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The Third Gate: Upper Leah and the Women of “Binah”

Marc Gafni » Blog - Spiritually Incorrect » Essays & Articles » Hebrew Wisdom » Integral Evolutionary Kabbalah » Lillith and Power Feminism » The Third Gate: Upper Leah and the Women of “Binah”

Chapter 10: Leah, The Scholarly Woman

from the book by Ohad Ezrachi and Marc Gafni

In this gate we will look at how the Ari defines the unique nature of partzuf Leah. We will observe how, by sanctifying the image of partzuf Leah, the Ari facilitated bringing her shadow image – Lillith – back into the realm of holiness. He abstracted her human image and deified it in the world of Atzilut.

Unless we are specifically referring to the biblical narrative, whenever we speak about Leah, our meaning is the Leah of Atzilut, who is not a mortal woman but rather the connotation for a certain aspect of the Shechinah. There is a certain overlap between the two, since the human image of Leah penetrates into that of supernal Leah, which in turn affects lower Leah, and so on. In hasidic terminology, the human Leah merited to become a “chariot” or “vehicle” (merkavah) – for a certain aspect of the divine.1 This receptacle was molded into the form lent it by Leah and, as such, it is named for her and characterized by her personality traits. In fact, every partzuf is a specific emanation of the divine lights perceptible to human beings, and the emanation’s form is molded according to the nature of the human receptacle. Jacob, Leah, and Rachel, are human archetypes, who represent different ways of perceiving God. For this reason, each divine emanation is created in the image of each of their modes of consciousness.

Leah is a complex partzuf in Lurianic Kabbalah. For example, R. Hayyim Vital, in his book Sha’ar HaMitzvot, presents a list of no less than eighteen different aspects of partzuf Leah and the minute differences between them. He admits that he cannot precisely remember how the Ari explained them all.2 In our discussion, we will focus on the general characteristics of Leah within the partzuf of the Shechina, and specifically on those aspects which are connected to the identification of Leah, the wife whom Jacob hated, with Lilith, the wife whom Adam rejected.

First we will focus on the status conferred upon the two women, Rachel and Leah, in terms of where they are located in the world schema. They express two different faces of woman: one is more spiritual (Leah), the other more practical (Rachel);3 one possesses highly developed intellectual skills (Leah), while the other’s wisdom is more common sense and pragmatic (Rachel).

Illustration no. # (GET ILLUSTRATION) details the structure of the relationships between some of the partzufim of Atzilut. The two wives of Ze’eir Anpin, Rachel and Leah, the two faces of the Shechinah, are each pictured as having a different height in relation to her husband. Rachel, the main wife, has her feet on the same spot of ground as Jacob.4 Rachel’s head, however, is very low in relation to the height of Ze’eir Anpin’s head. Her back is attached to his, while her head only reaches his chest. In Kabbalistic thought, each partzuf receives sustenance from the partzuf above it. Thus, Ze’eir Anpin receives sustenance, called mohin (minds), from the partzufim above it, those of Hokhmah and Binah, which are also called Abba and Imma. Rachel receives her sustenance through Ze’eir Anpin. This means that, when Ze’eir Anpin receives his mohin, it comes together with those intended for his wife Rachel. He first feeds himself with his own mohin, and then, through a hole in the center of his chest, he transfers to Rachel the mohin intended for her. These are the mohin that give her life and sustain her inner core.

Leah, on the other hand, is standing tall. Her head touches the feet of partzuf Imma, while her own feet are positioned on Rachel’s head. This means that, in the diagram which describes the structure of the relationships in the world of Atzilut, Leah is portrayed as being on the same plane as Ze’eir Anpin, located between his chest and the top of his head. Unlike Rachel, Leah is not dependent on Ze’eir Anpin for receiving her mohin. She touches the bottom of partzuf Imma and can therefore receive sustenance from her directly.

