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Women and Peace: Maturing through struggles

The world has entered a 16 day campaign to eliminate violence through women. The call is being taken up across a broad number of fronts, including by the United Nations and World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC).

As reported by the United Nations: violence against women is an often silent epidemic that respects no boundaries. Yet there has been progress, the United Nations News centre reports that there are now 89 nations with some form of legilative provisions that deal with domestic violence, whereas in 2003 only 45 countries had specific laws on domestic violence. Such fruitful endeavours will be encouraged by initiatives such as UNIFEM's 28 grants in 20 countries to end violence against women.

Ekklesia reports that WARC's executive secretary has commented that churches cannot embrace justice, peace and love if they fail to speak out, condemning violence against women as a sin. "The time is now for churches to confess their complicity and demonstrate their commitment to end violence against women." 

This is not just a Christian issue. Many men argue the validity their violence against women on cultural and religious pretexts and precedents. Such men will naturally congregate with like-minded abusive souls. Religious institutions who condone violence and suppression of women often have very similar excuses. Such institutions' leaders seem stubbornly determined to justify mistreatment of women (and others) based on millenium of precedents and are thus incapable of leading the evolution of humanity's consciousness into theological underpinnings that would mitigate the problems of abuse and neglect of women, who comprise half of humanity and represent the feminine half of Creation.

Teachers or doctors could tell you that there are times where students or patients will not cooperate with the study and treatment unless they understand why it is necessary. A soul can remain in denial that they have to go through the discomfort of mastering a paradigm or the consequent side effects of treatment. Sometimes they will rant and rave against the whole point of the topic in question or blame the side effects on the treatment rather than realising that the cause is the source of discomfort. This is also a spiritual and emotional truism too. Some souls seem determined to "go it alone" and reject the other or blame the other for their own problems.

It is probably pointless to try and convince such souls that their hate and misogymy is a reflection of internal unwellness. What we can do is take those students and patients who are prepared to learn and grow and give them mental models to understand why there is both man and woman, and why there is tension both between and within ourselves. 

One of the best websites I have found for exploring the psychological dimensions of spirituality is Algemeiner. There are two articles of merit that form the basis of this discussion:

Let's begin the discussion with why God created woman. Genesis 2:18 is quoted by Algemeiner as saying "It is not good for man to be alone; I will make him a helper against him" (the NIV bible uses the word "suitable"). This article directly links into domestic violence as it points problems for a soul who can not tolerate their spouse disagreeing with them. Often an a house where the man yells or more at their wife for daring to challenge their "sacred" views, "...the wife, in order to maintain a peaceful atmosphere, remains silent or even removed."

Ironically, it is often the man who loses the most from this dynamic. "Frankly, a man at times must be saved from himself, from his ego, his insecurities, blind spots, rashness and temptations. When a man learns to genuinely embrace his wife's contrasting personality and her otherness, he will travel to places he could never reach on his own."  

The same article goes on to comment that God and humanity are often compared to a husband and wife. In that sense, there is a parallel to the relationship between man and woman. God also found it not good to be alone and thus created "the other" in the form of humanity. God could be continuously revealed to us, but God chose to create a world that would eclipse his reality or even oppose him. This enabled God to experience the pleasure and joy of souls rediscovering God, something that could never happen if they never felt separated from God. Thus the one of the purposes of humanity's creation was to transform darkness into light.

This article concludes: "So the next time your wife disagrees with you, or the next time you "disagree" with G-d emotionally or psychologically — don't get frustrated. On the contrary, this is an opportunity for you to experience the ultimate raison d'etre of your marriage."

The second Algemeiner article continues the theme that we find ourselves better through struggle and interaction. The first article looks specficially at the relationship between man and woman, and humanity and God. The second article goes on to look a bit more at the tensions between man and woman, and also between siblings or even within ourselves. It does through a study of Jacob and Esau. It is a complicated article with many lessons and I find myself often referring back to the lessons it contains. It is fascinating and explores:

  • The story of Esau and Jacob not just a tale of two brothers who fought with each other, but also a metaphor for our own lives. "The first soul, or the Esau soul, is termed the "animal consciousness." This soul is the motor of our physical life and it focuses on the self. Its every act, thought, word and desire is motivated by the quest for self-preservation and self-gratification. At the core of this consciousness stands the sense of "I." The second consciousness, or the Jacob soul, is defined as the "transcendental consciousness." This soul gravitates to its divine source, striving to become one with the all-pervading truth of G-d. At the core of this consciousness is the sense of "I am not," or rather, "I am one with G-d." As they both have the same body at their disposal, this makes for the perpetual struggle of life: the struggle between selfishness and selflessness, between idealism and self-centeredness, between our beastly impulses and our spiritual aspirations."

