Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Where Do Women "Fit" Into Avodas Hashem Anyway?

In this post by R' Yehoishofot Oliver, he shares a teaching indicating that Chabad Chassidus encourages the practice of hisbonenus not only for men, but for women as well.

This got me to thinking that I hadn't really written about a general approach to what a woman's avodas Hashem is. Men have learning Torah, davening with a minyan and tefillin. Most other outwardly religious and spiritual activities are primarily the man's domain, with a few exceptions. But what is a woman supposed to do? And what have righteous women done throughout the ages to connect to G-d and engage in avodas Hashem? It seems as if women's daily lives are filled with work, housework, taking care of children, errands, etc. All physical things... Why aren't women involved in as many "spiritual" things as men are? Isn't that unfair?

I think that in order to understand the relative relationship between men and women with regard to what their respective roles in avodas Hashem are, you have to go back to the root sources of what a man is and what a woman is. As between Avraham and Sorah, Avraham is called the neshoma (soul) and Sorah is called the guf (the body). Also, with respect to the bottom two sefiros/midos, men come from Yesod and women come from Malchus (kingship). Also, men come from the aspect of mashpia (giving) and women are from the aspect of mekabel (receiving).

As to how all of this applies to avodas Hashem, men are involved in the outwardly spiritual parts of Avodas Hashem for the most part. It is not difficult, on a simple level, to see that someone who's learning Torah or davening with a minyan is doing something spiritual. On the other hand, a woman is given a large amount of freedom and discretion about how to serve Hashem by way of her exemption from mitzvos aseh she'hazman grama, time-defined thou-shalt types of mitzvos. They are freed up in this way from outwardly spiritual obligations partly because, on a practical level, they must be on-call to take care of all of the physical aspects of life relating to the home and the children, since the men are less available due to their obligation to fulfill those time-delineated mitzvos.

Thus, by being involved in the outwardly spiritual aspects of life, men bring a revealed spirituality into their families. In that way, they are the mashpia, the giver. However, if that were all there was, there would be no kli, no mekabel, no vessel to contain and bring that G-dliness into the physical life of home and hearth. This is the role of the woman.

Avraham is the aspect of "neshoma" because man brings down the open spirituality into this world. But Sorah is the "guf" because she applies and brings that ruchnius into a physical form. She gives it a body, a reality in this world.

That is why women come from the aspect of Malchus, kingship. A king is the greatest person in the kingdom, but why? He has absolutely nothing! "Leis l'm'garmei klum!" All he has is what he taxes and takes from the people in the kingdom, but he has nothing of his own! So what is his greatness? Without anyone to direct, apply and unite the disparate resources of all of the individuals in a nation, the the kingdom is nothing but a bunch of individuals. But when the king takes a little bit from everyone and focuses all of those resources, he has the power to fashion a great army. The king is the force multiplier that directs all of the directionless kochos of the people, giving their resources a staying-power and a noticeable national effect, much greater than the sum of their individual parts.

Similarly, avodas Hashem requires two general parts. The bringers-down of ruchnius into this world, the men. And the ones who bring that ruchnius into its application into physical life, women. Without women providing the kli, the vessel, for G-dliness in this world, all the learning, davening and avodas Hashem in the obviously spiritual realms would be like "nothing," "ayin" because it would have nothing giving it a reality in the physical world. And the whole purpose of Hashem creating a physical world, with us in it, is to "give" Hashem that "Dira B'tachtonim," a resting place in the physical world.

On a practical level, I think that women generally accomplish this lofty goal by engaging in all of the physical activities of life with a consciousness of Hashem's presence and providence. And I think, practically speaking, they can do this through hisbonenus, hisbodedus and short tefillos throughout the day. For guidelines on how to approach this, I would suggest reading the section in Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh aleph on incorporating consciousness of Hashem's specific providence, which you can read HERE.

May Hashem help all of us see and accomplish our tachlis in this world.

Update: See also, Shorty's exploration of this issue HERE.

Picture courtesy of Midreshet B'erot Bat Ayin. Click here to get Dixie Yid in your e-mail Inbox or here to subscribe in Google Reader.


Shorty said...

I wondered a lot about my role as a Jewish woman...researched...asked is a bit of a summary of what i think/found out.

micha said...

R' Yisrael Salanter also stressed that Mussar is equally incumbent upon men and women. Including its spiritual practices.

We've discussed this topic on Avodah a number of times. It would seem that Litta found its center in learning Torah, Chassidus in Avodah, and but it wasn't until the Beis Yaakov movement did someone center Judaism on Gemillus Chassadim.

Another discussion connected this gap with the popularization of Merigot (Drawers). I am not posting a link to Merigot, since current consensus seems to be that it devolved into a cult. I think that posting links would be irresponsible of me.

In short, the idea was to use traditional jobs around the house in a quest for sheleimos (wholeness). The title practice involved analyzing what's going on in your life based on what collects in your drawers.

It was quite successful drawing many women from communities as diverse as Mea Shearim and religious Zionists from Ofra (a Gush Emunim village in Binyamin; Israel considers 1/4 of its homes "illegal").

But I think the fact that none of our baalei mesorah actually sat down and spelled out a derekh that fits the mitzvos incumbent on women in particular. Like most women's issues, the traditional mode stresses the mother-to-daughter informal education. You saw mom saying her techinos and tehillim, heard how she spoke a language of emunah and bitachon, and you naturally followed suit. The problem is that today, the Torah culture isn't strong enough for that kind of transmission, and our women are raised with much more formal instruction and therefore learn to expect these things to be formalized for them.


Anonymous said...

thank you. i got really excited when i saw the title, becuase i always wished someone would address this question of mine. u did a pretty good job, though i wish you would expand on it more.

DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...


Good points about why a formal understanding of a woman's derech in avodas Hashem is more needed now than it used to be in prior generations.


what aspects do you feel need more development? What aspect is the main issue bothering you?

Anonymous said...

The Koidenover Rebbe said something similar to this- that a woman creates the kli (vessel) to contain the kedusha- the directly spiritual acts of the husband. He also added that what she does by all of the physical activites like cleaning, cooking, taking care of the kids, shopping, (I dont think this necessarily means that a woman can't have a job to make parnasa for the family also), is mainly that she brings yishuv hadaas into the home. The house is clean, there is good food, it is comfortable, and so on. Only with this yishuv hadaas (i guess "peace of mind"- any better translations?) can the whole family continue their avodas Hashem.

He also added that tefilla is a big part of a woman's avoda- she can become very close to Hashem through her tefila. Also, he quoted a Rebbe (sry I didn't catch who it was) who said a woman can acheive very high levels of dvekus while making challah. How-I am not sure...

Anonymous said...

oh also-

Rabbi Tatz explains thats why shamayim is a masculine word and eretz is a feminine word. Thats also why we refer to Hashem as "He" (except for the shechina which is a different aspect of Hashem I guess). Because Hashem gives us the ruchnius potential- masculine and we take it and bring it into actuality, using the physical- thats our job in the physical world- eretz.

Also, Rav Shimshon Pincus a"h once wrote a letter to his sister and said when you are in the kodesh kedashim, please daaven a little for your brother Shimshy (Rav Shimshon Pincus). Meaning, he felt her awareness of Hashem was so real when she was daavening throughout the day for this and that, her family, and so on, that it was as though when daavening those little tefilos she was in the kodesh kedashim.

toovia said...

FYI The first edition of Bilvavi in english Part One sold out quickly. The second printing is on the boat now heading for NYC for the bookstores.