Interpreting these symbols, we see that partzuf Rachel, Jacob’s modest and beloved wife, is the shorter of the two. “Short” in this case means spiritually small. Rachel lives on the practical side of life, with her feet firmly on the ground. Not an intellectual concerned with lofty, abstract ideas, she is the woman Jacob prefers. Rachel’s “head,” or her spiritual side – that which the Ari would call her “limb of consciousness” – reaches only as high as the chest of Ze’eir Anpin, which is the location of his heart, his emotional center. A woman whose thinking is closely tied to her heart, Rachel does not venture beyond this plane.5

Leah, on the other hand, is located “above.” Partzuf Leah is closely tied to Partzuf Tevunah (“Understanding”), which is above Ze’eir Anpin, so that her head is on the same level as Ze’eir’s. as a result, upper Leah is capable of deep thinking, deductive reasoning, and abstract contemplation. On the other hand, she is not in touch with the lower aspects of Ze’eir Anpin, the earthy, practical side of life. There, in the legs of Ze’eir Anpin, stands Rachel, who knows how to ground things.

In hasidic Kabbalah this difference in the position of the two images of the Shekhinah indicates two different types of souls. There are “Rachel souls,” practical and grounded in their nature, over against “Leah souls,” more contemplative and spiritual. Two such souls may arrive in the same generation, but they may also appear in successive generations, so that practically-minded eras in history are followed by spiritually-oriented epochs. R. Yitzchak Isaac of Homil, one of the most profound and original of the hasidic Kabbalists, used this teaching in his attempt to characterize the souls of the generation that entered the Land of Israel. R. Isaac understood that Jewish life in Israel would be radically different than the sort of Jewish life he was familiar with in the Diaspora. Diaspora Judaism, like the generation of the wilderness, could pre-occupy itself with lofty, abstract ideals, but an Israeli Judaism would need to find godliness in the earthy, practical, and the natural. R. Isaac based this fundamental distinction on the different positions of Rachel and Leah in relation to Ze’eir Anpin:

The partzuf of the wilderness generation [ = partzuf Leah] is that of a generation of knowledge, the knowledge of God’s glory (and its position) above the chest, (since) that is the place of the respiratory organs. These are spiritual forces, those of intelligence and understanding as related to hokhma, binah, and da’at…(however) the partzuf of the Shekhina of the generation that entered Israel, which is the main partzuf, is that of the Shechina which was present in the holy temple. It is the partzuf of Rachel, (which is located) beneath the chest, where the digestive organs are found, and they are not sensitive to the light and power of intelligence and understanding, since they are concerned primarily with survival and the preservation of life in an orderly and reasonable manner.6

Leah represents the higher woman who is capable of contending with a partner intellectually. The Zohar teaches us that it is Leah’s very superiority which causes Jacob to feel repulsed by her and to prefer Rachel. Threatened by an intellectual woman, he prefers to marry an earthy woman, whom he can more easily understand. At the same time, he turns the image of the woman who threatens him into an other, a demonic being – in the Zohar, the chief ally of the Great Demon himself.

We will later examine the correlation between the female figure who is perceived as a sexual threat, such as Lilith, and the female figure who is threatening because of her spiritual/intellectual talents. Leah embodies both threats. In the biblical narrative, she is a woman whose sexual urge is dominant. For this reason the Rabbis did not hesitate to call her a prostitute. In the Torah’s only description of her, we are told that “the eyes of Leah were soft” (Gen. 29:17).7 We will not be far from the truth if we interpret this “softness” as alluring, seductive, sensual, but also threatening and, therefore, understood by the tradition paradoxically as weak, repulsive and ugly.

For those shaped by patriarchy, it is easy to be repulsed, it seems, by women who openly express their sexual desire.8 It is very possible that Leah’s eyes broadcast her desire, rather than concealing it under some modest veil. In the Kabbalah, female desire is known as “female waters” (mayyin nukvin). These are the waters that moisten and vivify a woman whose yearning for a man is great. Prayer is conceived as the collective arousal of the female waters of all of Israel towards God. The great abundance that God showers on the earth in response to prayer is known as the “male waters,” (mayyin dichrin) i.e. male seed. Leah’s watery eyes symbolize the arousal of her female waters, and they threaten Jacob, just as they would threaten any man used to a certain set of patriarchal mores.

