Monday, January 24, 2011

the shekhina and the shikse goddess

The shekhina and the shikse goddess walk into a bar...

I know. It's not funny. And it didn't happen that way, anyway. It's so much easier to think of the two of them separately. As if they just don't belong inhabiting the same paradigm. But there they are, deep in conversation. It doesn't really matter how or where they met.

The shekhina. She's remote. Unattainable. Melancholic. Removed. Horrified at what we've done to the place. Her world, her dominion. The dominion of malkhut. With the shekhina, what you see is not what you get. Or rather, you don't get to see at all. We are blind to her. We've blinded ourselves with pollutants. I'm not sure if her role is to make us feel guilty for-what-we've-done-to-the-earth, or to inspire us to diligence.

One of the strange things about the shekhina that I think about a lot, is that a correlative to her name are the shikunim — slums and housing projects — the urban wasteland. And it's precisely this that grieves the shekhina (at least these days).

When I was little, I had a storybook about the aleph-bet. In each tale, the Hebrew letters go off looking for the shekhina, the sabbath bride, the queen of god. And they cannot find her, for she has disappeared from the world, in her sadness. And when I was older I realized that she had gone into occultation — just like the 12th Imam, although his reasons differed.

Shekhina means 'residence' — the residence of the divine on earth. The dwelling place of the divine on earth. She takes up residence, but then discovers what we've done with the place, and bam, she's gone till we clean up our act. Or maybe she's just gone for good.

But no. She returns. She can't help it. She's drawn back into the dreams of the righteous. Drawn back in at Friday, sundown. She comes to those places where harmony is used to knit the world back together. Voices blend. Or bodies resonate together. For 24 hours, we bring back holiness.

That's what they say, anyway.

I don't think she'd exactly be drawn to the tyranny that the sabbath has become for many of the glat orthodox — a full day cycle of restriction and rigid rules. That's not the spirit of the shekhina, as far as I'm concerned. I think she likes it better when we pick up trash on the beaches, dogshit on the cliffs. But even that's not enough to bring her back into the world any time soon.

Shikse goddess: Now she's quite different. She is of the earth itself, and not beyond. She lives here, she breathes. She has some foreign ideas. She's not running away from anything. Right?

"Take some amaretto," she said, knowing that I do not drink.

"I'm not making fruit salad," I replied, confused.

"Something to drink. You need a drink," the shikse goddess said.

She's an alcoholic. That's what she says, anyway.

Don't get me wrong. She doesn't drink. She hasn't had a drop in almost twenty years. She has 'sobriety birthdays.' And when she reaches exactly twenty years, I think she's going to go out and celebrate. That part actually I just don't get. How can you celebrate sobriety with a drink? But her eyes light up at just the thought of it. And the thought just doesn't go away. Scary.

"You've had a bad day," she says. "A trauma. That's what a good cocktail is for."

Is that some kind of joke?

I stare at her. I know she's trying to help. But the fact is, I've never had a 'cocktail' in my life. I'm still staring at her. She means me well. I know that. I do.

"I'm Jewish," I reply. Which seems to you a non sequitur, but she knew what I meant.

"A cocktail helps you feel what you feel. Connect with your emotions," she said.

"That's what a therapist is for," I answered.

I mean, what would happen if you picked up a cocktail every time you had a bad day? I mean, where would we be then? The shekhina's already in despair over the state of the planet.

The shikse goddess replies, in all her wisdom:

"Maybe what the shekhina needs is a good stiff drink."


  1. Trust me, every man you know would change the last word of your post today.

  2. Maybe it's a grand projective test, the better to know you and where you go with it. And here I thought that alcohol was shocking enough...