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The Fifth Gate: Completing the Circle

Chapter 21: Ruth, the Moabite

from the book by Ohad Ezrachi and Marc Gafni

When Boaz decides to marry Ruth, the Moabite, the elders of Bethlehem, who sit by the gates of the city, bless him with an exceptional blessing:

All the people at the gate and the elders answered, “We are (witnesses). May the LORD make the woman who is coming into your house like Rachel and Leah, both of whom built up the House of Israel! Prosper in Ephrathah and perpetuate your name in Bethlehem! And may your house be like the house of Perez whom Tamar bore to Judah – through the offspring which the LORD will give you by this young woman” (Ruth 4: 11-12).

According to the Ari, “Ruth was included in both Rachel and Leah. This is why the verse says: “May the LORD make the woman who is coming into your house like Rachel and Leah,” who were two separate people, while this one (Ruth) included them both, as we have already said.1 He does not mean to say simply that Ruth included elements of both Rachel and Leah, but rather that she is both of them – that is, a reincarnation of them. Ruth’s story therefore implies the possibility of integrating the two differing types that Rachel and Leah represent.

Traditional sources tell us of a Ruth who possessed both modesty and assertiveness. When she comes to gather the shafts of wheat left over by the harvesters in Boaz’s fields, Boaz immediately asks the harvesters about this woman. Rashi comments on the phrase:

“Whose girl is that?” (Ruth 2:5): Was it Boaz’s habit to ask about women? It was because he saw in her both modesty and wisdom: She gathered two shafts of wheat, not three. And she would gather standing shafts as she stood, and fallen ones sitting, so as not to bend over.2

Other women apparently bent down in order to pick up the shafts of wheat that were lying on the ground, perhaps revealing their breasts in the process, whereas Ruth gathered the standing shafts from an upright position, and she modestly picked up those lying on the ground while kneeling.

It is somewhat ironic that rabbinic commentary calls our attention to Ruth’s modesty, since the Bible itself tells us of her sexual forwardness. Following her mother-in-law, Naomi’s, advice, Ruth goes at night to the granary, finds the place where Boaz is sleeping, lifts up his blankets to expose his “legs,” and lies down beside him:

Boaz ate and drank, and in a cheerful mood went to lay down beside the grain pile. Then she went over stealthily and uncovered his feet (m’raglotav) and lay down. In the middle of the night, the man gave a start and pulled back – there was a woman lying at his feet!

“Who are you?” he asked, And she replied, “I am your handmaid Ruth. Spread your robe over your handmaid, for you are a redeeming kinsman” (Ruth 3: 7-9).

There is no doubt that this is both a sexual and a betrothal scene. Rachel Adler notes that in the Bible it is “usually the man who ‘goes ‘ to a sexual partner, who uncovers nakedness, who lies with the woman.” Here, in a daring reversal, it is Ruth who exposes Boaz’s meraglot, meaning the area “around his legs;”3 as Adler notes, legs can “describe an unspecified amount of the lower body…. all the way up to X-rated regions.”4 Furthermore, spreading one’s robe over a woman is likewise a biblical figure for consummating a sexual and covenantal relationship. Both dimensions are clearly implied in this even more vivid passage in Ezekiel:

I let you grow like the plants of the field; and you continued to grow up until you attained to womanhood, until your breasts became firm and your hair sprouted. You were still naked and bare when I passed by you [again] and saw that your time for love had arrived. So I spread my robe over you and covered your nakedness, and I entered into a covenant with you by oath – declares the LORD God; thus you became mine.” (16: 7-8)

Just as God betrothes Israel, so Ruth goes to where Boaz sleeps and she expresses in the clearest possible terms exactly what it is that she desires, a covenant of marriage. Like, Leah, she is sexually assertive with the man that she is choosing for her husband. Given this unconventional reversal of expected gender roles, is it any wonder that Boaz is startled? In Midrash Tanhuma, the Rabbis create a dialogue that expresses Boaz’s fear at the strangeness of the encounter – so strange that he wonders if she may be a demon:

“[He] pulled back” (Ruth 3: 8) – she wrapped him up like lichen. He began to feel her hair, and said: “Demons do not have hair.”5

He said to her, “Are you a demon or a woman?”

She said, “A woman.”

“Are you single or married?”

She said, “Single.”

“Are you pure or impure?”

She said to him, “Pure.”

And behold, the purest of women lies at his feet, as it says, “‘Who are you?’, he asked. And she replied, ‘I am your handmaid Ruth.'”

R. Berahaia said: Cursed be the wicked ones! Elsewhere it says, “She caught hold of him by his garment and said, ‘Lie with me'” (Gen. 39: 12). But here, (it says) “Spread your robe over your handmaid.” (Ruth 3: 9)6

Ruth’s sexual assertiveness was obviously problematic for the rabbis, so R. Berahia creates a context that makes her forwardness look modest, by comparing Ruth and the wife of Potiphar, two women who attempted to seduce the man next to them. The curse, “Cursed be the wicked ones!” despises the coercive, explicit style of Potiphar’s wife, and praises the tender way in which Ruth speaks. By emphasizing the tremendous difference between the way Ruth goes about seduction on the one hand, and the aggressive way in which others, such as Potiphar’s wife, go about it, the rabbis can maintain Ruth’s tenderness and her modesty, even as she seduces.

This tenderness and modesty may have been lost on Boaz, however, who thought that either a spirit or a demon must be lying by his side.7 It is fear of Lilith that causes him such anxiety. According to the Ari, Ruth received her Lilith side from her sister Orpah, who went back to her home, choosing not to enter the land of Israel together with Naomi and Ruth. After Elimelech and his two sons, Mahlon and Kilion, die, only the women remain. Naomi wants to go back to her home in the land of Judah. Her daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah, go with her, but she begs them to go back to their homes and build a new life for themselves among their own people. Ruth refuses, insisting on staying with Naomi and becoming a part of the Jewish people. Orpah, however, takes Naomi’s advice and leaves. The Bible refrains from criticizing Orpah, but the rabbis are considerably less benevolent. One midrash comments that the name Orpah comes from the Hebrew word oref (the back of the neck), and so voices the opinion that she turned her back on Naomi.8 Playing on another meaning of “back,” there is also a talmudic argument between Rav and Shmuel that expresses a deep revulsion toward Orpah. One claims that she is the mother of Goliath, named Harafah (II Sam. 21: 18).9 But the other claims that she is called Orpah, “Because everyone takes her from the back.”10 Rashi’s commentary spells out the nuances of this charge: “She is taken from the back – she abandoned herself like an animal, face to back.” Incapable of a face-to-face encounter, she is treated sexually as a whore, or worse, an animal. In rabbinic eyes, Orpah is clearly a Lilith-like figure.

For the talmudic sages, the real turning point occurred for Orpah the night after she left Ruth and Naomi. The midrash tells us that, on that night, a hundred men lay with Orpah, and one sage adds a dog to this unholy congregation:

R. Isaac said: All during the night after Orpah left her mother- in-law the nakedness of a hundred people entered her. As it says, “And he (Goliath) stepped forward from the Philistine ranks” (17: 23). It is written mima’arot – indicating mime’ah aralot – from a hundred foreskins of non-Jews that poured into her the entire night. R. Tanhuma said: A dog also (was among them), as it says, “And the Philistine called out to David, Am I a dog [that you come against me with sticks]?” (I Sam 17: 43)11

The rabbis may have found sufficient cause to refer to Orpah so scathingly in the resemblance of her name to Harafah, Goliath’s supposed mother. In the Zohar, a connection is drawn between Orpah and Lilith by means of her husband’s name, Kilion, which means destruction, and who is therefore interpreted to be the evil inclination or the Great Demon, who is married to Lilith, and brings destruction to the world.12

Building on the discomfort with Orpah in these midrashic traditions, we can approach her as a person who does not live out her own story. At first she follows the lead of her sister, Ruth,13 who is on a quest to find her spiritual roots. As the quintessential convert in Jewish tradition, Ruth’s story is the story of returning to the source. Orpah, though, has no such drive – conversion is not her path. Thus, when Orpah realizes that she has not been living her own story, but rather that of Ruth, then she no longer knows who she is and must leave.

We have already argued that prostitution is defined by sexual encounters which lack personal context. In Hebrew, prostitution is termed “going out,” because a prostitute is someone who leaves his or her own narrative in order to live vicariously through others. This is how we understood the rabbis’ conviction that Leah and Dinah acted like prostitutes. It also aids our understanding of Orpah’s story.

The Ari was certainly familiar with the midrashic traditions of Orpah’s possessing a wild and bestial sexuality leading her to beget the monstrous Goliath and his three brothers.14 Bestial sexuality, wildness and whoredom are all notable characteristics from the Lilith archetype, associated, in Lurianic Kabbalah, with partzuf Leah:

And the secret of this matter is that Orpah parallels Leah, as her name indicates that she emerges from the mystery of the neck, just like Leah, who is the knot of the tefillin, does on the side of holiness.15

According to the Ari, Ruth absorbs the positive in her sister Orpah. It is true that, originally, Orpah was associated with Leah, while Ruth was associated with Rachel. However, the moment Orpah turns her back to return home, there is a major shift in the history of Lilith; her negative side separates from her positive side. “Orpah, however, when she did not convert, (caused) the good part of her to leave her and be given to Ruth, while the evil part of her caused her to return to her people and her god.”16 Thus, the shell separates from the fruit. Ruth absorbs everything that is positive in Lilith – the independence, boldness and sense of equality; but she leaves behind Lilith’s cruel, demonic and devious face, which causes harm to both her surroundings and to herself.