On the other hand, Leah is also sophisticated. She tricks Jacob into a life different from the one he had intended. She uses her head, and he, of course, does not appreciate it. In Lurianic Kabbalah, Leah’s resourcefulness links her to the sefirah of Binah, which is also Partzuf Imma. We can understand something of Jacob’s reaction to her based on this association. Rebekah, Jacob’s mother, was the first woman who, by her cunning and against his will, changed his life into that of a man pursued. She taught him to lie to his father Isaac, and she turned him into the character he is constantly trying to free himself from – that of his brother Esau. Jacob identifies Esau with the ugly, low-down and brutal. But Esau is Jacob’s shadow side and twin. Throughout his life Jacob wants to detach himself from this threatening, bestial figure. He wants to be able to say “I am Jacob, not Esau,” but Rebekah, whose name connects her to the more primal world of animals,9 forces him to put animal hides on his delicate skin, and to go to his father and say, “I am Esau, your first-born” (Gen. 27:19) Rebecca forces her younger son to identify with the primal animal side of his own nature against his better judgment. He does as she commands, but he does not internalize this action by allowing a place in which his own shadow side might be integrate. Jacob remains only Jacob, who needs to run far, far away from Esau, all the way to his mother’s home.

And there he meets another woman in whom he recognizes the same animal nature as that of his brother Esau. “(People) would say … the older one goes to the older one, the younger one to the younger one!”10 Those who knew of them felt that Leah was intended for Esau, because they both exposed their more primitive sides. Rachel, the modest one, was fitting for Jacob. Everyone thought so, except for Leah. She, like her aunt Rebecca, has an almost compulsive desire to bring out the primal – animal in Jacob. It is no wonder that, for Jacob, the figure of Ze’eir Anpin, Leah represents the partzuf of (Imma), his mother Rebecca.

Chapter 11: Rebekah, the Great Mother

Given the similarities between Rebecca and Leah in terms of their guile, it should come as no surprise that there are also parallels between them in matters pertaining to sexuality. At first glance, it would seem that no one was more chaste than Rebekah. The Torah testifies that she was a virgin: “The maiden was very beautiful, a virgin whom no man had known” (Gen 24:16). Rashi, following the lead of the midrash, comments that she was a “‘virgin’ – in the place of virginity; ‘whom no man had known’ – in an unnatural way. Since the daughters of the Canaanites would guard the place of their virginity but were wanton elsewhere, the Torah testifies that she (Rebekah) was completely pure.”11

Although Rebekah seems to be the very soul and image of chastity, the rabbis of the midrash nevertheless find reason to suspect her of sexual promiscuity. The occasion for this midrash is the moment she fell off the camel,12 upon first seeing Isaac (Gen. 24:64):

“And she fell off the camel” – since she saw that in the future Esau, the Wicked, would be born of her, she trembled and became as if “struck by wood,” and virginity blood came out of her…And when Isaac came to her, he found no sign of virginity, and suspected she had been with Eliezer. He said to her; “Where is (the sign of) your virginity?” She answered him: “When I fell off the camel I became as one struck by wood.” He said to her: “You speak falsely! It must be that Eliezer was with you!” She swore to him that he had never touched her. They went and found the piece of wood that was stained by blood, and Isaac immediately knew that she was pure.13

If the Rabbis needed to emphasize so markedly that Rebekah was a virgin, then there must have been some tale which they needed to discredit. Furthermore, Rebekah’s immediately covering her face with a veil after falling from the camel, elicits another suspicious comment: “There were two who covered themselves with a veil and gave birth to twins: Rebekah and Tamar. Rebekah, as it says: “So she took her veil and covered herself” (Gen, 24:65). Tamar, as it says: “So she…covered her face with a veil” (Gen.38:14). Again, we find that the Rabbis link Rebekah’s behavior at the moment of her encounter with Isaac with the behavior of Tamar, who disguised herself as a prostitute when she met her father-in-law, Judah.14

This all comes back to Jacob, upon meeting Leah in her parents’ house. According to the Zohar, she reminds him of something threatening, which is linked to the image of his mother:

“And God saw that Leah was despised” (Gen. 30:31): From here we see that a man hates his mother’s nakedness. A man can therefore be alone with his mother anywhere, and there is no need to worry. As the Sages have already remarked:15 “A son may be alone with his mother.” Everything was concealed from Jacob, because the higher world was not yet revealed (I:154b).16

Jacob’s hatred for Leah, according to the Zohar, stems from the deep fear a man has of his mother’s nakedness – presumably because of his very attraction to it.17 In Leah’s eyes, Jacob saw glimmers of Rebekah.

