Excerpts from “A Monotheistic Model of Love,” by Gilla Nissan, Parabola (Spring 2010):
In B’re-sheet, Genesis, during the process of the creation of the world, it is said that God separated the water into two: sha-ma-yim, the water of above, and ma-yim, the water below. The Zohar: The Book of Splendor, a collection of works ascribed to Simon Bar Yochai of the second century CE, goes on to say that the lower waters missed and longed for the higher waters and so cried out to unite back with them. The Hebrew words reflect this deep relationship: mayim, meaning water, and shamayim, meaning sky.
God tried several times to create the world. He used equal measures of compassion, che-sed, and judgment, din. More than once the world collapsed until He incorporated an extra measure of ra-cha-mim, another word for compassion. Without love the world cannot exist, yet we humans were given freedom to love or not to love. God so wants to be known and be loved out of free will; forced love is no love at all.
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The Hebrew language has gender; we refer to God in the masculine; although, in His true nature He is without gender. In the Tetragrammaton, Yud Hey Vav Heh, the unutterable name of God, the letters vav and heh represent the male and female forces of providence. The male force is that which acts upon the world, while the female force is that which allows the world to be receptive to God’s power. We refer to God as Him because we want Him to act upon the world through the male force of providence. The Hebrew word for Divine Presence, on the other hand, is She-chi-nah, a feminine noun.
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According to the Zohar, love begins with a physical attraction, then communication and speech. A kiss is the merging of one breath with another. As closeness occurs, the lovers stop speaking and are merely aware of each other’s breath. Finally, they come even closer, to the point of physical contact, and their communication becomes a kiss. Here they are aware of each other’s life force. Kissing, explains the modern mystic Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, is a natural consequence of increased intimacy in speech. Two mouths come closer and closer, and progress from speech to breath to the kiss. The kiss, then, is the highest form of intimacy.
The Zohar describes four levels in the intimacy of love: physical attraction, speech, breath, and the kiss. These same four levels exist in the relationship of a person with the Divine. These levels are to this day reflected in the structure of the daily services in the synagogue and private prayer, moving the worshipper from one level of intimacy to another. The impact is deeply profound when one’s ka-va-nah, intention, is aligned with the words.