The Femine Divine - Ashera in the Zohar
1א

(כא) לֹֽא־תִטַּ֥ע לְךָ֛ אֲשֵׁרָ֖ה כָּל־עֵ֑ץ אֵ֗צֶל מִזְבַּ֛ח יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ אֲשֶׁ֥ר תַּעֲשֶׂה־לָּֽךְ׃ (ס) (כב) וְלֹֽא־תָקִ֥ים לְךָ֖ מַצֵּבָ֑ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר שָׂנֵ֖א יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶֽיךָ׃ (ס)

You shall not set up a sacred post—any kind of pole beside the altar of the LORD your God that you may make— (22) or erect a stone pillar; for such the LORD your God detests.

לֹֽא־תִטַּ֥ע לְךָ֛ אֲשֵׁרָ֖ה כָּל־עֵ֑ץ אֵ֗צֶל מִזְבַּ֛ח יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ אֲשֶׁ֥ר תַּעֲשֶׂה־לָּֽךְ׃

2ב

Zohar 1:49a

It says in Deuteronomy, ‘”You shall not plant for yourselves an asherah or any kind of tree beside the altar of the Lord thy God which (asher) you shall make for yourselves.” Are we to suppose that anywhere else it is permitted [to plant an Asherah]? [Of course not!] The truth is that the "hei" [the letter of God’s name that represents the feminine Divine] is called Asherah, after the name of its spouse, Asher, and the meaning of the verse is therefore: “You shall not plant another Asherah by the side of the altar which is established upon this[Asherah].” Observe that throughout the Scriptures the worshippers of the sun are called servants of Baal and the worshippers of the moon servants of Asherah; hence the combination “to Baal and Asherah.” If this is so (that Asherah is the name of the feminine aspect of God), why is it not used as a sacred name? The reason is that this name brings to mind the words of Leah, “happy am I, for the daughters will call me happy (ishruni),” but this one is not “called happy” by other nations, and another nation is set up in its place. It is written, “all that honored her despise her” (Lam. 1:8). But the real altar is one that is made of earth, as it is written, “An altar of earth you shall make for me.” That is why it says in Genesis, “dust from the earth.”

כְּתִיב, (דברים טז) לֹא תִטַּע לְךָ אֲשֵׁרָה כָּל עֵץ אֵצֶל מִזְבַּח יְיָ אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֲשֶׁר תַּעֲשֶׂה לָּךְ. אֵצֶל מִזְבַּח, וְכִי לְעֵילָא מִנֵּיהּ אוֹ בְּאֲתַר אָחֳרָא מָאן שַׁרְיָיה. אֶלָּא הָא אוֹקִימְנָא (קפ''ב ע''ב) אֲשֶׁר דָּא בַּעֲלָהּ דְּאִתְּתָא (ד''א ה''א) אִתְקְרִיאַת עַל שׁוּם בַּעֲלָהּ אֲשֵׁרָה. (נ''א הה הם אשר ה''א) וְעַל דָּא כְּתִיב, (מלכים ב כג) לַבַּעַל וְלָאֲשֵׁרָה. בְּגִין כָּךְ כְּתִיב לא תִטַּע לְךָ אֲשֵׁרָה כָּל עֵץ אֵצֶל מִזְבַּח יְיָ אֱלקֶיךָ. לָקֳבֵל (נ''א אשרה) אֲתַר דְּהַהוּא מִזְבַּח יְיָ, דְּהָא מִזְבַּח יְיָ אִיהוּ קָיְימָא עַל דָּא, וְעַל דָּא לָקֳבְלָה לֹא תִטַּע לְךָ אֲשֵׁרָה אָחֳרָא.

