Leaning Left

David Eber

Why on this night do we lean to the left? The most common answer is that it is to show that we are free and that leaning left mimics the tradition of the Greeks and the Romans in their symposia. Perhaps it is because we eat with our right hand; however, even left-handed people lean to the left, unlike with t’fillin (phylacteries) which a southpaw wears on their right arm, tradition dictates that lefties should still lean left. Why is leaning to the left so important?

“With a strong hand and an outstretched arm, for his mercy endures forever.” This phrase from Psalm 136:12, is included in the Hagaddah and it is commonly understood that Hashem’s strong hand and arm are on the right, and that the left is weak.

In Kabbalah the left side is traditionally associated with things the Kabbalists thought were dangerous: judgment, femininity and the earthly. It is the side of death and evil, and it is alluring and seductive. Many of these associations are offensive today to the modern reader, especially the associations of the feminine with danger.

Reconstructing our understanding of what the left side can represent in our tradition is an important task. Today many of us are disconnected from the earthly and the feminine in our daily lives. We spend too much time in the mundane, day-to-day, task-oriented and male-dominated world. Leaning to left is an invitation to embrace the earthly, to embrace the feminine, to embrace creativity and to embrace Hashem’s female divine presence in the world, the Shekhinah.

According to our tradition the angel Gabriel is the one who stands to our left. Gabriel is associated with fire (Yoma 21b) and also with the ripening of fruits (Sanh. 95b). Gabriel is Hashem’s messenger who enacts God’s will on earth. Gabriel is also associated with Hashem’s might.

I invite us this Pesach to understand leaning to the left, not just as a sign of our freedom from oppression, but as our leaning in towards Hashem’s earthly presence. Leaning in towards the Shekhinah, the feminine, and the earthly; not as a sign of flirting with danger, but as a moment of embracing what the world sorely needs: reconnection with the earth, with femininity and with compassion. May we also draw strength from the presence of Gabriel the mighty and may we inherit his fiery passion to help us bring forth a fruitful healthy planet and society. 

Author bio: 

David Eber is a third year rabbinical student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, and is currently an intern with The Shalom Center, and at Haverford College. 

4 Comments

the Female aspects of the Divine

<p>Thank you for this thoughtful writing. Your mind and heart are facing a direction (also my own) which makes me thing=k you may be open to considering your use of words ( so central to us as Jews). Consider please the possibility that the word Feminine already is embedded too deeply in stereotypes we are not interested in nourishing. Yes, it is time to lean toward compassion and environmental awareness. Let us claim it as - from now on - equally male as it is female (but please , not as feminine). Feminine as a word or description is weak. Feminine is a social construct. Female is a biological fact embodying strength. They are not the same thing. Thank you</p>

Leaning to the left

<p>While I love adding layers of meaning to Jewish rituals, one of the main reasons that Greeks, Romans and Jews leaned to the left when they were eating was that leaning to the right is a choking hazard. So that should be noted also, although why we were created that way is another story.</p>

Leaning to the Left

Thank you for this. I would also add that, in terms of our brain, using one side awakens the opposite side - our right hand transmits more strongly to our left brain - the logical verbal brain. Using our left hand transmits more strongly to our right brain - our spatial holistic brain. Consciously using the opposite hand of what we are accustomed to also awakens our brain - challenging both hemispheres to work together in ways that we may not be as familiar with. Therefore, leaning to the left, as a conscious action brings our brains into alignment and awakens the possibilities of the dreaming creative right hemisphere, the side that has a deeper awareness and capacity for, spiritual energies.

leaning to the feminine

our world is totally out of balance worshipping technology and attempting to control nature..if we can ever return to reverence for nature, the feminine, compassion and humanity, we can bring peace to this world. melody

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