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Ladies First

by Rabbi Yossi Jacobson

  

Library » Holidays » Shavuot | Subscribe | What is RSS?


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When G-d sent Moses to prepare Israel to receive the Torah, He sent him to the women first, and then to the men.1

All of Israel received the same Torah. But the fact that this was preceded by two separate communications, one to the women and another to the men, implies a distinction between the women's reception of Torah, and the men's. Differing biologically and psychologically, men and women were empowered by their Creator with distinct roles in their life's mission.

Each of us relate to more than half the Torah. Man and woman are two aspects of a single soul, separated at birth and reunited through marriage. Each soul is charged to implement the entire Torah - its masculine element through a male body, and its feminine element in a female body to realize the Torah's feminine goals.

In the words of the master kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria, "When the male performs a Mitzvah specifically for men, the woman is included in his mitzvah... This is the deeper significance of what our sages have said,2 'A spouse is as part of the same body.'"

Each soul is charged to implement the entire Torah - its masculine element through a male body, and its feminine element in a female body
Man and woman are both multifaceted and complex creatures, and no single sentence or thesis can summarize the many ways in which they complement and fulfill each other. Ultimately, we can only say that G-d, who created the human soul and halved it into two separate bodies and lives, ordained for each a program of Torah life consistent with its strengths and potential.

The distinction between these roles is expressed in the Midrash on Exodus 19:3. G-d told Moses to relate the "general principles" of the Torah to the women, and its "exacting particulars" to the men. The woman relates to the Torah's all-inclusive essence, while the man relates to the detail, specific law and particular application.

This also explains the differing roles of the father and mother in determining their child's identity. In Judaism, the mother determines the child's Jewishness: if the mother is Jewish, so is the child; if the mother is not, neither is the child.

But regarding the particulars of his Jewishness - his tribal identity, or his classification as a "Kohen," "Levite," or "Israelite" - the child takes after his father.

The man’s relationship with Torah is detailed, while the woman relates to Torah at its supra-rational root with her female faith, uniting with G-d without the need to dissect; a process that can deflect its force and refract the intensity of its light.

Moses went to the women first because the Torah's revelation unfolds from the general to the particular, from the supra-spatial point of concept to the breadth and depth of the law.

Footnotes

  • 1. Exodus 19:3 (see Rashi).
  • 2. Talmud tractate Bechorot 35b

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RELATED CATEGORIES

Women & Judaism » Women's Mitzvot » Obligations/ Exemptions
Holidays » Shavuot » Essays

Mitzvah
(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Talmud
Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
Halachah
Jewish Law. All halachah which is applicable today is found in the Code of Jewish Law.
Levite
A descendant of Levi, son of Jacob. The Levites were the teachers and spiritual leaders in the Land of Israel. They had various responsibilities in the Holy Temple, including choir and orchestral duties.
Kabbalah
Jewish mysticism. The word Kaballah means "reception," for we cannot physically perceive the Divine, we merely study the mystical truths which were transmitted to us by G-d Himself through His righteous servants.
Chassidut
The teachings of the Chassidic masters. Chassidut takes mystical concepts such as G-d, the soul, and Torah, and makes them understandable, applicable and practical.
Moses
[Hebrew pronunciation: Moshe] Greatest prophet to ever live. Led the Jews out of Egyptian bondage amidst awesome miracles; brought down the Tablets from Mount Sinai; and transmitted to us word-for-word the Torah he heard from G-d's mouth. Died in the year 1272 BCE.
Midrash
(Pl. Midrashim). Non-legal material of anecdotal or allegorical nature, designed either to clarify historical material, or to teach a moral point. The Midrashim were compiled by the sages who authored the Mishna and Talmud (200 BCE-500 CE).
Isaac
Second of the three Jewish Patriarchs, son of Abraham and Sarah. Lived in Canaan (Israel); b. 1712 BCE, d. 1532 BCE.
Exodus
1. The miraculous departure of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage in 1312 BCE. 2. The second of the Five Books of Moses. This book describes the aforementioned Exodus, the giving of the Torah, and the erection of the Tabernacle.
Mishnah
First written rendition of the Oral Law which G-d spoke to Moses. Rabbi Judah the Prince compiled the Mishna in the 2nd century lest the Oral law be forgotten due to the hardships of the Jewish exiles.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.