From this moment onwards Ruth symbolizes the two faces of woman unified into one female figure. She is the first biblical woman to become whole and have the capacity to heal the damage caused by our ancestors in Eden:

And it is also possible to say that Ruth now fixed what Eve had damaged in the time of Adam…It says here “May the LORD make the woman who is coming into your house (like Rachel and Leah) (Ruth 4: 11) … and it said before17: “This one at last/ is bone of my bones/ And flesh of my flesh./ This one shall be called Woman” (Gen. 3: 23).18 This is why at the time of King Solomon of blessed memory it says, “he had a throne placed for the mother of the king” (I Kings 2: 19) – for the mother of kingdom, malkhut, as the rabbis of blessed memory said, This refers to Ruth.19

During the golden era of King Solomon, in which the sefirah of Malkhut (which represents the feminine side of the divinity) is said to have achieved perfection, Ruth was considered the mother of (the sefirah of) Malkhut. What was it about Ruth that enabled her to reach this height? The Ari’s answer is quite surprising:

And this is the secret of “May the LORD make the woman who is coming into your house like Rachel and Leah, both of whom built up the House of Israel!” (Ruth 4: 11). And the meaning is, that at the time of Rachel and Leah they were separate, because the Torah had not yet been given…However, at the time of Ruth, the Torah had already been given, and she was the only one who contained both of them together. This is why it says “both.”20

This is not just a matter of Ruth’s being fortunate to live after the giving of the Torah. Sinai, the Ari implies, transformed the range of possibilities available to Ruth and to all humanity. What had to be held separate before can now be brought together by way of Torah, the interface wherein the divine and the human meet. The Ari’s vision of the Torah is therefore critical; its goal is the unification of Eve and Lilith. How the Torah facilitates such a process will be the subject of our next chapter.

Chapter 23: The Liberating Torah

The Hebrew word Torah has all the letters of Ruth’s name in it, with only one letter different – an added ‘heh.’ Jewish mystical tradition has regarded this letter as the second ‘heh’ of the Tetragrammaton, symbolizing the sefirah of Malkhut, which is the Shekinah, the female reality within God. “The letter heh attached itself to Ruth, making it into Torah. Concerning her it says, “The song of the turtledove is heard in our land'”(Song 2: 12)21 According to the Ari, Torah is what enables Ruth to complete herself, to unite within herself the modest and the assertive, the intellectual and the sexual, Rachel and Leah, Eve and Lilith.

To understand how Torah plays this transformative role in the Ari’s thought, we can return to our earlier discussion on the relationship between Torah and Moses’s spiritual outlook:22 “Moses from the inside, Jacob from the outside.”23 Because Moses’s soul is rooted in partzuf Leah, he could perceive the mystery of Leah’s holiness, which Jacob could not. Moses consequently gave the Leah-oriented Torah to Israel: “For humility is the aspect of Leah, and since Moses achieved it… he is called “very humble” (Num. 12: 3).24 Humility is the essence of the liberating Torah. Humility enables men to let go of their need to control and dominate women, allowing men and women equal space in the unfolding of human history.

The need to control, as we have said earlier, stems from fear of the unknown. The Zohar says that Jacob, the symbol of patriarchal culture, is afraid of anything or anyone he cannot understand. Finding Leah-Lilith incomprehensible, patriarchal man calls her a prostitute and rejects her as a demon.

The Baal Shem Tov, a spiritual heir to the teachings of the Ari, taught human beings to develop to the point where they no longer need to fear what they do not know. In a famous story, he teaches what we might call the Torah of liberation. Before he became too well known, he used to wander about dressed as a peasant and tell stories. Once he came to the town of R. Yaakov Yosef, where he began to tell stories to the townspeople who were on their way to prayer. Word came to the worthy rabbi, who ordered that the peasant be brought before him in order that he might rebuke and punish him. The Baal Shem Tov replied, “It is not fitting for the holy rabbi to get so upset. Better allow me to tell him a story.” And the Baal Shem Tov told R. Yaakov Yosef about a certain rabbi, who was traveling in a carriage harnessed to three horses. One horse was white, one horse was black, and one horse was spotted. The carriage got stuck in the mud and the rabbi could not get it out. He whipped the horses mercilessly, but nothing seemed to help. Finally, a non-Jewish peasant came and said to the rabbi “loosen the reins.” The rabbi loosened the reins and the happy horses ran out of the mud, pulling the carriage after them.25

In the Baal Shem Tov’s story the rabbi lacks any feelings for animals or their instincts. All he knows how to do is to tighten the reins, whip the horses, and try to achieve greater and greater control over them. Tightening control over the instincts only causes the carriage to sink deeper and deeper into the mud. Try instead to free the reins, to give up the need to control. The horses must be given the freedom to express their positive life force, to do what we cannot do for them. This is the advice of the simple peasant. The peasant is in touch with nature, whereas the rabbi, sitting high in his chariot, is totally alienated from it.

Loosening the reins does not mean unharnessing; it simply means trusting more, and in the process, gaining humility. Humility, which has its roots in partzuf Leah, allows a person to give space to the unknown and it frees him of his obsessive need to control things. The Mei HaShiloah brings a profound spiritual insight to bear on why we should undertake this struggle to gain humility and let go of control:

Because God desires man’s deeds. Because in this world one must act out of love, and (do) deeds which are not so crystal clear […] (Because) in all cases a man must trust God…26

Radical Hasidism seeks to elevate human beings from the underdeveloped state that we have termed “Jacob” to a more sophisticated level, that of “Israel.” It demands that human beings trust God, and that they loosen their control over the horse’s reins. In what follows, we will see that there are very significant implications for the liberation of women in the two states we are calling Jacob and Israel.

Chapter 23: From Jacob to Israel

The liberation of women from the stereotypical roles to which patriarchal culture has assigned them cannot be completed without a parallel liberation of men from the oppressive, dominating roles to which they have assigned themselves. In the previous chapter, we focused on humility as a liberating spiritual tool. In this chapter, we will deal with a parallel emotional and intellectual tool – an openness to uncertainty, which can give one the courage to encounter one’s shadow side. For without integrating the shadow, patriarchal Jacob remains stuck as the limited, conniving Jacob and never can attain the self-mastery and generosity that comes from being Israel.

To follow out the implications of this argument, we need to focus on the relationship between Jacob and Esau, who are two male archetypes. Hairy Esau goes out into the field, fights wild beasts, and brings home game. Jacob, on the other hand, has all the characteristics of a civilized person, and what’s more, of a woman: he is a “smooth-skinned” man who sits home in his tent and cooks. Esau represents the animalistic male, whereas Jacob symbolizes the civilized, and thus weaker man. In the Babylonian epic tradition, they are represented by the pair Enkidu and Gilgamesh.

From the moment of his birth, Jacob has difficulty accepting himself. He is born holding onto his brother’s heel – attempting to build his own identity by latching onto the strong figure of his older brother. He can only accept the divine blessing by becoming someone else, as if only his older brother could be worthy of such a blessing. This is why he tries, at every opportunity, to become part of his brother’s story and to usurp his place by becoming what he is not: Esau. When a propitious moment presents itself, Jacob takes advantage of Esau’s weakness – that he is a man of instinct who is only concerned with the here and now – and purchases his brother’s birthright in exchange for a pot of lentils.

This archetypal struggle is intensified by the fact that “Isaac favored Esau” (Gen. 26: 28). When a parent loves one child more than the others, he cannot hide it, try as he might. The child will always know. At no point does the Bible say that Isaac and Rebecca tried to hide their preferences from their children, so Jacob must certainly know that he is his father’s rejected son. Unlike Jacob, Esau is closer to his father in continuing the rebellious tradition of his father’s house. Abraham rebelled against Terah and began to serve the One God. Isaac, too, did not go in his father’s footsteps, but made changes and innovations. His father had several wives; he had only one. His father left Israel; Isaac stayed in one place. Isaac created the vessel capable of containing the blessing. While Jacob stays narrowly within the structure of the paternal home, Esau comes and goes and, despite this freedom, behaves respectfully toward his father, and probably toward tradition also. Given these patterns, Isaac might well think that, if Esau receives Abraham’s blessing, he is likely to add elements of fortitude and determination to the spiritual inheritance he received from his father.

Rebekah grew up in a very different environment from her husband. Raised in the household of Laban and Bethuel in Aram Naharayim, she needed someone like Jacob to help her further along her spiritual path. “Rebekah favored Jacob” (Gen. 26:28). She had had her fill of men like Esau in Laban’s house. Typical of someone who leaves one culture for another, she had no desire to see her children embody those values from which she herself had been so keen to run away.

When Rebekah manipulates Jacob into usurping Esau’s identity in order to steal Isaac’s final blessing, his reality is saying to Jacob, if you really want to be Esau, it is not enough to abstractly buy his birthright. You must actually feel how it is to be Esau, how it is to wear his clothes, how it feels to be called by his name – in short, you must go all the way with this stolen identity. You must say “I am Esau.” It is clear that this costume causes Jacob great distress. We can almost hear the rapid beating of his heart. Jacob, who does not take risks on his own initiative, would never have dared to perpetrate this deception, unless his mother had put him up to it. He says to his mother: “Perhaps my father will touch me, and I shall appear to him as a trickster” (Gen. 27: 12). This “perhaps” (ullay) – the presence of doubt – frightens Jacob more than anything else. He prefers the more hygienic situation in which he “buys” Esau’s identity, without needing to dirty (or disguise) his hands. The Mei HaShiloah notes that Isaac saw Esau’s soul as greater than Jacob’s, because Esau was willing to expose himself to such doubtful and uncertain situations, while Jacob was afraid to deviate from that which was known and certain.27 Isaac prefers someone who has the courage to deal with dubious moments, someone who is unafraid to challenge boundaries, someone who, at least theoretically, is prepared to expand them and add new territory according to need, with the power of his father’s blessing supporting him.

The moment that Jacob fully realizes how devious he had been in using Esau’s identity to receive a blessing, he is full of fear and runs away, convinced that Esau wants to kill him. At first glance, it seems that Jacob is only running away from Esau, but soon we see that he is also running away from his mother, who constantly manipulates him, and from his father, who does not want him anyway.

