"In the 600th year of the sixth millennium [5600 in the Jewish calendar corresponding to 1840 C.E.] the gates of wisdom above (Kabbalah) together will the wellsprings of wisdom below (science) will open up and the world will prepare to usher in the seventh millennium [the 7000th year corresponding to the year 2240 C.E.]. This is symbolized by one who begins preparations for ushering in the Sabbath on the afternoon of the sixth day. In the same way, toward the end of the sixth millennium, preparations are made for entering the seventh. The hint for this is "In the 600th year of Noah's life ... all the wellsprings of the great deep burst forth and the flood gates of the heavens were opened." --Zohar, 117a
Two thousand years ago, the Zohar predicted that a shift of world-consciousness would occur in the middle of the 19th century. Whether or not one believes that this idea was anything more than an obscure musing that may or may not be related to actual world events, it's interesting to note that the pace of scientific discovery increased dramatically around this time in conjunction with the Industrial Revolution. For the spiritually minded, it is not a foreign notion that "windows of possibility" open and close within the fabric of reality that afford humanity the opportunity to harness aspects of innovative and revolutionary types of consciousness -- for good or for ill. One of these seismic shifts involves the status of women and the nature of their societal station.
Very recently, when some of our grandparents were kids, women were unable to vote in this country and women like Susan B. Anthony took it upon themselves to right what they saw as a major slight against 50 percent of the population. But why then? Why did women not clamor and rail for centuries against slights of this sort? Ostensibly, because they were not all that bothered by it. Yes, sociologists could busy themselves for years explaining the underlying societal factors that may have conspired to produce Suffrage, but however you prefer to slice it, it was simply time for that transition to begin.
Perhaps it was inevitable, but once again it is intriguing to note that more than 500 years ago, the greatest Kabbalist of the last 1,000 years -- Rabbi Isaac Luria -- wrote that men and women would begin to reorient from a "back to back" configuration to a "front to front" one. He envisioned an eight-step process that would transition femininity from a state of dependence and inequality toward one of independence and full equality. (For more on this see "Kabbalistic Writings on the Nature of Masculine and Feminine" by Sarah Schneider.) He foresaw that an "energy" would slowly seep into the air that would (so to speak) hover and make itself available to whomever might desire to make use of it -- much like the scientific knowledge discussed in the Zohar and even of kabbalistic knowledge itself.
Ironically, Kabbalah was intended to be the most exclusive, hidden and advanced area of Jewish study. Students were encouraged to conquer the "sea of the Talmud" along with its major commentaries, the massive compendium of its legal works and be steeped in (and living) its extensive ethical training before coming anywhere near the deepest, most esoteric and most elevated aspects of its teachings. Now, anyone with a smart phone can access information on the nature of the various spiritual words, angelic names and transcendental meditations while the person who is globally regarded as the most well-known practitioner is a pop singer. In many regards, Kabbalah is the foster child of the spiritual world -- separated from its rightful guardians and forced to dwell with (mostly well-intentioned) people who don't really understand it and more often than not inflict more harm than good. Nonetheless, those guardians need to carve out time for serious introspection and ask themselves how this state of affairs came to be.
The Jewish tradition teaches that once the global consciousness shifts and becomes "available" to the world at large it can either be picked up (and used) by forces of goodness, evil or something in between. If the spiritual community has not merited to safeguard the knowledge, it will spill over for anyone to grab. Either way, we believe that good will ultimately come from it, it's just a question of how matters will play out. Will they unfold in the healthiest, balanced and beneficial way, or will they be tainted with falsehood, confusion and "baggage"?
From this perspective, feminism was destined to enter our collective consciousness. Ideally, it would be received by well-adjusted, powerful and actualized leaders who could safely execute the integration of the concept to the world at large. That may have occurred in some cases, but in others it was accompanied by rage, vituperativeness and a tendency to self-inflict (unnecessary) wounds while its ultimate aims were achieved. Many would say it was worth the cost, others would not.
In my sophomore year of college I happened to be walking somewhere when I chanced upon a large group of women participating in a "Take back the Night" march. I stopped to show my support as I noticed several friends in the pack (and who wouldn't agree that women should be able to safely walk the streets at night)? I was shocked when many of these women -- my friends included -- scowled at me as they chanted and walked by. I was a man and that was that. My existence was enough for them to see me, in that context, as the enemy. It was then that I began to question the effectiveness, logic and health of this movement. I didn't, and still don't, question its ultimate goal, but its manner of implementation -- its occasional shrill emotionality and its hyperbolic characterizations of its perceived enemies causes me to conclude that like Kabbalah, the "energy of equality" that was introduced to humanity has been shared by two forces, one possessing a far greater sense of equilibrium than the other. Is there really a "war on women?" To my (admittedly male) ears, that sounds extreme.
Women's rights have come a very long way in a very short time. This is right and good and how things should be. It is also a facet of the plan for the ultimate unification of humanity that was foreseen centuries ago. In the long run, it will be helped along much more effectively using gentle tones, not adversarial ones, and building bridges, not ramparts.
Note: Sarah Schneider will be speaking on the topic of Kabbalah and Feminism in a rare NYC appearance on Sunday, April 29th.