from the book by Ohad Ezrachi and Marc Gafni
Those who see Lillith as the first feminist are following in the footsteps of the Ari. For, in the writings of the Kabbalists who preceded the Ari, Lillith is not even a human being, but a foul (though very sexy) demon. The Ari, on the other hand, turned Lillith’s story into a saga spread out over the length and breadth of biblical and world history―a saga whose express goal is to witness Lillith’s return to paradise, and to her original status as the soulmate of Adam.
The starting place for this drama of tikkun is in the household of Jacob, which we have described above as an archetypal matrix within Kabbalah for discerning divine patterns in the events of the human world. In this chapter, we will deepen our understanding of these correspondences between human and divine. According to the Ari, the Godhead reveals itself through many faces, some masculine, some feminine, and some – the highest ones – are androgynous.1 Some of these divine aspects are named after Jacob’s family and their history. In the language of early Kabbalah, the highest revelation of God is usually called Ze’eir Anpin, but the Ari often refers to Him as “Israel.” Alongside the central system of the sefirot, there is a lower, parallel image known as “Jacob.” Just as Jacob merited two names, which expressed two different levels of his existence, there are two levels of revelation of the divinity, or two types of divine personality systems – one, as it were, “Jacobic” and the other “Israelic.”
When attributing divine aspects to Jacob’s image, the Ari is following in the sages’ footsteps. In commenting on Genesis 33:20, they maintained that God called Jacob a ‘god:’
“R. Aha said in the name of R. Elazar; How do we know that the Holy One, blessed be He, called Jacob a “god?” As it says, “He called him El-elohe-yisrael, i.e. God, the god of Israel” (Gen. 33:20). If you were to claim that Jacob called the altar ‘god’ – it should have said, ‘Jacob called it ‘God…’ However, (the proper reading is) ‘He called Jacob god.” And who called him a god? The God of Israel!2
The Zohar continues this line of thought and comments: “The Holy One, blessed be He, called Jacob a god. He said to him: “I am God in the upper realms, and you are God in the lower realms.”3
We see then, how both the Rabbis and the Zohar speak of the deification of Jacob. The Ari, following the Zohar’s lead, interprets everything that happens in the house of Jacob as events occurring both in human time and in the divine world concurrently. Jacob’s wives and concubines must therefore play a corresponding role in the divine drama, and they too become expressions of the different aspects of the Shekhina. This viewpoint has deep roots in the rich imagery of the Zohar and in the literature of the early Kabbalah. In Zoharic literature, Abraham represents the sefirah of hesed, Isaac the sefirah of gevurah, and Jacob the sefirah of tiferet, which unites and combines the first two. The Ari, by making a transition from discussing the world of sefirot to a discussion about a world of partzufim, turned Jacob into a much more central figure than his ancestors, as all the lower six sefirot were united into one partzuf – that of Ze’eir Anpin, which is primarily characterized by Tiferet. This is the reason why there are no partzufim bearing the names of Abraham and Sarah or Isaac and Rebecca in Lurianic Kabbalah. Only Jacob and his extended family reflect the totality of the divine. This choice of Jacob as a representation of the forefathers can be found in the midrash on Bereshit: “The chosen one of the forefathers is Jacob, as it says, ‘For Jacob was chosen by God (CITE BIB. REF.)'”4
With this background, we can now begin to read and unpack the highly condensed, coded and symbolic language of the Zohar. In our example, Jacob will be mentioned explicitly, while Leah and Rachel are in the text only implicitly or allusively. They come into play through their associations with the higher and lower worlds, the sefirot of Binah and Malkhut. The higher world is called “who?” inviting wonder and questions. The lower world is called “this,” embodying the revealed face of the Shekhina. The presentation of these two worlds is suggested through the exegesis of a verse from Song of Songs:
“R. Shimon opened up (and said): ‘Who is this that looks out like the dawn, beautiful like the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners’ (Song of Songs 6:10)? ‘Who’ and ‘this’ – the mystery of two worlds which come together as one… ‘that looks out’ – when the two of them combine as one…Jacob, the complete one, sends love into the two worlds … if other people were to do so they would be incestuous both below and above; they would cause strife in the two worlds, as it is written, ‘Do not marry a woman as a rival to her sister’ (Lev. 18:18), as they will become as rivals to each other…”
Jacob could marry two sisters, despite the prohibition from Leviticus, because it is necessary for his love to unite the upper and lower divine worlds, in the language of the Zohar, for the two to “combine as one.” The idea of Jacob marrying two sisters in violation of Leviticus and sending love into “the two worlds” collapses human events and Torah laws with divine realities. This mode of kabbalistic thinking is possible only because the concrete figures of the physical Jacob, Rachel and Leah, are interchangeable with the spiritual Jacob, Rachel and Leah, who represent various divine energies or sefirot. For the Ari, they represent Ze’eir Anpin and the two aspects of the Shekhina partzuf – the higher Shechina, Leah, and the lower Shekhina, Rachel.
We may ask to what extent, in the Kabbalists’ eyes, Jacob and his wives were aware of themselves as a reflection of the divine countenance. Or, to put it differently: are we speaking of two parallel but separate systems functioning as different reflections of the same set of relationships – one heavenly and one earthly – or is there a crossing of the boundaries between these two orders?
A partial answer to this question may be found in the words of the Maggid of Meziretch, the student of the Baal Shem Tov. He describes how it is possible, through inner meditation on the physical beauty of woman, to unite and become one with the beauty of the Shechina. In this context, the Maggid mentions Jacob, who sees Rachel and her physical beauty as a reflection of the splendor of the heavenly Rachel: “…that by seeing this Rachel, Jacob became attached to higher Rachel, as all of this lower Rachel’s beauty stems from that of the higher one.”
So we see how, in kabbalistic-hasidic thought, the constant movement between concrete biblical figures and their spiritual counterparts in the realm of the divine has what we might call a diagonal aspect as well. The physical Jacob draws a line of relationship not only to the Leah and Rachel who share the experiences of the material world with him, but also to the supernal Rachel and Leah, through the medium of his relationship with his concrete wives. Of course, this experience is mutual. Leah and Rachel, through their relationship with the physical Jacob, become connected with the divine Jacob.
In the eyes of Kabbalah and Hasidut, the patriarchs and matriarchs were chariots for the divine and so it follows that the movements of their souls also reflected the events of the divine universe. It would be even more accurate to say that their soul movements not only reflected the higher course of events, but actually caused them. When Jacob was in an enlightened and open state of consciousness, known in kabbalistic language as mohin d’gadlut (expanded consciousness), Ze’eir Anpin of Atzilut would also receive mohin d’gadlut, and when he would fall into depression and limited consciousness, this would also be the case in the supernal world. We can deduce this from the teachings of the students of the Baal Shem Tov regarding each and every human being: “‘God is your shadow’ (Ps. 121:8) – this implies like a shadow. This means that every movement a person makes below awakens the same above, meaning that the Holy One, blessed be He, parallels (people) with a similar movement.
If we look at the Biblical narrative through this lens, then a psychological analysis of the figures in the story of Jacob also sheds light on the events taking place in the internal world of the Godhead. In other words, the relationship of Jacob to his wives, and their relationships with each other, are keys by which it may be possible to unlock the Divine.
