Bo: It’s a Balancing Act

If any human being is to reach full maturity both the masculine and the feminine sides of the personality must be brought up into consciousness.

– Mary Esther Harding

indexAs usual, I was hanging out on the balcony. When I’m in Florida, the first thing I like to do when I go to someone’s home, especially one to which I haven’t been before, is to check out what slice of a living landscape they have. We were four couples enjoying a Saturday night together, and as I was eyeing the night-lights reflecting columns of shimmering silver in the water, the men had migrated to the balcony.

The host, a house blend of the warm hospitality of Avraham Aveinu and the easy elegance of a Russian aristocrat, offered up fine cigars all around, unhesitatingly including me as one of the gang. Looking at the big fat cigar, I quipped, “Thanks, but I only smoke lady cigars.” Instantly, he proffered a slim shorter version, and having met my bluff, what could I do? The next thing I knew, I was expertly puffing away, channeling the spirit and loving memories of my cigar-smoking grandfather.

Then our host offered up a bottle of almost 200-year-old Calvados. Seriously, how could I not? I did pick out the smaller cut-glass snifter, however, and daintily asked for just a little bit, thank you. And then I hung out with the guys because I found the conversation (something about Joseph and Egypt) so darn interesting. Wow, Hanna, I was thinking, you’re really getting in touch with your masculine side tonight. Before you judge me, however, I was simply fulfilling one of Judaism’s deepest mandates, which comes from the Torah portion, “Bo.

In addition to having to shepherd 3 million men women and children out from enemy territory, God gave Moses a very strange commandment: to create a “calendar” – and not just any calendar – but a strange and unique calendar that is based on both the lunar months and the solar year. Early civilizations were based on a lunar calendar. After all, when marking the passing of time, what’s easier than looking up in the sky? With the advent of agriculture, however, lunar-based calendars were inadequate for informing farmers when to plant their crops, and so the solar calendar, which is seasonal, became dominant.

These two systems (lunar and solar) are not in sync, however, and thus, it requires complicated adjustments to reconcile the two over a perpetual 19-year cycle. What was so significant about this calendar that it had to be commanded at such a precarious moment?

The Hebrew word for Egypt is “Mitzraim,” from the word “meitzar” – which means “narrow” and “constricted.” In leaving Egypt, the Jewish people were going from a place of narrowness to expansion, from a bounded country to an endless open desert, from slavery to freedom.   And that entails a major shift in thinking which is necessary to cultivate both individual and relationship potential.

Jewish mysticism teaches us that the differences between the sun and the moon are not just physical, but spiritual. This polarity is not merely about being a man or a woman; rather, these energies and qualities are present in everyone.

The characteristics of masculine energy are “top-down,” and proactive. When masculine energy interacts with the world, the predominant energy is to decisively and quickly impose external solutions onto others or situations. When my husband was admitted to the ER with a gastric bleed, for example, he needed masculine-energy medical intervention to save his life. Had the doctor not immediately located the site of the bleed, started transfusions and sent my husband off for surgery, my husband would have died on the spot.

The characteristics of feminine energy, on the other hand, are “bottom-up” and receptive. When feminine energy interacts with the world, it sees potential, and by cultivating, building, and revealing innate qualities, it engenders transformation. And so, after the medical crisis and other complications had passed, my husband was totally debilitated and it was almost a year before he regained his former vigor and health.   During that time, he benefited from feminine-energy medical support, utilizing a holistic approach to restoring his body from the inside out, bringing his body into balance and letting the Natural Healer take over.

So, both masculine and feminine energies are equally dynamic and vital, and we need access to both ways of being. To be a free and fully functioning person, however, we need to know when to be what. Not only do get into trouble when we employ the wrong energy for the task but furthermore, our relationships suffer when we are out of balance.  

For example, in its unbridled extreme, masculine energy is tyrannical. Pharaoh exemplifies the unhealthy aspects of masculine energy in that he saw reality as an either/or, black and white proposition. He reduced reality to one dimension – “my way or the highway.” That kind of thinking will defend distorted and warped viewpoints to the death. No wonder it’s a relationship killer.

