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Charles Mopsik – Of the Androgynous Nature of the Soul according to Jewish Qabbalah

Charles Mopsik

picture by Marc Attali.


With today’s sharing from the Blue House of Via-HYGEIA, we offer the continuation of the excerpt devoted to the concept of soulmates with the thorough study of the concept of the androgynous nature of the soul according to Jewish Quabbalah, in Charles Mopsik’s final work, ‘Le Sexe des Ames, aléas de la différence sexuelle dans la cabale‘ (Editions de l’Eclat, Paris, 2003 & 2021 for the second edition). From page 65 to 76.


This conception of the primordial nature of the soul as being bi-sexual is going to lead , as we are going to see further on, into introducing this notion of bi-sexuality at the very heart of the person, as if beyond the separation, some remains of the severed part are still felt. If, indeed, the soul would truly be a whole unity before its coming to this world, it dissociation in two halves could not fundamentally alter its nature and each of the two distinct parts one way or another faithfully reflects this unity. To the discourse about the soul having a bi-sexual or androgynous nature, will be added a discourse about the human body as the seat of a subtile combination between the masculine and the feminine-the body being the fragile and partial double of the soul, its mount (in french: sa ‘monture’, a horse used as transportation mean), as the qabbalists would say sometimes. One of the early qabbalistic texts to specifically mention this co-existence of opposites a the very heart of a person is the ‘Tikunei haZohar’ (תקוני הזהר, lit. “Repairs of the Zohar”), also known as the Tikunim (תקונים), which was composed in the 14th century), a book we will speak of further on:

There is no creature that is not female and male at the same time. The son or daughter have two associates, the father and the mother. One gives a masculine drop, the other a feminine one. When the masculine dominates the feminine, the child is male; when the feminine dominates the masculine, the child is female.‘ (Tikunim 56, folio 89b).

Every creature has two sexes in its inmost part, but what determines its placing into the male or female gender, is the hegemony of the drop of the father’s seed or of the mother’s at the time of conception. Human matter is such that it is a composite of the father and the mother, the boy-or the girl-is substantially composed of his/her two parents at the same time, who are not only the originators of their offspring but remain influential in them for their whole life. The human being does not have one sexual essence, as the two polarities dwell constantly in him/her, although one dominates the other and it is only the predominance of one polarity upon the other that allows the classification as being a man or a woman. Such similar type of duality is at play at the spiritual level of the divine names and the sephirot (the emanations); this is why we can think that this bi-sexuality- with a predominant factor- is not a random natural fact for the qabbalist, but that it reveals a universal ontological structure. It matters to note that the text we just quoted does insist not on the ambiguity that could result from such a conception, but on the determining character of the hegemony of a polarity upon the other. Which nevertheless leaves open the eventuality of an waking-up of the dominated polarity and of a sagging of the dominating polarity. The social and religious separation of the sexes, considered by the historians as a Middle Age obsession, could very well have, as a triggering point, the fundamental fragility of  sexual belonging, that ought to be re-inforced through the help of multiple institutional constructions. The present quoted text allows us to feel that the Jewish esotericist was fully aware of this fragility and instead of vigorously denying the constituting double sexual polarity of the person like the official theologies did, he attempted to present it in a positive manner, so to elaborate with it a complete anthropology that assumes this very duality, but without falling into the trap of systems leading towards a fusion of the sexes.

The idea that the entanglement of the sexes in the human being corresponds to the superior entanglement of the male and female divine realities was re-affirmed by Rabbi Moses Cordovero (1522-1570) for whom it is a fundamental principle. Upon the verse describing the creation of Man, he comments:

The image and the likeliness from which Adam was created, are the Sephirot Tiferet and Malkhut; yet we know that Tiferet is included in Malkhut and that Malkhut is included in Tiferet, because they were emanated together, and in separating  from one another, the reality of one remains in the other, which the following words express: ‘So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh.‘ (Gen. 2:21). Regarding these two realities, the two degrees Tiferet and Malkhut in which are entangled the male and female polarities, because each of them have withing them both at the same time, The Scripture (Gen. 1:27) says: ‘Elohim created-Malkhut being the creating agent-Man‘, by the might of Tiferet that is at His image, and it is the male in the image of Tiferet. ‘Elohim‘, who is Malkhut, ‘created her‘, that is the female. The proof of the union of Tiferet and Malkhut lies in the creation of Adam and Eve, because  a double-face was created, two faces together; this shows that the male and the female from above were united. From the moment of their simultaneous creation, they were male and female, yet a problem rises: if it was so, Eve was included in Adam in a unified manner, why do we have to say that the male contains the female and the female contains the male? To answer this question, the Zohar says: ”They were composed with all sides, on the male side it contained the female, and on the female side it contained the male.’ The explanation is: the entanglement of the male in the female and vice-versa is in conformity with the superior reality, as besides the fact that Tiferet and Malkhut are together, furthermore, Tiferet is included in Malkhut and Malkhut in Tiferet.