Jacob sets out, running away from home, while Esau stayed at home with Isaac and Rebecca. Jacob’s journey led him eastward, and, as a general rule in the Bible, when someone goes east, he is making his exit from the main line of the biblical story.28 We would not be wrong to therefore assume that it is Jacob who is being rejected in favor of Esau, when he goes east to Haran. In this light, the rabbis pointed out the similarity of Haran to the phrase haron af29, God’s wrath, as if Jacob were being exiled, punished by a “day of the LORD” as dark as that envisioned by the prophets.30

To stop being haunted by his shadow, Esau, he embraces the darkness of Haran. It is this very darkness that brings him, quite involuntarily, to a real and sustained encounter with what the Zohar calls “the other side,” for it is Leah-Lilith who guides him on this journey: “‘Jacob left Beer-sheba’ – (he left) the secrets of the faith. ‘And he went to Haran’ – to the wife of harlotry, to the wife of adultery.”31 Jacob innocently thinks that by leaving home “for a few days” (Gen. 27: 44), he will temporarily escape from his father’s influence and from the overbearing and domineering figure of his mother Rebekah. As it turns out, the twenty years he spends in Haran offer him, according to the Zohar, the type of spiritual experience that come straight from the heart of the world he left behind:

The deepest of all secrets: From out of the intense clarity of Isaac, from the dregs of the wine, came out a tied knot, composed of both male and female. Red like a rose…The male is Samael, and his female counterpart is always with him…She is called the wife of Samael the snake, the wife of harlotry, the end of all flesh, the end of days.”32

Samael and Lilith are waiting for Jacob in the house of Laban. Both are born of “the intense clarity of Isaac.” A SENTENCE OR TWO ON THE INTENSE CLARITY OF ISAAC WOULD BE IN ORDER HERE. Lilith is embodied in the figure of Leah, and Samael, her bridegroom, is the angel responsible for Esau. Together they symbolize everything dark and forbidden that Jacob has been assiduously trying to escape.

According to the Zohar, Jacob must pass this test so as to become worthy of being a patriarch. Only those patriarchs who successfully contend with the other, demonic side become great. The following Zoharic story of testing is modeled on the well-known legend of R. Akiba and three fellow students who were tested through their encounters in the secret garden of mystical contemplation. Like R. Akiba in that story, the Jewish patriarchs “entered in peace and came out in peace:”

When Jacob attached himself to the secret of the faith, he needed to be tested in the same place as his parents. They entered in peace and came out in peace.

Adam entered, was not careful, and was seduced by her. He sinned with the wife of harlotry, who is the primal snake.

Noah entered, was not careful, and was seduced by her. He sinned, as it says “He drank of the wine and became drunk, and he uncovered himself within his tent.” (Gen. 9: 21)

Abraham entered and came out (in peace), as it says, “Abram went down to Egypt” (Gen. 12: 10), and it says, “Abram came up from Egypt” (Gen. 13:1).

Isaac entered and came out (in peace), as it says, “and Isaac went to Abimelech, king of the Philistines, in Gerar” (Gen. 26: 1), and it says, “And he went up from there to Beersheba.” (v. 23)

When Jacob entered into the faith, he should have brought a present to the other side, since whoever is delivered from it is God’s special beloved.33

The Zohar says in a phrase we have already quoted, “Jacob did not want to attach himself to anything incomprehensible to him.”34 He prefers those things and people that fit his cultured life as one “who stays in camp” (Gen. 26: 27). Thus, he is attracted to Rachel – precisely because she did not challenge him in any way. Leah, on the other hand, radiates passion, fuelled by her desire to break free of the sexual restraints traditionally placed on women. In moving to the home of Laban, Jacob finds himself in the thick of the very problem of uncertainty and sensuality that he had been aiming to avoid. He does not plan to “bring a present to the other side.” But, it seems, that God had planned things differently. Jacob was tricked into marrying Leah and learned a great lesson about the dark side. Living with someone so like his brother – instinctual, passionate, determined – it became possible for him to understand why his father had preferred Esau and to open up to what Esau represents. Leah-Lilith thus readied him for his encounter with her husband, Samael, the angel of Esau.

On his way home to Canaan, Jacob hears that his brother Esau is coming to meet him with four hundred men. Jacob is uncertain whether Esau is coming in peace, or whether he is prepared for war. How will he treat him after so many years? Will Esau forgive him for his original deception? For stealing the blessing? For the devious way in which he stole his older brother’s identity? It is quite possible that Esau has not forgiven him, and Jacob’s worst nightmares may be about to materialize. Once again Jacob must face the unknown. When he was getting ready to trick his father, he cringed at imagining the uncertainty of the situation -perhaps his father would touch him and discover his deception. But now he is willing to accept the uncertainty of his situation.35 The whole time that Jacob was in Laban’s household, he did not use the word ullay – “perhaps” – but now, as he readies himself to meet Esau, he once again wonders – ullay. He is willing now to be discovered for who he is. “Perhaps he will accept me” (Gen. 32: 21).

After preparing himself for all eventualities, Jacob seeks solitude in order to prepare himself for the confrontation. He returns, alone, to the other side of the river, and there, through introspection, he encounters the man/angel, whom we can see as the shadowy twin buried inside of himself: “Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn” (Gen. 32: 25). Based on what Jacob says to Esau when they meet the next day – “For seeing your face is like seeing the face of an angel (lit. God)” (Gen. 33:10), the rabbis conclude that the angel with whom Jacob wrestled was Esau’s personal angel, later identified by the Zohar as Lilith’s husband, Samael.36

his time Jacob is prepared for the encounter. He is even ready to embrace Esau, rather than running away from him, as is implied in this interpretation by Rabbenu Bahya: “And a man wrestled (va-ye’avek) with him” – the simple meaning is similar to “and he embraced (va-yehabek) (since according to grammar) the letters aleph and het are interchangeable. Just as in rabbinic Hebrew, we say avuka’ (torch) which comes from the word havuka, because the brands of wood are tied together as if in an embrace.”37 This wrestle that turns into an embrace leads Jacob to demand a blessing of the “spiritual Esau” whom he discovers hidden away inside of himself. Having long since felt the discomfort of receiving his father’s blessing through deception, Jacob is now asking this shadow Esau to accept that blessing.

The angel’s response strikes squarely at Jacob’s central problem – the question of his identity: “What is your name?” (Gen. 32: 28). The first time Jacob wanted a blessing, he approached his father, and when his father asked him what his name was, he answered, “I am your son, Esau, your firstborn.” (Gen. 27: 29). Jacob hid behind an identity that was not his. He felt that it was really Esau who deserved the blessing, not Jacob, which is why he tried so hard to be who he was not. This time, when asked for his name he is forthcoming with the answer – “My name is Jacob” (Gen. 32:28). It has been hard for him to admit that his name is Jacob, because the name Jacob hints at crookedness and unfair play.38 When Jacob finally acknowledges his true identity as Jacob, he is also admitting that he has not been straight his entire life. A person who is incapable of seeing in the dark cannot walk a straight path. He will need to make detours, walk crookedly. Jacob’s admission of his name (and, by implication, of its meaning) is the point in his life when he accepts his own deviousness – his own dark side. Until now, he had sought to repress it and ignore its very existence. Paradoxically, when Jacob admits that he is “crooked,” he immediately becomes “straight.”39 This is why Esau’s angel gives him the name Israel, which can also be read as yashar-el – “the straight one of God.” Jacob has become Israel, the symbol of straightness, because he is successful at contending with God and man – with light and darkness, with the apprehensible and the mysterious, with consciousness and unconsciousness.

When Jacob does finally meet with his brother Esau, he discovers that Esau bears him no grudge. Esau never thought for a moment to attack Jacob: “The Holy Blessed One said to Jacob: (Esau) was simply going on his way, and you send him a message saying, “So says your servant Jacob,”40 the prelude to his elaborate attempt to propitiate him with gifts. All of Jacob’s fears had been unjustified. They were projections of nightmares caused by the unresolved conflict between the two sides of himself – the weak and cultured man on the one hand, and the primal, instinctual man on the other. This is why, when Jacob sees Esau’s face, he comments that it reminds him of the face of the angel with whom he had struggled the night before. Unlike Jacob, Israel can see his twin brother as an angel: “For seeing your face is like seeing the face of an angel (lit. God), and you have received me favorably” (Gen. 33:10).

Jacob is worthy of becoming Israel once he has contended with and embraced his shadow. We have said that the tikkun for women is represented by Ruth, whose figure integrates both archetypal images, Leah and Rachel. The tikkun for men likewise depends upon Israel’s ability to accept the dark side and contain both Jacob and Esau.41 He does not surrender to it, but he does not ignore it either. Now Jacob is no longer the patriarch who will love Rachel and hate Leah. By admitting his Jacob-ness, Jacob is also recognizing his own femininity, which, conversely, also allows his masculinity into the picture. We recall that Jacob was described initially in the terms of a feminine, cultured man of “the camp,” but he did not accept this side of himself and wanted to be like his brother Esau, the man of the field. This is why he tries to steal Esau’s identity. By accepting his female side, Jacob can now understand Leah-Lilith – the wild woman. R. Hayyim Vital says that the name Israel includes the initials of the names of all the patriarchs and matriarchs, including Leah, and even Jacob’s own name:

Behold, this name which he now received, Israel, indicates that he now included all the patriarchs and the matriarchs. For this name Israel is the initials for Issac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel. Abraham, Leah.42

Jacob, however, does not leave this integrative encounter unscathed. Jacob was wounded when wrestling with Esau’s angel, who hurt “the thigh muscle that is on the socket of the hip” (Gen. 32: 33). The price of Jacob’s spiritual transformation was an injury to the inside of the thigh. The Zohar sees this thigh muscle as related to the genitals, symbolizing the animal instincts in man:

And why is it called “gid hanasheh” – the thigh muscle? Because it is the muscle which causes a man to forget (nashe) the service of his master, and is the seat of the evil inclination.