  • Esau surrendering his inheritance for a bowl of red lentils; and through Rebecca and Jacobs' connivance losing his father's final blessings for "the dew of the heaven and the fat of the land" and mastery over his brother The only comfort Isaac can give a weeping Esau after realising they have been tricked is to bless Esau with some of the fatness of the land and the dew of heaven. However, he predicts that Esau's descendants will live by the sword until Jacob falters, which would be the forfeiture of his supremacy over Esau. Yet Esau's error was to not allow God's will to be but to try to speed the day of his brother's demise, leading to Jacob to flee. 

  • One of the questions raised is why did Rebecca collude with Jacob to deprive Esau of his inheritance? After all,  "There were two distinct blessings in Isaac all along that were intended for his two sons: Jacob was to be given the spiritual legacy of Abraham, while Esau was to be granted the blessings of the material world".  

    "Isaac and Rebecca -- again, like all personalities in the Torah -- represent two sides of life: the vision and its implementation. As a true husband and wife, they complemented each other. Isaac was an extraordinary visionary, but it was Rebecca who was keenly aware of how to translate that vision to the real world."  Rebecca understood that at that point in history, Esau had rejected the moral foundations of his father and grandfather and that to receive the blessing at that time would have sent Esau even further into an narcisstic pit. Rebecca understood that "Jacob would need to assume a dual role. Not only would he need to uphold his own torch, but he would need to carry the torch of Esau until the latter was emotionally and psychologically ready to assume his original calling."   

  • The book of Genesis shows that Jacob was not only blessed by his father but also by God. Yet it is not all smooth sailing for Jacob. He goes on to deal with trickery by Laban (not unreasonable considering his own antics) and having Leah foisted upon him. Jacob never seemed to grasp that if he had taken Esau's blessings, he became responsible for what Esau should have manifested through Leah. He discounted Leah, failing to appreciate she was "the dew of heaven and fat of the land" destined to help Esau make manifest God's intended legacy though Esau. In that sense, Jacob failed to nurture the crucial elements of humanity's consciousness that should have come through Leah's children (including righteous Reuben and Dinah).

    Leah's story is also a story of domestic violence. She might not have been beaten by Jacob, but she was not treated with respect. Favours were withheld from her by power plays within the household, and family members who offered her comfort were frowned upon. She was also the one who took the brunt of accusations, where other parties would paint themselves as innocent, even though they had orchestrated the circumstances (the story of the mandrake root being a classic). Also, in rejecting Leah, Jacob also rejected and mistreated her children. No wonder that he then went on to have problems of jealousy and trouble from excessively jealous children.

The article encapsulates some of the key traits of what it means to be a Jew. Yet these are not peculiarly Jewish lessons. They could apply to all of humanity.

The Jew is a paradox. He must wear the "garments" of Esau, yet he must remember that he is Jacob. The Jew ought never to confuse his clothes with his true inner identity, as in the opening joke. The Jew must engage the world on its own terms, not because he is essentially part of the world, but because he was charged with the mission of transforming it into a dwelling place for G-dliness and holiness.

The Jew is a bridge chosen not only to soar to the highest of heavens but also to affect the physical plane of reality. The reason the Jew feels so secular and mundane is because he was given the responsibility of communicating the language of heaven to the secular and the mundane, to help Esau remember that he, too, is a son of Isaac and a grandson of Abraham.

That is why the Torah makes sure to have us sympathize with Esau's tears when learning that his brother deceived him. The Jew must always remember that Esau, too, deep down longs for the light of G-d. Esau, at some deep level, is the rightful owner of these blessings. Therefore, ultimately it is the Jew's responsibility to transmit to the world of Esau the blessings he received from Isaac.  

Sadly, at the time of Esau's usurped blessing, he was not yet ready for the therapy he needed so desperately in order to reclaim his lost dignity. Instead, he attempted to kill the man who cared for him most: Jacob. That enmity has continued for three millennia. When the microcosmic and macrocosmic Esau learns to look to Jacob for moral direction in life, and Jacob, instead of shunning his true identity, learns to respond to Esau's yearning for help, we will know that Moshiach is at the door.

The other comment to be made is that Jacob's shunning is not unique to Esau, we have also been dealing with the shunning of the feminine. So these are lessons are not just to do with integrating our spiritual and animal consciousnesses, but also having the maturity to appreciate that similar dynamics and issus occur between the masculine and feminine.

Posted: 26 November 2006

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