The Union of the Sephirot Tiferet and Malkhut (the Male and Female from above) is not the only connection that binds them: each of these divine dimension contains in its very being its partner. As not only Man and Woman were created united together, forming a single primitive entity, the ‘double-face’, but each possesses inside a part of the opposite sex and that, of course, even after separation. The bi-sexual model of the world of emanation, the divine structure, reflects at the human level. Therefore, we are in the presence of the notion of a double duality: each of the two poles contains the other. The generic Man (the human specie, Adam) is male and female as he is the structure to which a man and woman join. But a person-let it be a man or a woman- is also a carrier of the bi-sexual polarity. This double duality give to a person a status comparable to the generic Man. What this conception bans is the possibility of a monad, a singular element strictly of an homogeneous nature. There is no Ego, no ‘me’ that is not also the other; there is also no other that is not also ‘me’. A sexed human being is never alone. What then makes the difference? In the case of a man, he contains  female aspects (Via-Hygeia note: in french: ‘du féminin’); in the case of a woman, she contains male aspects (Via-Hygeia note: in French: ‘du masculin’). No unambiguous answer can be proposed regarded the texts quoted above. Perhaps, is it about a matter of dosage, the difference then would be more quantitative than qualitative: a woman’s soul would be such because it would contain more feminine might given away by the Sephira Malkhut, and with a lesser amount of masculinity-as reciprocally, a masculine soul would exemplify reverse proportions. This conception, we will see, will bring  some qabbalists to ponder upon the border cases when the gap between the quantities is small and where crossings from one sex to the other happen.

Later, the idea of the presence of the two sexes in a single person re-surfaces in a more dialectical manner, with some Qabbalists influenced by Lurianic doctrines that we will examine soon further on in a more detailed way. At the beginning of the XVIII th century, Rabbi Jacob Koppel Lifschuetz (Poland) invoques a ‘scientific’ theory to support his conceptions, drawn only as a back up proof taken from considerations regarding human nature:

We know, according to the science of nature, that a woman also contain a male side. When this masculine side wakes up in her, she starts to desire the male, and thanks to this desire she emits a seed. But as long as this side is not woken up, she can neither sow nor conceive and any woman that does not include this aspect is considered sterile. It is the same for a man, as it was said before. This aspect is that of Yesod which is in Malkhut, it is the secret of Benjamin. Also, the feminine aspect within the masculine corresponds to Malkhut that is in Yesod, and it is also called Benjamin.’

Sterility and the failing of desire are explained by the absence of the other in us, the deficit of the other inside ourselves. Later, at the end of the XVIII th century, the Gaon Elie of Vilnius stipulates as a universal principle: ‘Male and female contain each other‘. We are going to explore the foundations of this affirmation with the help, in a greater part, of the teaching of Rabbi Isaac Luria related to the fate of the souls and the problematic of their relationship with the body. We will see that the qabbalists have considered to be a great anomaly the fact that a man or a woman did not have inside of them the opposite sexual might, that may lead to an absence of desire for the partner or also to sterility. Sometimes, if does suffice that one part of the couple hold these masculine or feminine dimensions so that fertility is triggered. It is possible that it is also upon this basis that the speculations of the qabbalists dealing with the necessity for a man to be united to a woman in order to be a complete person-thus reconstituting the fundamental unity-were developed. The One (therefore the Divinity) has been very early perceived, in the history of Qabbalah, as a matrix comprising of two mights whose differentiation is expressed in terms of sexual polarities. Man, according to the qabbalists, has been created in the image of God-One, which implies for them that he was formed at the origin as a being-One, because he con-joins in him the masculine and feminine mights. Jacob Koppel shed light in the most explicite manner one additional element of a very great importance. The underlying idea to his conception of the co-presence of the ‘sexual principles’ in every person is that the masculine is attracted by the masculine, the feminine by the feminine, not the other way around. It is because a man have inside of him the feminine element that his desire will be orientated towards a woman, and the other way round for the woman towards man.

