Ohel Rachel Chapter 2 – Finding Serenity Within

Chapter 2 – Finding Serenity Within  

The first paradigm shift regarding the spiritual journey of the Jewish woman was presented in the first chapter.  The highest potential for spiritual encounter with Hashem can be found within the contours of her own heart and in all the roles she occupies. Through revealing her authentic core to herself she prepares her environment for the blossoming of Torah, both of her family and by extension of the entire Jewish people.

But here’s the question. If the men were instructed with harsh speech prepping them for battle with the forces of evil within and with-out, does that infer that the tranquility ascribed to righteous women is simply a walk in the park?  As we said, one can only speak gently when the imperative goes along with the natural instincts of the “commandee”.  Yet everyone knows that spiritual greatness is the result of deep inner work.  What does this mean here?

Put differently, battle implies a division of two camps, opponents, or inner drives. This distinction of these parts simply doesn’t apply here; rather, there is a wholeness within the rectified female psyche that knows no division and therein lies its beauty.  Let me explain.

The Torah reiterates; “a man carries a yoke (of responsibility) from his youth…”, and “such is the way of Torah, (a man should be prepared) to eat bread with salt and measured water (in order to live a life of Torah).”  In these verses we have an apt description of masculine battle, the overpowering of the soul over the body, conscious choice over instinct. Surely this applies to women too, as members of the human race?  Perhaps deprivation, repression of our urges, profound self-sacrifice and even martyrdom are the order of the day and the path to greatness for men and woman alike?

The medrash indicates otherwise.  It states; “when she sees there is no grain with which to feed her household she immediately cries out…” Her role is to care for her family, and deprivation could never achieve that!  “A woman who abstains from involving in the physical world is destroying the world.”  Her path is not one of relegating the physical but going with it, for the holy mission of crafting her home.  All her instincts and urges, i.e. her nesting, beautifying and homemaking, infuse her home with her love.  This is not the path of battle in the intrinsic sense. Through getting in touch with her desires for the sake of building her home, she can be sure of her place in the world to come.  Two worlds for the price of one!

Note: This is not a license to immerse shamelessly into the hedonism of material pursuits.  The goals she and her husband set for themselves and their family create the parameters of their lifestyle. What this does mean is that by denying her desires she keeps herself disempowered and detached from her feminine essence.  It well may be that a deeper desire for a life of Torah overrides her desire for comforts and luxuries.  Lofty visions of a Torah home will of course naturally moderate her more superficial desires and subsume them with the deeper ones.

We see here that a woman’s desires are not only not the detrimental threats to herself and her family that she feared they were, that she must suppress and ignore lest she be overwhelmed with shame and guilt, but by opening up to her desires she is in fact opening the wellspring of her happiness and energy that flows from deep within her, which can immediately be felt in her environs.  And even more than this, her desires in the deepest sense act as a of guide for where the family is going on every level, whether spiritually, emotionally, or financially.  The desires of her heart translate themselves over many days and nights into the final destination of the family’s travels. 

I am suggesting that instead of spending time fighting ourselves, let us put that energy into fashioning our desires in a way that we can be proud of and that will create the family of our dreams.  Will is always the first step of getting to where it is we want to go, and our desires are there for us to cherish.

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Let us return to our original verse.

“Tell them (the women) with soft speech”. 

Deeper still, this instruction is Hashem’s fervent request to us to actually reveal the tranquility and sweetness of a life of Torah. Of course Hashem knows that life doesn’t flow without resistance. Of course there will be times that challenge our very fibre and conviction, and by His design, no less.  But Hashem is blessing us with the ability to access an inner joy that we can feel amid the huge investment of our bodies and souls into the dance steps of our lives.

A man’s role is coaxing the Torah out of Heaven, out of his teachers, the sefarim, and study partners.  This is called “עמל”.  His worldly desires are in fact a threat to his spiritual success and need to be contained.  The woman’s role is to receive that which the man brings down and complete what he began, by putting into life on the ground as only she knows how.  Not only is worldly involvement not a threat to her spiritual path but it is the path itself.

