Stranger in the Mirror

I’d like to gesture at the way in which social media effects how our culture processes public events. The omnipresence of screens and the ease of mass communication give the false impression that the whole of a culture can make boundless psychological progress simply by the creation of a meme. The deluge of Weinstein news and #MeToo posts do not go a long way to heal male oppression of femininity; we have learned that healing is concurrent and relational. I am proud of the women around me who have shared their stories, I am shocked at the multitude of the stories, and I have begun examining my role in them. But these posts often go one-way; they are denunciations more than conversations, and they rarely acknowledge the continuum of desire/objectification that both women and men take part in, though men tend toward abuse far more often.
 
The first charge given to the first human beings, Adam and Eve, is to populate the earth, ‘be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.’ The rabbis ask – was this directive bestowed upon the man or the woman? Our tradition, which must own up to its share of misogynistic roots, claims rightly that men are more inclined to subduing than women are, and so the onus of the prescription falls to men. The Hebrew word is chivshuha – subdue, conquer, subjugate, master, overpower. And wisely they ask, whether the ‘it’ refers to the earth or the woman – the male subjugation of the earth and of women go hand in hand. What begins as desire, whether its source is a biological drive for procreation, or something more romantic, quickly becomes an assumed privilege in the male ethos. As an implication of my being, it is my right to conquer and possess women and earth.
 
The first time man and woman meet, Adam had been slumbered by God that a rib might be taken from his side to form woman. When he wakes there is a being standing before him, like him and unlike him. He says to her, ‘This time, bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh, this will be called woman, because from a man this was taken.’ The patriarchy is all too apparent – woman created from man, named by man, after man: woman.
 
I am struck though, by the recurrence of the word ‘this.’ I think it’s the first word spoken by humanity; in Hebrew it’s barely more than a consonant and a vowel – Zo. And it must be accompanied by gesture – I see him pointing at her, Zo, Zo, Zo. It’s the first time his being is placed before a mirror – she is flesh like him, she breathes as he does, she has parts he has never seen before, she looks back into his eyes. What does he feel? Love? Desire? Fear? Power? Joy? Wonder? Whatever he feels, it is so overpowering to his own being that he can barely talk, all he can say is Zo, Zo, Zo.
 
We beings, men far more than women, are always running away from our feelings, especially the ones that overpower us, and make us feel small or out of control. If a man can overpower a woman, conquer and objectify her, than he can ignore the deluge of love, fear, wonder and joy that would accompany standing before her glory as an equal. God says to the man, I created woman to be ‘a partner opposite you.’ True partnership is profoundly scary, because our vulnerabilities and flaws are naked for the other to see. But when we are opposite one another in this way, like a mirror, our potential for intimacy, connection, even union, becomes manifest. I am profoundly grateful to my father for modeling what it means to be a man opposite a woman – bowed before her majesty, reverent to the spirit that breathes her being, before her flesh.
 
Let’s work the healing here together. Come teach with me, what it means to be a man before a mirror.
 unnamed
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Zach Fredman

Comments

Archive

January 19, 2018

  The Shiva house can be an anxious place for visitors, even more than for the mourners, who sit for seven days (shiva means seven). And the nature of the death is palpable. When someone has died at the end of their years, the gathering might near celebration, as in the Sufi culture, where death […]

January 12, 2018

  Dear Friends,   Too many times I have been approached by eager seekers searching after an introduction to Jewish spiritual teachings, and I am without something to recommend them. The existent literature is too Jewish, it can be offensive in its presumption of Jewish terms or stories. On top of that, there is no […]

January 5, 2018

  On account of the snow storm and the frigid New York temperatures, we will not meet in the flesh tonight, for the first Shabbat of the year, instead The New Shul will host our first ever live-stream Shabbat jam “here” at 630pm. As “new” as we are though, we don’t live-stream our services on […]

December 29, 2017

  Dear Friends,   I traveled to Israel this week to attend the B’nai Mitzvah ceremonies of three New Shul families. They were magnificent experiences, surrounded by the old stones, the minarets, the Jerusalem sky and its faces beneath, the mythic stories of the ancestors breathing the air with us. I carried some sadness too. […]

December 22, 2017

  Dear Friends,   I traveled to London this week for a dear friend’s wedding.  He asked me to lead the tisch, a pre-wedding custom comprised of drinks, songs and stories.  We drank a nice 18-year-old single malt I found in duty free on the way over, romped on old Chassidic niggun with a beat-up […]