Obviously, the ancient saying of Greek origin, according to which each species is attracted by what is similar, dwells in the background of its development. This saying was already found in the Zohar, for instance I, 137b: ‘Each species loves its kind, every gender is attracted by the same gender‘ and its rabbinical source is probably the Babylon Talmud, Baba Batra 92b. Facing this principle of the love of the similar for the similar, the desire for the opposite sex is an anomaly. Jacob Koppel’s explanation can possibly be considered as a manner to solve the problem; the simultaneous presence of the masculine and the feminine at the very heart of each person allows the desire of man for the woman and the desire of the woman for the man in the measure where it is the feminine within man that is the driver of this attraction for woman.

Earlier, a Neo-Platonist philosopher of the IV th century CE, Proclos, had attributed this form of sexuality to the gods: ‘With the gods, the two sexes are so well entangled that the same being can be male and female like the sun, Hermes and many others…‘ (‘Commentary upon the Timaeus’ 18c). What decides a person to be a man or a woman, it is not the fact that he or she possesses the masculine or feminine element-which in all cases co-exist in him or her-but because when a pole dominates the other in its settings. Regarding his/her desire for the other, it is not the dominant sexual element that determines his or her sexual orientation, but the ‘dominated’ element: the human being desire the other sex thanks to his/hers failing sexual element, diminished, lacking of this plenitude that he or she will find in the other. The masculine element within woman and the feminine element within man are like seals of the existence of the other sex at the very heart of their conscience, waking up their desire towards it and stimulating their fecundity. It is stricking that the qabbalists were not able to admit that the feminine could desire the masculine and vice-versa. They had to construct a complex system of weavings and entanglements between the sexes in each person to justify the hetero-sexual desire, which is, as we see it, as much problematic and difficult to understand than the homo-sexual desire-often considered by the common opinion as a mysterious anomaly. For the qabbalists, heirs of the ancient Jewish esoteric sources, but also of the Neo-Platonism, it was easier to explain, on the theoretical level, the desire for the same sex, than for the opposite sex.

A significant confirmation is given to us by a Polish qabbalist of the XVI th century, Rabbi Mordekhai Yaffé. According to his views, contrary to the desire for the opposite sex, the desire for one’s own sex comes exclusively from the ‘natural’ soul, and does not proceed from the souls aspiration to re-unite, in order to reconstitute the complete generical Man, at the same time male and female, who existed before birth, according to a conception that the Zohar took and adapted to the platonistic myth of the androgyne ( see his explanation in ‘Commentaire du Pentateuque’ by Menahem Racanati, folio 52d). The homo-sexual desire is therefore strictly ‘natural’, while the hetero-sexual desire is of an ‘supernatural order’ and spreads upon the level of the ‘spiritual soul’. It is not its character against-nature that defines its insufficiency-on the contrary as we have shown above-but rather because it flows from the most natural logic and is not motivated by the nostalgy of the primitive unity of the androgynous soul before its coming to the world. This type of explanation shows to such an extent that the qabbalists’ way of reasoning is opposed to the philosophic and religious discourses of the Middle Ages and its following periods up to- let’s say it-also our contemporary epoch.

For other Jewish writers, also of the XVI th century, the love of a man for a friend of the same sex was commonly put above the love for a woman, which only ends up by the formation of a ‘one flesh’, according to the formula used in Genesis (2:24), while the first one, considered as completely non-conditional, leading to the unity of two souls, according to the formula taken from the story of David’s love for Jonathan, in Samuel 18:1; such is after all the interpretation of the Maharal of Prag, in his ‘Derekh Hayyim’, chapter 5, page 262. We see that the theories of the distinction of the sexes cannot be reduced to a few superficial sketches and that they implied systems of representation that reached, especially in the teachings of Rabbi Isaac Luria, a high degree of complexity.








More about Charles Mopsik: 🌿🌿About the publisher and the book:
Charles Mopsik – Of the Androgynous Nature of the Soul according to Jewish Qabbalah

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