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.
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.)
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.
“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”.
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.