A Letter for the Genders
A Letter for the Genders
In my opinion, Parshas Bereishis is the most difficult parsha in the entire Torah. Years ago, when giving weekly parsha classes in yeshiva, the "bein hazemanim" parshios would typically get left out. One year, the guys requested that we do parshas Bereishis. Every other parsha in the Torah took only one week to cover. However, it took an entire year to go through parshas Bereishis!
We couldn't get off the first verse. Forget that, we could not get off the first word. We couldn't even get off the first letter. Actually, we couldn't even start delving into the text because the Rishonim and Acharonim have prefaces upon prefaces filled with information necessary before even beginning to study the Torah.
I must admit, that after the entire year of delving into parshas Bereishis, I felt like I did not even know what I was talking about. Sometimes, only through the eyes of a different parsha which reflects on parshas Bereishis for a moment, did I feel that I understood a pebbles worth of what parshas Bereishis was trying to say.
There are so many topics within parshas Bereishis. For example, it discusses the creation of the world. How does one teach about creation? Do we take a scientific - Torah approach, or do we view it kabbalistically? Were there other worlds that existed before this one? Did Hashem create life on other planets as well? If so, are they intelligent? If so, what is their purpose?
Parshas Bereishis also talks about Gan Eden. Where is Gan Eden exactly? What was that like to live in the Garden? There are currently Cherubic angels that guard the entrance into paradise, preventing anybody from entering even if we would find its location. What's that all about?
Then there is the serpent. Where was Mrs. serpent during the dialogue between the snake and Eve ?
Then there are the Trees of Life and Knowledge. What would have happened had they eaten from the Tree of Life first? Would they have lived forever? But weren't they supposed to have lived forever anyway? If so, what did the Tree of Life add? After eating from the Tree of Knowledge, death came into the world. Now they could use the Tree of Life. But, they were kicked out of the Garden so suddenly that they did not have a chance to eat from that tree. Again, what was the purpose of the Tree of Life.
Then we have the story about Kayin and Hevel. Who were they supposed to marry? What were they arguing about?
Then we mention the righteous Chanoch who disappeared suddenly. Who was this mysterious man? What ever became of him?
The end of the parsha talks about fallen angels and giants. Why did some angels fall from Heaven? Did they now have free choice? How big were the giants? Where did they come from? What happened to them? Did they survive the flood? If so, how?
It's hard to choose what to speak about in our limited amount of time and space. So, I decided to share something that speaks to everybody. In this article, we will talk about men and women. After all, our portion also talks about the creation of Adam and Eve. So, if you are either a man or a woman, you will hopefully find this material to be relevant to your lives.
God said, "It is not good that man be alone, I will make him an "Ezer K'negdo" (a helper correspondinghim; Gn. 2:18). This verse contains a buried treasure with respect to the roots of the souls of both men and women. In order to delve into this, let us share some statements from our sages in the Talmud.
The Gemara in Yevamos (chap. 6, "Haba Al Yivimto", pg. 62b, a teaching in Ma'aravah) says that any man who does not have a wife, dwells without Torah. Why does the Talmud maintain that it is an impossibility for a man to truly understand Torah if he is unmarried?
This is ironic considering another Talmudic passage which says that women are exempt from Torah study (Kedushin, chap. 1, "Ha-isha Niknis", pg. 29b; Dt. 11:19). How could it be that women, who are so crucial for their husband's understanding of Torah, are themselves exempt from its study?
Moreover, God created the world in order that we preoccupy ourselves in Torah study (Rashi, Gn 1:1; Pro. 8:22). How could it be that women have been left out of the purpose of God's creation? It does not seem fair. This leads to yet another question.
By Matan Torah, Hashem instructed Moshe to teach Torah to the Beis Ya'akov (women) and to the Bnei Yisrael (men; Ex. 19:3,Rashi). In this verse, the women are mentioned before the men. That seems strange because if men have an obligation to study Torah, and women do not, then apparently, the men should have been mentioned before the women. Why was the order reversed?
Let us begin by sharing some fundamental teachings. The Zohar (Shir Hashirim. Pg. 91b) says that there are 600,000 letters in a Torah scroll which correspond to the 600,000 primary Jewish souls.
The Megaleh Amukos (Vaeschanan) says that this is even hinted to in our national name "Yisrael." This name is spelled: yud, shin, reish, aleph, and lamed. These five letters serve as the acronym for, "Yesh Shishim Ribo Osiose LaTorah" (There are 600,000 letters in the Torah). Since this hint has been coded into the word "Yisrael", it teaches us that every one of Yisrael (every Jew) is connected to one of the letters in the Torah. Each person receives his spiritual sustenance from the letter that he is connected to.