And when (the angel) wrestled with Jacob, he could find no place where he could prevail over Jacob, since all of Jacob’s limbs helped him, and they were all strong, and none of them were weak. What did he do? He touched the hollow of his thigh, the muscle there – (that is), he touched his sex, the seat of his evil inclination, from where the evil inclination comes to people. This is why the Torah said that the children of Israel should not eat the thigh muscle.43

The price Jacob paid for higher understanding was the loss of his sexual impeccability. As long as he distanced himself from the Esau in himself, he could view himself as faultless in this area. But now, after giving space to the darker side of his personality, he must shed his image of sexual perfection. From now on, Jacob is Israel; he limps, i.e. has a blemish, and this blemish is directly connected to the spiritual rung he has ascended.

R. Tzaddok Hacohen of Lublin voices the opinion that there are two ways in Torah to contend with the evil inclination. One is the way of suppression and rejection. A human being concentrates on the spiritual life, and banishes from his or her consciousness any thought to do with the temptations of the flesh. He does not fight his instincts, but simply avoids them. This path enables a person to lead an intensely pure and spiritual life. It is the way of Jacob, who avoids the encounter with his shadow.44

But there is another way: that of confrontation. This is the way of the “warrior who conquers his inclinations” by first inviting them into his consciousness. (I LEFT OUT “THE TORAH OF THE LAND OF ISRAEL REFERENCE HERE, SINCE IT IS NOT PROVIDED IN R. TZADDOK). This may be the holier path, even though it entails a certain renunciation of a pure life, in which a person behaves as if he had no body at all. He becomes instead someone who lives both the life of the senses and the life of the soul, each to their fullest, allowing the corporeal to have its place in his reality.45 This is the way of Israel, who does not detour any mountain which may lead him to a of peak experience. It is what makes him “straight.”

When Jacob becomes Israel, he no longer needs to sustain a demonic image of Leah-Lilith. She, in fact, becomes his true beloved, replacing Rachel. After Jacob’s encounter with Esau, as soon as he enters Israel, Rachel dies, giving birth to Benjamin. Her whole purpose in life was to bear children and, as soon as her full complement of children has been born, her function has been fulfilled.46 Jacob buries her by the side of the road, and does not even stay for the prescribed period of mourning, but leaves with Leah – not the threatening and seductive demon she once was – because Jacob has become Israel. We can infer this change from the following. When it is Jacob’s time to die, he calls Joseph, Rachel’s son, and apologizes to him for hastily burying his mother, Rachel, by the side of the road. He asks him to make certain that his own body be buried in the cave of Machpela together with Leah and thereby rejects the possibility of being buried beside Rachel, the love of his youth.

In Lurianic Kabbalah, the mysterious coupling of Israel and Leah is facilitated by the power of da’at:

And know that I once heard from my teacher, of blessed memory, that when the aspect of Leah couples with Ze’eir Anpin himself, the coupling occurs through the da’at itself, and this is the secret of “Now the man knew (yada) his wife Eve.” (Gen. 4:1) This union was made possible through da’at, and it is in a very hidden place, which is why it was concealed from Jacob at first, and he did not know that she was Leah until day came. Understand this well.47

For, in order to truly recognize Leah, one must wait until the morning, until enlightenment dawns.

Chapter 25: The Taste of Sex

We have been moving towards a synthesis between light and darkness, Jacob and Esau, Rachel and Leah, Eve and Lilith. The movement we have been tracing enables us to understand certain rabbinic comments concerning sexuality and the sacred.

Said R. Isaac, “From the day the temple was destroyed, the taste of sex was taken away, and given to the sinners (i.e. those engaged in illicit sex), as it says, “Stolen waters are sweet and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.” (Prov. 9:17)48

In the context of this passage, illicit sex refers specifically to adultery, and the taste of sex is an idiom meant to refer to the highest pleasures of orgasm. According to this eyebrow-raising passage the difference between Temple and post-Temple spirituality is that after the destruction, the fullest erotic joy of sex was very difficult to experience with our partners. The yearning for the Temple is understood, in effect, as a yearning for eros of the most intense kind.

The second rather shocking text is a description of the innermost sanctum of the Temple. In the holy of holies, relates the Talmud, were two angelic cherubs locked in embrace. A careful reading of the Hebrew phrase indicates that they were in fact erotically intertwined.499 Furthermore, according to the Bible, the walls of the first temple were covered with erotic pictures of these sexually intertwined cherubs (I Kings 6:29). This indicates the close association between holiness and eros. The primary image in the holy of holies – the innermost precinct of holiness in the Temple – is a symbol of eros. To realize how far we have strayed from this conception, one has only to imagine the reaction of contemporary congregants upon walking into their synagogue and finding the walls covered with pictures of figures in explicit sexual embrace.

To understand what eros means in the religio-cultural context of the ancient Temple we need to unpack another source. The Talmud describes a mythic dialogue between the rabbis and God.50 An internal reference of the text locates the dialogue at the close of the era of prophecy. The rabbis entreat God to nullify the power of the drive toward idolatry. God grants their wish, allowing them to attempt to slay the inclination for idolatry. But where to find this drive? Immediately a fiery lion emerges from the holy of holies. This lion who resides in the innermost sanctum of the Temple is identified by the prophet as the primal urge toward idolatry. The rabbis realize that it cannot be slain so they weaken it instead. Apparently feeling that it was a moment of grace, the rabbis entreat again. Allow us, they say, to slay the drive for sexuality. God grants their wish and again a fiery lion of fire emerges from the holy of holies; this second lion is understood to be the primal sexual drive. When they attempt to slay this lion, however, the world simply stops. Chickens don’t lay eggs, people don’t go to work; all productivity and, according to the hasidic reading of the text, all spiritual work, grinds to a standstill.51 The rabbis understand that they have gone too far and retract their request. This drive as well is weakened and not slain.

This strange and holy mythic tale is trying to teach us that the seat of eros and the seat of holiness are one. The first lion to emerge from the holy of holies personifies the drive for idolatry, the second, the sexual drive. Both however are but expressions of one common underlying reality – that of Eros. Idolatry at its core is not primitive fetishism. It is rather a burning lust for the holy. Under every tree, in every brook, courses primal divinity. The idolater, like the prophet, experiences the world as an erotic manifestation of the God force. It is therefore only the prophet who is able to identify the lion as the drive for idolatry. One nineteenth century kabbalistic writer suggests that this passage is about the end of the prophetic period and that the idolater and prophet were in fact flip sides of the same coin.52 The symbolism of the lions emerging from the holy of holies is the text’s way of teaching that Eros is Holiness.

Eros includes sexuality as a primary manifestation, but it is clearly not limited to sex. It rather refers to the primal energy of the universe. Eros is where essence and existence meet. The existentialists who viewed them as opposites were therefore overcome by ennui and emptiness. Eros is to taste essence in every moment of existence. To experience the world erotically is to be plugged in to the divine erotic essence of reality. As this passage indicates, the drive to uncover the divine sensuality of world is not without its dangers. The erotic may overwhelm us to the point that our ethical sensitivities are swept away and our sacred boundaries overrun. And yet the need to experience the world in all of its divine eros remains a primal human need and according to this text the Temple of Jerusalem was organized in response to that need.

The destruction of the Temple then heralded the fall of eros in two distinct ways. First eros came to be limited to genital sexuality. When we seek the realization of our full need for eros in sex we are bound to be disillusioned. Sex cannot by itself sate us in our lust for essence. Sex itself cannot re-enchant our world with the magic of eros. When we mourn the destruction of the Temple, we yearn to live erotically in all the facets of our lives once again. The Talmud relates that at the time of the destruction, fruits lost their taste. Laughter vanished in the life of the people, and the vitality of sexuality, teaches R. Isaac, was reserved for those seeking illicit adulterous thrills.53 When fruits lose their full erotic taste, when laughter becomes mechanical and only in response to sexual humor, then true eros, the Temple, has been destroyed. It is therefore not surprising to experience its displacement into the illicit. The passionate centuries-long, Jewish yearning for rebuilding the Temple is the longing to redeem eros from its distortions. We need to move from the eros of longing, which symbolized the exile, to an eros of fulfillment. We need to experience the full intensity of erotic relationship with our partners. Put succinctly, rebuilding the Temple is to touch the passion of illicit sex within the holy and ethical context of one’s primary relationship.

This is the deep intent of Akiva, the mystic sage who witnessed the destruction of the Temple. “All the books are holy,” taught Akiva “but the Song of Songs is the holy of holies.”54 Akiva is doing more than extolling the virtue of the God – Israel relationship allegorized in the Song of Songs in terms of passion and sensuality. Akiva is witnessing to future generations that the essence of the temple, the holy of holies, is the experience of passion and sensuality as the guiding force in all of our relationships with the world.

This high valuation of eros as the goal of the spiritual life will allow us to look at a variety of texts that speak of the unredeemed world in which we currently find ourselves, and how a more constrained and unequal sexuality functions within it. In the course of a halakhic discussion about a man who desired a beautiful Jewish maiden, R. Yitzhak Nafha is of the opinion, as we said above, that, since the Temple was destroyed, there is no longer any real pleasure in permitted sex, but only in forbidden relationships. R. Yitzhak’s comment is brought in a halakhic discussion about a particular man sexually obsessed with a young virgin:

R. Yehuda said in the name of Rav: There is a story about a man who saw a certain woman, and grew heartsick. They asked the doctors what to do, and they said, Nothing can help him, unless he has sex with her!

The Rabbis said, Better he die, and not have sex with her!

(The doctors suggested) that she stand before him naked.

(The Rabbis said): Better he die than she stand before him naked!

– Maybe she should talk with him from behind a fence?

– Better he die, than she talk with him from behind a fence!

R. Yaakov bar Idi and Rav Shumel bar Nahmani disagreed: One said that she was married, and the other said that she was single.

