The Circle and the Line – Celebrating the 15th of Av - The Jewish Voice
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The Circle and the Line – Celebrating the 15th of Av

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By: Sara Esther Crispe

David and Rachel have just finished dinner and are discussing the events of the day. It is getting late, and Rachel says she is exhausted and going to bed. She gets up, clears her plate and rinses it off. She unloads the dishwasher, puts in her dish and makes lunches for the kids for school the next day. Then she signs the permission slips for their trips, puts their homework in their respective backpacks and picks up the toys off the floor. On her way up the stairs, she grabs a pair of shoes, takes out the kids’ clothes for school, switches the laundry into the dryer and puts in another load. After tucking the kids into bed, taking off her makeup and washing her face, she gets into bed and falls asleep.

Meanwhile, David has just finished reading the paper. He stretches his arms and realizes that he is also exhausted. He murmurs to himself that it is getting late, and that he should also go to sleep. And he does . . .

A status in Israel bearing the word “Ahava” which means love.

I know, I know, that’s a major generalization. But you must admit, it is true a lot of the time. If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be a generalization. And generally speaking, women are considered to be the multitaskers and men to be the experts at doing one thing at a time in a very directed and concentrated way. Yes, we easily can switch David and Rachel around. It ultimately doesn’t matter. What does matter is that there are two distinct ways of doing things, and that they work together, or in many cases overlap.

Kabbalah refers to these two dynamics as the circle and the line. Two of the most basic of shapes, yet representative of two extremely deep and complex ideas. Feminine and masculine—the circle and the line.

When it comes to gender theory and the Torah, more often than not, the emphasis is placed on the qualities of masculine and feminine, rather than male and female. This is because both men and women have both masculine and feminine qualities.

Generally, men are more dominant in their masculine qualities and women in their feminine. There are clearly exceptions, which is why David and Rachel can easily switch roles. Yet, as mentioned above, what is important is that there is always a circle and there is always a line.

This week we celebrate the holiday of Tu B’Av, the 15th day of the month of Av. It is known as the most auspicious time for soulmates to come together

This week we celebrate the holiday of Tu B’Av, the 15th day of the month of Av. It is known as the most auspicious time for soulmates to come together. It is the day that Judaism celebrates the concepts of love and marriage. In Talmudic times, the Jewish women used to dance together in the fields, in a circle, while the men would come to meet them.

But this is only the first of many circles that we see when it comes to relationships in Judaism. The most foundational and important is traced back to the Torah itself when it discusses the building of the Tabernacle: Makbilot ha-lulaot ishah el achotah (Exodus 26:5).

The Torah teaches us that there were 50 paralleling loops that held up the curtains, and uses the expression “a woman to her sister” to represent the idea that they paralleled one another. These 50 loops represent the concept of the woman, which is why the term “woman to her sister” is used to describe them. Furthermore, these loops held up the curtains alongside the pins. These pins, a symbolic line, represent the concept of the male

Circle and line. Feminine and masculine. These shapes can be understood simply on a physical level, in terms of the differences in the bodies of men and women. They can be understood emotionally, in noticing the ways a person reaches a conclusion, an end goal. And they can be understood spiritually.

If you want to get from point A to point B, there are two ways of getting there. One is to go straight, take a direct route and reach your point. The other is to go around full circle. In both cases, you’ll reach your destination. Each one has its advantage and disadvantage.

By creating a circle, you are left with many common points, each equidistant to the center of that circle, but all connected and related.

According to the Mishnah, during Temple times, the unmarried girls and young women of Jerusalem dressed in white garments and went out to dance in the vineyards. Photo Credit: lakeparksynagogue.org

At the same time, it will probably take a lot longer for you to reach your destination. When you take the straight course and walk the line, you do stay focused and directed and get where you want to get quicker, but you don’t necessarily see all the other connections that you might have picked up, had you veered just a bit off the way.

Clearly, a healthy balance is to function using both the line and the circle, using each when it is most appropriate. For example, if you are holding the baby, and the phone rings and the pot is boiling over and someone is at the door, you better learn how to use the circle dynamic—and fast! Multitasking becomes a requirement, not an option. At the same time, there is no question that if one was in need of an operation, he would never want that surgeon multitasking. Man or woman, that doctor better stay focused and in line.

Achieving this balance is a challenge, and is therefore a goal and purpose of marriage. Although we learn of these concepts in the Torah, we see allusions to this circle-and-line concept in many of the traditions of a Jewish wedding ceremony.

In a traditional Ashkenazi wedding ceremony, Circle and Line are featured prominently (This is not the case in many Sephardic traditions, where customs differ.) Granted, this is not an aspect of Jewish law, but when understanding the importance behind the concepts of the circle and the line in Judaism, we can then make the connections to how they play into the wedding ceremony, and learn the lessons they teach.

The allusions begin at the very start of the wedding ceremony, when the chatan, the groom, walks under the chuppah. Once there, he stands still and waits for his bride. When standing still, he is the line. He begins with his primary strength. Then the kallah, the bride, is brought to the chuppah, and the first thing she does is circle her groom seven times. Each circle brings down a higher level of spirituality as she walks around him. Just as her groom is a line, she begins as a circle, each in their primary strength.

When she finishes circling him, she stands at his side. Though both began with their exclusive differences, they are now the same, two lines, side by side. They recognize that even though she may not naturally be a line, in order for their marriage to succeed, they will both need to actively work not only by using their strengths, but also by strengthening their weaknesses.

The groom then presents his bride with a ring. The ring is perfect, an unblemished and unmarked circle. He holds this ring, this circle, and presents it to her. The bride accepts the ring by pointing out her first finger. They have switched roles. In this ceremonial act, the groom takes on the role of the circle, the bride the role of the line. He places the ring on her finger, and they join together, each one using the strength of the other.

It is the day that Judaism celebrates the concepts of love and marriage. In Talmudic times, the Jewish women used to dance together in the fields, in a circle, while the men would come to meet them.

This is then followed by the giving of the ketubah, the marriage contract, to the bride Traditionally, the Ketubah is rolled and is handed to her like a scroll. The scroll is reminiscent of the Torah scroll, which is also rolled. What is unique about a scroll is that there is no beginning or end, but rather “the end is enwedged in the beginning and the beginning in the end” (Sefer Yetzirah). A scroll is thus simultaneously a circle and a line. The length of the scroll when standing upright is that of a line, but when looking at the scroll from its side, we see the circle that exists within it. This scroll, the ketubah that the bride is handed, is the idea of the circle and line not only working together, but completely merging and coexisting, as both two independent parts and also completely as a unified whole.

Following the chuppah, the wedding celebration begins. The men form a circle on one side and dance, while the women form a circle on the other. Under the chuppah they stood as two lines, but as they celebrate their marriage, they celebrate as two circles.

An Ashkenazic Jewish wedding. Photo Credit: clarencehouse.com.au

As we approach this Tu B’Av, may we remember the power of both the circle and the line, and find our ability to unite together as a whole unit within our personal lives, as an entire Jewish nation, and in our relationship with our Creator.

And may we recognize that when we use both our strengths and our weaknesses—and work together—we become that scroll where we are not limited to a beginning, middle or end, but merit for our wedding to be a binyan adei ad, an everlasting and eternal edifice.

A Sephardic Jewish wedding. Photo Credit: YouTube

(Chabad.org)

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.

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