However, there is a difficulty here too, because the verse says that the number 600,000 refers only to the men that left Egypt (Ex. 12:37). This implies that only the men are connected to the letters of the Torah. By inference this means that women were excluded from this calculation, intimating that women are not connected to the letters of the Torah. If so, where do women receive their spiritual energy from?
At this point, we are going to share a novel approach to understanding the dynamics of a Torah Scroll.
The Tcheiles Mordechai (the Maharsham, Reb Shlomo Mordechai Schwadron, parshas Beha'aloscha, 1835-1911, Ukraine) says that not only are there visible letters on a Torah Scroll, but there are also invisible letters on the "blank" parts of the parchment. This is based on a verse that says, "For it is not an empty thing for you" (Dt. 32:47). The "it" refers to the Torah itself. At the culmination of the Torah, the verse is telling us that there is no place in a Sefer Torah that is empty. Every spot is filled with letters. Some of them you can see, others you cannot.
Huge souls that are preoccupied in Torah study are connected to the visible letters on the scroll, while simple souls who are not involved in Torah study are connected to the invisible letters on the margins. There is no place on the scroll that is empty of Jews. Some Jews receive their spiritual sustenance from the visible letters, while others receive their spiritual energy from the invisible letters.
So far, we have two areas on the Torah Scroll, the visible letters which are on a higher spiritual level, and the invisible letters which are on a lower spiritual level. However, there is a third section on the Torah Scroll. That third section are the white letters which are directly underneath the black letters. Those white letters are the highest and holiest of the letters.
The source for white letters underneath the black letters is the Midrash (Devarim Rabba, 3:12; Reish Lakish) and Talmud (Yerushalmi, Shekalim, 1:1) that says that the Torah that preceded the world and the Torah that God gave to Moshe at Sinai was black fire written on top of white fire.
When a scribe today writes a Torah Scroll with black ink on top of white parchment, it is to remind us about the original Torah that had letters of black fire written on top of letters of white fire (Shvilei Pinchas). Perhaps, this teaches us that our Torah study should be ablaze with fiery enthusiasm and excitement!
This is where women receive their spiritual sustenance from. Although the men get their spiritual energy from the black letters, women get it from the white letters underneath (Shvilei Pinchas).
Since men are connected to the black letters and women are connected to the white letters, it teaches us about the different roles of men and women.
The black letters form words, sentences, paragraphs, and columns which teach us about the commandments that we must keep. Since men are connected to those letters, it teaches us that men must be preoccupied in the study of Torah.
However, since the white letters underneath support the black letters on top, it teaches us that a woman's role is to support her husband in his Torah study.
There are two ways of understanding how women support their husbands. One is a practical way and the other is a kabbalistic way.
Practically speaking, when women tend to the needs of the home and the children, they enable their husbands to study. In this way, women assist their husbands' Torah study.
However, kabbalistically speaking, since women are connected to the white letters underneath, it shows us that women are deeper than men. This idea is found in the Gemara (Niddah, 45b) where Rav Chisdah says that God gave women deeper understanding than men. This teaching is found in the verse that says, "Vayiven (and He - God - built) woman from the side of Adam" (Gn. 2:22). The last two letters of the word "Vayiven" are beis and nun. When changing the vowels under those two letters, they spell the word "Bina" (understanding). This teaches us that when God "built" woman, He built her with a deeper level of "understanding" than men.
In what way are women deeper than men? One explanation is that men are typically fact finders. Men approach the Torah like they would a complicated puzzle. Men wereentrusted with the mission of putting the pieces of the puzzle together. This means that men are involved in the details, technicalities and rigidities of the Torah. However, men get so caught up in the minutia that they can get lost in the forest because of the trees. This means that men are more likely to miss the big picture as to why God commanded us in those mitzvos to begin with.
This is where women come in. When a husband shares the topic of Torah that he is learning with his wife, she can show him how that information can be used to become a better person, more refined, and closer to Hashem. This is a deeper dimension to the Torah that her husband may have missed.
Perhaps we could suggest that this is hinted to in the white letters that women are connected to in the Torah. A white letter is called an "Os Levanah." The last three letters of "Levanah" are: beis, nun, and hey. If we change their vowels they spell the word "Bina." This teaches us that the function of women and their white letters are to bring an added dimension of depth to the Torah by showing how each detailed mitzvah can sculpt us into better people.
Therefore, women are exempt from Torah study. They are only exempt from the fact-finding aspect. But, by no means were women left out. On the contrary, women are meant to assist their husbands' Torah study. Women do this in two ways. Firstly, by practically taking care of the home thereby freeing up their husbands to engage in the unscrambling of the Torah's details and secondly by bringing the deeper messages we are meant to learn from those technicalities.