There cannot be a more radical yet fitting image for this doubling of the two women than that used by R. Hayyim Vital. Referring to the section of the Zohar quoted above, Vital analyses the architecture of the world of Atzilut and explains that if one knows the exact location of partzuf Leah in relation to partzuf Imma, then the sefirah of Yesod of both these partzufim connect at one and the same point. In Kabbalistic terminology, the sefirot of yesod represent the sexual organs of the male and the female,18 which indicates that (in so far as Jacob’s consciousness is concerned), the sexual organs of Leah and Rebecca are fused into “one womb.” Therefore, R. Hayyim Vital says, with Leah, Jacob feels the revulsion of incest.

And this is what is also written in the Zohar … on the verse “And God saw that Leah was despised” (Gen. 30: 31): From here we see that “a man hates his mother’s nakedness” (Zohar 1:154b), meaning that Leah emerges from the malkhut of Imma, who is Jacob’s mother… The conclusion is that the Yesod of Imma and the Yesod of Leah are connected together, so that they both become one womb to mate in… and this is the secret of “from here we know that a man hates his mother’s nakedness.” Nakedness means just that.19

He meets the taboo of his mother’s nakedness when he comes into Leah, for deep inside her womb is the womb of his mother Rebecca. A mother’s power to give of her goodness, to nourish, to love, and to encourage, but at the same time to withhold nurturing, to ignore, or to suffocate, transforms her from a simple mortal into a virtual goddess in the psyche of the dependent child. During the prolonged encounter between the child and the goddess who rears him, the child learns to attach great values to her. They are fraught with meaning and loaded with symbolical significance. Jung writes, “Many things which awaken admiration and a sense of the sacred can be symbols of the mother,” but adds, that mother-symbols may occasionally take on negative meanings, fraught with terror.20

One of the most widespread symbols of the fearsome mother in primitive art is that of the spider.21 A small creature in itself, it has a web of information extending in all directions. From a distance, it can sense everything that is happening and quickly runs wherever it is most needed. The stereotypical image of the Jewish mother who always knows what is happening, shows up everywhere, pulls the strings behind every scene, and is involved with exaggerated and often smothering concern in her children’s lives, is well represented by the symbol of the spider.21

This description can help us to refocus on Rebekah, the great and fearsome mother in her son, Jacob’s, psyche. Rebekah manipulated and triangulated Jacob’s relationships with his brother and father, putting him through a humiliating ordeal that ended up threatening his life. We can easily see how her son would fear ever getting caught in the web of another assertive woman. For Jacob, loving Leah is returning to the stranglehold of his fearsome mother. So long as Jacob is incapable of rising above and beyond himself, or of transforming himself into “Israel,” then he is constantly running away from those parts of himself which he fears or cannot understand: his shadow and twin, Esau, and his mighty mother, Rebekah. \Given the power of these shadow projections in his psyche, it is inevitable that he would be revolted by Leah.

The significance of the higher level of femininity and divinity that Leah represents is unknown to Jacob. Leah is linked to the world of Binah, which is also the world of the supernal mother. Jacob, however, is only capable of understanding women who represent the sefirah of Malkhut, the world of Rachel – the revealed, lower world that we inhabit.

Chapter 12: Scholarship and Sexuality

Traditionally, Torah was seen as the exclusive preserve of men: study, in-depth analysis, and contemplation were considered male pursuits. There were very few women who managed to break out of their accustomed roles as child-raisers and home-keepers in order to enter the scholarly world.

The first to do so, or at least the first we know of, was Beruriah, the wife of R. Meir, who lived in the classic age of the Mishna (late 2nd century C.E.). Beruriah was a scholar with a rebellious attitude to the portion allotted to women by the rabbinic culture that surrounded her. Partly as a result of that attitude, she came to a tragic end, as we will discuss in more detail in the next chapter.

