A Deeper and Surprising Look at Femininity…
He sat there, slumped in his chair. The date was September 11th, 2001 and the twin towers had just fallen. R’ Moshe Eisemann, author of “Shelter in the Shade”, lyrical thoughts on Kohelles and the festival of Sukkos , didn’t turn me away from his door when I sought his guidance on that surreal afternoon. The place was Yeshiva Lane, Baltimore.
“Why is Koheles a Megilla?” I asked him, several years later, after our first meeting.
“That’s a good question,” he said.
15 years later, I met his daughter, Miriam Kosman on her trip to South Africa as a guest speaker at the world-acclaimed Sinai Indaba conference for Torah thinkers. Only, we wouldn’t have recognized each-other had we met again after that first evening, even though I was hosting her in my home. The electricity was off.
In the dark, she handed me a copy of her book Circle, Arrow Spiral, about gender in Judiasm. “This is for you.” I thanked her.
“I’ve always wanted to write a book about women and Torah” I confided in her.
“You’ll write the next one,” she said.
This blog is dedicated to those who open their homes to others, and those who enter the homes of others, and build those others that they find there.
Special thank you to R’ Nir Menussi for his inspiration.
I am writing this blog during Chol Hamoed Sukkos. Tomorrow I am back in the kitchen. I thank my husband for giving me the time to pen these thoughts.
Indeed, why is Koheles read on sukkos? For the festival that is dubbed “zman simchaseinu”, the time of our joy, our sages couldn’t have chosen a more seeming depressing sefer. In fact, it is recorded that the sages considered keeping the scroll of Koheles under lock and key, and while reading it, there is something different about it…. It doesn’t feel like Torah. I know this is a weird thing to say, but it’s true. Torah is filled with hope, with meaning, with spirituality, with relationship to the Divine, and not so this scroll, at least on the surface.
Here are the first few lines.
“The words of Kohelles (also known as Shlomo), son of David, King of Jerusalem.
Futility of Futilities! Said Koheles – Futility of futilities! All is futile!
What profit does a man have for all his labor which he toils beneath the sun?
A generation goes and a generation comes… the sun rises and sun sets…. The wind goes around and around…. All the rivers flow into the sea, yet the sea is not full….
Whatever has been is what will be…. There is nothing new beneath the sun!”
R’ Nir Menussi, in his blog HERE, calls Koheles the poison in the medicine chest. There are times when the patient is so sickly that the doctor needs to call out his most toxic medication, the “schedule 6” prescriptions that would nearly kill a healthy person. Since Torah is the ultimate healer, there are times when the other books of Tanach aren’t enough to drive home its message and create a turnaround for our spiritual health. That is when and why Koheles is read.
What is its message? Why do we need it now, on Sukkos? How does it tie into all the other themes of the Sukka and why does this make any sense when we are in the peak of our joy, newly born after the intensity of Yom Kippur and the thorough spiritual cleansing that we have undergone?
And of course, let me not forget my original question to R’ Eisemann, why is Kohelles a megilla?? What even IS a megilla?
Distinct from the other books of Tanach which are written and stored on a double scroll, the megillos are written and stored on a single scroll. Hence, the word “megilla” means to unroll and reveal its contents. The other megillot of the set of five are Esther (which we read on Purim), Ruth (read on Shavous), Shir Hashirim (Pesach), and Eicha (Tisha B’av). As a teacher of “Pre-Messianic” women’s Torah, when looking at the other four megillot, it is clear to me that the theme “woman” traces through all these other scrolls. I wonder if perhaps that is the theme that unifies them all and gives them, in part, their identity as Megillot. In Esther and Ruth, the main protagonists are women, and in Eicha and Shir Hashirim, the allegory of the Jewish people as Hashem’s bride follow this theme. It would then appear that Koheles is the odd one out, as there appears not to be a theme relating to womanhood. Sometimes, a correlation is even deeper than we realize and surpasses a specific character playing a particular role in a story. Koheles is ALL about womanhood, or rather, the lower feminine archetype or un-redeemed aspect of womanhood. Sukkos is about the “higher feminine archetype”, a hint to the femininity that is emerging as we approach our Messianic future. And I know that this doesn’t mean anything to you yet. Let me explain.
“In the beginning, Hashem created the Heavens and Earth…”
In the entire first section of the Torah, there is one letter that is mysteriously missing. The “ס” or samech. It’s first appearance is with the creation of woman, well into the second chapter of the Torah, in the verse, “ותסגר הבשר תחתנה” – “and He closed the flesh beneath her”.
Yet this letter, the “ס”, features quite prominently in Koheles, right from the beginning in the verses I just quoted for you. סובב סובב – round and round, the world turns on its axis, the sun rise and sets, the winds blow and waters flow.
