing the Dalai Lama.

 

It was October 9th (2012), a Tuesday, when terrorists boarded her school bus and demanded to know, “Who is Malala?” That day fell on Simchat Torah—a day of joyous celebration on the Jewish calendar. It is also a day of celebration and blessing for our world that Malala did not die from the bullets that entered her skull. Tuesday’s blessing is reserved for Malala.

 

Wednesday is print day for Charlie Hebdo. The editors and cartoonists were busy at work before taking lunch when gunman burst in screaming, “Where is Char?” Shouting praise for Allah they murdered 12. Wednesday lunchtime prayer is now reserved in prayer for what Char and the others at Charlie were willing to risk their lives for: free expression. Wednesday lunch blessing is for those who continue the publication of Charlie (though I am agreement with Pope Francis that decorum and sensitivity is appropriate when addressing other people’s beliefs).

 

Friday is a day for preparation for Shabbat (the Sabbath) and so there were as expected customers at the Hyper Cacher (Kosher) market in Paris (last week), a market frequented by Jews and Moslems. A gunman entered the store and murdered 4, may their memories be a blessing. Friday afternoon is now reserved for blessing another leader: Lassana Bathily, a Muslim employee at Hyper Cacher who saved six customers, including an infant, by hiding them in a walk-in freezer when the gunman laid siege to the store.

 

Leaders need our prayers of blessing. They take risks that others are not ready to take. Create your own calendar of blessings for those leaders who you wish to support and bless with the divine flow of goodness, courage and strength.

 

Why ask Why and other Burning Questions

unnamedOne of the most profound questions ever posed is “Why ask why? “ Sakichi Toyoda was not only intrigued by the question, the founder of Toyota, devised a system for his engineers to reveal the root causes of problems. Toyoda’s 5 Whys is an iterative question-asking technique used to explore the cause-and-effect relationships underlying a particular problem.

 

In Hebrew there are two different words for why. These words have their origin in the Torah narrative, no more prominent than in the initial portion of Exodus which details the story of the enslavement of the Hebrews in Egypt and the dramatic call to Moses to return to Egypt and proclaim to Pharaoh , “Let my people go.” Remarkably the Hebrew words for why appear nine times in this beginning section of Exodus.

 

The two words for why are: La-mah and Ma-du-ah. When I presented these words to a class earlier this week one of the participants astutely asked: “What are the roots of those words?” Knowing the roots begins to answer the question: Why have two words that both mean why?

 

Ma-du-ah (a four letter word) has its root of two letters, Dalet and Ayin, which means “to know” while the word La-mah (a three letter word) has its root of two letters, Mem and Hei, which means “what” (as in What?).

 

Two examples of the nine times these words appears will suffice to help us differentiate the use of these different Hebrew words. The word Ma-du-ah is placed on Moses’ lips as an inquiry into why the bush that was burning was not being consumed. “Why (ma-du-ah) is the bush not consumed by the fire?” (Exodus 3:3). We can therefore derive both from its root meaning “to know” and its usage by the burning bush that Ma-du-ah is a why having to do with what we call, scientific inquiry. The scientific method starts with why. Science is based on logical inquiry.

 

There is an other, and very different inquiry, a why, that is represented by the word La-mah and as placed on Moses’ lips is an existential question when he asks God: “Why (la-mah) have you made it worse for the people, why (la-mah) did you send me?” (Exodus 5:22). Moses asks this question after seeing that his mission to free his brethren from slavery initially backfires—instead of being extinguished, Pharaoh intensified the inferno.

 

Why am I am writing about why? Because I am suffering the question of La-mah? There is a fire that is burning and it is one that shows only signs of intensifying. I am reminded of the powerful statement by Albert Einstein: “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”

 

Our lives depend on understanding “why”. The hour clock is ticking. Perhaps now it is the improper questions we need to be asking.

 

david

 

P.S. While I was researching for this blog I came across a reference to www.alefbet.org and found a piece on Ma-du-ah (and La-mah). I began to notice names of people quoted that I knew, including Risa Aqua and Rabbi Avaraham Trugman. It dawned on me (before the sun has risen this morning) that I wrote this many years ago! I had no memory that we had put up alefbet.org on the web and no idea it “still” existed. For that longer article written last century click here.

 

It was the day before Chanukah

peshawar-india
It was the day before Chanukah
And all through the school
Children wrestled and tussled
But not to be cruel
This was home for them all
A place of content
A refuge
A dream
Hours well spent

 

In the main auditorium
Gathered to learn first-aid
A teacher leapt up
To prevent those on stage
Burned her to death
In front of their eyes
Final cut, final image
For those who survive

 

The day before Chanukah
A blood soaked mourn
Hearts bleeding out blood
Parents forlorn
Gather bodies and books
Cellphones
Shattered glasses
Wounded souls
Scarred for life
Won’t return to classes

 

No more physics
Just revenge
Only one thing in mind
No more engineering
Just revenge
Hatred can blind
It was the day before Chanukah

 

I write this poem as parents and relatives sift through the carnage and rubble to find remnants of their beloved ones in Peshwar. Other parents and relatives nurse those who are recovering from their wounds; others hug those who are left scathed with the sights and sounds of senseless murder.

 

Two boys who survived are in hospital recovering from wounds.

 

Mehran Khan, 14, was shot with three bullets – in the hand, leg and back. Khan said from his hospital bed that cricket used to be his main passion before the attack. His life has changed forever; he will not rest until the meaningless deaths of his classmates have been avenged. “I am angry. I’m a physics student but now I don’t want to be an engineer. I want to get out and take revenge for all the deaths. The ones who killed, my friends. I will not rest until I finish them.”

 

Aamir Ameen, 18, was at a chemistry exam when the attack started. He fainted after taking a bullet in his hip. The assailants left him for dead. “When I woke up, everyone around me was bleeding and dead. I stayed silent and lay there quietly for hours. When I saw army officers run past I started screaming and they rescued me.” Ameen’s life has changed forever; he does not know how he will get over the loss of his friends and teachers. “I want to get better and get out and help people. All the people who helped save my life, I want to do something for them.”

 

On the day before Chanukah Rabbi Jamie Arnold melodically sang to our faculty a Chanukah song:

 

Bring some light into the darkness,
bring some darkness to the light
As we dance among the shadows
flickering in black and white

 

All things dark are not just evil,
all things light are not just fine
Can we learn to bless our difference,
God in your face, God in mine.
May this be our blessing over the Chanukah lights.

 

David’s blog will return the week of January 5th.

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