(The Talmud goes on to ask): According to the opinion that she was married, we can understand (why the rabbis forbid any sort of contact with her). But according to the opinion that she was single, what was the problem?

R. Poppa said: (It is forbidden) because of (not wanting to) hurt the family (as no one will want to marry her afterwards).

R. Aha the son of R. Ikka said: So that the daughters of Israel not become promiscuous in matters of forbidden sex.

(The Talmud suggests) – Let him marry her!

(and answers) This will not help him! As R. Yitzhak said –

Since the day the Temple was destroyed, the taste of sex was taken away, and given (solely) to sinners, as it says, Stolen waters are sweet and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.”55 (Prov. 9:17)

The final word in this talmudic debate is given to the proverbial statement of R. Yitzhak and the anonymous view that if this man were to marry the girl, his desire, because of its obsessional nature, would not be curbed. In the language of Rashi, he has become one of the sinners who want the taste of forbidden fruit, of bread eaten secretly. “The evil inclination attacks them and magnifies their desire.”56 Marriage can no longer satisfy such a person’s erotic longing.

The Talmud is here dealing with the relationship between the legal wife and the mistress, between Eve and Lilith. The Talmud does not view this state as an ideal situation. Quite the contrary – the de-eroticization of marriage is utterly catastrophic. The optimal situation is symbolized by the spiritual re-building of the Temple. The Temple functions in the Talmud in much the same way as Ruth does in Lurianic Kabbalah: they each represent the meeting between eroticism and ethics.

The next Talmudic passage we bring also de-eroticizes marriage, by attempting to constrain what is permissible in a licit sexual relationship. A talmudic sage tells us about four things told to him by the ministering angels, all pertaining to the question of why babies are born with defects. The ministering angels (whom we later learn are stand-ins for the Babylonian sages) blame all such problems on the sexual misconduct of the parents:

R. Yohanan ben Dabai said: Four things were told to me by the ministering angels: Why are there people who limp? Because (their parents) turned the tables. Why are there people who are dumb? Because they (their parents) kissed that spot. Why are there people who are deaf?

Because they (their parents) talked during sex. Why are there people who are blind? Because they (their parents) looked at that spot.57

One might imagine that the Talmud would immediately forbid doing any of these things. Instead, the Palestinian sage, R. Yohanan, declares that halakhah is not decided by ministering angels. According to the halakhah, everything is permissible:58

R. Yohanan said: This is the opinion of R. Yohanan ben Dabai, but the Rabbis said that the halakhah is not like R. Yohanan ben Dabai, but rather – anything a man wants to do with his wife, he may do. This may be compared to meat that comes from the slaughterhouse: If he wants, he can eat it salted; (if he likes) roast – then roasted; cooked – then cooked; boiled – then boiled. The same is with a fish that comes from the fisherman.

A man can do just as he likes with his wife, but what of her desires? At first glance, one might assume that R. Yohanan is talking about a case in which the woman is delighted by her husband’s openness to different forms of sexual pleasure. The section that follows, however, does not allow us to entertain any such fantasies. The Talmud tells us about two women who came to complain to the rabbis about the unpleasant way in which their husbands were using them:

There is a story about a woman who came to Rabbi (Yehudah Hanasi) She said to him: “Rabbi, I set the table for him, and he turned it around!” He said to her, My daughter, the Torah permitted you to him. What can I do?59

There is a story about a woman who came before Rav. She said, Rabbi, I set the table for him, and he turned it around! He said, In what way are you any different to a fish?60

In this entire discussion, all the sages who express an opinion agree that a woman has no right to determine the sexual nature of her marriage. Husbands’ preferences and wills dominate in this de-eroticized realm of their shared private life, and so unhappy wives must come to rabbis to complain about having to endure an abusive form of sex against their wills.61 Not only is their no recourse within halakhah, but these women are sent back home, having been humiliated by their comparison to a piece of meat or fish, which a man can enjoy in whatever way he wants, be it cooked or be it roasted. R. Yehuda Hanasi’s words reveal him to be sympathetic to the woman’s suffering. He calls her “my daughter,” and expresses how powerless he feels against the Torah’s indiscriminate permissiveness. This is not the case with his student, Rav, who dismisses her as being no different from a fish in a frying pan. Since when does a fish complain if the chef fries her one way instead of another?

This de-eroticized attitude sexual concerns is consistent with that of the “ministering angels” of our text who are concerned with maintaining modest, indeed repressive, norms for sexual behavior. In order to distance themselves from their pronouncements, rabbis from a later stratum of the Talmud decided that these were not real angels, but Babylonian sages, who wore white clothes and therefore had the appearance of angels. We find in tractate Shabbat that the Babylonian rabbis wear distinctive white clothes, while the sages of Israel wear regular clothes, like everyone else, because “they are not locals,” and the Talmud cites a popular proverb: “In my own place – I (am known) by my name. Elsewhere – by my clothes.”62 This implies that in my hometown my name suffices in terms of identity. Everyone knows me and honors me. When, however, I am in foreign terrain, I need to dress in a more respectable fashion, so that I will be noted and respected for it.

R. Tzaddok HaCohen of Lublin explains that the Babylonian sages are not “at home” in a spiritual sense. They are not in Israel, which is their true home, so they must wear clothes which remind them of who and what they are. The Israeli sages, however, have no need of such external reminders. They are where they belong, and they do not feel the need to distinguish themselves from everyone else. R. Tzaddok goes one step further. He says that we are not talking about material clothes here, but rather, the garments of the soul:

Because a man is composed of body and soul, the body is the clothing of the soul…and all of man’s failings are the result of the physical body being a garment for the soul…And therefore heavenly angels, who have no physical bodies, are metaphorically known as “(he) who dresses in white,” meaning a white linen garment…which indicates the purity and importance of the garment.63

An angel is incorporeal, but in manifesting to people, appears as a person wearing pure, white, linen clothes. It therefore follows that, if the Babylonian sages are called “angels,” they have surpassed the physical in terms of their purity:

And the Torah is the spice of this garment (= the body), giving (a man) white clothing, (so that he seems) like the ministering angels. This happens when a man becomes noteworthy in halakhah. Halakhah is what marks and points out the way, and he is noted by his proper dress.64

According to R. Tzaddok, a life led according to the dictates of halakhah can transform a man into an angel. His material existence is enveloped by beautiful, dignified clothing, radiating purity and refinement. But this can only be accomplished, unfortunately, by channeling sexual desire into highly repressive norms. R. Tzaddok notes that the way in which the Torah and the mitzvot refine physical existence is aptly described by the Rambam:

The Rambam explained that “(the Torah) turns the heart away from the thoughts, pleasures, and desires of this world”…and enables (the students of the Torah) to forget all the garment’s uncleanness, so that it (the garment, i.e. the body) becomes pure and clean, like the ministering angels who have no dirt whatsoever. For him (i.e. the Babylonian sage), also, the (uncleanness) is forgotten as if it were non-existent.65

The Torah “turns the heart away” from all physical desire, to the point wherein it seems as if the body, ideally, would do much better not to exist at all. To become like an angel, the Babylonian sage sublimates and represses his bodily desires as much as possible.

Now, we understand why the “ministering angels,” i. e. the Babylonian sages, objected to any sexual act that was not intended solely for purposes of procreation.66 Any deviation, whether it be a look, a conversation, a deed, or an unusual position, may cause a person to experience lust, thereby sullying their “garments.”

R. Tzaddok, however, mentions another path in the service of God. This is the way of the hero or warrior, described in the famous passage of Pirkey Avot: “Who then is called a hero/warrior? He who conquers his inclination!”

Conquering means tribulations and war, which is the way of successful warriors, rather than turning the heart away, which is not considered being victorious, since nothing is there for him to contend with. Such a man (i.e. one who contends with his inclination) is not similar to the ministering angels, since they have no evil inclination to conquer, and they wear snow-white clothes…This is not the case with someone victorious at war, who has an evil inclination. This means that his garments are not clean, because the garment is the inclination…which is why angels do not have an inclination, since they are not corporeal beings. This is also the case with a person totally devoted to Torah and service – it is as if evil and physicality are forgotten, as if there is no one that desires. A warrior, however, experiences the evilness of the physical, but he elevates the soul over that which enclothes it (i.e. the body), and does not allow himself to be dressed by it. It (this soul) therefore does not have the pure dress of the ministering angels.67

The way of the warrior is not based on denial or fear of the physical, but rather on an acceptance of it as an integral part of the human being. Knowing himself to be fully human, the warrior is certain that he will be able to confront his “evil inclination” without surrendering to it. The struggle of the spiritual warrior to integrate sexuality is expressed in the personal confession of R. Baruch of Kosov, a 19th century hasidic master, about how he sanctifies intercourse with his wife:

“(At first) I thought that holiness means that one should sanctify his thoughts – distance from his thoughts any intention to experience physical pleasure, and to feel pain over the fact that this act entails the feeling of physical pleasure, and would that this were not the case! Later on, however, God granted me undeserved grace, and allowed me to understand the truth about sanctifying oneself at the time of intercourse. I realized that holiness is experienced because of the sensation of physical pleasure. This is a wondrous and awesomely profound secret.68

R. Tzaddok states that once a man embarks on this path, he can no longer be considered an angel, for angels are not physical by definition. Someone whose goal is to be ethereal cannot revel in his contact with the sensual world. The warrior will not be bound by the norms of the “ministering angels,” but will be prepared to take what they might regard as risks in his appreciation of the goodness of the erotic life.

We can see our array of texts in light of the moment of Jacob and Esau’s encounter. Before he became Israel, Jacob was like those repressed and repressive Babylonian sages. But after becoming Isael, he realizes that spiritual labor is rooted in the conviction that both Lilith and Esau have their place in the sacred realm. Such a spiritual approach is not threatened by the fact that the body may lose some of its purity, because it recognizes that whatever has been defiled retains its place in God’s world. R. Yohanan, who is of this camp, favored sexual freedom, though expressed within his patriarchal framework: “Anything a man wants to do with his wife, he can do.” Today, after the significant changes wrought by feminism, we must re-phrase R. Yohanan’s comment: Whatever a couple wishes to do with each other – they may do.