3ג
(ד) וַיְצַ֣ו הַמֶּ֡לֶךְ אֶת־חִלְקִיָּהוּ֩ הַכֹּהֵ֨ן הַגָּד֜וֹל וְאֶת־כֹּהֲנֵ֣י הַמִּשְׁנֶה֮ וְאֶת־שֹׁמְרֵ֣י הַסַּף֒ לְהוֹצִיא֙ מֵהֵיכַ֣ל יְהוָ֔ה אֵ֣ת כָּל־הַכֵּלִ֗ים הָֽעֲשׂוּיִם֙ לַבַּ֣עַל וְלָֽאֲשֵׁרָ֔ה וּלְכֹ֖ל צְבָ֣א הַשָּׁמָ֑יִם וַֽיִּשְׂרְפֵ֞ם מִח֤וּץ לִירוּשָׁלִַ֙ם֙ בְּשַׁדְמ֣וֹת קִדְר֔וֹן וְנָשָׂ֥א אֶת־עֲפָרָ֖ם בֵּֽית־אֵֽל׃ (ה) וְהִשְׁבִּ֣ית אֶת־הַכְּמָרִ֗ים אֲשֶׁ֤ר נָֽתְנוּ֙ מַלְכֵ֣י יְהוּדָ֔ה וַיְקַטֵּ֤ר בַּבָּמוֹת֙ בְּעָרֵ֣י יְהוּדָ֔ה וּמְסִבֵּ֖י יְרוּשָׁלִָ֑ם וְאֶת־הַֽמְקַטְּרִ֣ים לַבַּ֗עַל לַשֶּׁ֤מֶשׁ וְלַיָּרֵ֙חַ֙ וְלַמַּזָּל֔וֹת וּלְכֹ֖ל צְבָ֥א הַשָּׁמָֽיִם׃ (ו) וַיֹּצֵ֣א אֶת־הָאֲשֵׁרָה֩ מִבֵּ֨ית יְהוָ֜ה מִח֤וּץ לִירוּשָׁלִַ֙ם֙ אֶל־נַ֣חַל קִדְר֔וֹן וַיִּשְׂרֹ֥ף אֹתָ֛הּ בְּנַ֥חַל קִדְר֖וֹן וַיָּ֣דֶק לְעָפָ֑ר וַיַּשְׁלֵךְ֙ אֶת־עֲפָרָ֔הּ עַל־קֶ֖בֶר בְּנֵ֥י הָעָֽם׃

Then the king Josiah ordered the high priest Hilkiah, the priests of the second rank, and the guards of the threshold to bring out of the Temple of the LORD all the objects made for Baal and Asherah and all the host of heaven. He burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of Kidron, and he removed the ashes to Bethel. He suppressed the idolatrous priests whom the kings of Judah had appointed to make offerings at the shrines in the towns of Judah and in the environs of Jerusalem, and those who made offerings to Baal, to the sun and moon and constellations—all the host of heaven.

4ד
(יג) וַתֹּ֣אמֶר לֵאָ֔ה בְּאָשְׁרִ֕י כִּ֥י אִשְּׁר֖וּנִי בָּנ֑וֹת וַתִּקְרָ֥א אֶת־שְׁמ֖וֹ אָשֵֽׁר׃

Leah declared, “What fortune!” meaning, “Women will deem me fortunate.” So she named him Asher.

וַתֹּ֣אמֶר לֵאָ֔ה בְּאָשְׁרִ֕י כִּ֥י אִשְּׁר֖וּנִי בָּנ֑וֹת וַתִּקְרָ֥א אֶת־שְׁמ֖וֹ אָשֵֽׁר

5ה
(ח) חֵ֤טְא חָֽטְאָה֙ יְר֣וּשָׁלִַ֔ם עַל־כֵּ֖ן לְנִידָ֣ה הָיָ֑תָה כָּֽל־מְכַבְּדֶ֤יהָ הִזִּיל֙וּהָ֙ כִּי־רָא֣וּ עֶרְוָתָ֔הּ גַּם־הִ֥יא נֶאֶנְחָ֖ה וַתָּ֥שָׁב אָחֽוֹר׃ (ס)

Jerusalem has greatly sinned, Therefore she is become a mockery. All who admired her despise her, For they have seen her disgraced; And she can only sigh And shrink back.

6ו
(יט) וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהוָה֙ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֔ה כֹּ֥ה תֹאמַ֖ר אֶל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל אַתֶּ֣ם רְאִיתֶ֔ם כִּ֚י מִן־הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם דִּבַּ֖רְתִּי עִמָּכֶֽם׃ (כ) לֹ֥א תַעֲשׂ֖וּן אִתִּ֑י אֱלֹ֤הֵי כֶ֙סֶף֙ וֵאלֹהֵ֣י זָהָ֔ב לֹ֥א תַעֲשׂ֖וּ לָכֶֽם׃ (כא) מִזְבַּ֣ח אֲדָמָה֮ תַּעֲשֶׂה־לִּי֒ וְזָבַחְתָּ֣ עָלָ֗יו אֶת־עֹלֹתֶ֙יךָ֙ וְאֶת־שְׁלָמֶ֔יךָ אֶת־צֹֽאנְךָ֖ וְאֶת־בְּקָרֶ֑ךָ בְּכָל־הַמָּקוֹם֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר אַזְכִּ֣יר אֶת־שְׁמִ֔י אָב֥וֹא אֵלֶ֖יךָ וּבֵרַכְתִּֽיךָ׃

(19) The LORD said to Moses: Thus shall you say to the Israelites: You yourselves saw that I spoke to you from the very heavens: (20) With Me, therefore, you shall not make any gods of silver, nor shall you make for yourselves any gods of gold. (21) Make for Me an altar of earth and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your sacrifices of well-being, your sheep and your oxen; in every place where I cause My name to be mentioned I will come to you and bless you.