Similarly, feminine energy in its unhealthy extreme creates submissiveness to the extent where such a person cannot act or think on his or her own and thus doesn’t even have a point of view. It’s not slavery per se, but the willingness to remain a slave out of choice is to reject the idea of self-efficacy. As we know from Biblical commentary, most of the Jews wanted to stay in Egypt and did not make it out. And disconnection from one’s identity and personal power is anathema to a vibrant bond, both in our relationships with each other and with God.

Thus, this is not a call for androgyny, unisex blandness, or the homogenizing of identity and dissolving differences. Rather, true freedom comes from the ability to bring the cosmic forces of masculine solar and feminine lunar energy into balance and harmony on an individual level and ultimately a global one. Being tasked with being a light unto the nations calls for a balancing act that awakens us to the full power of our being, realizes the richness of relationship potential, and creates the joining of heaven and earth.  


Mountaintop Reality – Trekking to Holiness


“It has nothing to do with who I am as compared to everyone else. It has everything to do with who I am in companionship with God.”    

     – Craig D. Lounsbrough                                   

Try as we might, we can’t shortchange process. The American psyche cherishes innovation. We admire the overnight success (and wonder why we can’t be so lucky). But we don’t know the back-story.   Ask any “overnight success” and he or she will tell you that it was years in the making.   As Samuel Goldwyn said, “Give me a couple of years and I’ll make that actress an overnight success.”

When we try to shortchange process and leapfrog over a necessary course of development, what happens is that we fall, inevitably, and, what is worse, we often fall to a point lower than where we even started.

When that happens, it can be very destructive to the psyche because we can become cynical, and feel hopeless, thinking that we just gave it our very best shot, and alas, failed – again. So why bother.

But wait, you might ask – aren’t there instantaneous flashes of insight, moments where we can feel a real paradigm shift in that proverbial “aha moment”? Yes, but these are flashes, and flashes are, by definition, temporary.

An “aha moment” is a glimmer of potentiality. It reveals a new possible pathway. We need to create new consistent behaviors to turn that glimmer of a pathway into an actual trail, and in so doing, lock that insight into a new way of being. Otherwise, it disappears almost as fast as it appeared.

The Process of….Process

No matter what, there is a process. We had a 49-day trek that took us from Egypt (Passover) to Mt. Sinai, where we received the Torah (the holiday of Shavuos).   When we left Egypt, the Jewish people were said to be at the 49th level of impurity, and it is one explanation for why the redemption took place when it did, for had we descended one more level, to the 50th level, we would have been considered unredeemable.

Every day thereafter we spent walking away from Egypt and towards Mt. Sinai we ascended one level of holiness, so that when we arrived at Mt. Sinai to receive the Torah we were at the highest level of holiness.

Jewish time is not linear, but cyclical, an upward spiral. “What goes around comes around” is an expression we take literally. Every year, to commemorate that process, we count those same 49 days from Passover to Shavuos, spiritually reliving that journey with the intention that every day brings us higher and closer to the spiritual energy of Shavuos.

Trek Like a Jew

Thousands of years ago we couldn’t jump from Day 1 to Day 49; even now, we can’t pass Go and collect $200. We all know the quote, “The journey of 1,000 miles begins with the first step.”   When we feel overwhelmed, it’s useful to slow things down and remember that all we can do is take one step at a time. At least, that’s what I’ve told myself for years.   No surprise that I still had a hard time getting my act together. And so I realized a deeper truth for myself, that it’s not necessarily true that the journey begins with the first step. What is true, however, is that the journey of 1,000 miles begins with the thought of the 1st step. And the thought of the next step. And so on. This is a critical distinction.

In every Torah portion since leaving Egypt, God is trying to shift how we think, how we see ourselves, to break down the slave mentality and build us up to being priests unto the nations. All of the laws have an external expression in the world of action, but they should come from an internal reality. “Be holy, for I am Holy” says God. Holiness, however, has to be “whole”. Thus, as we see in this week’s Torah portion, “Behar,” holiness must permeate our business transactions.

