[The following is the third part of a four-part interview I gave to a student in partial fulfillment of a class assignment.]
Q: You said there are four levels of biblical understanding: literal, allegorical, imaginative, and mystical. You also said you prefer the imaginative because like an inkblot it mirrors your deeper self. Correct?
R: Yes, like an ink blot, a dream, Tarot cards, universal myths and archetypes. Right.
Q: What is your sense of the mystical level, Sod?
R: Where Drash, the imaginative level, is all about you, Sod is all about the other. Where Drash takes you into yourself, Sod takes you into God and hence the world, which is God manifest.
The revelations of Sod come in two ways. First there is the notion of kabbalah, literally “receiving;” you receive the secret interpretations and understandings of the Torah from your rebbe or spiritual master. This can be very deep and valuable material, but because it is already known and passed down from rebbe to student it is just a more subtle kind of black fire.
The second quality of revelation under the Sod category comes when your imagination is so freely, wildly at play in Drash that something totally unexpected comes through. This is true white fire, unknown to you, something radically new. This is why I like Drash the best: only in the wild play of Drash can the even wilder revelations of Sod be discovered.
Q: Can you give an example?
R: No. Anything I can offer would then be subtle black fire. What I can tell you is that my own experiences with the Sod dimension are prophetic not in the sense of telling the future, but in the biblical sense of calling me to engage the world more justly and kindly.
Q: Let’s change subjects. You often talk about God as Mother. Do you really believe that God is a woman?
R: No. Any language applied to God must be metaphoric. God is what is. God includes and transcends all reality, so God manifests as men and women, as well as dogs and elephants, but is not reducible to anything in particular.
Yet my experience of God is undeniably feminine. When the ancient rabbis spoke of hearing the word of God they used the term Bat Kol, the Daughter’s Voice. When they spoke of sensing the spirit of God around and within them they used the term Shekhinah, a feminine noun. When the author of Proverbs described the first moments of creation he said that Chochma, a feminine noun meaning Wisdom, was the first of God’s manifestations. My experience is the same as theirs. When I hear God speak, the voice is female, when I sense God’s presence it is feminine, when I see God manifest as the world is it as the Mother.
Q: I always thought Judaism was totally masculine and patriarchal, but you are saying there is something feminine and matriarchal to it as well?
R: Yes. While the power structure of Judaism the religion is historically patriarchal, the tribal wisdom is historically matriarchal. While the men defined what Jews did, it was the mother, the women, who defined who a Jew was.
On a deeper level, I believe there is a sense of Reality as Mother in the Wisdom teachings of Judaism found in Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, the Wisdom of Solomon, and Ben Sirach to name a few, and it is to these books that I am drawn most powerfully. To go back to an earlier question, I would say that while I am unabashedly a Jew and proud member of the Jewish tribe and people, my religion is Wisdom in all Her forms: Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, etc.