I have taken this wonderful piece from a longer piece written by Sara Esther Crispe for the Chabad website. It relates beautifully to our discussion about Chochma, Binah and Da’at. I hope that you enjoy!
And so my journey began . . .
What does it mean to be a Jewish woman? What does it mean to be a woman in Judaism? I began my search with the first woman in the Torah. That woman’s name is Chavah in Hebrew, translated as “Eve” in English. Chavah is referred to as “the mother of all life.” We are told that she was created—after the creation of the first man, Adam—on the sixth day of creation, immediately preceding Shabbat. And woman was created, we are taught, with the purpose of being an eizer kenegdo, which can be translated in one of two ways—either “a helpmate to him” or “a helpmate against him.”
The commentaries explain that in a relationship, there are times when one is most helpful by being supportive and alongside one’s spouse, and there are times when the help that is needed requires going against the desires and position of one’s spouse. The goal is to know when each action is appropriate.
It would appear, then, that a woman was created for the sole purpose of helping a man. One may ask: “Is being a Jewish woman defined solely in terms of her relationship with another?” And, practically speaking, how would this be accomplished? The obvious responses would be: through being married and having children.
Yet we find something fascinating. In halachah (Torah law), a woman is obligated to do neither. She has no legal requirement whatsoever. But the man does. He is required to both marry and have children. It is pretty clear that he can’t do this without a woman to be his wife and the mother of his children, but she is in no way obligated to do so. The only way he can fulfill his responsibilities, then, is if a woman would be willing to help him and fill these roles.
According to the Torah, and specifically Chassidic and Kabbalistic philosophy, human beings were created in two categories, as men and women. Yet when characteristics are defined, they most commonly refer to masculine and feminine traits, as opposed to statements about men and women. Why is this significant? Because both men and women have masculine and feminine traits. Generally speaking, a man is predominantly masculine, and a woman predominantly feminine. Generally speaking. There are always exceptions, and this is why not every woman will naturally desire what is considered a feminine property, nor a man a masculine property.
The differences between the masculine and feminine are great. They are vast. And these differences affect the way men and women think, feel, speak and act. The differences are psychological, emotional, physical, spiritual and intellectual. And, while we may be a combination of both these masculine and feminine traits, at the end of the day we are either a man or a woman. And our differences are not meant to cause distance between us, but to bring us closer together, to balance one another and bond as they become points of celebration, not separation.
The greatest difference between a man and woman—or, more appropriately, between the masculine and the feminine—can be seen in the first two of the intellectual qualities of a human being. Chassidic philosophy teaches that there are three intellectual properties alongside seven emotional properties. The first of the properties is that of chochmah, translated loosely as “wisdom,” which is a male principle.
Chochmah is compared to a flash of insight. Physically speaking, it is compared to the seed of a man. It is the beginning of all life, the foundation. Without it, nothing will ever be able to come into existence. And yet, like seed, it is invisible to the naked eye. It has no shape, no form, no meaning. Not yet. It has potential, incredible potential, but it cannot develop or grow or form by itself.
The next property, that of binah, is the feminine property. Binah, loosely translated as “understanding,” is the desire to attach to the wisdom and give it meaning. Binah is the formation process, the bonding, the development. In a physical example, binah is the pregnancy. It literally houses the seed, and then, as the seed is within it, causes it to grow, develop and form, until it is ready to be born and exist on its own.
The word in Hebrew for home, bayit, is a yud between the letters that form the word bat, daughter. The concept is that theyud, the smallest of all the Hebrew letters, represents the seed (we are even taught that it looks like a drop of seed in its shape) and yet it is housed within the bat, the daughter. This is why there is an additional statement which says, “Beito zu ishto,”, a man’s home is his wife. It is not that his house is his wife or that his wife represents the house, but that his literal home is housed within his wife, on a spiritual and emotional level. A woman need not be in the home. A woman is the home.
It is the binah quality that desires to receive the potential of the seed and cultivate it into something tangible and meaningful. While it is not compelled to do so, it wants to do so. It is a situation where each is dependent on the other to create a reality. The seed cannot become anything in and of itself. Likewise, without the seed, binah cannot create anything, for it has not been given the potentials with which to work.
Spiritually, a woman also has the masculine property of chochmah, just like a man has the feminine property of binah. In actuality, or on the most physical of realms, a woman cannot produce seed, and a man cannot house or give birth to a baby. But, while the physical is in many ways the lowest and most external of all levels, it is nonetheless the world in which we live, and the most tangible to us. The physical creation of a baby is the most profound and everlasting representation of the love and the bond between a man and a woman. This child is the culmination of the chochmah of the man and the binah of the woman. It is the best of both worlds, and is the representation of the future, the actuality of the potential of its mother and its father.
Perhaps the most powerful example of this is in regards to the laws of family purity (see Acts of Transformation: Mikvah for more material related to this), which involves the times that a couple is not allowed to be physically intimate or physical in any way. This separation begins from the moment a woman sees the flow of uterine blood and verbally informs her husband of this. This is a situation where not even her husband is aware of this reality, and must completely depend on her word. These laws, which are considered the foundation of the marriage, the children and the home, are completely placed in her trust. Her word creates a new reality, and only she and her Creator know if what she is saying is the truth.
Therefore, unlike the masculine, which is the side of our self that is external, which can be viewed by others and is not private, the feminine is the polar opposite—completely internal, involving no one else and entrusted to the individual alone.
Because the masculine properties are external and seen by others, the man is in greater need of rectification. Unlike a woman, he is not given that same time and opportunity for reflection, internalization and contemplation. This is the feminine process of binah, the bein, “between,” of what is in one’s mind and what emerges through one’s action. This is the stage of pregnancy, the in-between of conception and birth. And this is the time for development and rectification.
This brings us back full circle to the beginning of our discussion, the meaning of eizer kenegdo. Is a woman a helpmate for him, or opposite him? When we translate osah as “to do” or “to make,” she is opposite him.
And this brings us back to one of the first points that was raised: is woman defined in terms of her relationship with a man? And so, the answer is both yes and no. If each human being is a composite of both masculine and feminine traits, then within each and every one of us we must come to understand how these two extremely different qualities can coexist and complement one another. If our masculine side has an obligation to “marry” and “bear children,” even though our feminine side does not, we recognize that the two must work together.
And every time we create, a process of giving and receiving must take place. One part of us must be able to let go, to release, to give to another; and one part must be able to make oneself open, to receive, to accept and nurture what has been given.
When our concern is not about what we are obligated to do, but on how we can help another fulfill his or her obligations, this is when we shine forth and reveal our true power. But we must begin by looking within, by understanding ourselves, our strengths and our weaknesses, and helping ourselves both from within and from those around us.