The sefer closes with it as well. In fact, the reason why the sages decided NOT to hide Koheles from us is because its second to final verse, סוף דבר הכל נשמע… “The sum total of the matter is that you must fear G-d, because that is all of man….” The tradition determines that the letter “samech” of the word “sum total, סוף” is written bigger than any other letter in the whole Megilla. The Samech is clearly the letter of this sefer.
Why is the samech missing in the creation of the world in all the six days and only surfaces with the creation of woman? The commentaries explain that the “ס” is there letter where the Satan slipped into the world, and is in the fact the first letter of the name of the Satanic Angel, “Sama-el”.
Why with the creation of woman??
R’ Moshe Shapira (as documented in the work of his Talmid, R’ Shlanger in Ohel Rachel) explains that the woman is inextricably linked to the sands of time. She keeps time with her very body, and like the moon, the tides and all the cycles of life, she fundamentally understands the rhythms of life. The repeating motifs of life and survival – or life and thrival, hopefully! – are her domain. They are not meaningless or futile when they are serving her goals of nurturing Jewish continuity and making Torah possible. This is the rectified woman, the Aishes Chayil. But without a holy orientation, life in the essential lower feminine nature starts to feel futile. We could easily play on the Koheles theme with something like this: “and she shops. And she cooks. And she serves. And she washes the dishes. And she shops again….” What is it all for?
Indeed, later in the work, Kohelles lists the famous 28 “times” of contrasting experiences.
“Everything has its season, and there is a time for everything under the Heaven: A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to uproot the planted. A time to kill and time to heal…”
Life, death. Laughter, tears. Closeness, distance. Silence, speaking, love, hate, peace, war. Everything and its opposite is included to create a rich tapestry of experience which is the fabric of every life. Such are the cycles of life… and the trap of femininity.
It is here that I want to capture a teaching that I shared in my shiur at the beginning of this year, called “Miriam’s Circle Dance, Aligning to the Future.” Here we will be taking the next step. The teaching of circles versus lines is foundational for an understanding of the special mission of the “Pre-Messianic Woman”. Our sages teach us that the world is approaching a circle reality and that this shift is deeply related to our ability to dip into our feminine gifts and share them. This is a special piece that we have to bring to the world at this time, but of course, first we need to know what they are.
There are two kinds of circles. This first kind encloses and suffocates spirituality and the second kind is spirituality itself. The former is what I call the lower feminine nature and the latter the higher feminine nature. As pre-messianic women we are reaching up towards the higher expression of our femininity and as such we have an affinity with the second circle. And if you haven’t figured out already… the higher feminine is expressed through a different sort of “ס”, samech, not the one that is the first letter of the Satan but the samech that is the first letter of the word Sukka. Hence, the Sukka is an icon for femininity redeemed!
Over Yomtov, I was paging through the commentaries and verses of Koheles and came across the last line in the Vilna Gaon. He equates the entire work with a verse you know well. שקר החן והבל היפי אשה יראת ד’ היא תתהלל – Charm is false and beauty is vain, a woman who fears G-d, she shall be praised. (See, I knew that the theme of this sefer had to be femininity!) The Vilna Goan sees through the the never-ending cycles of life depicted in its verses and compares it to a woman. Just like the whole book of Koheles is justified with its second to last line, “The sum total… fear G-d! Because that is all of man!”, the verse in Aishes Chayil that speaks about her vanity continues, “a woman who fears G-d, SHE shall be praised!” In both cases, there is a bemoaning of the futility of beauty and the pursuit of a temporal happiness, and then the remedying statement regarding the injection of the fear of G-d. What is going on?
Now for the central teaching that will unlock the puzzle and answer our questions. The mystics take us back prior to the creation of the world in order to help us understand how an Infinite Being, Hashem, was able to create finitude as the platform for life, and how it is precisely through our mortality that Hashem interacts to us. Two stranger lovers you couldn’t find if you tried – Hashem in His Divinity and ourselves in our utter and feeble humanity. And yet there can be no greater love. How did Hashem do this? How are we simultaneously a part of Him while en-clothed in bodies that are so distinct from Him?
The mystics teach that originally, only G-d’s presence filled existence. In order for Hashem to create man, He needed to first create a “womb”. This is what our sages refer to when they speak about “tzimtzum” – the act of constriction that Hashem employed to suck His light out of a predesignated area that would become the the universe. Hashem contracted His essence so that this circumscribed place would become a vacuum and could ultimately contain a world that appears separate from G-d. Imagine this area of clearing as a womb, feminine and circular. Once there was a place that was not filled with Him, He used a kav, a line, or beam of His Light, to reoccupy the profoundly empty space of the primordial hollow and inject its sustenance, sort of like an umbilical chord. This enabled just the right amount of G-dliness to permeate the space and conceive creation.