In a free-market society, in a bottom line material world where we are disconnected from holism, many of the laws in “Behar”, make no sense. Rather, they seem irrational and counter-intuitive. For example, one law dictates that every seven years, all work on the land must cease and the produce that grows is free for the taking. Ask any MBA – this concept is unreal!   But that depends on whose version of reality you are buying into.

There is an animated musical film that came out years ago – The Prince of Egypt – where Moses is feeling pretty down and Yitro (aka Jethro), who is Moses’ father-in-law, inspires him with a song about “looking at his life through heaven’s eyes.”

Think Like a Jew

What is the reality of our lives? What is reality anyway? There is a lot of “reality” out there from which to choose. As a matter of fact, our brains receive billions of bits of information per second, but our brains can only process an infinitesimal amount of it, excluding over 99.9%.

We choose which sliver of “reality” to focus on and what to exclude. Thus, our very perspective is a matter of choice. We can choose to perceive that sliver of reality that will reveal holiness. “Behar” means “on the mountain”.   It’s as if God is saying, “Look at your life from up here. Don’t just buy into what you think the world is, what you think nature is, and what you think the reality is. Look at reality through My Eyes. Look at your life through the eyes of heaven.”

When I went to law school, we were often told that we weren’t there just to learn laws, but to learn to “think like lawyers.” The purpose of learning Torah is not just to learn laws, but to learn how to “think like a Jew,” because everything we do starts in our minds.

Before you take the next step of your journey, remember that it is preceded by a thought. Remember the thought that you are holy, look for that sliver of reality that reveals holiness, know that heaven smiles down upon you to light the way, and your footstep is bound to be sweet and sure, and you will not fall.


The Balancing Act Of Freedom: Knowing When To Be What

I believe now that our fractured society is longing for a world in which the unity of humanity and the cosmos, the wholeness of body, soul and spirit and the unity of the masculine and feminine principles is valued, in which meaning is restored. – Chris Clark

Last week, we took a little 3-day family outing, bringing loads of luggage fit for a Sherpa, to NYC, the land of “everything”. We left home an hour and a half past our estimated departure time (don’t ask). Ten or fifteen minutes into the trip we had to turn around and come back home to get a forgotten item (really don’t ask). And I couldn’t help but wonder how Moses managed to get a few million Jews out the door carrying all of their possessions, leaving Egypt in one fell swoop.

In this week’s Torah portion, “Bo”, we see the unfolding of the last three plagues, the laws of Passover, and the leaving of Egypt. That’s a lot of stuff for Moses to be dealing with, and so I was curious about the insertion of two lines that seemed irrelevant, out of the blue, and frankly, a little off the wall. God said to Moses and Aaron: This month shall be for you the beginning of the months. It shall be for you the first of the months of the year.

I’m going to cut to the chase and tell you embedded in these two cryptic lines is the command to sanctify the new moon (Rosh Chodesh) and also to ensure that Passover always occurs in the spring season. In essence, in the middle of one of the biggest craziest ballagons in history, God commanded Moses to create a “calendar” – and just any calendar – but a strange and unique calendar that is based on both the lunar months and the solar year.

After all, the Jewish calendar is the only calendar based on both the sun and the moon. Only these two systems (lunar and solar) are not in sync, and thus, it requires adding leap months, and other adjustments to reconcile the two over a perpetual 19-year cycle.

What was so important that it had to be commanded on the eve of leaving Egypt and why make it so complicated? The Hebrew word for Egypt is “Mitzraim”, from the word “Metzar” – which means “narrow” and “constricted”. In leaving Egypt, the Jewish people were going from narrowness to expansion, from a bounded country to a limitless open dessert, from slavery to freedom.

