Attributes of the Sacred Feminine

 

The idea of a feminine deity, while deeply resonating with my soul, took a long time to get used to, from an intellectual stand-point. All of a sudden, the simple idea of “One God” was blown out of the water. My fundamental, childhood belief in monotheism now started to be questioned, and I wasn’t sure what to do with that.

After several months of exploring and wrestling with this on my own, I asked my rabbi if a feminine deity meant that Judaism ascribes to polytheism.

He chuckled.

I relaxed.

He didn’t squirm.

I relaxed even more.

He responded by acknowledging that there are plenty of arguments to be made in favor of polytheism due to the many names of God/Goddess.

“They very well could be describing many deities,” he said, “and, in fact, the Torah doesn’t teach that there aren’t other gods or goddesses…just that this is the only one that Jews are to worship.”

I sat up startled. There are other gods and goddesses? And the Torah admits that? Where?!

” However,” he continued, “in light of the Shma (Hear O Israel, our God is One), one might consider that these are all aspects of Divinity…that the Highest Power is a balance of Masculine and Feminine and many other attributes that we only know how to experience separately.”

“I need some time to think about that,” I replied, stunned and overwhelmed…and our study session ended.

That Shabbas, while talking with another very learned man about this topic, he told me about the Thirteen Attributes of God, and to look into those to see if they provided any clues for me. While there are many lists of what these thirteen attributes are, this is the list of the most commonly associated attributes:

  1. Adonai — compassion before a person sins;
  2. Adonai — compassion after a person has sinned;
  3. El — mighty in compassion to give all creatures according to their need;
  4. Rachum — merciful, that humankind may not be distressed;
  5. Chanun — gracious if humankind is already in distress;
  6. Erech appayim — slow to anger;
  7. Rav chesed — plenteous in mercy and abundant in goodness;
  8. Emet — truth in integrity and speaking truth in love;
  9. Notzer chesed laalafim — keeping mercy unto thousands, or remembering the good deeds of the ancestors for a thousand generations;
  10. Noseh avon — forgiving iniquity, or bearing with indulgence the failings of humanity;
  11. Noseh peshah — forgiving transgression, springing from malice and rebellion against Divinity;
  12. Noseh chatah — forgiving sin, or forgiving humanity’s shortcomings due to heedlessness and error;
  13. Venakeh — and pardoning those who deserve punishment or consequence.

I asked him why thirteen. He didn’t know.

“But,” he told me, “I do know that it must always be thirteen. Not more. Not fewer.”

“Why?” I asked. “What does it mean?”

“It’s a mystery,” he said with a smile.

He reminded me of this mystery several months later, after many more similar conversations. It was my last Shabbas service at that synagogue before moving back to California.

With much urgency, he pulled me aside and said, “These are the most important words I can think to share with you as we part: Keep your eyes open.”

Puzzled, I asked, “Why? What am I to see? What am I missing?”

“Just watch,” he replied, gave me a hug, and was gone.

Now, several years later, I look at this list with an added dimension. While there are many debates as to the gender of each of these attributes or names of Divinity, some being feminine and some masculine, what really matters is the blending…the resulting whole thirteen. I now know the significance of it…it is the number of the Sacred Feminine.

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