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Thursday, August 11, 2011

In the beginning, part 2

Meanwhile, the man reduced the woman’s name from Mystery’s “Lifesaver” and even his own “Lifegiver” to a bewildering new name – “Helpmeet.”  This new version of “Lifesaver” confused the man so much that he further mistranslated her name as “Housecleaner,” “Cook” and “Secretary.”

Forgetting her original identity, Lifesaver toiled beside the man and for the man.  When her toil of the ground was done, she returned to continue her toil in the home.

Perhaps the mystic quest can be summed up by the ancient axiom, “Know thyself.”  Jesus affirmed this notion when he said in Luke, “the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21) and in Thomas, “Whoever knows everything, but is lacking within, lacks everything” (67).  Our process of rediscovering who we are can only take place if we also discover who we are not.  If by divine grace, we open ourselves up to the mystic quest, we will question, wrestle and debrainwash.  Even if our true identity trumps the fa├žade we’ve adopted, this process is terrifying.  Until we confront it face-to-face, little do we realize the depth by which our stablity rests upon our perceived identity.

Woman’s identity has been revealed from the beginning, but it has been hidden behind one veil after another.  I’d like to peer behind the veil of a single phrase in Hebrew the author of Genesis says God used to describe woman: ezer kenegdo.  While maintaining this phrase in Hebrew, the scripture reads as follows: “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone.  I will make for him an ezer kenegdo” (Gen 2:18).

We English speakers are more familiar with the phrase the English language translators have chosen, particularly “helper” or “helpmeet.”  The first of these, ezer, is coded by Strong’s in the H5826-28 series.  Gesenius’s Lexicon explains it this way: “the primary idea lies in girding, surrounding, hence defending.”  Brown-Driver-Briggs OT Hebrew-English Lexicon agrees: “to surround, that is protect or aid: help, succour.”

Surprisingly, the most common biblical use of ezer applies to the power and the strength of the Lord Himself.  Consider, for example, how He is described in the Psalms: “our ezer and our shield” (33:20); my ezer and my deliverer” (70:5); and he who has “bestowed ezer on a warrior” (89:19).  In Hosea 13:9, we see the consequence when we lose our ezer: “You are destroyed, O Israel, because you are against me, against your ezer.”

Hebrew scholar and Assyriologist R. David Freedman examined all twenty-one biblical refrences of ezer and clustered them into these three primary meanings: “savior,” “strength,” and “majesty.”  Investigating the two roots of the Hebrew word, he explained, “The Hebrew word ‘ezer’ is a combination of two roots, one ‘-z-r meaning ‘to rescue,’ ‘to save,’ and the other g-z meaning ‘to be strong.’”

To incorporate kenegdo into their translation, the King James version translates kenegdo as “meet” to create the single word “helpmeet.”  Kenegdo is used only once in the Bible and, like many of my favorite biblical concepts, involves paradox.  It can mean either “coming along side” or “coming against.”  Jewish sage and Talmut commentator Rashi established what has become the conventional view of this paradox among Jewish mystics: “if the man is worthy, then his wife will be an ezer (helper), and if he’s unworthy, she’ll be a ‘kenegdo’ (against him, an opposite force).”

Jewish scholar Michael L. Rosenzweig reviewed the definitions other scholars had given to kenegdo and discovered, among others, the following: “’at his sude,’ that is fit to associate with; or ‘as over against him,’ that is corresponding to him” (Hertz); “corresponding to him” (Cassuto); and, finally, the definition Rosenzweig himself adopts, “equal to” (Blackman, Danby, Lehrman, and Lipman).

If ezer is a combination of “rescue” and “strength,” a better translation could be “strong savior,” or, as chosen for my story, “lifesaver.”  If kenegdo is “equal to,” then we could translate the full phrase as “lifesaver, equal to him.”  In other words, it is not that the woman is a “helper” beneath the man, nor is it that she is a “lifesaver” above the man, it is that she is a “lifesaver” equal to him.

If the woman is made akin to a “lifesaver” “equal to” the man, then it appears both men and women have been imparted with a strength that has eluded.  Quietly concealed behind the veil of the single word ezer lies a hint that we all suffer collective amnesia and have forgotten who we are.  As we surrender to the power of the Spirit, may we find the boldness to lift the veils and know ourselves.

Sly Mystery knew in advance Lifesaver would forget her identity . . .  
Stay tuned for part 3 as Lifesaver continues her story and for part 4 when Earth human also forgets who he is . . .

 © 2011 by karina.  All rights reserved.  Please use with permission or a citation that links to this blog.