Man and Woman
As part of my studies in Jewish law and the writing of ‘Peninei Halakha’ [Rabbi Melamed’s highly popular series of books on Jewish law, Ed.], I am presently engaged in the laws of marital relations, and thought to share with my readers some general ideas concerning relationships between man and woman in Jewish law and thought. I am still debating whether to include them in my next book, for perhaps it is inappropriate to expand on philosophical ideas in a book dealing with halakha. Maybe some of my readers can offer advice.
The questions many people ask are: Why does the Torah give preferential status to the man? Why does the man mikadesh (sanctify, or designate) his wife, and is also the one who divorces? And why does halakha place the obligation of fulfilling themitzvah of onah (conjugal relations) and puru u’revuru (procreation) on the man, and not on the woman?
The Foundation of Marital Relationship in the Torah
The foundation of the relationship between man and woman was determined at the time of creation, as the Torah states: “God [thus] created man with His image. In the image of God, He created him, male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27). Thus, the complete person created in God’s image was male and female together.
Subsequent to the first, general description of man’s creation, the Torah continues to explain that in the beginning, man was created individually, comprised of twopartzufim (literally, “faces”, or Divine personae) – one of a man, and the other of a woman. This is what differentiated man from all other living creatures, who were created male and female from the outset, while man alone was created individually.
This person consisting of two faces was called Adam Ha’Rishon (the first man); it was he who was commanded to perfect and guard the world – “to till it and keep it”, and he was the one who named all the creatures.
God waited until man felt the grief of his loneliness and realize that it was not good for him to be alone, and in response, made him fall into a deep state of unconsciousness – “He took one of his ribs (in Hebrew tzelotav, or ‘his side’) and closed the flesh in its place. God built the rib that he took from the man into a woman, and He brought her to the man” (Genesis 2:21-22).
The Definition of tzela is ‘Side’
In Hebrew, the word tzela means ‘side’, comparable to tzela ha’mishkan, which means ‘one of the sides of the sanctuary’. So when God took one of man’s “ribs”, it means He took one of his two sides. At first, the male and female were in their nearly complete form, but they were connected back-to-back, with the male partzuf more prominent (see, Eruvin 18a).
In the Revealed Order Man Takes Precedence in Mutual Mitzvoth
Although all the virtues and mitzvoth of marriage are shared jointly by both husband and wife, man was given the duty to initiate the relationship. The foundation for this stems from what we have learned regarding Adam Ha’Rishon, that when he consisted of two ‘faces’, the male ‘face’ was more visible, while the female ‘face’ was hidden. Consequently, upon being separated the exposed, self-awareness of Adam Ha’Rishon remained in the male, and as a result, he was the one who felt the misery of being alone, he was the one who realized the female was separated from him, and he was the one who said: “Now this is bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh. She shall be called woman (ishah) because she was taken from man (ish)” (Genesis 2:23).
The First Stage in Relationships
A similar phenomenon to that of Adam Ha’rishon occurs in all relationships. In their heavenly roots the couple’s souls are connected and in the process of their descent to the world, the female soul is separated from the male, with the male retaining the sense of basic awareness on a larger scale. Consequently, it is usually the male who feels the stronger and more demonstrative desire to connect with his estranged spouse, analogous to “a man searching for a lost article” (Kiddushin 2b).
Therefore, the Torah imposed upon the man the duty and responsibility to court his partner to marriage, and it is his obligation to sanctify her as his wife, take her to the canopy, and initiate conjugal relations with her to fulfill the mitzvah of procreation.
Since the responsibility to initiate the relationship is placed on the man, the virtues of marriage are usually mentioned in the masculine form, so as to make clear to him the importance of marriage and encourage him to take the task upon himself, to pursue his partner, and sanctify her as his wife. This is the meaning of our Sages statement: “Any man who has no wife is not a proper man” (Yevamot 63a). They also said: “Any man who has no wife lives without joy, without blessing, without goodness, without Torah, without a [protecting] wall, and without peace” (Yevamot 62b).
Generally speaking, men possess the ability to separate between various fields, ignore all surrounding matters, and concentrate his energies completely on one goal. This feature is what causes young men to vigorously pursue their partner, overcome difficulties, and persist until the woman agrees to marry him. Such an attribute is also fitting for soldiers, or those who need to devote themselves to work. Consequently, it is the man who sanctifies his wife.
The Second Stage of the Woman
Following each stage initiated by the man, the woman, by means of her acceptance of her husband, deepens and perfects their relationship, and raises it to a higher level. If we look deeper, we find that man’s strength lies in initiating matters, breaking through, courting his partner, and sanctifying her in marriage. Frequently, however, after achieving their goal of marrying, men lose interest in attaining a complete, emotional connection, because focused on marrying, they fail to prepare themselvesproperly for all the challenges marriage entails. At that junction, the women’s strong point – her ability to deepen and broaden their emotional connection – becomes evident. But in order for her to accomplish this, her husband must be at home. Therefore, a man is commanded to please his wife in their first year of marriage, as the Torah says: “When a man takes a new bride, he shall not enter military service or be assigned to any associated duty. He must remain free for his family for one year, when he can rejoice with his bride” (Deuteronomy 24:5). And while pleasing his wife, the woman, the nucleus of the house, builds and nurtures their marital relationship entirely.
This is also true in regards to the mitzvah of procreation – it is the woman who nurtures the baby in her womb, and during that time, women are inclined to make a greater effort to strengthen and deepen their relationship with their husbands.
The External and Internal Sides
From an external aspect, man comes first; he is the leader, and therefore, the initiator the relationship. On the other hand, since man is considered the successor of Adam Ha’Rishon, and woman the successor of Chava, in a certain aspect, women are on a higher level, given that the material from which man was created was dust from the ground, as the Torah says: “God formed man out of the dust of the ground” (Genesis 2:7), while woman was created from man, as it is written: “He took one of his ribs”. In other words, woman’s creation was an additional stage of development. In addition, God formed woman in a special way in order to beautify her, as it is written: “God built the rib he took from the man into a woman”, and thus, woman was created with greater beauty (Eruvin 18a).
Man’s strengths are more revealed and external, whereas woman’s strengths are hidden and internal. The world functions in such a way that at first, the external side is revealed, and afterwards, the internal. Thus, initially man’s status is higher – he courts his partner, sanctifies her, and is awakened to the mitzvoth of conjugal relations and procreation. Over the years, however, thanks to the female virtue allowing her to absorb her husband’s initiatives and turn them into something complete, the position of women within the family emerges , to the point where upon closer investigation, many times we find that her influence is greater than that of man.
Woman’s Cooperation in the First Stage
If we delve further, we find that in the same way as the man participates in the second stage in which the woman sets the foundations of the family, in a hidden manner, the woman motivates the first stage. True, the apparent courtship is performed by the man, but the very beauty and goodness of the woman draws him to pursue her. Indeed, the husband sanctifies his wife, but the woman’s deep desire to create a relationship and family leads him to this. There are cases in which the man seeks a woman to be his companion without any long-term commitments, and only because the woman refuses to do so without taking vows, he marries her.
God willing, in my next article, I will continue delving into these concepts, and clarify the given procedure in which, initially, man’s status is higher, but over time, the status of women increases. Such is the historical process – from the low point following the sin of Adam Ha’Rishon until Olam Ha’ba (the World to Come) where woman’s status will be higher than man’s, and this is also the microcosm of the life of every married couple.
This article appears in the ‘Basheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.