In the Ari’s world of divine-human correspondences, the goal of tikkun is constantly in view: restoration of what had been broken by the shattering of the cosmic vessels and by the human fall from Eden. The inner dynamic of Scripture is a steady moving forward toward that end. In this light, we can approach his comments linking the primal family of Adam, Lilith and Eve with the later Israelite family of Jacob, Leah and Rachel:
…and so we can understand the matter of Adam, who had two wives, one named Lilith and the other named Eve. Adam is in the image of Ze’eir Anpin, and Ze’eir Anpin has two females, Leah and Rachel … and, in fact, supernal first Eve [i.e. Lilith] is the aspect of Leah, and lower Eve is Rachel.
This is in accordance with the spirit of the Zohar, which sees Jacob as an improved version of the figure and story of Adam.
Leah and Rachel, reflect the two faces of the Shekhinah, and they conduct a complex and changing system of relationships with the male partzuf Ze’eir Anpin, also known as Jacob. Notice how these two women are presented: Lilith, who returns in the figure of Leah, is both the first wife chronologically, and the first wife hierarchically, while Eve, who becomes Rachel, is positioned below Leah, towards the bottom of the world of Atzilut.
The hierarchical positions of Leah and Rachel were already known to the Ari from the Zohar. It was the Ari’s innovation to link Leah, who is the higher face of the feminine divine, back to Lilith, and to link Rachel, who is the lower face of the feminine divine, back to Eve.
Let us now return to the Zohar (I: 154a) to discover how it explains the fact that Jacob loved Rachel and despised Leah. Would it not be more fitting for Jacob to prefer his more spiritually elevated wife? In the Zohar, Leah reflects the higher world, which is also the concealed world.
Jacob, the Zohar says, did not willingly attach himself to hidden things, preferring that which was revealed. So he loved and clung to Rachel and was repulsed by Leah. “This is the secret of the verse, says the Zohar, ‘and he will cling to his wife’ (Gen 2:24).” Jacob can understand Rachel because her soul is laid bare before his eyes, and consequently she does not threaten him. Leah, however, is concealed, and Jacob cannot begin to fathom her.
There are three steps to the Zohar’s argument. The first is a comment about the despised wife, “‘And God saw that Leah was despised’12 (Gen. 29:31). Why was she despised? We also know that the children of a despised wife are not virtuous, yet we find that all of Leah’s children were excellent, although it says ‘that Leah was despised.'” There is an assumption here that if one hated a given wife, one would think of another during intercourse. Such illicit fantasies made the intercourse improper and ought to produce, as the talmudic rabbis believed, deformed children.13 According to the rule of “the children of the despised one,” Jacob and Leah’s children should have been born evil and rebellious, if their lovemaking had been dependent only on their natural inclinations. Since they were born “excellent,” some other force must have been at work in their conception.
At this point, the Zohar jumps to the second step in its argument, the secret of the Jubilee year, which is understood as a code name for the Sefirah Binah, to which Leah is connected. The essence of the argument is that the level of Jubilee, like Leah, is always hidden and is therefore not addressed directly as ‘you,’ but by the third person pronoun, ‘he.’14 The third step in the argument is that when Jacob slept with Leah, the text uses the pronoun “he,” not his name Jacob. The implication is that the hidden level called ‘he’ intervened in Jacob and Leah’s coupling.15 An even more radical interpretation would be that “He” slept with Leah, that is, God, through the medium of the concealed level of the higher world of the Jubilee, in order to draw a blessing from above for her children.
Representing the hidden, Leah is from the world of freedom; and her uninhibited freedom threatens Jacob, just as Adam was threatened by the freedom Lilith demanded for herself in the Ben Sira story. It is little wonder that the Ari identified Leah, the wife Jacob rejected, with Lilith, the wife Adam rejected:
“Because ‘the beauty of Jacob was like the beauty of Adam.’ Just as Adam had two wives, the first and second Eve, so Jacob had Leah and Rachel. The first Eve was the shell (qelippah) that covered the Leah of holiness. And because Jacob thought that she was similar to the first Eve, he did not want to marry her.”16
Jacob, the Ari maintains, did not want to marry Leah because he sensed that she was an incarnation of Lilith. This is the real secret of why “Leah was despised.” Jacob thought that Leah should be given to Esau, just like the first Eve, Lilith the wicked, was the bride of Samael, who was considered the ministering angel of Esau. In the end, though, Jacob married her because of her prayers and tears.17
The Ari continued a line of thought already extant in the Zohar in identifying Jacob’s family with Adam’s. The Ari’s claim that Leah is the Lilithian face of the feminine goes beyond any explicit arguments in the Zohar. As will be seen in the following chapters, an in-depth study of the biblical narrative and the rabbinic commentary on them leads us to make exactly the same claim.
The Torah tells us that Jacob loved Rachel with all his heart. But did Rachel love Jacob? Did Rachel desire Jacob as he desired her? Nowhere in the Torah does it state otherwise. But there are two significant instances in which the Torah tells us that Rachel was willing to forego intimacy with Jacob. The first time was on their wedding night, when Laban deceived Jacob and put Leah, his firstborn daughter, in Jacob’s bed instead of Rachel. It is difficult to imagine that this could have occurred without Rachel’s knowledge or consent.18 The second time Rachel was willing to forego physical intimacy with Jacob took place a few years later. Reuven, Leah’s son, found mandrakes, an herb considered to increase a woman’s chances of pregnancy, in the field. She promises Leah one night with him in return for the mandrakes. Rachel is willing to temporarily forego intimacy with Jacob for the sake of that which she desires more than anything, children.
Tragically, what Rachel wants most of all, more than life itself,19 Leah already has, and in abundance. But Leah has her own tragedy. Leah desires Jacob, and she is willing to pay any price and to make almost any necessary sacrifice to taste of his love. She is prepared to get into his bed on the night of his wedding to her sister Rachel, even at the cost of the terrible shame that will certainly be her lot the following morning. Then, she is prepared to give Rachel her son’s fertility-enhancing mandrakes in order to gain another night with him.
The Rabbis go into more detail to describe Leah’s embarrassment the morning after Laban’s deception of Jacob has been discovered:
“And Laban gathered all the men of his town and made a party” (Gen. 29:22) – He gathered all the men of his town … and they were singing to Jacob and saying “Ha lia, ha lia” – she is Leah, she is Leah (hee Leah,20 hee leah)…”
In the evening they brought her to him, and extinguished the candles. Jacob said to them: “What is this?” They said to him: What did you think, that we are immodest21 like you?” All night long he called her “Rachel,” and she answered him. When morning came, “and behold she was Leah!” “Deceiver! Daughter of the deceiver! “he said to her. She said to him: Is there a scribe without students? Did your father not call you “Esau” and did you not answer him? So, too, you called me and I answered you…22
Leah’s answer embodies the rabbinic principle of “measure for measure.” Jacob, as the deceiver of his father and brother, got what he deserved, the daughter of a deceiver and a deceiving wife. As a soulmate of Jacob, Leah is prepared to undergo whatever humiliation may come for the sake of intimacy with him. Just imagine her torment! The memory of her wedding night with Jacob (when he believed he was with his beloved Rachel), must never have left Leah’s heart. She could not forget how ardently Jacob was capable of loving when he was really in love. She could not forget the night when Jacob thought she was her sister. That night set the standard for her expectations. Its memory must aggravate her sense of rejection, and intensify her desire to once again experience the fullness of Jacob’s love.23
Consider the names Leah chooses for her sons. They reveal that Leah regards childbearing as a means to an end. Her real aim in life is the love of Jacob. The Hebrew names of Leah’s children represent and express her desire for intimacy with their father: Maybe Jacob will love me because of the children I have born him (Reuven); maybe he will stop hating me (Shimon); maybe I will finally be joined with him (Levi). However, when Judah, the fourth son, is born, Leah experiences a sense of gratitude towards God and names her son for this profound awareness.
