Neither hellion nor heroine, this
archetypal female energy has been
By Rev. Maggy Whitehouse
Lilith is the mythical woman who ran away from paradise rather than bow to Adam. The legend surrounding her has been used by orthodox religion as an example of feminine evil and by feminists as an example of feminine power. Both stances, however, miss the mark by a mile. The nuances of Lilith’s
story, shared in the early rabbinic interpretations of the Torah known as the midrash,
can instead lead the way to a higher and more powerful perspective.
If you read the Bible with a literal mind, it’s a pretty nasty, misogynistic, xenophobic
book. But if you read it as a mystical Jew would—on four levels—every story takes
on new life. Mystics read the Bible literally (did it happen?), allegorically (what’s the
message?), metaphysically (what does this mean to me?), and mystically (what does this
say about the evolution of humanity?). Once we do that, all the smiting and cutting off
of foreskins become metaphors for the internal work that will heal our relationships
with ourselves, with God, and with each other.
Who Was Lilith?
According to the midrash, Lilith was created at the same time as Adam, as described
in Genesis 1:27: “Male and female he created them.” Most people assume that Adam
was already living on the physical earth, but Jewish mysticism (Kabbalah) teaches that
this part of the great plan is taking place in heaven. In Kabbalah teachings, heaven is
known as Beriah, the world of concepts and ideas. A mystic would interpret this as the
creation of the first idea of humanity—one androgynous being of light energy rather
than two gendered humans.
The next stage is the formation of two separate humans as souls with different
genders. This takes place in the world of Yezirah—the plane that Kabbalah teaches is
between heaven and earth and is where the soul and identity of the being (race, gender,
and so on) are fashioned prior to physical manifestation.
Genesis 2: 18 then describes how Eve was formed from Adam’s side: “Then the Lord
God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his
partner.’” Here, the androgynous one primordial being becomes two human beings of
different genders. It’s important to specify that the Hebrew text uses the word tsela,
which means “side” rather than the usual translation of “rib,” so contrary to what most
of us learned in Sunday school, the first human woman did not come out of a male
being. Instead, the original being God created (made up equally of masculine and
feminine) was divided at the level of the soul into two equal human beings we now
know as Adam and Eve. Only after eating from the Tree of Knowledge did they put on
“coats of skin,” becoming physical beings on earth.
But wait, what happened to Lilith? Lilith is what the midrash identifies as the female
aspect of that first androgynous being, created along with and as an equal to the male
aspect. Lilith was never born on earth, yet some interpretations of the legend take the