                        Visually, this can be illustrated by a Magen David, the classic symbol of Judiasm.   The first triangle of the Star of David has a flat top and comes down into a point at its bottom.  This is like masculine energy, receiving the vastness from above until it reaches a point of impasse where it can go no more.  The second triangle of the star begins where the first left off, at the point, and gradually widens to a base at the bottom.  This is feminine energy, so to speak, receiving the connection from above at the nexus point and transferring it to her world where it is given shape and substance. 

                        Rashi in Breishis, interestingly enough, describes men and women similar to this model, by describing men as “wider on the top and narrow on bottom” and women “wider on the bottom (think hips, for giving birth😉!) and narrower on the top”.  This does not infer lesser intelligence, as you may suspect, but rather a different kind of intelligence known as  Binah.  Bina always builds on that which she has received, intuiting the way of implementation and revelation.)

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What we are discussing here is none other than the residing of the Shechina in our homes. This combination of working to provide the seed on the part of the male and letting go to receive and nurture the seed on the part of the female is what the sages z”l refer to when they teach that only together can there be Divine Presence.  Effort and release, battle and acceptance; a “yin yang” blend designed by G-d that really works. What a strange thought, that by working “too hard” I could actually be pushing my happiness away.  To be feminine means to let go and receive. 

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“A man and a woman, when they merit, Shechina is between them”

“Before Israel sinned the Divine Presence resided with every individual”, explains Rashi; “In his home”.

What does it mean to allow the shechina to reside in our home?

It means taking the most intangible commodity, the Name of Hashem, and being the conduit that through YOU He is openly perceivable.

It is for no reason other than this that the world was created.  “From the inception of the creation of the world Hashem desired to partner with the lower realms…” and co-exist in both the higher and lower worlds.

This, however, is a paradox.  By definition, the more physically involved one becomes in the world, the more Hashem’s name and presence is concealed by the opaque and all-encompassing nature of the physical world.  The very word for world is “עולם” which also means to hide; העלם””, because the corporeal world hides the Divine presence.  The word for nature, טבע””, similarly means to drown, i.e. to become engulfed in the material to the exclusion of knowing anything else. So how does G-d expect His people to find Him in the physical world which is by definition designed to conceal His presence?

The answer is: through a woman!   A world without women could never achieve its intended purpose of living in a way that reveals Hashem through the convincing illusion that He is not here.  A man without a woman can never have shechina, as the gemora tells us, because shechina is the dwelling of Hashem in this world; the coexistence of the upper and lower worlds, living at the nexus point of above and below, this is the woman’s power. It is no surprise that the name of Hashem, שכינה, is in fact feminine itself. (footnote*malchus synonymous with the woman)

Feminine wisdom knows how to grasp the essence of the spiritual and infuse the material with its energy.  The Jewish home may look like any home at first blush, but it is none other than the full and exalted Presence of Hashem being refracted through cereal bowls and laundry. 

This paradox which gives meaning to the entirety of the world’s creation, the intrinsic incompatibility of body and soul is achieved through the marriage of man and woman.  Through the impossible relationship between these two essentially different beings, when they come together they create and fuse these worlds, reminiscent of the fire and ice in the plague of hail in Egypt that negotiated the impossible task of co-existence for the sake of the honor of Hashem’s name.

So, if you have been perplexed as to how to navigate the differences between men and women, know that it is because they are by natural law unreconcilable.  (If you are wondering this, just knowing this fact might make you feel better!) And when, with Hashem’s help, we do reconcile them, we are left with nothing less than the eternal edifice called a Jewish home, the only remaining vestige of Hashem’s presence until the building of the third Beis HaMikdosh.

Only in this complete world comprising of man and woman, does Hashem invest His fullness of Being, as it were.  “The full name (of Hashem can only reside on) a full world (of man and woman).”

The soft speech of Hashem’s address to women is Hashem’s plea to us to align our essence with His will so that when others look into our dwellings they will say “How good are the tents of Yaakov”.

