God is all that is, was, and ever will be, and more. God is also all that makes possible the transformation from “that which is” to “that which can and ought to be.” That “can and ought to be” includes a world based on love; caring; kindness; generosity; joyful celebration with awe, wonder, and radical amazement at the grandeur and mystery of the universe; social and economic justice; peace and nonviolence; living in harmony with the earth and each other; and playfully celebrating our freedom and the development of our understanding of ourselves and our world.
But that is not the whole story of God, only the most uniquely Jewish and revolutionary aspect. When Judaism came into existence, it did not have to invent the notion of the world as sacred—that was already common knowledge.
Judaism focused on bringing to the world a revelation about an aspect of God that was not adequately known or appreciated: God as the Force that makes transformation and a world based on love, generosity, and justice possible. It took the elohim (the various forces that had been understood to be sacred) and recognized them as one unified Force, a Force whose essence was freedom, love, justice, transcendence, and compassion: YHVH.
So long as humans are trapped in material scarcity, class societies, patriarchy, and other systems in which some human beings dominate and misrecognize others, the YHVH aspect of God (God as the Force of transformation) is badly needed. As I’ve described in Spirit Matters and in The Left Hand of God, these systems of domination result in a spiritual crisis worldwide. In the face of this crisis, the YHVH aspect of God provides a ground for hope that a fundamental healing and transformation of the world (tikkun olam) is possible.
When patriarchy and class oppression have been transcended and human beings are able to live together in accord with the basic injunctions of Torah (e.g., loving the stranger, seeking justice, pursuing peace, protecting the earth, sharing and replenishing the resources of the planet, and treating everyone with kindness and openhearted generosity), other aspects of God’s reality may become more relevant to humanity. This Jewish conception of God as YHVH—the Force that makes possible this transformation to a world of love and social justice—will then be less significant. But in the current historical moment, YHVH is badly needed, though this conception or face of God needs to be infused with what contemporary Jewish feminists call the Goddess.
El Shaddai: The Breasted God
This idea of God being seen differently in different circumstances is reflected in the Torah text itself.
God’s name (and the conception the name points to) changes from Genesis to Exodus. God tells Moses that “[I] appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, as El Shaddai, but by My name YHVH I made Me not known to them” (Exod. 6:3). El Shaddai—the Breasted God—may well have been a more feminine conception of God that the Jews had available to them in Canaan. Perhaps this conception later seemed less appropriate for the harshness the Israelites faced when enslaved in Egypt, so God’s liberatory face was revealed. The idea of YHVH was a different way for Jews to represent this God to themselves, a face of God that sustained us through long periods of powerlessness and oppression, keeping hope alive.
In my view, the current moment of struggle to change the world requires a reclaiming of this El Shaddai feminine conception, which is most needed to overcome the internalization of capitalist values by much of humanity in the twenty-first century. Some Hasidic masters point to Shaddai as deriving from the Hebrew words sheh dai (literally “that is enough”) rather than from shadayim (breasts).
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