Marital relations between a Jacob and a Rachel – i. e. between the patriarch and the housewife only allow only for a certain, very rigid, code of sexual behavior. Deviate a little from that context and you find the Esau or Samael archetypes, who are alternately having liaisons with either the she-devil Lilith or with the wifely Eve. What they lack is what it takes to develop a relationship such as can only occur between Leah (when she and Rachel are unified in one partzuf) and Israel (who contains both Jacob and Esau).

Routine sexuality in a patriarchal framework easily becomes goal-oriented and phallocentric.69 Its mode is linear, reinforcing patterns of ownership, domination and control. It aspires to release tensions, so it often suffers the loss of mutual interest. On the other hand, when couples move towards liberating Lilith, another form of sexuality develops. A woman discovers her masculinity (as we saw, Lilith was associated with many masculine motifs) and a man discovers his femininity. Both genders will open to long-repressed instinctual urges. If this pursuit of liberation is posed as a power struggle, then men and women will be cut off from both eros and their emotional lives. But if entered into as an opportunity to explore the unconscious archetypes and allow them to evolve beyond the negative cultural images under which both men and women have suffered, then the result can be a remarkable expansion of consciousness. In this framework of liberation, individuals can model themselves on the true warrior, whose goal is not conquest or war, but rather the subtle and gradual transformation that occurs through integrating the different and sometimes opposing sides of the human psyche.

The liberating Torah of the Ari and his hasidic disciples that we have been developing in this book is bolstered by the celebration of the erotic dimension of life in contemporary feminism. The erotic, writes Judith Plaskow, is a primary source of empowerment. “When we turn away from the knowledge the erotic gives us, when we accept powerlessness or resignation, we cheat ourselves of a full life.”70 Seeing sexuality and spirituality as intimately related, as we have tried to do in this work, offers “the power to give and receive meaning,” writes Beverly Harrison. “The moral norm for sexual communication in a feminist ethic is radical mutuality – the simultaneous acknowledgement of vulnerability to the need of the other, the recognition of one’s own power to give and receive pleasure and to call forth another’s power of relation and to express one’s own.”71 Jessica Benjamin’s view is that the freedom to know one’s own desire is developed through the mutual attunement that is enacted in the erotic space that two people create who recognize each other as subjects. This activity offers a paradox of “our simultaneous need for recognition and independence: that the other subject is outside our control and yet we need him.” Overturning centuries of domination, she takes the image of “bonds” in a new direction, advocating that we make our ties to others “not shackles, but circuits of recognition.”72

Feminism has accelerated the process of change for how we view gender. By taking the lead in liberating Western culture from patriarchal arrangements, feminism has set the stage for a parallel transformation among men. A close contemporary of Luria in Safed, R. Moses Cordovero, describes a similar process taking place on a cosmic level:

“The feminine began (to emanate) its stature before the completion of the stature of the masculine, and they were emanated together, this one (according to) its stature and the other one (according to) its stature, and they were face-to-face…For if the masculine had completed the entire emanation of its limbs and afterwards the feminine would have begun, she would always have been (regarded as) as a stool under his feet.”73

The ideal of a face-to-face relationship between men and women and within the Godhead has been a guiding metaphor in this book. Moses was the only one of the prophets, we are told, to see God face to face (Deut. 34:10), and in so doing, he is partaking, in Cordovero’s terms, of the primal unity in the universe. When men and women today aspire to a kabbalistic face-to-faceness, they are participating in the work of tikkun, restoring the cosmos to the equality and unity it had before its fall into division and chaos.

An encouraging image for this transformational process is the mikveh, the ritual immersion bath, whose waters cleanse one of one’s impurity, or, indeed, of one’s closed heart. The amount of water necessary to purify a person was established by a midrashic interpretation of a biblical verse describing how the waters of the Shiloah spring flowed — that is, slowly: “How do we know that a mikveh needs forty se’ah (a liquid measurement) of water?” – “The waters of Shiloah flow slowly – the word le’at (slowly) has the numerical value of forty.74

What is really needed to channel the transformational energy of eros is the ability to internalize the quality of slowness, of moderation. A relationship proceeding towards the liberation of Lilith and Esau must have great humility; a sense that there is no need to arrive at anything. One must only be – like the waters of the Shiloah spring, which flow slowly, but surely.

Ch. 26: The Light of the Moon will be like the Light of the Sun

In kabbalistic thought, the sun and the moon symbolize the masculine and feminine respectively.75 Woman, represented by the moon, has both a revealed and a hidden face. Man, represented by the sun, can shed light on only one of her two faces at any time. Thus, the moon is always partly hiding herself from the interrogating rays of the sun. In the Kabbalah, straight lines and circles are also masculine and feminine symbols. The female is round and the male cleaves her in two with his “straightness.” These two halves are, of course, the bright side and the dark side of the moon; or, in different terms, Eve and Lilith. The tikkun of gender relations will only be completed once these two halves have been united, when any woman can be both Eve and Lilith at the same time. On that day, the female descendants of Eve will negate the curses which have been on their head ever since her exile from Eden, especially those inhibitions and constraints that have held them back in terms of their intellectual, political and sexual freedom of expression.

When we speak in terms of the sun and moon, we also encounter the hope expressed by Isaiah when he envisioned that, in the future, the light of the moon will be equal to the light of the sun:

And the light of the moon shall become like the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall become sevenfold, like the light of the seven days, when the LORD binds up his people’s wounds and heals the injuries it has suffered (Isa 30: 26).

The sun has its own light and so it is not dependent on any other source. The biblical verse expresses the hope that a day will come when the moon, too, will be an independent light source. Lurianic Kabbalah, as we have tried to show in this book, envisions the feminine aspect of the Godhead attaining a stature equal to that of the masculine Godhead. However, it is not enough that the moon attains her own light. The biblical verse declares that this development is dependent on male evolution. The light of the sun must also increase, returning itself to the intensity with which it glared during the seven days of creation:

R. Eliezer said: A man could see from one end of the world to the other with the light that God created on the first day. When God looked at the generation of the flood and the generation of the tower of Babel and saw that their actions were evil, He concealed it from them…Who did God hide it for? For the righteous in the world to come.76

As long as men limit themselves to what Hasidism calls small consciousness, they will see women as being split into two. That is, as long as the sun’s light is partially hidden, then it causes the moon to have both a light side and a dark side. Lurianic Kabbalah offers us the hope that the Godhead will become one again through the healing of the divisions in both its male and female elements. A change in our perception of the divine reflects, or may even effect, a change in the Godhead itself. It therefore follows that, when Jacob ascends and achieves his higher self, which is called Israel, his understanding of God also grows, and the Great Name is glorified and sanctified. Through the integration of Esau and Jacob into Israel, men will be able to ascend spiritually and see “the light that is concealed for the righteous.” And women too will reach a point where, not limited by men’s perceptions of them, they are able to navigate freely between Rachel and Leah, Eve and Lilith. These integrative images of God exist within us all. That is why the final tikkun must ultimately take place within our own hearts, for our hearts have the most profound influence on who we are, on each other, on the whole planet, and even on God Herself.


1. R. Hayyim Vital, Sha’ar Ma’amarei Razal, Ma’amar P’siotav shel Avraham Avinu.

2. Rashi on Ruth 2: 5.

3. Margelotav – his feet, means around his feet, like m’rashotav, around his head (see the commentary Da’at Miqra on this verse).

4. Adler, Engendering Judaism, p. 154.

5. See R. Reuven Margoliot, Malakhey Elyon, 87, on Lilith. Boaz obviously believes that demons have no hair (see Zohar Bereishit 54b, while the rabbis describe Lilith as someone “with long hair.” In footnote no. 3, Margoliot cites Kabbalists who noted this contradiction and attempted to resolve it. One approach maintains that Lilith is no ordinary she-devil but rather a kelippah, i.e. a more primal and impure entity, so she is not restricted to the code of hairstyles permitted to devils. The question nonetheless remains as to why Boaz feels relieved at the touch of her hair? How reassuring can it be to know that the being lying next to him is not a devil (based on the evidence of her hair), when the possibility nonetheless remains that she might be Lilith?

6. Midrash Ruth Rabbah, 6,1. See also Tanhuma, Behar, 3.

7. Ruth Rabbah, 6,1. The Tanhuma (Behar, 3) adds that Boaz screamed from fear, and Ruth grabbed him in order to prevent his causing a major uproar: “That righteous man began to scream, so she grabbed him. He said to her, Who are you? And she said, I am Ruth your handmaiden. He said to her, What have you come here to do? She said to him, To keep the Torah…”

8. Ruth Rabbah, 2,9.

9. The JPS translation reads this as “Rafah,” the name of a race of giants.

10. B. Sotah 42b. The dialogue goes on; “The other one said, Her name was really Orpah. Why then was she called Harafah? Because everyone threshed her like crushed wheat.” (harifot).

11. Ruth Rabbah, 2, 20. See also Midrash Zuta, Ruth 1: “They said that on that night a hundred Philistine foreskins came into her, and Goliath the Philistine from Gat came from her.” See also B. Sotah 42b: “Goliath of Gath was his name – R. Yosef said: Because everyone threshed his mother in Gath.”

12. See Tikkuney Zohar 75b: “Orpah is the mother of the Mixed Multitude, about whom it says, ‘For they are a stiff-necked people’ (REF), because she went back to her unclean origins, and turned her back on her mother-in-law. Kilion the husband of Orpah, is the evil inclination, who sends destruction to the world, he is Kilion and his wife is Lilith-Kilia.