The Rabbis were sensitive to this shift. They arrived at the conclusion that Leah had expected only three sons, by doing the simple arithmetic of dividing twelve sons amongst four mothers. Consequently, when her fourth son was born, she felt blessed with an unexpected gift,24 and she stopped naming her children after her relationship with Jacob, and instead gave her fourth son a name describing her relationship with God. This spiritual independence in the naming must have greatly altered and influenced Leah’s relationship with her fourth son. We can surmise that Judah was the only one of Leah’s children to feel loved on his own merit from the time of his infancy. Woven into his brothers’ very names and identities was the idea that they were all means to an end, existing to bring their mother closer to their father, with what negative consequences for them we can only imagine. Reuven even brought mandrakes to his mother in the hope of winning her love! Judah, though, would have grown up with a secure identity, without the feeling that he had to win her affections. As an end unto himself, Judah could become a person in his own right, with his own relationship to God. He therefore goes on to become the father of the tribe that sires King David and the messianic line.25
The Ari’s conception of messianic times, as we have said, entails the emancipation of women. This liberation, which the Ari portrays within very precise parameters, is dependent on the healing of Lilith. The fact that Judah is born to Leah, is enormously significant, given the Ari’s suggestion that Leah is one of the central embodiments of Lilith in this cosmic drama. Judah is born when Leah first experiences liberation. R. Tzadok HaCohen of Lublin taught that such inner freedom can only be achieved when a person feels with her entire heart that she is no longer a pawn in someone else’s game.26 Everyone has his or her individual story, but not everyone lives it. That is why, of all Leah’s sons, Judah is the most liberated. He was born at a moment of grace, when Leah was spiritually uplifted and gave thanks to God from the depths of her heart; in so doing, she enabled Judah to live his own story. Unfortunately, Leah’s liberated state does not last very long, and the children born to her after Judah are once again given names that reflect her hopes and expectations of meriting Jacob’s love.
Leah’s behavior stands in marked contrast to that of Rachel. Rachel wants children, and she is prepared to forego her intimate connection with Jacob in order to obtain them. She even puts her maidservant Bilhah in his bed in order to be blessed with surrogate children through her. When Bilhah’s first son is born, Rachel says: “God has judged me, and also heard my voice, and has given me a son; she therefore called his name Dan” (Gen. 30:6).
In reaction to the birth of Bilhah’s children, Leah also gives her maidservant Zilpah, to Jacob. However, while Rachel relates with indifference to the fact that her husband has been intimate with her maidservant, it is evident that, for Leah, this practice is very painful. After she gives Zilpah to Jacob, and they conceive a son, she claims that Jacob has betrayed her with Zilpah: “And Leah said Bagad (lit. betrayal, read as ba gad (fortune has come), and she called his name Gad” (Gen. 30:11). Similarly, when Leah gives birth to her fifth son, she names him Yissachar: “And Leah said, God has given me my reward for giving my maidservant to my husband, and she called his name Yissachar” (30:18), implying that giving her maidservant to Jacob was very difficult for Leah, and so she saw her fifth son as a reward for her self-sacrifice.
When Joseph, Rachel’s yearned-for son, was finally born, his name expressed her desire to bear additional children. “And God remembered Rachel, and God heard her, and He opened her womb. And she conceived and gave birth to a son, and she said, ‘God has taken away my disgrace.’ And she called his name Yosef, saying, ‘May the Lord add another son to me'” (30:22-24). Again, it would seem that Rachel longs to be a mother much more than a wife: Even though she has a loving husband, without her own children Rachel feels humiliated. Only when she gives birth to a son is she reconciled within herself. Then, when her next son, Benjamin, is born, Rachel passes away, and is buried by the road to Bethlehem. This roadway is befitting for Rachel who symbolizes home and hearth (Bet – home; lechem – bread). Rachel is the goodly housewife who experiences fullness of the soul by raising children, while her husband manages his own spiritual life. This is why, even in biblical times, Rachel became the symbol of the gentle mother and protector of children, so much so that the prophet Jeremiah hears the cry of mourning for Israel in exile coming from her lips.27
We have called this pattern the magic square of the house of Jacob, which we can summarize as follows: Jacob wants Rachel, but Rachel wants children, which is exactly what Leah, her sister, has, but doesn’t really want, since she loves Jacob, who really loves Rachel, and so on and so forth.
In Lurianic Kabbalah, when someone desires intimacy with another, it is said that he “faces” her. Or, when a relationship involves someone who desires less intimacy with the other, it is said that he “turns his back” on her. Turning one’s back on another person is to relate to another human being as though he or she were a means in service of some goal. In Martin Buber’s philosophy of dialogue, this is called the I-it relationship. In contradistinction to the I-Thou or intersubjective relationship, the I-it relationship denotes subject-object relations.28 Rachel (who wants children) relates to Jacob as an “it;” Jacob (who wants Rachel) relates to Leah as an “it;” and Leah (who wants Jacob) relates to her children as “it.” We can therefore say that Jacob faces Rachel, who turns her back on him, unlike Leah, who faces Jacob, who he turns his back on her. This analysis of the family dynamics of the house of Jacob helps us to appreciate the striking symbolic language of the Lurianic writings, in which Rachel stands back-to-back with Jacob and Leah stands face-to-back with him: “Rachel and Ze’eir Anpin29 stand back to back. And Leah and Ze’eir Anpin stand with Leah’s face turned towards the back of Ze’eir Anpin.” What is being depicted is a level of alienation that needs to be overcome before face-to-faceness, true spiritual intimacy, can result.
Let us return to the story of the mandrakes. When Jacob comes home from the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him, and said, “‘You are to sleep with me tonight, for I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.’ And he lay with her that night” (Gen. 30: 16). There can be little doubt that Leah’s behavior in this case, sex for hire, borders on prostitution. One only need glance at the uproar this incident caused among the classic biblical commentators to realize just how problematic they found the story. They tend to act as apologists for Leah, claiming that nothing here can be understood in its simple sense. Leah’s intentions, they claim, were entirely for the sake of heaven.30
The Rabbis of the midrash, on the other hand, were quite willing to consider Leah’s behavior as that of a prostitute.