7ז
(ז) וַיִּיצֶר֩ יְהוָ֨ה אֱלֹהִ֜ים אֶת־הָֽאָדָ֗ם עָפָר֙ מִן־הָ֣אֲדָמָ֔ה וַיִּפַּ֥ח בְּאַפָּ֖יו נִשְׁמַ֣ת חַיִּ֑ים וַֽיְהִ֥י הָֽאָדָ֖ם לְנֶ֥פֶשׁ חַיָּֽה׃

(7) the LORD God formed earthling from the dust of the earth. God blew into its nostrils the breath of life, and earthling became a living being.

וַיִּיצֶר֩ יְהוָ֨ה אֱלֹהִ֜ים אֶת־הָֽאָדָ֗ם עָפָר֙ מִן־הָ֣אֲדָמָ֔ה וַיִּפַּ֥ח בְּאַפָּ֖יו נִשְׁמַ֣ת חַיִּ֑ים וַֽיְהִ֥י הָֽאָדָ֖ם לְנֶ֥פֶשׁ חַיָּֽה

8ח
(ב) עפר מן האדמה. צָבַר עֲפְרוֹ מִכָּל הָאֲדָמָה מֵאַרְבַּע רוּחוֹת, שֶׁכָּל מָקוֹם שֶׁיָּמוּת שָׁם תְּהֵא קוֹלַטְתּוֹ לִקְבוּרָה. דָּ"אַ נָטַל עֲפָרוֹ מִמָּקוֹם שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר בּוֹ מִזְבַּח אֲדָמָה תַּעֲשֶׂה לִּי (שמות כ'), הַלְוַאי תִּהְיֶה לוֹ כַפָּרָה וְיוּכַל לַעֲמֹד:

...God took this dust from that spot on which the Holy Temple with the altar of atonement was in later times to be built of which it is said, (Exodus 20:24) “An altar of earth thou shalt make for Me” saying, “Would that this sacred earth may be an atonement for Adam so that they may be able to endure” (Genesis Rabbah 14:8).

9ט

Rabbi Jill Hammer, "An Altar of Earth: Reflections on Jews, Goddesses and the Zohar"

The Zohar does not choose to say that the goddess Asherah is evil or false and that worshipping her is a theological mistake. Rather, it says that the theological mistake would be to assume that Asherah (the tree) is separate from Shekhinah (the altar), when in fact they are one. The Zohar seems to be saying that the object used to worship God (i.e. the altar) must be single rather than multiple, just as all the faces of the feminine and masculine Divine are ultimately unified....

The Zohar concludes with a brief moment of panentheism. The altar must be made of earth, the Torah says. The Zohar comments: the real altar (that is, the real Shekhinah) is made of earth. Therefore Genesis says: dust from the earth. Humans are made of the dust of the earth that is Shekhinah. Their physical substance as well as their spirit is made of Shekhinah-stuff. That’s a mother-earth image if there ever was one.

The Zohar does often get accused of near-paganism. In this passage, more than any other I have seen, I feel the Zohar tips its hand. The Zohar knows that paganism is forbidden. The Zohar also knows, as it reveals in this passage, that its mystical impulse to explore multiple simultaneous God-images, gendered deity, panentheism, and embodied divinity is a pagan impulse-perhaps a holy, ultimately God-centered pagan impulse, but a pagan impulse nevertheless. Yet instead of running away from the mythologized, pagan-like aspects of its vision, the Zohar betrays a discomfort with the complete condemnation of goddess worship. It’s the condemnation, not the paganism, that is rejected.

The Zohar believes that oneness underlies all things, even pagan goddesses. Yet the mystic of the time knows the Jews cannot recognize this. So, the Zohar says, in the world to come, we will be allowed to call the Shekhinah by Her name -Asherah. Then, She will be one and Her name will be one.