Once creation was “conceived”, human beings could encounter the Divine within the world of nature through one thing only: Torah. Torah is like the ultimate umbilical chord leading out of the circle of the natural world. In fact, the very word for nature, teva, is a similar word to the Hebrew “טבעת”, ring. Imagine all of nature and everything you can perceive with your five senses lining the internal periphery of the circle. It goes round and round ad infinitum and leads you only to more of itself. The inside of the circle are the verses of Koheles!
However, there is a catch phrase, that, thanks to Rashi, medrash and chazal (our sages), provides the key to the book of Koheles and reveals its true essence as one of Torah and as such, blasting the concept of “futility” right out of the water. That is why the simple meaning of the verses sound foreign on Torah ears because, of course, they are not true. “Hevel Havalim, vanity of vanities… “ This does not describe a life of Torah and mitzvot? How can this book be included in Tanach? “All is vain under the sun”…. in the world of nature, yes, that’s true! It is a cycle that moves from birth to death, blossom to wilting…. And ends in the grave. “But!” say the sages, “this is only true for those who live inside the circle! Who live under the sun, vulnerable to the inevitable vicissitudes of life. Not so for the realm above the sun! For above the sun, that is the realm of Torah, and the home for all that is spiritual. There, nothing is Hevel, nothing is futile. Eternity is built by every kind word, every mitzvah, every word of Torah!
This is akin to drowning in nature and falling into the abyss of the circle and the lower feminine. It is why the Satan was created with woman, because a circle without a line is a physical world without Torah. The Aishes Chayil is married to the Torah scholar and the higher feminine is in relationship with the masculine, with Torah and with Hashem. Her circle is not futile. It is a circle with a line and is forever redeemed.
Once we grab onto the rope, the kav, the line leading out of the circle, we enter into a new world. Just outside the circumscribed space that was the scene of Hashem’s tzimtzum and set the stage for reality to unfold still exists His infinite Light. By grabbing onto the line of Torah, up and over into the realm of above the sun, we encounter another circle. It is a taste of the world to come, a circle consciousness that is dripping slowly but surely into our beings as we approach the end of the six thousand years culminating with the arrival of Moshiach. Once we poke our heads above the clouds of the tricky illusions that seem so real, we are once again surrounded, this time, not by “Mother” nature, but by G-d Nature. We have stepped out of our homes of brick and mortar and find ourselves in a Sukka. The Zohar says that the Sukka is none other than Hashem’s embrace. It encircles us on all sides and becomes the new normal for the period of the 7/8 days of Sukkos. Chassidic texts describe the infinite expanse outside of the circle that demarcates our physical world as the aspect of Hashem that is called סובב כל העלמין – the One who encircles all of creation. This is the “ס” at the end of Sefer Koheles, written in big, “The sum total of it all. Fear G-d!”
Grab onto the line that He has cast you and pull yourself up and over. Hashem’s embrace is the most eternal love of all.
Hevel. Vanity of vanities. This is a “schedule 6” remedy for the soul. Shlomo Hamelech speaks with accuracy what we would rather not admit to be the state of our human psyches without Torah. It jump-starts us to contemplate the true nature of our lives and our strivings. When we find the kav, the line, the ray of Light coming from the outside of the circle penetrating inside, we step into the reality that only what is above the sun is real, only the Sukka is real, only Hashem’s love is real. And that, indeed, makes us very, very happy. Our sages couldn’t have chosen a better time to read the book of Koheles. It is hard to understand this with our minds only. But to our soul, it makes perfect sense. 
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For more on the lower and higher natures of femininity and how to tap into your own feminine attributes in these extra-special times, join me HERE
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 The word “megillah” can mean both to reveal and to conceal, a concept that is key to developing the feminine midda of tzniut, defined as selective revealing. (thank you Ruthie Halberstadt for this beautiful definition I learned from you!)
 The verse that blatantly mentions womanhood is one that doesn’t put women in a good light at all! “For I have found woman more bitter than death…” For an explanation of the four levels of femininity, visit my school for the pre-messianic woman. Obviously, this bitter description of femininity is the dark and fallen manifestation of womanhood and not a reflection of femininity in its entirety.
 the other word that is etymologically linked to the Hebrew word for nature is to drown! As such is the trap of the physical world
 In fact, the Talmud describes how the very letters that make up the word סכה indicate the halachic requirements of what is considered a Kosher Sukka, i.e. how intact and completely surrounding the walls need to be, whether like the ס, the כ or the ה.
 Also called אור מקיף – the surrounding Light
 The Ramban describes the word הבל as “vapor”, not vanity. Just like vapor is fleeting but exists for a short period do our lives and everything physical. The secret is to capitalize on the reality of the vapor and turn in into something eternal. This can be likened to sparks that peter out within a few moments. Were the sparks to light a barrel of hay, we certainly wouldn’t call the sparks “futile”, but its fleeting nature was combined with something much more lasting. That is the combination of Torah with our physical lives.