“No woman is a prostitute unless her daughter is a prostitute also.” They said to him: “Does this mean that our mother Leah was a prostitute?” He said to them: “‘And Leah went out to meet him…’ She went out dressed up like a whore. It therefore follows: ‘And Dinah the daughter of Leah went out'”31
What led the sages to the unpleasant conclusion that “our mother Leah was a prostitute” (which implies that we are all begotten of whoredom), is the fact that the Torah uses the word “going out” when describing how Leah approached Jacob and how Dinah approached the daughters of the land, just before she was raped by Shechem:32
“And Dinah the daughter of Leah went out” – was she not also the daughter of Jacob? The Torah associated her with her mother – just as Leah was “a woman who goes out”, so was Dinah. From where do we know this? As it says, “Leah went out to meet him.” The prophet Ezekiel said: “Behold, whoever uses proverbs will use this proverb against you, saying, Like mother, like daughter. You are the daughter of your mother…” (Eze. 16:44-45).33
The general context of the Exekiel verses, we recall, compares the kingdoms of Judah and Samaria to adulterous and whoring women, who intermarried and worshipped foreign gods. Dinah likewise “went out” to women who were not of her family and who, presumably, did not share her family’s theology and values. The connection between idolatry, sexual immorality and fear of the foreign were deeply connected in the biblical and rabbinic imagination.
What did the rabbis mean by prostitution in the case of Leah and Dinah? In modern Hebrew, a prostitute is called a yatzanit, that is, one who “goes out,” – that is, we submit, goes out from herself. In order to understand what in the nature of prostitution links it to the concept of “going out,” we need to consider the idea that each and every one of us has his or her own “story” and that we can live either inside or outside that story. Spiritual prostitution occurs when a person looks for self-realization anywhere other than within — even if that other should happen to be the one and only beloved, as in the case of Leah with Jacob. If I “go out” from myself and try to become someone else, or to “be” through someone else, I am prostituting myself.
Living inside a personal story, however, a person gains an original perspective on life, influenced by that individual’s unique character and by the environment he/she inhabits. Moreover, each person possesses a unique way of “reading” the script of his or her life. The people I encounter, the events and the physical fabric of my life create a text; which I am reading and interpolating simultaneously. As I navigate my way around life, I also interpret my movements. I make my next move based upon my understanding and interpretation of my previous move. Consciously and unconsciously, I am choosing a perspective and mode of interpretation for every event in which I take part. This is my personal legend. There is no other story quite like it.34
In an ideal situation, I discover meaning within my personal story, and I do not need to seek meaning elsewhere, in places which are foreign to me. But who among us has not been tempted to look for meaning outside of ourselves? Which of us has not turned our gaze vicariously towards another’s experience, in the hope of finding that which has not yet been found in our own domain? The hasidic movement has read God’s call to Abram, Lech Lechah – literally “go to you,” as a call to the inner quest, to go into your own story, to discover the meaning of your life: “When our father Abraham began to search after the source of his life,… God said to him, Lech Lecha, meaning Go to yourself! Because the truth is that all the things of this world cannot really be called life. The essence of life can only be found within.”35
Each of us is born unique, and each of us weaves a unique story in life. However, there are times when we are less inclined to accept our own destinies. When our self-esteem drops, we are accustomed to grasp for any straw lest we drown in our emptiness. In such a state, it is easy to abandon our own story and leech on to another’s tale. Thus, we become dependent on others; we look to justify our own existence through theirs. This is an addictive disposition: finding oneself outside of oneself, be it through drugs, food, sex, career, flattery, or occasionally even love. A sexual encounter occurring outside of a couple relationship, where members of the couple have strayed, is usually one in which there is a “going out” from the personal story, implying that such a relationship “has no story.”36 There are parents who lack their own story and become addicted to their relationship with their children,37 and there are students who become addicted to their teachers. There are famous rabbis, Hasidic masters, and all types of gurus who become addicted to the worship and adoration they evoke in their disciples.38 In all these examples, a person abandons his own story and looks for an identity elsewhere.
This analysis can provide a structural analogy to the case of prostitutive or promiscuous behaviour. Bereft of her own personal story, the prostitute attempts to fill the void with borrowed content from the story of others. She may be a young girl who was abused by “trusted” adults, and consequently gave up on herself and the adult world. Not understanding her trauma but seeking to reenact it, lacking in self-esteem, she seeks comfort in the temporary esteem strangers seem to have for her body. Her absent sense of spiritual worth is not really compensated by the transitory and illusory ego-fulfillment these strangers sometimes afford her. But she is paid and therefore convinces herself that if so many men desire her then she certainly must be worth something. She is a yatzanit, one who goes out of herself in order to find solace in the moments of pleasure that others experience through her body.
Thus, prostitutive relationships attempt to find meaning through that which is foreign. If I prostitute myself, then I intentionally choose someone who has no real part in my story or my life. When I do not love myself or my story, then I am liable to evade my life by searching for situations whose otherness and strangeness comfort me precisely because they have nothing to do with me. Therefore I imagine that illicit encounters will sweeten the bitterness of my life with myself. This process of leaving myself and searching for my identity through an ephemeral connection with a complete stranger can occur in each and every one of us in subtle ways. Each of us is at times liable to fall into such a prostitution.
Of course, not every departure from one’s personal story should be considered so negatively. Vicariousness is certainly a sign of dependence, and a lack of personal meaning in one’s life, but it is not necessarily evidence of the drive to prostitute oneself. Prostituting oneself is simply one possible result of such a dependence. When I depart from my own story and try to create an alternative story through the other, I will often try to attract him/her by externalizing things that have previously remained concealed in intimate chambers. I may try to seduce him/her to enter into relationship with me – a relationship by means of which I hope to find some self-esteem. I leave myself and attempt to form a pseudo-intimate connection with the other – to live vicariously through the stranger. This way, I give up on my own life.39
We have already discussed how Leah’s seeking to forge an identity through Jacob was a giving up on herself. She imagines that her life will have meaning only if she latches onto him. This is why she cries; this is why her eyes are “weak” or “soft.” This is why she is incapable of seeing her children as separate entities, rather than as means by which to measure the degree of her closeness to Jacob. In this respect, Leah, just like an addict, knows the heavy price she will pay the morning after, when Jacob discovers that she is not Rachel, but she cannot stop herself. Leah is addicted to Jacob and will pay for her habit, whatever it costs. This is the reason why the rabbis sense that, when Leah goes out to meet Jacob and says “You are to sleep with me tonight,” there is something in her brazen, yet dependent behavior reminiscent of a prostitute. The case of Dinah is more complicated, because her “going out” led to her being sexually assaulted by Shechem. In this case, the rabbis are willing to blame the victim, for her “going out” meant to them leaving behind the theology and morality of her people.
Lilith, of course, is the archetype of the prostitute,40 and our analysis fits her story as well. The moment Lilith runs away from Adam, she immediately sleeps with Samael, the Great Demon, to fill the vacuum of her life. She begins her long-term career as “the wife of harlotry,” and under that title drawn from Hosea 1:2, the Zohar locates her in Haran, Leah’s home town.14 When the angels come to look for her, after she has run away from Adam and taken up with Samael, “She said to them – My friends, I know that the reason God created me was so that I could make the newborns weak…”. She now has a satanic goal, but Lilith’s link to evil is not axiomatic. Her new and inauthentic life-story, prostitution, is a departure from her real story. Everything that happens to the Lilith archetype afterwards is directed towards one purpose – bringing her back to her real story, re-uniting her with Adam and liberating her once and for all.
