Updated: Sep 8, 2020
Jewish literature places emphasis on the role of men and their accomplishments, which often makes it difficult to appreciate the contribution of women.
In her book called “Circle, arrow, spiral”, Miriam Kosman describes the dynamics of men and women andtheir role in everyday living. Men embody the aspect of the external dimension of the world, “going outward”, expanding and working. This is mode of acting is associated with the 6 working days of the week.
On the other hand, the female dimension reflects morethe aspect of the internal dimension, “being”, as well as the Shabbat which, as the sages have said: “One who doesn’t work [for] Shabbat, what will he eat on Shabbat?”. On Shabbat one doesn’t work in order to experience the inner spirituality that he/she planted during the rest of the week.
Understanding (and appreciating) these differences enables us to better live and know when to choose each mode.
According to the Arizal (Gate of Reincarnation, 2:2), women don’t reincarnate as men. They have already finished their Tikkun (rectification) in this world and are only come here to aid their spouses in fulfilling theirs. Nevertheless, as Jewish Law states, in order for this to be accomplished, a woman has to enter the domain of men through marriage and set limits to their ever-expanding desires and wills.
There’s a well-known Midrash (tale), which illustrates this concept. The sages tell of a righteous man and a righteous woman who were married for 10 years and weren’t blessed with children. As per Jewish Law, they divorced. The righteous man married a wicked woman and the righteous woman married a wicked man. In the end, the wicked woman turned the righteous man wicked as her, and the righteous woman turned her new wicked husband into a righteous man.
This shows us the immense power of influence a woman has in her marriage and society in general. None less than the holy Ba’al Shem Tov was known to have said “had my first wife been alive I could’ve gone to Heaven in a chariot of fire like Eliyahu the Prophet when leaving this world”.
For this reason, women are, by Biblical Law, exempt from getting married (although the Rabbis decreed she should get married so as to not arouse suspicion). Being the quintessential receiver, they are already fulfilling their role in Creation with fewer Mitzvot(commandments). Because of this, their focus is not so much as studying Torah (except for the Laws pertinent to them), but rather on Prayer, the work of the heart, which by its nature demands the female mode of “being”. When one prays, he wishes to become a vessel for the Divine beneficence from Above.
As such, women in the Bible are known to have wielded awesome power of prayer, and to have sacrificed themselves for the greater good of the nation. The known heroines such as Sarah, Rachel, Miriam, Yael and Ester focused on praying, acting with modesty, and operating behind the scenes. Embodying also the female aspect of Emunah (Faith), they were able to vanquish their enemies and bring salvation.
This focus on the hidden is what led the sages to reveal the many of guidelines for modesty (tzniut) and one of the reasons why women ideally should not occupy positions of power. Being exposed and engaging excessively in public can be greatly detrimental to her powers.
A woman’s delicate and nurturing nature is revealed in their role as mothers and bearers of the next generation. Interestingly enough, the Hebrew word for womb, Rechem, has the same root letters as the word for compassion, Rachamim. Again, when a woman is fulfilling this vital, often underappreciated role, she is simply “being”.
It is worth remembering that, according to Kabbalah, the Sephirah (Divine Emanation) of Malchut (Kingdom), through which God expresses himself, is also a female one. The righteous Jewish Kings, have always strived to make themselves as complete vessels, receivers of God in order to rule the nation. They were almost entirely devoid of any self-interest. Their point in assuming a female role was in order to bring justice and draw the people closer to their ultimate purpose. In essence, they were saying “We are only receivers from Hashem, and so should you be!”
The power of women cannot be underestimated, and we see this with the ascension of the female role in society in general. Times are changing and the female mode of “being” is gaining ever more importance. Evidently, this power has to be directed for holiness and good, and this is what will ultimately usher in the final redemption, as our sages have said many times in the Talmud and Midrash.
The Chassidishe Rebbetzin, the Main of Ludmir:
This article was written and published in the zechut of all Emuna Builder Partners. May they have complete emuna and continue spreading emuna!