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This tremendous effort of the Jewish woman to reveal all of this in her home is what brings down Hashem’s presence into her home and ripples out to the whole nation, like Rivka who brought the shechina back to the home of Avraham and Yitzchok after Sarah’s passing.  Similarly, the generation in Egypt were redeemed in the merit of the righteous women, and every redemption that took place since then took place in the merit of the righteous women, whether it was Esther in the time of Haman, Yael with Sisera, or the righteous women in the time of the future redemption. “Hashem remembers His kindness and faith (by bringing the redemption) to the house of Israel”these are the women.

There is no redemption without Shechina, Hashem’s presence guiding us in the darkness and then when the time is ripe revealing to us that the darkness was holding the light all the time.

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Introduction

Chapter 1; “Soft Speech”

~ לעלוי נשמת מינה רבקה בת דוד For the soul elevation of Mina Rivka Bas David ~

As the marriage bond between the Jewish people and Hashem (the allegorical bride and groom, respectively) is about to be forged at Har Sinai, Hashem faces His people, addressing them: “So you shall say to the House of Yaakov and speak to the children of Yisrael…”.  The classic commentator Rashi explains; “say to the House of Yaakov; these are the women to whom you shall say with soft speech”, and “speak to the children of Yisrael; expound to the men words harsh like sinews.”

There are two aspects of this introduction to the giving of the Torah that beg questioning.  Firstly, why did Hashem address the women first? Secondly, why the necessity of directing the soft speech to the women while reserving the harsh aspects (the preciseness of Jewish law and retribution for transgression) for the men? Surely the exactitude of Jewish Law applies to both genders?

The first point to note is that the Torah’s mission of crafting us into a holy nation and kingdom of priests was presented to men and women in complete equality.  Both men and women hold the esteemed position of responding to the call of Hashem to carry His Name in this world. And not only that, but women were enjoined first. 

What then is the significance of adjusting the tone of the teaching?  Why on the cusp of the Jewish people’s acceptance of Hashem’s lofty mission is the softness of speech towards the women of such importance? “And you shall teach them,” says Hashem, “with soft speech”. Is it because women are more sensitive as anecdotal evidence would seem to support 😉 ?

 As already explained, the immutable laws of the Torah are the binding reality for both genders, so don’t be satisfied with this appealing yet superfical answer.  Why does the method of delivery mysteriously change for woman of the self-same set of laws and how does this serve as guidance for the woman’s path that is about to ensue over the next several thousands of years?  The phraseology in this seminal verse alludes to something deeper, let us explore what this could be.

Rav Shlanger, student of Rav Moshe Shapiro and author of Sefer Ohel Rachel, teaches that Torah need not be presented to the women with harsh speech because it just simply isn’t necessary.  For women, Torah is a natural description of reality and when she is aligned with her innate self all its truths and teachings are easily absorbed.   Alternatively expressed, the essence of a woman is completely different to that of a man and therefore the instructions are given with advice for its implementation that directly relate to that essence.  Whereas men are instructed to participate in their service of Hashem through great effort and over-coming of the yetzer hara/ evil inclination, the path of a woman is one of serenity (I know you are laughing now, but keep reading).  Her “work” is to allow her natural drives to surface and allow a tranquility to emerge which is the way she brings Torah into her home.  For a woman in today, this means tapping into a fierce internality inside her and discovering that the inclinations of her heart are already compatible with what Hashem most deeply wants of her.

Surprise!  The very thing that you desired has been present all along, waiting to be unearthed, in your own heart. 

Welcome Home!

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In the essential Gemora on the subject in Brochos (17a), we learn that the promised reward for women in the world to come is greater than that of men.  As is quoted there; “women of tranquility arise, listen to My voice, daughters of security hearken to my teaching.” (Isiah 32:9)

All that is required of a woman is to listen to Hashem’s message, a surprisingly passive act that holds within it so much power.  By attuning our ears, what we find is none other than all potential possibilities of growth contained in their entirety within our own being, much like the potential of all possible progeny existing from birth within a female’s body.

This is the security and the tranquility that is ours as referred to in the above quoted verse ensuring our place in the World to Come.   Perhaps this is a  deeper meaning in the blessing that women say every morning; “Blessed are you Hashem .. for fashioning me according to Your Will.”  As a woman, I am prepared to directly receive and imbibe Your Will, Hashem.  As we read in Pirkei Avos, the height of spiritual achievement is to “make our will Hashem’s will”. This is falls most naturally into the groove that is carved out by the very essence of our femininity.