One of the hallmarks of being a slave is the inability to control anything, specifically time. When God commanded us to be in charge of publicly announcing the new moon (Rosh Chodesh/the new month), we were given the gift of being able to declare and sanctify time itself. And as the Jewish people were coming into their newly liberated status, it was important that they understood that freedom is not the same as a “free-for-all” and that expansion and freedom requires a balanced approach.

Jewish mysticism teaches us that the differences between the sun and the moon are not just physical, but spiritual, and that the masculine spiritual energy of giving (the sun) and the feminine spiritual energy of receiving (the moon) are two cosmic forces that need to be brought into balance and harmony. The characteristics of masculine energy are that it is “top down”, proactive, exerts will, imposes an external solution, fixes a situation, overcomes, and emits. When masculine energy interacts with the world, the predominant energy is the execution of the will of the giver or executor.

The characteristics of feminine energy, on the other hand, are that it is “bottom up”, that it sees potential, cultivates, builds, reveals innate qualities, and transforms. When feminine energy interacts with the world, the emphasis is on the receiver – not the giver.

This is not about being a man or a woman. These are energies and qualities that we all have, and it goes back to the beginning, with the creation of Adam that occurs in two parts. First, as being created in the image of God, Adam was given dominion over everything. If it crawled, walked, swam, or flew, Adam was in charge. This was proactive masculine energy.

Second, when God blew His breath into Adam’s nostrils, placed him in Garden of Eden and told him to “tend it”, Adam was tasked with care-taking, cultivating, and nurturing. This was feminine energy. We need both energies, both ways of being – but to be a free and fully functioning person, we need to know “when to be what”.

There are times when we need an immediate solution to something, where there is a crisis, calling for fast and effective leadership in a top down strong way. And there are times when leadership serves by building consensus, collaborative brainstorming, building relationships and cultivating talent. There are times when we need to impart concepts and information, and times when we want to foster the process of learning. There is a time to be active and a time to be passive. There is a time to be the conqueror and a time to be the cultivator. There is a time to be Adam #1 and Adam #2.

In the book, Built to Last, authors Collins and Porras conducted a 6-year study at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, studying eighteen truly exceptional and long-lasting companies as well as their direct competitors. They were looking for an answer to the question: “What makes the truly exceptional companies different from the comparison companies and what were the common practices these enduringly great companies followed throughout their history?” In other words, was there a secret to their success?

And what they found was that exceptionally visionary and enduring companies all shared trait this in common – they knew “when to be what”. They knew when to be hierarchical and when to be flat, when to micro-manage and when to full-out delegate. They had a fixed core of values as well as the flexibility to change on a dime. By being able to embrace both sides of the coin, they knew “what to do when” and “when to be what”.

Jewish mysticism teaches that that the era of redemption will see the return of feminine energy. Masculine energy can win a war and impose a cease-fire, but true peace is a bottom up and inside out process. In the times of the Messiah, said the prophet Isaiah, “the light of the moon shall be like the light of the sun. Thus, these cosmic forces and energies will be in balance and harmony.

When we left Egypt, we received the Torah, and we were tasked with being the light unto nations. We have to be conscious of our ability to receive and our strength to give. We must be conscious of our collective soul as well as our individual missions, and to bring our families, our communities, the world, and ultimately ourselves into a state of balance. When the whole world knows “when to be what”, the sun and moon will be equal. This is what freedom looks like and this is why we were freed from Egypt – for the purpose of balance, harmony and ultimate redemption.

Something To Ponder:

  1. Has there been a situation, which you met with a proactive, forceful, task-oriented, decisive and immediate energy, which could have been better served if you had met it with a nurturing, collaborative, long-term, team-building and receptive energy?
  2. How about the reverse?
  3. Is there a situation right now that you are trying to control or force an outcome to that is resisting you? What would happen if you let go? Who could you be? What could be possible?
  4. Is there a situation right now, which would benefit from your immediate attention and action? What do you need to be doing right now that you are avoiding taking on?
  5. How would you be served and supported by tapping into energies that you thought were taboo to you or inappropriate for your gender?