13. In the opinion of the midrash, (Ruth Rabbah, 2,9): R. Bibi in the name of R. Reuven said: Ruth and Orpah were the daughters of Eglon (the king of Moab), as it says: “Ehud said (to Eglon the king of Moab): I have a message for you from God,” whereupon he rose from his seat” (Jud. 3: 20). The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: You got up from your throne to honor Me. I swear by your life that I will put a son of yours on God’s throne!” (David, the great-grandson of his daughter Ruth). This is also used by R. Hayyim Vital to reinforce the tie between Ruth and Orpah and Rachel and Leah: “Rachel and Leah were sisters of the children of Laban who converted. So, too, Ruth and Orpah were sisters who converted. We will not go into this at length, since it is a great secret” (Ma’amar P’siyotav shel Avraham Avinu).

14. “Once again there was fighting, at Gath. There was a giant of a man, who had six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot, twenty-four in all; he too was descended from the Raphah (or Harafah)…These four were descended form the Raphah in Gath” (II Sam. 21:20-22).

15. R. Hayyim Vital, Ma’amar P’siyotav shel Avraham Avinu. Above, we discussed the fact that, in Lurianic Kabbalah, partzuf Leah is parallel to the back of the neck, where we find the knot of God’s head tfillin See the Third Gate, the chapter on Leah’s Tefillin.

16. R. Hayyim Vital, Ma’amar P’siyotav shel Avraham Avinu. He continues: “If she had merited to convert, she would have been fixed, like Leah, who received her tikkun because of her tears and the turn of heart, and she was therefore not given to Esau.”

17. When referring to the book of Genesis, the Ari/Vital uses the word lehalan – lit. further on, after Ruth. This may be because of the cyclical way in which the kabbalists read the bible.

18. Flesh and bones are two images that the Ari, following the lead of Tikkuney Zohar, uses to describe Eve/Lilith Rachel/Leah. Leah is the hard (inner) bone, culturally difficult for a man to digest. Rachel is the soft flesh, more tender to the touch, more easy on the eye: And in Tikkuney Zohar (99) they said that there were two wives, one of bone and one of flesh. Leah is called bone, as she is dinim, which are hard, like bone. Also she is the aspect of the rib, because Leah’s place is in back of the ribs which are bones. But Rachel is flesh of his flesh, softer din, in the place where hesed is revealed. And the rest can be understood in this way: He had two wives, one was bone of his bones and one was flesh of his flesh. However, only the second one who is called flesh is called woman, and not the first one, who is bone, and not yet sweetened, as we previously mentioned. She was sweetened later, at the time of Jacob, through the mystery of Leah, as mentioned above” (Etz Hayyim, gate 38, chap. 2). See also Sha’ar HaPesukim, Vayetze, and Likkutey Torah on parshat Bereshit.

19. R. Hayyim Vital, Ma’amar P’siyotav shel Avraham Avinu. The rabbinic comment referred to is from B. Baba Batra 91a: “This refers to Ruth the Moabite, who (lived to) see the kingdom of Solomon, her grandson’s grandson, as it says, “He had a throne placed for the mother of the kingdom.” See also the Radak on this verse: “He (Solomon) commanded that a throne be set up for his mother, so that she could sit next to his right. And some say that the mother of the king means the mother of the kingdom, who is Ruth, because she was still alive. This is a bit far-fetched.” The final sentence was added by R. Shmuel Vital, R. Haim Vital’s son and the editor of his writings. AM I UNDERSTANDING YOUR NOTE CORRECTLY?

20. R. Hayyim Vital, Ma’amar P’siyotav shel Avraham Avinu.

21. Tikkuney Zohar, 75b

22. See above, the third gate, the chapter on Leah’s Tefillin. Also see the fourth gate, the chapter on R. Akiva and his soul-connection with Moses, in contrast to Jacob.

23. Tikkuney Zohar, tikkun 13, 29b

24. Etz Hayyim, gate 38, chap. 2. See also above, on the mystery of Leah and the tefillin.

25. This story made a profound impression on R. Yaakov Yosef, who began to weep. He eventually became one of the Baal Shem Tov’s students, known as R. Yaakov Yosef of Polnoyeh, the author of such books as Toldot Yaakov Yosef and Kutonet Pasim. The story can be found in Toldot Yaakov Yosef (GIVE THIS FOR SCHOLARLY REFERENCE) or in Buber’s Legends of the Hasidim, p. 78. For an excellent psychological analysis of this story, and of the transformation experienced by R. Yaakov Yosef, see Ankuri, The Heart and the Spring, pp. 88-94.

26. Mei Hashiloah on parshat Vayeshev. Throughout his comments, the Mei Hashiloah contrasts the outlook of Jacob, who wants to “live in quiet,” with God’s view as to how a person should live and to what he should devote his life. Jacob wanted to control his life and avoid any “unclarified issues,” i.e. matters in doubt. God maintains that this service is based on fear and it therefore lacks faith.

27. Mei HaShiloah, parshat Toldot, the entry beginning with the words “And Isaac loved Esau.”

28. When Adam is banished from the Garden of Eden, he is sent east. This direction implies spiritual deterioration. Later on, Abraham and Lot come from the east to the land of Canaan, and then separate from one another. Abraham remains in Canaan while Lot and the nations that descend from his daughters – Ammon and Moab – inhabit the mountain area on the eastern bank of the Jordan. In the next generation, Isaac and Ishmael are a pair. Isaac remains in the land of Canaan, while Ishmael is sent to the deserts of Arabia in the east. The children of Abraham from his concubines were also sent far away to the east.

29. See Bereshit Rabbah, 68, 13: ‘Jacob left (va-yetze) Beer-sheba, and set out for Haran” – R. Yehoshua ben Levi understood these verse as describing exile: ‘Jacob left Beer-sheba,” as it says “Dismiss them from My presence, and let them go forth (va-yetze’u; Jer. 15:1). ‘And set out for Haran’ – as it says, “When the LORD afflicted me/ On His day of wrath’ (haron apo); Lam. 1:12).”

This is how the Zohar deals with the topic: “R. Shimon said: Jacob left Israel, as it says, And Jacob went out of Beersheba. And he went to a different sphere of influence, as it says, And he went to Haran…a place of harsh judgment and wrath…i.e haron af…And what is the Holy Blessed One’s wrath? The level of evil, the land of the other” (Zohar, parshat Vayetze, I,147a). See also the following quote from the Zohar.

30. See Pirkey de R. Eliezer, 36, for an interpretation of Amos (5:19) in terms of Jacob: “As if a man should run from a lion/ And be attacked by a bear;/ Or if he got indoors,/ Should lean his hand on the wall/ And be bitten by a snake! ” The lion is Laban the bear, Esau, and the snake in the house, Shechem ben Hamor.

31. Zohar, parshat Vayetze, 148a. We have cited this verse before as the textual source for the Ari’s identification of Leah with Lilith. What follows in the Zohar is the issue of Jacob’s hate for Leah.

32. Zohar, parshat Vayetze, 148a.

33. REF.

34. REF. – HL: CHECK THIS. I don’t remember it’s being quoted.

35. In the words of the midrash: “He prepared himself for three things: for prayer, for a gift, and for war (Pesikta d’Rav Cahana, 19,3).

36. Bereishit Rabbah, 77, 3: “R. Hama the son of R. Hanina said: He was the angel responsible for Esau. As (Jacob) said to (Esau): ‘For seeing your face is like seeing the face of an angel, and you have received me favorably’ (Gen. 33: 10).”

37. Rabbenu Bahya on Gen. 32: 24.

38. See the commentary of Ibn Ezra: “Va-ya’akveni – like (the word for) deception: as it says, ba’akava. And it may also be related to akov halev – the crooked of heart. And that which was crooked became straight.”

39. See the commentary of Rabbenu Bahya (on verse 26): “‘Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel’ – that is, no longer (shall it be said) that you received the blessings by deception, (but rather, from now on it will be considered) just and righteous. (No longer) will it be said that you cheated Laban, because you did what you did innocently and justly. This is why he was associated with the attribute of truth, to say that he is truthful in all his words and actions. As it says “You give your truth to Jacob” (Mic. 7: 20).”

40. Bereishit Rabbah, 75, 3.

41. In both Sabbatean and hasidic literature, this theme of Esau’s integration into realm of the sacred is extensively developed. Esau is rooted in the highest lights – the “lights of chaos” – while Jacob has very capable vessels – “the vessels of tikkun” – which, although they are good and efficient, lack the power and determination that Esau receives from the lights of chaos. The optimal situation is one in which the lights of chaos are in the vessel of tikkun, which is the unification of Jacob and Esau in the one being called Israel. See, for example, R. Shneur Zalman of Lyady, in Likkutey Torah, parshat Vayishlah. In the Sabbatean book Va-yavo Hayom al Ha’ayin (in manuscript), Esau symbolizes the highest level of the divine (see M..A. Perlmuter, R. Yonatan Eibeshutz and his Attitude towards Sabbataenism, pp. 90-91). In his article Concerning the Figure of R. Naftali Katz and his Attitude towards Sabbataenism, Y. Liebes traces a Sabbatean idea (found also in the writings of R. Naftali, the author of Smihat Ha’ahmim, and also by R. Yonatan Eibeshutz, his student), according to which Leah is identified with the highest level of the divine, the Ein Sof, or the keter. These theologians thought the name Leah comes from the word leiut, which means tiredness or weariness. This is an apt description of the Ein Sof, either because thought becomes weary of attempting to perceive the Infinite, or because it is a place of non-action, not involved with the actions of the lower worlds. Jacob Frank, who converted to Christianity, dealt extensively in his writings with the unique holiness peculiar to Esau.

