Updated: Sep 8, 2020
Hidden within the stories of Jewish women are many powerful lessons. More than that, as we saw that they are sourced in the Shechina and through them we can have a glimpse of how the most immediate (and accessible) revelation of Divine Providence works. It is the Shechina that protects us, sustains us and brings judgment to our enemies. It’s also this manifestation of Hashem that has gone to exile with us and gives us strength to elevate the fallen sparks.
Jewish women give us immediate hints on how the Shechina work and, ironically, often in a way that challenges our perspective. We see that, in many cases, women did what was generally forbidden through temporary consent from Hashem. In Tractate Ketubot 22a, the sages teach us that “the mouth that forbids is the mouth that permitted”, and we see this principle happening many times in the lives of women from the Tanach.
The prophetess Dvorah lived less than 200 years after the conquest of Eretz Yisrael. Not long after Yehoshua died, the people’s Emunah dwindled and they began worshipping idolatry. It took the Judges’ determination to to save the people from their enemies, mainly the Cana’anites and Philistines, and give them some peace. Dvorah was one such Judge, which fliedright in the face of the Halachic directive that women’s judicial decisions are not binding. One could argue she was not a judge, but a spiritual leader, nevertheless the respect she commanded at the time was unimaginable.
Skeptics could claim Dvorah was an anomaly, a one-time occurrence. Even before that, Rahav who was a harlot, helped Yehoshua conquer by hiding his two spies on her roof. Rabbi Chaim Vital in Sha’ar HaGilgulim explains she was a really high soul and merited marrying Yehoshua. One could question, again: how could this be? If Yehoshua was “like a king”, or at least the highest Tzaddik in his generation, how could he have been permitted to marry her? Some of our sages give us the answer that Rachav was not actually a harlot, but a baker who provided sustenance to others. The word “sustenance” is mazon in Hebrew, and is very similar to the word “harlot”, zonah. It is also truly fascinating that she was later reincarnated as Hever, Yael’s husband, and later as Chana who alluded the name of Rachav in her exhultingprayer to Hashem.
Much later we find Beruria, the daughter of Rabbi Chaninah ben Tradyon and the genius wife of Rabbi Meir Ba’al HaNess. She was largely praised for her ability to stump the rabbis at the time. Beruria was sharp and gave great rebukes, but met an unfortunate end when she scoffed one of the Rabbi’s teachings. The fact that this was her sin and her punishment tells us a little of the high spiritual level she was. In fact, her inner strength is what enabled her to withhold her sorrow and refrain from revealing to her husband that their two sons had died, an act that spared him of much pain.
Perhaps one of the most audacious acts of women was from Yehudith. Some sources say this story happened during the Maccabean revolt. While besieging Bethulia, the Syrian-Greek general Holofernes cut off all supplies of water and food to the city. Yehudith, the daughter of the current Kohen Gadol went to the enemy camp with food and wine, promising Holofernes she’d help him in his battles. When the wicked general fell asleep from drunkennes, Yehudith cut off his head and brought back to the Jewish commander. When he showed it to his enemies in the battlefield, they all fled and victory was achieved. One could wonder what could possibly have inspired a Jewish woman to go to the enemy camp alone and execute such a risky plan bordering on crazy. It was certainly not the way of Jewish women to sacrifice themselves like that.
As we spoke in previous articles women teach us about the Shechina itself. Many Kabbalists explain that Kabbalah is essentially the secret of M’an (“mayim nukvin”, the feminine waters) and M’ad (“mayim dukhrin”, male waters). In spiritual terms, the first refers to our desire to serve Hashem, while the later refers to the abundance of Light that comes down. The mayim nukvin is necessary to elevate the fallen sparks back to their source, and once all of that is finished, we will enter the World to Come reality.
In essence, it seems like there’s a difference between these two “waters”, but one aspect of our Avodah in this world, is to simply realize that it’s all unity with Hashem. And, obviously all of humanity is responsible for elevating mayim nukvin as the “feminine” aspect in the relationship with Hashem.
The lesson we take from all these women is that their self-sacrifice has triggered an unimaginable response from Hashem. The response depends on a person’s holiness. The acts of the righteous can bring salvation in an instant because it elevates mayim nukvin and bring down the necessary mayim dukhrin. We, took need to understand the power we have in our mundane actions and never take things for granted.
There is certainly much more to learn from Jewish women, from the way they act to the way they think. While we can’t exhaust their contributions to wisdom in a single article, this should be enough for inspiration, for now.
This article was written and published in the zechut of all Emuna Builder Partners. May they have complete emuna and continue spreading emuna!