Jacob had before him two sisters. According to Genesis, “Leah had weak eyes; Rachel was shapely and beautiful” (29:17). On the basis of this description, it is not hard to explain Jacob’s choice for the beautiful sister. The midrash explains Leah’s unattractiveness; her eyes were watery and tearful from crying, out of fear that she would have to marry Esau. At least one later commentator, however sees sexual yearning in the description of Leah’s eyes. Choosing the alternate translation, “soft,” rather than weak, the Baal Turim notes: “As it says – ‘Will he speak soft words to you” (Job 40:27). For she spoke softly to him, and, even so, he did not love her.”42 Given this interpretation, why would Jacob not have loved Leah?
We can evoke here three distinct archetypal images of woman in the male psyche: there is the virginal, demurely beautiful maiden – innocent, pure and holy, often presented as an image of the soul. And then comes the time for lovemaking, when woman loses her virginity – her innocence, her newness and, if virginity is seen as a sign of purity and holiness, then she loses these also. Sexual woman may be lauded, in the language of Song of Songs, as a “love-making doe,”43 but she is also liable to be construed as seductive and dangerous, as we have seen in the Lilith myth. After the sexual stage comes woman as mother and housewife – the childbearing woman, the nursing mother who raises the children and is responsible for the organization of the entire family unit. At this stage, there is usually a correlation in the male psyche between the image of the woman who raises his children and his own mother. Woman as mother is no longer perceived as highly sexual. Later, with maturity, menopause and old age, this de-eroticism becomes even more pronounced. The grandmother is already perceived as a totally asexual being.
We can give these three personae the following names: The Divine Virgin; The Loving Doe; The Mother of Children. The first and the third stages are usually sanctified by patriarchal society. However, the middle stage, in which woman expresses her sexuality, is not so revered. Man relates to this persona with a frenzy composed of desire and fear. At the time of passion, he calls her all sorts of affectionate names – loving doe, graceful roe, etc. – but when fear takes hold of him, he has an inherited store of derisive terms with which to degrade her.
Within this patriarchal framework, woman is sanctified when she is simultaneously both virgin and mother. Mother Mary, for example, was successful in omitting the middle stage, which, in Catholic doctrine, is perceived as an aspect of the “original sin.” Mary went straight from being the divine virgin to becoming the mother of children, without getting tainted by sexuality on the way. The second stage, that of sexual woman, is played by a different Mary, Mary Magdelena, who, with Jesus’s help, escapes the trappings of original sin.44 Woman’s sexual stage is such a great threat for the male that Tratolian, an African head of the church, called the female genitalia “the Devil’s gateway.”45
This three stage schema is helpful for understanding the relationships of Rachel, Leah and Jacob. According to our characterization of Rachel, she would have been happy to omit the middle stage, and go directly from being a beautiful virgin to her role as the mother of Jacob’s children.46 As far as she is concerned, sexual intercourse is a necessary evil. Rachel is more than ready to forego this dubious delight, as exemplified by her exchange of a night with Jacob for fertility-enhancing mandrakes. For Leah, however, the sexual stage is critical.47 And so, Jacob is terrified.
To shed further light on these relationships, it will be helpful to return to the Lilith of the Ben Sira version:
“When God created Adam and saw that he was alone in the world, He said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone.’ He immediately created woman who, like him, was from the earth, called her name Lilith, and brought her to Adam. They immediately began to argue. He said, ‘You should lie underneath,’ and she said, ‘You should lie underneath, as both of us are equal and both of us were created from the earth.’ Neither one could convince the other.”48
Adam and Lilith begin to argue about sex immediately after being created. Lilith demands equal status, which is expressed in the sexual position she prefers. It frightens Adam, it threatens him – he prefers a woman created out of his rib – a number two, a faithful homebody, someone who will remain beneath him. This is also the case with Jacob: he prefers Rachel because she is unthreatening. In Rachel, Jacob finds holiness and purity, a feminine perfection uncomplicated by sexual desire.
This is not the case with Leah. She asserts her sexuality and is not ashamed of it. She is an immediate threat to Jacob’s superior status. A woman who takes the initiative in intimate relations, as Leah does when she says “You are to sleep with me” – is symbolically saying to her partner that “you will be underneath” – you will be the passive one. This, of course, is a threat, but it is also very seductive. Such women symbolize forbidden passion, which are powerful, alluring and exciting, but which easily turn threatening, dangerous, and deadly.
It sounds altogether like Lilith, the original femme fatale.49 While they sleep, Lilith takes possession of men who are trying to maintain the sanctity of their relationship with chaste and modest wives. She excites them with erotic dreams of wild and forbidden sex, and impregnates herself from the seed they spill. She dominates them and they are powerless over her. She sucks from them their life-force without asking their consent. Essentially, she makes fools out of them.50 Consequently, these men view her as satanic, impure, the soulmate of Samael, the Great Demon. This is why commentators had an intuition that Leah should marry Esau, the impulsive man of the field, the hunter who is closer to nature than to the confines of culture, whose entire body is covered by a mantle of hair that makes him seem animal-like and wild. Leah and Esau, in this view, deserve each other.
Jacob, by contrast, is characterized as a “mild man” (Gen. 25:27) He prefers to avoid uncertain and doubtful situations.51 He would not have received his father Isaac’s blessings were it not for the courage of his mother Rebecca, who overcomes his doubts. it is totally in character that Jacob, who tries to avoid such tricky moments, clearly prefers Rachel to Leah.
If Leah were in Rachel’s shoes, if she were the woman who was desired but barren, she would never have cried like Rachel: “Give me children, or I shall die” (Gen. 30:1). Leah would probably have been delighted to hear tender words of comfort from Jacob and would easily have foregone her desire for children.52 But Leah, like Lilith, was destined to be the unwanted wife all of her life, pining away for a deeper connection with her man, a yearning which only pushes him further away. So, when the Ari maintains that, in Jacob’s eyes, Leah embodies Lilith, he is providing us with a provocative and fruitful reading of the biblical narrative.
1. As R. Hayyim Vital says concerning the partzufim of Keter: “And you therefore see that Atik includes the (divine names) of 45 and 52 letters, and they are both male and female in one partzuf.” (Etz Hayyim, Gate 19, chap. 9, final edition).
2. B. Megilla 18a.
3. Zohar, I, 138a; free translation of the Aramaic.
4. Bereishit Rabba ??? 76a.
5. Zohar, NEED REFERENCE. to standard edition, (2:126b).On the two combining as one, the notes of the Nitzotzei Zohar comment that the word nishkafa is a combination of the two words, nishak peh, “the kiss of the mouth.”
6. Maggid D’varav LeYaakov, Oppenherimer edition, pp. 29-30. For early kabbalistic sources for this approach, see Moshe Idel: The Beauty of Woman – On the History of Jewish Mysticism.”
7. Degel Machane Efraim, Pareshat Behar, commentary on u-ve-chol. R. Levi Yitzchak of Berditchov quotes this teaching in the name of the Baal Shem Tov, adding a moral emphasis: “And just as I heard in the name of the Baal Shem Tov on the verse (Psalms 121:5) ‘God is your shadow’ – just as when a living being stands in the light and his shadow echoes his movements, so it is as if He, blessed is He and blessed is His name, does the same above according to the actions of earthbound man. For example, if a man acts with kindness towards his fellow man, so God acts towards him.” Kedushat Levi – Discourses on Chanukah.
