It should be no surprise that Jewish traditions puts so much emphasis on giving rights to the woman. As a pioneer of “human rights”, the Torah understood the importance of women being well-treated and taken care of. This is not so much due to the fact that they, in general, suffer more during life but also because huge secrets of Creation depend on that.
Throughout the ages, women have suffered the most during wars, famine, at work, and at the hands of their husbands. Therefore, in addition to the 3 well-known biblical obligation a man has towards his woman, the Rabbis enacted 7 more, which are: to provide her medical care, to ransom her from captivity,to feed her children, to bury her, to support her and her daughters from his estate should he die, and to enjoy the fruits of her work. This is in addition to the 3 obligations prescribed by the Torah, which are clothing, food and pleasure.
In what seems to be a revolutionary act at a time of cruel patriarchalism, the Torah showed tremendous tact to ensure the needs of the wife are taken care of. But, if you are a regular reader of our blog, you know there’s a lot more than meets the eye.
Treating the Shekhina
Women parallel the Shekhina, the immanent divine interface of Creation, also known as the Sephirah of Malkhut (“Kingship”). Rav Chaim Vital writes in the Etz Chayim (“The Tree of Life”) that the Shekhina lost its 9 lower Sephirot when Adam, the first man, sinned by eating from the Tree of Knowledge. Because of this, women have, throughout the ages, suffered the most.
Interestingly, the Tikkuney HaZohar 48 (BereshitTaman) stated that, when this happened, Hashem bestowed 10 curses upon men, 10 curses upon women, 10 upon the snake and 9 upon the land totaling 39. These 39 curses are rectified on Shabbat and also allude to the Supernal Dew which will revive the dead in the future, since the word for Dew (טל) also has a numerical value of 39.
The sages of the Talmud gave stern instructions on how men should treat their women in the best possible way. They even advised that they should honor their wives in order to “get rich”. But why is it so and whatis the connection between these two things? Many Rabbis explain that one of the curses women received was to be subjugated to men. And, one of the curses men received was to work hard for sustenance. Since Hashem operates the world following the rule MiddahKeneged Middah (measure for measure), when He sees a man wants to annul one of his wife’s curses, He annuls one of his curses! Since he elevates her, Hashem also alleviates his suffering in working for a living.
The great Kabbalist Rabbi Shalom Sharabi (the Rash’ash) said that the intimate act of a couple is the external aspect of the incredibly holy service of Yom Kippur, which is its internal aspect. This shows a little how much potential there is and how many secrets are hidden in this holy act.
Jewish law also rules many guidelines in order to ensure that the act is done in a proper, holy way and brings peace and blessing to the couple. This includes performing it at night (after midnight preferably, according to Kabbalah), with all lights off, and when both spouses are at peace and in a good mood. This assures a holy soul will come down to this world, but even if the wife doesn’t get pregnant, new souls are always being generated by the couple and they will be revealed in the future.
The reason why lights must be off is that the intimate act must be as spiritual as possible and also so that the husband can feel a wife’s soul more (since they are more attracted to physicality). Moreover, it’s obvious that the husband cannot force his way with his wife, but must persuade her with kind words of affection to ensure she is pleased and satisfied.
Women and reincarnation
In Sha’ar HaGilgulim (“Gates of Reincarnation”), Rav Chaim Vital teaches that women don’t get reincarnated as men do. In fact they’ve finished their full rectification already in his generation some 450 years ago. This begs the question: are women then all new souls that never set foot on planet Earth before? The answer is that while it’s true that women don’t reincarnate on their own account, Hashem often brings them back to help their soulmates perform their rectifications.
The above is clearly not an invitation for women to abuse their husbands (as that can also happen), but to inspire them to realize the great potential they hold in their hands. In fact, there’s a Midrash that teaches of a certain righteous couple who had no kids. By Jewish Law, if they cannot conceive after 10 years, they need to divorce, and so they separated. The righteous woman married a rotten man and turned him into a Tzadik, while the righteous man married a rotten woman and also turned evil like her.
Women possess tremendous power to bring about the blessings Hashem promises and to also annul the curses of Creation. The Torah puts great emphasis on them even though, superficially, they have less Mitzvot. It’s up to us to utilize our potential as best as possible in our holy service!