In contrast to the described natural spiritual connection and its accompanying tranquility that is available to women who learn the technique of accessing their personal relationship to Hashem, a man’s journey to Hashem is one that necessitates words of “harshness”, including the minutia of halachic observance and G-d forbid the weight of accountability.  His path is one of endurance and constant battle.  He must contend with his drives, overcome the forces of obstruction and empower himself to come out on top in a competitive world.  “It is the way of a man to conquer and not the way of a woman to conquer.”  “Man, for toil, was born.” Advancement in the spheres of commerce, politics or even Torah learning comes with the price of gearing oneself up for opposition and putting in one’s max to succeed.  Such is the way for a man should he want to earn his material or spiritual success.  And since this process requires supreme effort, it was necessary for the Torah to be given with strong language that will motivate him according to the nature of his task, that he understands both the stakes and the strength required to achieve these ends. Even the Hebrew word bread “לחם” (a code term for earning a living) comes from the root “מלחמה”, war.  These concept of toil and battle come right into the Beis Medrash as the מלחמה of Torah, the robust learning process that chavrusas/study partners embark upon as a way of deciphering out the most salient truth from the varying viewpoints.

Even in the realm of the pursuit of Fear of Heaven, the verse tells us that for the man; “If you seek it out like money and search for it like jewels, you will then understand Fear of Hashem and the knowledge of the Divine you will find”.  Contrast this to the verses of the Aishes Chayil/ Woman of Valor where fear of Hashem is naturally residing within her and only needs to be unsheathed like a pearl in an oyster under the sea; “A women who fears G-d, she shall be praised”.

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This is the soft speech with which the Torah was given to her.  It is not something “out there” that has to be conquered and acquired, but hiding in the most unlikely (or likely) place; in her heart.  The proverbial lost treasure is found in the most surprising place of our own homes.  What a contrasting picture to the subliminal message that society has us believe that all that we need to feel complete is outside of us.  The Torah of women tells us otherwise; your fulfillment is waiting for you, already. Open the door, and come home.

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“All the glory of the King’s daughter is inside”.  Like the pearls of Aishes Chayil, all the honor and wholeness that she desires is already available within her, closer than we can imagine. “It is not far from you”, לא רחוקה היא ממך …all that you desire.

“How great is a good woman, the Torah itself is compared to her.” She is a self-contained unit filled with only the purest good, as such she is likened to the Torah.  Whereas Shlomo Hamelech describes a foolish woman who loses all that is precious; “she who sits at the entrance of her home”, facing outwards, looking for her fulfillment from where it can by definition never arrive.   The quote from the gemara continues; “how bad is a bad woman; Gehinom itself is compared to her.”  Always being in a state of “fomo” – fear of missing out – is a pretty apt description of hell on earth.

Paradoxically, finding what is natural and already within requires quite a lot of effort.  A great woman might make it look easy, but in truth there is a tremendous amount of soul work in order to come to this place of tranquility and closeness to Hashem through our womanhood.  It is this that we will be seeking and BeH finding through the pages of this book. So although she may be practically exempt from many of the time-bound requirements of Torah and mitzvos, her essence is in fact creating the vessel to receive and hold the highest potential of Torah and mitzvos, bringing herself, her husband and her children closest to their highest potential.  Along this vein, it is no surprise that the Torah was given to her first, with “soft speech”. 

There is an analogy of a sculptor who with dedication, accuracy and artistry transformed a block of marble into a statue of an elephant.  The impressed spectators asked; how did you manage to transform the stone into a statue?  “Simple,” he replied, “I simply removed anything that wasn’t “elephant”.” Similarly, all we need to do to become the best version of ourselves is to remove all that is alien to us, including false layers of personality, bad emotional habits and mistaken belief systems in order to reveal our intrinsic beauty.

In summary, soft speech is used when the instructions fall into the intrinsic nature of the commandee. This is the introduction into refining ourselves as women within the context of our roles as wives and mothers.  We already are “it”, were that we would embrace it.

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