We have many names for God: Elo-kim, Yud-Key-Vav-Keh, etc. Most of these names have male conjugations, and people predominantly refer to God as male, with male pronouns. However, there is one name that is touted as the “divine feminine,” the proof that God is not just male. This is the Shechinah. There are many disputes about whether or not Shechinah is a valid name of God, as it is meant to refer to the presence, or “dwelling,” of God. Nonetheless, the divine name of Shechinah is the feather in the cap of many feminist Bible scholars.
According to the lore of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, the Shechinah originates from a higher plane called Tohu. Tohu, Rabbi Luria says, was the precursor to our current world’s creation. Tohu was a brilliant system of potential energy, which harnessed every passion and desire ensured to overpower the senses. Tohu’s energy was too intense to enter vessels, so it imploded on itself, sending smaller sparks of energy down to the lowest earth — the plane on which we live. We live in the “other” world, the one with complete dissonance and ignorance toward other worlds. The inhabitants of our world mistakenly believe that they can be masters of their universe without knowing exactly how much is contained within it. The “exiled” sparks of Tohu become the Shechina, which brings light to the darkness, arrogance, rapacity, and impulsiveness within our minds and hearts with her otherworldly powers.
Part of the Shechinah is found within our very souls; She is a part of each and every one of us. It should be noted, also, that the word Neshama, meaning the divine soul, is female, and that is exactly the part that we intrinsically receive from the Shechina. The Neshama takes the best parts of us and attempts to expel the darkness, or help us understand and use the darkness.
The piece of the Shechinah within the Neshama helps us to engage in the self-transformative stage of birur, sorting the good from the bad. Just as the Shechinah dealt with passion and desire in Tohu, so too, the Shechinah can help us to overcome our desires that chain us to materialism and instead seek out the sparks contained within them and hone in on those instead. In other words, we can reflect: what are we really looking for when we indulge in certain things? How can we fulfill that desire in other ways?
After birur, the Shechinah can also help us with the second step in our self-actualization: tikkun. Within tikkun, we channel the exiled sparks into something good, cleaning away the grime and muck that cover their golden, shining surfaces. Here, on earth, the now-defunct Tohu’s remains can find purpose by sanctifying the vessels (such as chosen objects, actions, trajectories) that they find. These sparks position themselves for guiding our Neshamas to our correct path.
The Shechinah-sparks within our Neshamot function as magnets to the paths that are right for us. We are naturally drawn to objects or actions that match our sparks and will increase and brighten them. We are all attracted to different sparks because they match only our unique Neshamas. Every step you take, you are walking in the way of your divine spark.
Sometimes Neshamot are reused when previous owners do not do them justice and do not make it to the World to Come to be rejoined with the other sparks of Tohu. Re-entering the lowest world is welcomed by the Neshama because it gives her a chance to delve more deeply into her sparks’ specific purposes and compatibilities, as well as wipe off some grime from these sparks in their usage as they enter a new person; this functions as a reincarnation of sorts.
The Shechinah can only end her exile when we use our Neshamot for good, when the sparks are fulfilled. Therefore, we must do our best to stay true to these sparks and allow the Shechinah her freedom as soon as possible.