Hundreds of years were to pass until another woman attained the stature of Beruriah in the rabbinic world, and she too came to a bitter end. Hannah Rachel, known as the Maid of Ludmir, who remained single until forty, tried to function as a female hasidic rebbe.22 She was forced to forego both her position and her power due to pressure brought on her by the Rebbe of Tchernobel, who was a central spiritual authority in the hasidic world of that era.23 The Rebbe of Tchernobel pressured her into marriage and into following the only acceptable path for daughters of Israel, regardless of how intellectual they might be.24 However, Hannah Rachel’s marriage was not successful, and she was divorced from her husband three years later.

The unhappy careers of Beruriah and the Maid of Ludmir show that the male protectors of Jewish tradition saw any attempt made by a woman to penetrate the male world of study as deviant. A woman, it would seem, could not be a scholar, almost by definition, and, if she were a scholar, then there must be something abnormal about her. This attitude has been prevalent from talmudic times through the Kabbalah and Hasidism. The tragedy of the Maid of Ludmir indicates that a learned woman could not be considered sexually attractive as a woman and had to give up her learning and teaching in order to marry. In fact, Hannah of Ludmir wanted to remain a virgin. Similarly, Barbara Streisand, in the musical “Yentl,” plays the role of a woman who, in order to gain entry into the study hall, disguised herself as a male yeshiva student, and even became engaged to an attractive, young girl.

Of course, this denial of female sexuality wherever a woman shows intellectual interest, is as far from the truth as possible. It is unfortunately facilitated by the kabbalistic distinction that we have been exploring between two levels of femininity – higher femininity and lower femininity, or, in other parallel terms: mother and daughter, the concealed world and the revealed world, Leah and Rachel, Binah and Malkhut. We have heard that certain women who belong to the Habad sect and study Habad Hasidut, do not say the morning blessing, “Who has made me according to His will” like other Orthodox women, but rather “Who has not made me a woman,” as Orthodox men recite.25 These scholarly Habad women are blessing the fact that they are not connected to the sefirah of Malkhut, but rather to Binah, which is also feminine, but not entirely so. The spiritual fulcrum of Habad is contemplation, i.e., increased attention to the sefirah of Binah as it operates in the human soul, which elevates its practitioners to a state in which they are encompassed by the light of the supernal Mother, the light of Binah. These women are therefore blessing the fact of their not being regular “Malkhut” women, but rather, contemplative “Binah” women, which is to say, not entirely feminine women. It is often stated in the Zohar that Imma (the partzuf of Binah) occasionally functions as a male.26

The purported masculinity of a “Binah” woman does not in any way annul her sexual identity as a woman – quite the opposite. The masculinity of Binah is not a negation of female identity, but rather a way of expressing female assertiveness. A “Binah” woman is usually more active – or, in Kabbalistic language, more masculine – in her sexuality. What is called her “masculinity” is expressed through her willingness and courage to take an active and assertive part in her sexuality, just like a man. This assertiveness thus comes to reinforce her femaleness. While tradition has maintained a grudging respect for those women like Hana Rachel of Ludmir who understood that acceptance into the world of Binah was dependent on denying their sexuality, it has totally negated a woman who chooses to interpret her entering the world of Binah as an expression of female assertiveness. This latter case has been catalogued as threatening and demonic, like Lilith.

By demonizing the assertive female, men have controlled the gateways to knowledge and so safeguarded their a priori supremacy. A woman chooses between the world of knowledge and the world of feminine sexuality. If she chooses the world of knowledge, then she forfeits the latter. If she chooses the world of the senses then she may not enter the study-hall, lest she appear as a warped woman, the sister of Lilith. This is a perverse way of silencing women’s voices in the world of Torah learning. Once she has left behind her persona as Eve, she is forced to choose between identifying with the Adam or with the Snake, between scholarship and sexual identity.

This same dichotomy does not exist in the realm of male scholarship, though there is considerable tension around the issue. The study of Torah can itself be a means of sublimating erotic impulses through spiritual practice. We saw in the story of R. Hiyya and his wife who seduces him in the guise of a prostitute an example of an accomplished scholar who felt he had to renounce his sexual urge in order to lead a life of holiness. We intend to explore a few more sources, which will show that, unlike the standards which have been set for women, for men, there is a very strong link between eroticism and scholarship.