42. R. Hayyim Vital, Likkutey Torah, parshat Vayishlah.

43. REFERENCE LOST – orig, note 550.

44. R. Tzafok Ha-Cohen, Sihat Malakhei Hasharet, chap. 1.

45. In Lurianic Kabbalah there is a lengthy explanation as to why Leah can face Ze’eir Anpin, without fear that the external forces will suck life force from her back, while this is impossible in the case of partzuf Rachel. It is not that they do not suckle at all, R. Hayyim Vital says, but rather that because Leah is positioned so high, this nursing is not so dangerous. In fact, we want the external forces to receive a certain amount of sustenance from a high and powerful source like Leah, for she represents a dimension where it is understood that the dark side has a place in the world, because it fulfills a real need: “…But the matter is dependent on intention, since Leah stands in a high place, above Rachel, and therefore the external forces cannot hang on to her so strongly. Quite the opposite, we want to give them a small hold, because if not, death would have no more dominion, and there is a higher purpose for the kelippot in the worlds. As the Bible says, “and found it very good” and the Rabbis said ‘good’ – this is the angel of life; ‘very good’ – this is the angel of death.” REF. This is why the face of Leah faces the back of Ze’eir Anpin, and her backside is exposed, so that the external forces can take their portion. We are not concerned that they will take too much, since this is a very high place. Rachel however, who is the basis of the house…we do not want the external ones to cling to her, especially since she stands underneath Leah. If they were to cling to her, they would have a very strong hold on her and evil would increase, and the world would be destroyed, God forbid. (Sha’ar HaKavvanot, drushei haPesach, drush dalet).

In our opinion this is one of the sources used by R. Tzadok HaCohen of Lublin in his writings when he distinguishes between the immobile, fragile nature of Rachel and her children, and the dynamic and flexible nature of the children of Leah, like Yehudah or Shimon, who are capable of dealing with failure without shattering into pieces. See also his book Takanat HaShavim.

46. In his book The Star of Redemption (p. 109), Franz Rozensweig discusses the singularity of man whose raison d’etre is not only propagation of the species, but the life of the spirit.

47. Etz Hayyim, gate 38, Ch. 2.


49. REF. Give Hebrew

50. REF to Holy of Holies and Yetzer text

51. REF to Hasidic reading

52. REF to kabbalistic reading

53. REF. to R. Isaac etc.

54. REF. to Akiva on Song

55. REF. TRACTATE X, 75a

56. Rashi on “given to sinners” in B. XXXXX, 75a.

57. TRACTATE REF. On the phrase, “They turn the tables” – the Tosafot comment “that they have sexual relations in an unnatural way. And since they have sexual relations in a way which is associated with the thighs, their children are afflicted in their thighs. In Tractate Kallah, CH. 1 (FULLER REF?), the following is added: “that they turn the table and do like animals.” It also goes on to say: “Rava said: All of God’s actions are deed for deed (i.e. exact karmic retribution) – he turned his table around, so his children’s legs were turned around.”

On the phrase, “Since they kiss that spot,” they comment, “their children are afflicted in their mouths.”

The Mussar movement accepts the recommendations of the ministering angels. For example, see the comments of the Menorat HaMa’or (entry 179): “Those who have sexual relations modestly, and choose the proper times for it, have children who are decent, pleasant, and charming…and as for those who have sexual relations in a lewd manner, one can see the negative results of that intercourse in their children.”

58. This is the Rambam’s halachic decision on the matter (Hilchot Issurei Biah, chap. 21, halacha 9): “A man’s wife is permitted to him. Therefore, anything that a man wants to do with his wife, he can do. He can have sexual relations with her whenever he wants, he can kiss any part of her body that he so desires, he can have sexual relations with her in both a natural and an unnatural way, as long as he does not spill his seed in vain. Even so, it is more pious not to be light-headed about these matters, and a man should sanctify himself at the time of intercourse…and he should not deviate from the way of the world and its customs, because the primary purpose of intercourse is procreation.”

59. TRACTATE REF. Rabbenu Nissim comments: “The Torah permitted you to him – as it is written, ‘When a man takes a woman’ – he takes her to do anything he wants with her. And Rambam writes (chap. 21 in Hilchot Issurei Biah, halacha 9): “as long as he does not spill his seed in vain.”

60. SAME TRACTACTE REF?. The Ran comments: “A fish, which he roasts or boils, according to his fancy.”

61. In the text dealt with above (NO REF), turn the tables seemed to imply rear-entry vaginal sex, since it produced offspring. The Tosafot explain that here we are talking about anal sex, and not the instance where “she is above and he is below,” as tractate Kallah puts it (see ref. above). It is clear that these women complained about the physical pain they suffered: “…this is not the case where she is above and he is below” because what does she lose in this situation? But it is unnatural, because it causes her pain, as it says there: “If you cause my daughters pain” – in an unnatural way. And it says “and he laid with her – in a natural manner, and he caused her to suffer – in an unnatural manner” Tosafot B. Sanhedrin 58b, and also B. Yevamot 34b.

62. B. Shabbat REF

63. See Sihat Malakhey Hasharet, XXX.

64. Sihat Malakhey Hasharet, XXX.

65. Sihat Malakhey Hasharet, XXX. The Rambam reference is in Mishneh Torah, Hikhot Issurey Bi’ah, Ch. 22, end.

66. The classical example of this is the debate on a subject that represents an obsession in rabbinic literature – the issue of spilling seed in vain. What is a man to do who desires anal sex but is concerned about spilling his seed in vain? R. Tzadok HaCohen of Lublin offers the following answer: “And there are those who say (this is the opinion of the Tosafot quoted previously) that it is permissible for a man to have intercourse with his wife in an unnatural way in the rear orifice, even though he spills his seed in vain, as long as it is only occasionally and not a habit. There are others who argue that even occasionally it is forbidden to spill seed in vain. What is permissible is not to spill the seed, but when he is about to spill his seed, he should quickly come in her womb. At any rate, he should not make a habit of this, as he may spill his seed in vain. And whoever sanctifies himself even in those matters which are permitted is called a holy person” (Sefer HaZikhronot, positive commandment no. 1, – chap 2, which begins with the word aizehu). What is sorely missing in this discussion is even the tiniest hint about the feelings of the woman. It is only necessary to make certain that the drops of semen not be wasted, and to make certain that men be sexually satisfied. At the same time, a more puritanical state is preferable, in which “he is called holy.”

67. Sihat Malakhey Hasharet, XXX. The source of this Hasidic interpretation, which demands that a true warrior conduct a face to face war with his evil inclination, rather than repressing it, can already be found in the teachings of the Maggid of Mez’ritch: “Who is strong? He who conquers his inclination. [We should note that the word ‘who’ (lit. ‘which’) implies that two people are being discussed, and he asks which of them is strong] … There are two types of tzaddikim – one who does not allow the evil inclination to come anywhere near him – he chases it away before it can even approach him. And there is a tzaddik who does allow it to approach him, but conquers it, so that he not be tempted to sin…” (Likutim Yekarim, 43, see the examples he brings). For a psychological analysis of these two ways of contending with inner evil, see Micha Ankuri, The Heart and the Spring, pp. 127-140.

68. Amud HaAvodah, Tchernowitz, 5614, and Jerusalem 5728 p. 29b. On the sanctification of intercourse, see also O. Ezrahi, “Two Cherubs,” pp. 32-33.

One Habad tradition has it that the Baal Shem Tov compared the development of sexual relations to the climbing of a spiral staircase. “The Baal Shem Tov (explained this) by means of a profound parable, which sheds light on one of the secrets of the Torah, which was explained by R. Hayyim Vital in Etz Hayyim. The Baal Shem Tov described this as (being similar to) a spiral staircase. When someone stands by the central column, he looks up…and when he needs to climb up to the second step, which is higher than the first step, he gets closer to the form which is at the top of the column, (but to do so) he must first go around the central column, so it seems that he is going further away and hiding…so the Etz Hayyim explains that this is the case with how malkhut ascends…(that in order) to become face to face it first needs to be back to back” (note in Keter Shem Tov, in the additional notes, the letter mem). This is part of a teaching that explains that the secret of the original nesirah (separation) of the male from the female is a process of drawing closer and going away, much like a dance: “In the name of the Baal Shem Tov: ‘Then the virgin will rejoice in dance’ (BIBLICAL REF). – that after being face to face, and very close, there must be concealment, so that there can be an even greater level of face to face. Just as during a dance, when (the dancers) come closer and then further apart” (see also: the Tzemah Tzedek, Or Torah, parshat Ekev, p. 422. Also R. Shalom Ber, Hemshekh Ta’arav, vol. 2, pp. 522-3).

69. See Mordecai Roteberg, Yetzer, PAGE REF.

70. Plaskow, Standing Again at Sinai, p. 196.

71. Beverly Harrison, Making the Connections: Essays in Feminist Social Ethics, pp. 149-50.

72. Bonds of Love, p. 221.

73. Cordovero, Elimah Rabbati, 95a, Jerusalem, 1974. In the original, the two sentences are in reverse order.

74. Midrash Bamidbar Rabbah 18,21, based on Is. 8:6, which compares the Kingdom of David and the Messianic line to the waters of Shiloah which flow slowly but penetrate deeply.

75. In this discussion, we follow in the footsteps of a few hasidic Kabbalists who followed the Ari’s lead (see especially “Avodat Yisrael,” likkutim, Ketuvot 115??; and the Siddur of R. Shneur Zalman of Lyady, his commentary on the last blessing of the seven marriage blessings; and the Leshem Shvo v’Achlama, on the diminishing of the moon, and others). They developed the myth of how the female side of reality will grow to the point when male and female are equal. In light of these sources we can view the lowly status of woman in the halakhic world as an expression of the Shechinah in exile. As the world advances towards its ultimate healing, and as the Shechinah re-claims its full stature, this state of affairs will be remedied. Although, practically speaking, these spiritual giants lived patriarchically oriented lives, as did all their contemporaries, they left us fertile ground in which we can nurture the development of an alternative way of relating to femininity in general and to woman and her status in society in particular.

76. B. Hagigah 12a

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