– Mary Esther Harding
As 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.