The following excerpt from Talmud is well-known, in which it is implied that greatness in Torah is intrinsically related to a strong sexual drive:

Abaye said: (The evil urge) tempts scholars more than anyone else. Like that story about Abaye, who heard a man say to a woman, Let us meet and go on our way together. Abaye said to himself, I will follow them and prevent them from sinning.

He followed them for three parsangs. When they reached a junction, he heard them say to one another: Our ways part (as they were from different townships), and we must separate, although it is very pleasant to walk together. Abaye said to himself: If it was me who was alone with that woman, I could never have stopped myself from sinning. When he got back, he leaned sadly on the doorpost. That old man (apparently Elijah) came and said to him: Whoever is greater than his colleague, also has a greater (yetzer).27

The old man’s comforting words to Abaye became a common saying in the Torah world: “Whoever is greater than his colleague, also has a greater urge.” This saying cannot be examined apart from the context of Babylonian rabbinic culture, where it originated. Daniel Boyarin has shown, that, unlike their counterparts in Palestine, the Babylonian academies held up the ideal of “the married monk.”28 The most famous example is R. Akiba, whose wife sent him away from home for twenty-four years, till he came back with 24,000 disciples. Torah was clearly “the other woman” in R. Akiba’s life. A less successful “married monk” is R. Hiyya, who was tortured by the inclination to sexuality, the yetzer that he had tried to suppress, and which came out of hiding when his wife dressed as a prostitute. So we can understand that what Elijah taught Abbaye was an important corrective to the competing ideal of married celibacy in that culture. “Whoever is greater than his colleague, also has a greater urge,” is not meant to give Torah scholars carte blanche for acting out their fantasies, but rather to help them attain a balanced acceptance of sexuality as fundamental to an integrated personality. Perhaps with some greater degree of self-acceptance of his own yetzer, Abaye would not have followed the couple so far down the road of his unacted desire.

Why then, should we assume any different of a scholarly woman? The woman scholar is equally incomplete as a human being without successfully integrating sexuality into her personality. R. Tzadok HaCohen of Lublin offers an account of what makes us uniquely human, based on what we make of our “urge:”

Man is primarily the passion in his heart, which is his advantage over the angels. This is what is called the “urge” – the evil urge and the good urge.29 When he increases his desire to do good, it is good, and if not…As our Sages have stated, “Whoever is greater, his urge is also greater” (B. Sukkah 52a); the way a man is greater than his fellow man is only a function of how great his passion for good is, i.e. the good urge.”

Seen in the light of this critique, we can offer as a parallel to Elijah’s statement the following: “Whichever woman is greater than her colleague, also has a greater urge,” that is, for using her sexual passion toward good and holy ends.

Does spiritual greatness always imply intense passion? Surely we can identify situations in which the spiritual takes one beyond the temptations of the physical. Here are two such cases:

R. Gidel was accustomed to go and sit by the gates of the (women’s) bath house, and would say to them, This is how you should immerse yourselves, this is how you should immerse yourselves. The Sages said to him, Is his honor not afraid of the evil urge? He said to them, They are like pure (white) geese to me.30

R. Aha would take the bride on his shoulders and dance (at weddings). The Sages said to him, Should we do the same?

He said to them, If they are like beams (of wood) to you – then L’hayyim! And if not, not.31

In these two interesting examples, the great sages share a dubious intimacy with women. In both instances, the sage justifies what are questionable practices to others through his subjectivity. He compares women to objects, like beams of wood or white geese, which do not awaken any degree of sexual desire in him. In these incidents, the Talmud presents an alternative conception of the great man. He is someone who has totally vanquished the evil urge. Hence, he is able to commit acts such as an ordinary man could not perform without becoming sexually aroused.32 In contrast, Abaye perceives himself trapped in the snare of seduction, much more so than the average man.

In our opinion, the case of Abaye is really no different than that of R. Gidel or R. Aha. What is different is the situation in which we find them. R. Aha carries the bride on his shoulders at a wedding dance, which is a time of great communal ecstasy. The erotic passion of his soul is thus elevated beyond the simple focus of a woman’s body. R. Aha was exactly like Abaye. Both were men with an unusually intense erotic charge. If this were not the case, R. Aha would probably have taken the bridegroom on his shoulders rather than the bride. His greatness and the greatness of his urge are expressed through his ability to rise to sublime heights in moments of ecstasy. He can go beyond the boundaries of permitted physical contact with women, because his spiritual ecstasy enables him to express the erotic passion in his soul while at the same time liberating him from any attachment to the body of the bride.