8. Hayyim Vital, Etz Hayyim, gate 38, chapter 2, second edition.
9. “The Beauty of Jacob was like the beauty of Adam” (Zohar 1:35b).
10. “The secret of these things is the following: It is already known that the partzuf of Ze’eir Anpin has two women: Leah and Rachel, and they represent two aspects […] because at the beginning man was created, and God took his rib and magnified it, and this was how woman was created. And from the chest (of Ze’eir Anpin) on up, which is a concealed place, is the place of Leah from the back side, and she is called alma d’itcasya (the world of concealment). R. Hayyim Vital, Etz Hayyim, gate 38, chap. 4, second edition.
11. This is related to the general Zoharic conception of Binah as the “concealed world,” “a place which elicits questioning.” Anyone exposed to it will ask “who,” but ultimately, after descending from level to level, he/she reaches the other extreme known as “what,” and he/she is asked, “What did you seek? What did you find? Everything is still as mysterious as ever!” (Introduction to the Zohar, 1/b.). The very fact that the more personal question “who” is considered to be higher than conceptual queries whose nature is that of “what-ness” is a fascinating idea, representative of the mythological outlook characteristic of the Zoharic debate on the mystery of the Godhead. If we understand the “what” question not as a conceptual question of what (ma) is the essence (mahut) of the matter, but rather as a practical question of what needs to be done, and if we continue this line of thought, we can say that the “what” question relating to essence is the query being posed in the realm of chochma, above binah. It therefore follows that the proper order of the questions is what-who-what. What in chochma, who in binah, what in malkhut, which is also known as “lower chochma.” Again, however, the Zohar did not propose this approach, and as far as the Zohar is concerned, the most critical and relevant question is that concerning the personal figure of the Divinity – Who are You, God? This is the question that should be asked, even if one obtains no concrete result; (this section of the Zohar may have served as the basis of R. Y. D. Soleveitchik’s comments in his book “The Lonely Man of Faith,” p. 15, see there).
12. The JPS translation here, “unloved,” does not capture the force of the Hebrew s’nuah. We will use “despised” throughout.
13. “And do not stray after your hearts” – Rabbi learned from this verse that a man should not drink out of one cup while his eyes are straying to another. Ravina said that this is the case even with his two wives. “And I will purge out from you the rebels and those that have transgressed against Me” (Ez. 20:38). R. Levi said: “These are the children of nine attributes: the children of Osnat, Mashga’ach, the children of terror, the children of rape, the children of the despised one, the children of excommunication, the children of exchange, the children of strife, the children of drunkenness, the children of she who was driven away from the heart, the children of mixed seed, the children of audacity”.(B. Nedarim 22b.). In kabbalistic thought, there is a parallel tradition concerning Lilith, for which see appendix, n. #REFERENCE.
14. “But certainly the Jubilee is always the hidden world, and nothing about it is revealed, and all its deeds were therefore concealed from Jacob. Come and see: The lower world is revealed, and it is the (place) where all begins to ascend, rung by rung. Just as Supernal Wisdom (Hokhma) is the beginning of all things, so too the lower world is also Hokhma, and is therefore also the beginning of all things. We therefore call it you,’ since it is the revealed Sabbatical year (shmita). And the higher world, the Jubilee (yovel), we call ‘him'(third person), since all its matters are concealed” (REF).
Commentary: The sefirah of Hokhma is the beginning of the revelation of the divine world from above, just as Malkhut is the beginning from below (or in later Kabbalistic language: malkhut is chochma in the form of returning light). Malkhut occasionally receives characteristics of Hokhmah, which are different than those of supernal Hokhmah, and is usually called “lower Hokhmah”, or “the wisdom (Hokhmah) of (King) Solomon,” or “the wisdom (Hokhmah) of women” (see Proverbs 14:1: “The wisdom of women builds her house”) or Oral Torah. This idea of the daughter of the king, who is the shechinah, who is the reflection of the unique nature of Hokhmah, can already be found in Sefer HaBahir (Margoliot edition), paragraph 65.
15. “The secret of this matter is that concerning Leah it is written: “And he slept with her on that night” (Gen. 30:16). He refers to the higher world, which is always concealed. Jacob did not willingly cling to anything concealed, he (preferred) only that which was revealed. This is the secret of the verse: “and he will cling to his wife” (Gen 2:24). REF.
17. This is according to the midrash in Bereshit Rabba, 70, 16, which is also quoted by Rashi in his commentary on the Torah: “‘And the eyes of Leah were soft'” – R. Yochanan’s translator translated it in this manner: ‘And the eyes of Leah were tender.’ He (R. Yochanan) said to him: “Your mother’s eyes were tender! What does “soft” mean? It means soft because of weeping. Because (people) would say: “This was the deal – the older one to the older one, the younger one to the younger one. And she (Leah) would cry and say; “May it be Your will that I not fall in the lot of the wicked one” (i.e. Esau). See further discussion of this point below.
18. In midrash, the rabbis added that Rachel actually gave Leah the secret signs that she had made with Jacob so that they could identify each other in the dark: “And morning came, and behold it was Leah” (Gen. 29:25) – but at night it was not Leah, because Jacob had given certain signs to Rachel, but when Rachel saw that Leah was being taken to Jacob, she said, now my sister will be shamed. So she gave her those signs” (Rashi on Gen. 29:25, based on B. Megilla 13b). It should be noted that Rachel consciously agrees to Leah’s being substituted for her, and she doesn’t even hint to Jacob that anything is amiss. It is also interesting that the Targum Yonatan translated the verse thus: “And it was at morning time, and he looked at her, and behold she was Leah all of the night.” Leah is of the night (laila). This may possibly be an early hint of Leah’s later identification with Lilith, who is named for the night and the wailing (yilala).
19. “Give me children, and if not, I will die” (Gen. 30:1); in the end, Rachel did die in childbirth, and takes comfort in the knowledge that her second child is also a son; see Gen. 35:17-18.
20. The Midrash means to say that the townspeople were giving a hint to Jacob by singing a song about the deception: instead of singing la-la-la, ya-ba-ba, or the like, they sang “ha lia, ha lia.” Jacob did not get the hint.
21. In the original Aramic, the word is dichrin “males,” but in Yefet and in Theodore-Albek’s edition of the midrash it says d’bzayon (disgraced). Irit Aminof, in her article “The Soft Eyes of Leah,” REFERENCE, translated it as “immodest,” and we have adopted her translation.
22. Bereishit Rabba, 70:19; the last line is in accordance with the Theodor-Albek edition, p. 819.
23. See Nechama Leibowitz, Studies in Bereishit, Parshat Vayetze. Thanks to Naomi Regan for calling our attention to this point. (***REFERENCE – if this is in one of her novels)
24. “Since the mothers thought that they would each give birth to three sons, when Leah gave birth to her fourth son, she said, ‘This time I will thank the Lord.’ “(Bereshit Rabba, 71: 4).
