Why is G-d always referred to in the male gender? We call Him our Father, our
King, and always a "He". Surely G-d is not a man. Why does Judaism perpetuate
this patriarchal male dominance?
Indeed, G-d transcends gender. Being the source of all life, G-d encompasses
both male and female. This is reflected in our prayers. Sometimes we appeal to
G-d's female aspect, sometimes His male aspect. It depends on the context.
In fact, we refer to G-d in the feminine in one of the most popular prayers -
"Lecha Dodi". Every Friday night, we welcome the "Shabbos Bride" and
"Shabbos Queen". Who is this royal bride? None other than the Shechina,
the feminine divine presence that descends on the day of rest. Why is G-d
feminine in this prayer, while in most other prayers masculine?
To answer, let's analyze a basic difference between male and female. Meet
Brenda and Mike.
Mike comes home from a stressful day at work. Brenda senses his bad mood.
Brenda: What's wrong Mike? Everything alright?
Brenda: What's disturbing you?
Brenda: (hurt) What do you mean nothing?! I can see
something's wrong. Don't you care about me enough to share your feelings?
Brenda has forgotten that men only share their problems with you if they
think you can help them find a solution. Otherwise, why burden someone else with
your problems? Since Mike feels that his issues at work are not Brenda's area of
expertise, he keeps them to himself. She can't advise him, so he'll work it out
on his own. Meanwhile she feels neglected and unloved, because women share their
feelings, not to get a solution, but just to share and feel close and loved. She
wasn't planning on giving him advice for his problems, she just wanted to be
there for him and soothe him. But men don't get that.
Now let's turn the tables around. On another day, Brenda comes home from
work, and before Mike even says anything she tells him:
Brenda: I have had such a stressful day. My boss is an
animal. He just hasn't stopped pressuring me and no matter what I do it's never
enough. And I can't stand his condescending attitude.
Mike: I've told you a million times you should leave that
job. Why do you stay there?
Brenda: (frustrated) I didn't ask for career advice, I was
telling you about my day. I'm perfectly happy in my job.
What Mike doesn't realize is that women deal with their problems differently
to men. Brenda wasn't looking for advice, she was looking for understanding. All
Mike had to do was listen with an empathetic look and the odd comforting "mmmm"
sound. This is the feminine way of dealing with a problem: share it with someone
who cares, and by them listening to you it won't feel so bad anymore. Men like
to offer advice, but women just want to share their frustrations and then feel
better about it, even if nothing has changed.
This is of course only a generalization. But it's mostly true. For a man, a
problem needs a solution. For a woman, a problem needs to be shared. Men try to
change the facts. Women try to change the feelings. Men try to improve the
situation. Women try to feel better about things as they are.
Now let's look at G-d. G-d has both masculine and feminine modes of
expression, because G-d is the source of both. G-d can be the masculine fixer of
problems, or the feminine soother of troubled souls. In prayer we appeal to
both. It depends on the circumstance. Sometimes we want a masculine response
from G-d, and sometimes we need the more feminine approach.
Usually we pray because there is a problem that needs fixing. Someone's sick
and need to be healed, someone's down and needs picking up, there are hungry
people that need to be fed, and the world is full of pain and sorrow and it
needs to change. It would be out of place to appeal to the feminine side of G-d
with these requests. We don't want to feel better about poverty; we want an end
to it. We don't want to come to terms with sickness; we want a cure. So we pray
to "Our Father, our King", the male aspect of the divine. "G-d, fix the
But then there are times when we are not looking to change the world at all,
but rather to appreciate it on a deeper level. On Shabbos, we don't try to fix
things. We desist from the aggressive mission of improving the world through
work and creativity, and enjoy the natural pleasures that the world already has
- friendship, family, spirituality. Rather than changing reality, we seek to
nurture its innate beauty.
So on Friday night, we welcome the divine presence in the form of a "Shabbos
Queen", or a "Shabbos Bride". It is the feminine aspect of the divine that
descends on Shabbos, not to solve the problems of the world, but to soothe us
into the awareness that the world we live in is already beautiful.
During the week we go about the male business of fixing the world. On
Shabbos, we reach the feminine realisation that we need not change a thing.