Just as the black letters rest and lean upon the white letters, so do men rest, lean, and depend on their wives for their Torah study. On the other hand, just as the white letters support the black letters, so do women support their husband's Torah study.
This is why it is impossible for a man to truly understand the Torah unless he is married. Either because man will be so busy attending to the chores of the home that he has little time to study or because he will get so caught up in the rigidities of Halachah that he will lose sight of why God commanded us in these mitzvos to begin with.
Therefore, God instructed Moshe to teach Torah to the women before teaching the men. Just like it is imperative to have the parchment first in order to write a letter down, so too, was it necessary to teach the women before the men.
According to this, we could ask, why did God create Adam before Eve? Apparently, He should have created Eve (the parchment or white letter) first and then Adam (the black letter). One answer could be that Eve should have been created first, but God created Adam first to show him how much he needed Eve. God basically said to Adam, "You are a black letter. Go ahead, accomplish. How's that working for you without a parchment?" This was meant to generate Man's appreciation of woman after experiencing the feeling of helplessness.
This is why a "chassan" (groom) says to a "kallah" (bride), "Harei At Mikmudeshes Li" (You are betrothed to me). The word "mikudeshes" means to designate. This is what one must do with preparing parchment for writing a Torah Scroll. He must designate it for that purpose and preferably articulate that with his mouth (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 32:8).
Similarly, the chassan says to his kallah, "Look, I am a black letter, and you are the parchment (and white letter) underneath me. Before we consummate the marriage, I must be "mikadesh" (designate) you for that purpose." Once they get married, they become another letter in Hashem's Sefer Torah.
This is why the chassan concludes by saying, "K'das Moshe ViYisrael" (according to the Law of Moshe and Israel). The "Law" of Moshe and Israel is the document called the Torah. Just like for a Torah Scroll the parchment must be designated beforehand, so too must the kallah be designated beforehand.
This also explains the juxtaposition between the last mitzvah in the Torah, writing a Sefer Torah (Dt. 31:19) and the first mitzvah in the Torah, to be fruitful and multiply (Gn. 1:28). Just like writing a Sefer Torah requires writing black letters on top of parchment (white letters), so is every union between man and woman (in the creation of a child) the coming together of a black letter on top of a white letter (Shvilei Pinchas).
This is why the custom is to call a chasan up to the Torah on the Shabbos before he gets married (Magen Avraham, Orach Chaim, chap. 282, citing Levush). It is in order to draw upon the holiness of a Sefer Torah, preparing him to become another letter in God's Torah Scroll (Shvilei Pinchas).
We know that the Hebrew words for man and woman are "Ish and Ishah." We know that God's Name wasplaced in those words, with a yud in the word Ish and with a hey in the word Ishah (Sota, 17a, Rebbi Akivah, Rashi there). But, the remaining letters of both perspective words spells the words "Aish - Aish" (fire - fire). This teaches us that a husband and a wife are two types of fire, black fire on top of white fire (Shvilei Pinchas).
Therefore, when a chasan is escorted down the aisle to the chuppah (canopy), each escort holds a candle (Mateh Moshe, vol. 3, chap. 1, #2). The Tashbatz says that this is because at Matan Torah the mountain was ablaze with fire (Dt. 4:11). This means that every wedding is a reenactment of Har Sinai. The chuppah serves as the mountain. The chasan and kallah represent the letters of the Torah. The two candles represent the two types of fire, black and white. This could be why the kallah typically dresses in a white gown, representing the white fire, whereas the chasan dresses in a black suit, representing the black fire.
Years ago, my wife, Laura, instructed me to give practical applications to my teachings. As we mentioned above, this is where women come in to play with respect to adding a deeper dimension to men's Torah study. Thank you, Laura!
So, one practical application could be as follows. As we start to read the Torah again from the beginning, let us try to refresh our marriages by infusing them with the holiness of a Sefer Torah. Let us try to make a learning session with our spouses. This could be every day for 5 - 10 minutes, or three times a week, or even once a week.
However, prior to this learning session, let us say, "May this Torah learning help join our black letter and parchment (white letter) together, filling ourselves with the sanctity of a Sefer Torah that will permeate ourselves, our family, and our home."
For those of us who are not yet married, the pledge to do this with our spouses may just serve as the segulah (charm) to find our significant other.
So, may all 600,000 of us Bnei Yisrael be blessed with harmonious marriages, filled with the sanctity of a Sefer Torah, which will rekindle that holy fire in our relationships, where we work together, helping each other accomplish our common goal which is building a home that will be a Binyan Adei Ad, like it was Bigan Eden Mikedem.