25. The intimate relationship between the house of David and God is clearly emphasized in the words of the prophet Nathan to David, which describe how God will act towards his son Solomon, who will reign after him: “I will be his father, and he will be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men and with the plagues of the children of man; but my love shall not depart from him, as I made it to depart from Saul, who I took away from before you” (II Sam. 7:14-15). It should be pointed out that, in Zoharic terminology, “plagues of the children of man”, with which God rebukes the house of David (and especially king Solomon) as a loving father chastises his children, are in fact the spirits of demons and Liliths, created by the spilling of man’s seed.
26. “Just as a person must believe in the Holy One, blessed be He, so he must also believe in himself. This means (the belief) that God cares about him, and that (his actions) are not taking place in a void… he must believe that his soul emerges from the source of all life” (R. Tzadok Ha Cohen of Lublin, Tzidkat haTzaddik, entry 154.
27. “Thus said the LORD: A Cry is heard in Ramah/ Wailing, bitter weeping/ Rachel weeping for her children. She refuses to be comforted/ For her children, who are gone” (Jer. 31:15-16).
28. Buber, I and Thou
29. Sha’ar HaKavannot, Discourses on Pesach, discourse no. 4. We did not find in either the writings of the Ari or his students a description of a state in which the back of the Rachel partzuf faces the face of either the Jacob or Ze’eir Anpin partzuf.
30. Sforno, the Italian Renaissance era commentator, makes the following comment: “In this story, which may seem disgraceful to those who find their own interpretations for the Torah, we are told how, for our patriarchs and matriarchs, intercourse was like it had been for Adam and his wife before the sin. Their intention was not at all for personal pleasure, but rather to bear chidden for the honor of their Maker and for His service. When our mothers gave their husbands additional wives, or this matter of the mandrakes, their intention was acceptable to God, and their prayers were therefore accepted…”And he lay with her that night”…willingly, when he saw how eager Leah was and how pure was her intention.” See also: Or HaChayyim ad locem.
31. Bereshit Rabba, 80, 1, free translation of the Aramaic.
32. “And Dinah the daughter of Leah that was born to Jacob went out to see the daughters of the land. And Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivvite, the prince of the land saw her, and he took her, and he raped her (Gen. 34:1-2).
33. Tanchuma Vayislah chap. 7. We find a similar comment in the Talmud Yerushalmi (freely translated from the Aramaic): “What is the meaning (of the verse): ‘Behold, whoever uses proverbs will use this proverb against you, saying, Like mother, like daughter?’ Was our mother Leah a whore?, as it says, “And Dinah went out?” He said to him: Since it is written: “And Leah went out to meet him’, we learn one “going out” from the other.” NEED SOURCE FOR YERUSHALMI
34. The opening sentence of Sefer Yetzirah states that the Holy One, blessed be He, created His world through sfr, sfr, and sfr. There are different opinions as to how these three forms of “sfr” should be punctuated, each lending a different hue to how the creation story should be understood. One of the most interesting interpretations, via Shai Agnon (NEED REFERENCE), is to read them this way: sefer, sofer, v’sippur – meaning that God created His world through a book, an author, and a story. There is a text, the book (sefer), there is an author (sofer), and there is a process by which this text is read so that it becomes a story (sippur). Let us attempt to understand this in relation to our present context, in which a person is asked to find themselves through their own story, rather than abandoning it for someone else’s story.
Each soul has three “cumulative states:” 1. Before descending into the world, which is the primal state. 2. During physical existence in this world. 3. After death.
In the primal state of the soul, she is seen as a letter in the supernal sefer Torah. Only after her descent into this plane of existence does the soul begin to tell her story (sippur) and to develop it, which she does by living it out. This implies that life itself is a process of developing and unfolding the data imprinted on the primal letter, which is the representation of the soul’s higher root. This leads to the conclusion that, after death, it becomes clear how an individual’s deeds were in fact a living commentary on that “letter” of the heavenly Torah. The totality of her life constituted the essentials of this Torah. It therefore follows that each person is an author (sofer), who wrote, by means of every choice he ever made, the commentary to the heavenly Torah scroll.
There are very few people in whom we can identify this quality. Even fewer know it about themselves. Such people experience their lives as a theological exercise, like R. David of Lelov, who said that when the Messiah comes, the “Tractate of David of Lelov” will be studied, just as today we study the tractate of Baba Kama. This experience is not common to most of us other than in moments of deja vu, in which we sense that everything is happening exactly as it was written, as it must be, as it was intended to be. Can the story of my soul be told in only one way? In other words, is there only one, predetermined way by which I must unfold the meaning imbedded in my supernal letter? This is one of the meanings of the mystery of the transmigration of souls – the story is told a little differently each time, in order that a new light be shed on it each time anew. This shows that the divine text of the heavenly Torah, of which I am one letter, can be read in various manners. My entire life story is a suggestion of one possible reading.
In terms of Beshtian Kabbalah, these three stages can be understood as the process of “surrender-separation-sweetening” in the mystery of the hashmal (see Keter Shem Tov, letter 28). For the implications of this teaching in the theological biography of R. Nachman, see O. Ezrahi, “The Descent into the Dark Hollow of Childhood,” (Hebrew) Dimui, NEED REFERENCE.
A practical application of this line of thinking can be found in M. Gafni, Soul Prints.
35. R. Mordechai Yosef Leiner of Ishbitz, Mei HaShiloah vol. 1, at he beginning of the section on Lech Lecha.
36. A “couple relationship” does not necessarily imply marriage. A steady couple relationship without marriage, which we call “living together” (in early sources pilagshut, i.e. a relationship without chuppah and kiddushin), would not be considered “illicit” or “prostitution” by most halachic authorities: “What is considered ‘wives’ and what is considered ‘concubines’? R. Yehudah said in the name of Rav: Wives are with ketuba and kiddushin, concubines are without them.”. Both these categories are considered legitimate (B. Sanhedrin 21a.). The talmudic discussion is actually dealing with the wives and concubines of King David, while as regards a regular layman there is disagreement among the halachic authorities: Rambam holds that “a concubine is forbidden for a layman” (Hilchot Melachim 4:4) so, in his opinion, any sort of sexual encounter outside of marriage is similar to prostitution. However, many of the Rishonim and the Achronim disagree with him, as the Rama writes in a footnote in Shulhan Aruch: “If a man singles out a woman for his own, and she immerses herself in the ritual waters (miqve) for him, some say that this is permissible, as this is the concubine (pilegish) which is mentioned in the Torah (this is the opinion of the Ra’avad and some other authorities). Others maintain that it is forbidden and (he who disobeys) receives a lashing, as it says “There should not be a harlot among you” (Rambam, the Rosh, and the Tur). The reason provided by the Rosh and the Tur is that a single woman will be embarrassed to go the miqve, as everyone will know that she is having sexual relations with someone. This will cause her not to go, and to lie about it, so that she and her boyfriend will transgress the prohibition of sleeping together when the woman has not been purified from her menstrual blood. After all, in those times there was one miqve for the whole town, so everyone knew everything that was going on with everyone else. In our days, both the Rosh and the Tur would probably have agreed that it is preferable that an unmarried woman be allowed to go the miqve, so that she can have sexual relations with her partner in a state of purity.
