Guest Author - Linda J. Paul
When I think of Judaism, I think of a monotheistic religion, that worships a patriarchal God. But, in the Hebrew Bible in the book of Jeremiah 7: 17-18 God speaks to Jeremiah saying:
“Do you not see what they do in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? The children gather wood and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead the dough to makes cakes to the Queen of Heaven and to pour out libations to the other gods, in order to anger me!” He tells Jeremiah that if the people do not stop this worship and turn only to Yahweh, a great catastrophe will befall them. Their answer? “When we poured out libations to the Queen of Heaven, we had enough to eat, we had no war, and when we stopped doing that we went hungry and we died by the sword and through famine.”
So, who is this Queen of Heaven that God is talking about? Could it be Shekinah? Shekinah is a term from the Talmud which describes the manifestation of God’s presence on Earth. Shekinah is seen by many as a representation of the feminine aspects of God. The word Shekinah is a feminine word in Hebrew, and is used in Kaballistic teachings as well as in the Talmud.
Going back into ancient history, when the Israelites settled into the land of Canaan, they worshipped the Goddess Asherah. In fact, she was referred to as El’s Consort. El and Asherah were thought to be the father and mother of all the Gods, with the exception of Baal, who parentage is in question. The worship of Asherah was common in the Canaanite households, and eventually spread through much of the Middle East. Her connections to a Tree of Life in a sacred garden with a serpent as her companion predate the Bible. In fact, Asherah is sometimes seen as the Tree of Life itself.
This also explains her importance in Kabbalistic teachings, where she is seen as her later incarnation.. Shekinah. Her story changes a bit here and she is seen as the consort of Yahweh, and holds the title of God-the-Mother. Yahweh was considered to be a strong disciplinarian, to say the least. Shekinah represented the maternal aspect. She was the loving and nurturing mother who would go to bat for her children, even against Yahweh himself.
The transformation of Ashera into Shekinah was an easy one for her worshippers. The transition came about when Yahweh changed his residence. Until then he had been thought to dwell in the clouds. The Israelites built a desert Tabernacle in his name, and later added Solomon’s Temple. Yahweh took up residence there. The word Shekinah in Hebrew means “the act of dwelling,” but takes on feminine aspects. The Shekinah of Yahweh took on physical feminine form.
One tradition claimed that Shekinah (perhaps as Astera) had always dwelt among her people, but that their sins had drove her away and into Heaven. But, being the good mother, she came back time and again to try and save them from themselves. Shekinah became so real to the people that she appeared in physical form in two major synagogues.
As the Jews journeyed so did Shekinah. Sightings of her were said to have occurred in Italy, Spain, Germany, Poland and Russia. She took care of the sick, the poor, and those who repented their sins. The Shekhina was also known to kiss and release the souls of the those who were perfectly pure and free from sin. Only six people had this honor; Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron and Miriam. They could not be taken by the Angel of Death because of their perfect purity. Some link Shekinah and Moses together, as it was Shekinah who released and carried the soul of Moses to it’s final resting place.
The feminine spirit of Shekinah still lives on every Saturday as Shabbot Hamalka, the Queen Bride of God. The Sabbath candles are lit, any by tradition, they must always be lit by a woman.
Follow the link at the bottom of the page for more about Shabbot Hamalka.