Chana Weisberg is the author of four books including the best-selling Divine Whispers and the newly released Tending the Garden. She is a associate editor for www.chabad.org and lectures worldwide on a wide array of issues. To date, she has lectured on three continents and in close to fifty cities throughout the United States. To have her speak for your community or to be a part of her upcoming book tour, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m often asked why it is that men played such a major role in Jewish history. “Where are the feminine voices, the feminine role models? Why are they not leading the way?”
The short answer is that the women are there of course, in full force, but working through their inner mode, often not noticeable to the indiscriminating eye. But to understand why they are not at the forefront we need a deeper understanding of the workings of our world and of the purpose of why we are here to begin with.
“I have come into My garden, My sister, My bride” (Song of Songs 5:1).
A common perception is that the purpose of our world is for human beings to fulfill G-d’s will in order to receive their reward in the World to Come. This, however, is a simplistic (and selfish) level of relating to G-d.
The Midrash explains that, “G-d desired to have a dwelling place in the lower worlds” (Tanchumah, Naso 16). G-d wanted a relationship with us here in this physical world. This world is G-d’s “garden” where we can become connected and united with Him. We connect to G-d through the study of Torah and the practice of mitzvot, which changes our world into a more G-dly place, where G-d can feel “at home.” Ultimately, the depth of our relationship will be realized only after the redemption, in the Messianic era. Our job now, however, is to prepare the world for this time.
A garden is made up of plain earth. But it is precisely within its lowly, sullied soil, that the most radiant, dazzling flowers can grow. Similarly, it is specifically in our physical world that the most profound relationship between G-d and us can be forged.
Making our world into G-d’s garden requires two roles. First, we must uproot the weeds and clear the debris from our garden. We must subjugate the darkness and negativity, which obscures the G-dly source and essence of our world. Second, and perhaps more importantly, we must tend to the garden’s various plants, nurture them and ensure that they blossom fully. We must cultivate and bring out the latent inner qualities and potentials of all aspects of our world. Both of these roles are necessary in transforming our physical world into a divine garden. On the whole, they reflect the respective roles of man and woman.
When we fight negativity – the spiritual “weeds” and “debris” around us – by drawing down new holiness to overcome it, we are employing the external, “masculine” mode. When we reveal the inherent beauty in creation by working within the physical reality to uncover the holiness already there – cultivating the physical earth so that it brings out breathtaking flowers – we are employing the inner, “feminine” mode.
These are two roles and two directions to creating a home for G-d.
Bringing G-dliness down into our world. Or raising and elevating our reality to reveal its inherent G-dliness.
Conquering negativity and physicality. Or cultivating and uncovering the essential positivity within creation.
Man’s primary role is to introduce new G-dliness to our world. He accomplishes this primarily through his Torah study. Woman’s primary role is to uncover the G-dliness that already exists within creation. Mitzvot bring out the inner spirituality within the physical realm of our world.
Man does by bringing in a new element of G-dliness into our world. Woman is by revealing the G-dliness in what already exists. Both roles are vital.
When evil abounds we need to fight it headstrong. We vanquish darkness by introducing more G-dly light into creation. It is useless, even counter-productive, to sit down and negotiate with terrorists who wish to destroy you – you need to fight them head on. But there comes a time when the evil has been largely subdued and the second approach – of finding the inherent good, and revealing the common ground of unity – is more effective.
From the beginning of time, we have fought the evil around us by defeating value systems that were antithetical to a G-dly world. The masculine energy was largely at the forefront of this battle. But we are now at the doorstep of a new era. Moshiach will overpower all evil and then focus his energies on education and cultivation. In order to transform the very fabric of our world and reveal its implicit G-dliness, the feminine approach of nurturance and uncovering is more appropriate.
So, to get back to the original question, where are the women’s voices? Why aren’t they noticeable?
As mentioned, they are there, but because their role is from within, their approach is by necessity more hidden, more secretive. They work from behind the scenes, not always discernable to the non-discriminating eye. We need to discover and tap into their energy, their hidden, inner voices to learn from their depth of wisdom how to deal with the challenges of our own lives.
As we stand on the threshold of this new era, the importance of the feminine role is becoming more accessible and appreciated. Geulah, redemption, is the feminine era. It is an era of peace, when we no longer need to fight the negativity of our world, but rather inculcate more and more goodness and G-dliness within creation.
Redemption is described as the time when “Nekeiva tesovev gever –The female shall surround the male” – Jeremiah 32:21) when the feminine qualities will take precedence over the male qualities. After resting our weapons we will bask in and absorb the tranquility of peace. Having overcome the darkness, we will finally appreciate the splendor of the light.
Women are charged with bringing this era because they are intrinsically connected to its feminine vision. The world is ready for more of this feminine perspective. Let us not lose our feminine approach, our feminine mode or our feminine touch; let us use it to transform our world into G-d’s garden.
Excerpted from the newly released book, Tending the Garden-The Unique Gifts of the Jewish Woman (Targum Press), now available in Judaic bookstores worldwide.