Rabbi Arthur Waskow has opened a discussion on creating a sort of graded scale, rather than presenting a black and white picture of this matter. We could describe a continuum whose one extreme, the most desirable situation, is marriage – while the other extreme, the most repulsive, is rape. On this continuum relationships based on seduction and deception would be located very close to the rape-extreme, followed by prostitution in which the prostitute receives payment for a deed she does of her own free will. One-time sexual encounters occurring with the consent of both partners would obviously be better than prostitution, while deep friendship based on love and intimacy would be closest to the opposite extreme, where we have placed marriage. If we look at things this way, we see that, among the various sorts of relationships common between two unmarried people today, “living together,” which in Biblical language was called pilegesh (that is, plag isha – a “half-wife”), is a relatively positive institution. See Arthur Waskow, Down to Earth Judaism.
See also an interview with Rabbi Arthur Green by O. Ezrahi, “Sold on Freedom,” in Chayyim Acheirim (Sept. 99): “In an era where people are getting married at ages 25-35, but are becoming sexually mature at 12-13, it is both difficult and undesirable to postpone sexual experience until marriage. It might be necessary to think up some sort of a ritual that would express a couple’s decision to begin living together even before marriage, some sort of an engagement ceremony, although the issue of a ceremony is secondary. The main point is to discover a basis for a loving and responsible relationship even before marriage. When I conduct a marriage ceremony for a couple I try to omit the blessing which says “He who forbade to us those we are engaged to, and permitted to us they who we married by means of huppah and kiddushin.” I think that today, when we know that the couple was probably living together for a few years before getting married, this is a total lie.”
37. These parents often identify themselves as “X’s father” or “Y’s mother,” as if their identity was dependent on their children. Sisra’s mother has no personal name and is satisfied to be known as the mother of Sisra: (“She was watching from the window, and Sisra’s mother was crying…” (Judg. 5:28). When her son dies, she experiences total loss of identity. This may be the reason why her cry becomes a model of the type of cry that the shofar reproduces every Rosh Hashana (see B. Rosh Hashana 33b.). This is the cry of the shedding of false identities. Rosh Hashana is a new beginning, when we try to free ourselves of these addictions, and to touch our own living, vibrant, but threatening stories once again.
38. R. Nahman of Breslov calls these teachers and Rabbis “famous lies.” See Liqutei Moharan 1 and 67.
39. In studying “The Concept of Autonomy in the Female Experience,” in her book She Comes with Love (HEBREW?), Ariela Friedman quotes a study by the social psychologist Nitzah Yanai on the concept of autonomy as perceived by (ISRAELI?) women. According to the study’s conclusions, the concept of independence or autonomy is not defined by women as separation from the other and lack of dependence on him, but rather “as the capability of authentic expression… the capability to express oneself authentically in the framework of the connection with the other” (p.43). We are in total agreement with this concept of autonomy.
40. Chaim Vital, Sha’ar HaPesukim, Pareshat Vayetze (??): “Any given prostitute is Lilith, because she was originally in Adam’s household, and then went out, and always abides in the desert, as is well known.
41. Zohar, Vayetze (VOLUME?), 148a
42. Baal HaTurim, ad locem.
43. Song of Songs, REFERENCE
44. Luke 7:37-50. Nicholas Kazantzakis wrote The Last Temptation of Christ about this sexually charged figure and the tribulations that she caused Jesus. In the Gospel of Luke, there is no identification of the “sinner woman” who washes Jesus’s feet, but according to the decision of Gregarious the Great, Mary Magdelena was identified both as this sinner woman and also as Miriam of Beth Anna (Luke10: 39-42). As a result, Mary Magdelena became the patron saint of those who repent.
45. Shlomit Steinberg in “The Face of Temptation” (REFERENCE) quotes Anatole France who said to one of his students: “Everyone knew that hell exists, but its exact geographical location was unknown. Until one day, a brutal African church father revealed that the gates of hell are located in a very specific spot – between women’s legs.” A reference in Sefer HaChinuch (mitzvah 188) shows that Jewish sources also identified a “door to hell” in women. When he explains the commandment that forbids a person any intimate contact with sexually taboo persons, the author recommends to his son, for whom the book was written: “And if a man, when meeting a beautiful woman, will think that hell opens between her eyelashes, and whoever comes close to her will burn forever, and he focuses all his thoughts on similar images, she will not become a stumbling block for him.”
46. This trait seems to have been passed on to Rachel’s chosen son, Joseph, who does not succumb to the sexual enticements of Potiphar’s wife in Egypt. Tradition has awarded him the title “Joseph the Tzaddik” (Righteous). Particularly in the opinion of the Kabbalists, maintaining sexual purity is considered the chief attribute of Joseph.
47. This attribute also seems to be passed on among Leah’s descendants. Judah, Leah’s chosen son, lies with his daughter-in-law Tamar, who is disguised as a prostitute. Boaz, a dignitary of the tribe of Judah, gets into a dubious situation by marrying Ruth the Moabite. According to the midrash, Jesse, his grandson, intends to sleep with his Canaanite handmaiden but at the last minute she is replaced by his wife, and David is born. David has a sexual fall with Bathsheba, who gives birth to Solomon, whose many wives turn his heart, etc. The entire dynasty of the tribe of Judah, from whom the House of David and the Messiah emerge, place themselves in very questionable sexual relationships. This is dealt with at length in the hasidic literature, especially in Mei HaShiloah. It is noteworthy in this context that critical biblical scholarship attributes the second creation story, the one in which consciousness is achieved through the sin of eating from the tree of knowledge, to the J source, from the tribe of Judah. This source, it is argued, shows how good and evil are bound together and how it is that through evil, good is revealed. See Yisrael Knohl, The Many Faces of Monotheistic Faith (Hebrew) pp. 31-32.
48. Eli Yassif, The Alphabet of ben Sirach
49. Popular culture deals extensively with the dangerous and seductive woman. Sharon Stone in “Basic Instinct” is one recent example of the misogynist tendency in this genre.
50. See Kehillat Yaakov, written by a student of the Seer of Lublin, the entry on “Laughter.” He maintains, on the basis of a midrash and Rashi’s commentary on this verse, (WHICH VERSE?) that laughter in the Torah is mentioned in connection with the three cardinal sins, concerning which the law is “he should let himself be killed rather than transgress.” They are idol worship, murder, and incest. Idol worship, since it says concerning the golden calf, “and they rose to make merry;” murder, as it says (concerning David’s general, Joab), “Let the lads rise and make merry before us;” and incest, as it says (concerning Potiphar’s wife and Joseph), “They brought us a Hebrew man to laugh at me.” The author claims that these three sins cause damage to the first three sefirot – keter, chochma, and binah – and that is why they are so severe. The “laughter” of incest damages the sefirah of Binah, which is relevant to our study of Lilith, since Lilith, who is the kelippah of Leah, is the lowest level of Binah.
51. See Mei Hashiloah, Pareshat Toldot, beginning “And Isaac loved Esau”, and Pareshat Vayeshev, beginning “And Er the firstborn son of Judah.” He describes Jacob as someone who does not want “to put himself in doubt, a theme that will be developed at greater length in the Fifth Gate.
Compare Elkanah’s unsuccessful attempt to comfort the barren Hannah, who, like Rachel, values children, more than her husband’s love, for which, see I Sam 1:8.
presented by Marc Gafni