Mood Board: Visuals That Inspired Jewlia Eisenberg
The Wise Have Eyes is a particular take on the Parable of the Maiden from the Zohar. This parable has elements that are sensual and disturbing, groovy and grotesque. I set it to music in conversation with historical commentary and new readings I found compelling. I started this process in khevruta with Sarah Lefton and Jacqueline Nicholls. I read Sava de-Mishpatim, translated by Daniel C. Matt, and thoughtful essays by Daniel Abrams, Moshe Idel and Elliot Wolfson. As I moved from Zoharic fragment to song, I drew on moods, modes and textures from Sephardic women’s tunes of the Balkans, and worked with musicians and engineers who produced it with psychedelic éclat. But what brought me deepest into the text, and informed how I felt the music, was the work of Melila Hellner-Eshed.
Most previous commentary on the Parable of the Maiden has focused on the levels of PaRDeS, especially the pshat/sod relationship, and on male mastery of a female Torah. Melila Hellner-Eshed instead argues that the parable is about mutual arousal and awakening. The relationship between learner and text here is an erotic one between two subjects. Reading strategies are erotic play that awakens desire above and below, revealing mystic and Torah to each other.
I like this analysis because it is super hot, and there’s room for me in it. I mean, male mastery is cool, but not all the time for a thousand years, know what I’m saying Does anyone even WANT to top that long? Anyway, Melila Hellner-Eshed’s reading lets us all change it up a little—maybe even change it up a lot. So in the end, my take on this parable emphasizes female subjectivity, female power, female voice, mystery, magic, mutuality…and a tactile, joyful sexuality.
We can’t ignore the misogyny in our tradition, sometimes in this very parable. It’s important to call out ugly content and nasty hermeneutics when we see them.
But we can’t just stop there, not if we are working for the big redemption! The Zohar has to be part of that redemption—we need mystics on our team. And when we have the mystics together with the radicals, we will smash all supremacies. There will be a mighty freeing! And only then can we love our G-d.