This is also the case for R. Gidel. He too is a great man with a great urge, and for this reason he chooses to go and see the women who are purifying themselves in the miqve. But, as we have already mentioned, his “urge” is no common urge, but rather, a “great” urge. His greatness is expressed in his seeing beyond a beautiful woman as a sexual object, and going from her to something more transcendent. If we pay close attention to the text we find that R. Gidel does not claim to be indifferent to the sight of the bathing women. Quite the opposite – he says that the women embody a most subtle form of beauty – that of pure white geese. Here, too, eroticism finds a different avenue of expression. It is at once elevated and at the same time sublimated into an aestheticism. Female beauty is reminiscent of the absolute beauty and purity of nature. This is the reason that R. Gidel has no fear of his evil urge, or rather, he suffers no anxiety about his inclinations, for he knows himself capable of appreciating beauty without allowing it to confound him.

Students of the Baal Shem Tov would almost certainly claim that R. Gidel saw divine beauty reflected in the bathing women, whose spark he elevated into its higher root in the Shekhinah. Here is how one of the Hasidic masters describes the meeting between R. Akiva and the beautiful Roman matron who tried to seduce him:

R. Akiva saw her beauty, which was the very essence of beauty. So he began to think to himself: Where did such grace and beauty come to this world from? Behold, all beauty and grace come from the Shekhinah, who is known as “the most beautiful among women…”33

Of course, in order to experience things in this way, a man must first possess a highly developed aesthetic sense. Beauty spoke to R. Akiva, to R. Gidel, and to Abaye. “The greater a man is, the greater his urge is,” and the greatness with which it endows him is expressed through a heightened sensitivity to all dimensions of life, including the erotic. There is no reason why this should not also be true of women, such as Leah, for example.

In Kabbalistic literature, the study of Torah is in itself considered an erotic act: R. Eliezer Azcari, a sixteenth-century Kabbalist from Safed, compares the study of Torah and the relationship to one’s wife to the two wives of Jacob. The highest wife is the Torah, while second in line comes the wife of flesh and blood. R. Eliezer even emphasizes a man’s obligation to have sexual relations with each of his two wives, both the physical and the spiritual one:

“Her food, her clothing, and her times (onah) shall not be diminished” (Ex. 21:10). Her times (for sex) – this means the mind, as all the six days of the week (he should) cause his soul to cling to her, “that he might kiss me with the kisses of his mouth” (Song of Songs 1:2). As it says in the Zohar, at midnight, when common people are with their second wife, this is the time when sages are with their first wife.34

The erotic energy converted during the study of Torah into an experience of spiritual coupling is manifest in the rhythmic swaying familiar to us from times of study and prayer. This is mentioned in the writings of the school of the Gaon of Vilna: “And this is the movement of a person studying Torah, who is then called alive, as in the mystery of the living organ.”35 Thus, we discover that the learning experience that is at the foundation of Torah scholarship is itself analogous to sexual union – and occasionally even more powerful than it.36

The Talmud teaches us that scholars are people with strong sexual instincts, although they may sometimes be able to experience sexual ecstasy on a more abstract than physical plane. While the talmudic, kabbalistic and hasidic examples that we have brought are from the sphere that their authors knew best, namely, male sexuality and its sublimation in Torah study, there is no reason to conclude that the same arguments could not be applied to a woman who excels in her studies, or who reaches spiritual heights.

If, however, this potent energy is sensed only unconsciously, it may suffer social repression and so develop into a complex and a desire to prove just the opposite. Sometimes, when the scholar, male or female, senses their sexual passion to be greater than average, he or she might suffer profound anxiety or neuroses. Attempts may be made to deny this psychological fact, as seems to have been the case with R. Hiyya in our opening story. with Beruriah, R. Meir’s wife, and, hundreds of years later, with Rebbe Hannah, the Maid of Ludmir. We are calling this unfortunate state of affairs , to which we turn in the next chapter.

Chapter 12: Beruriah

(NOTE TO OHAD AND MORDECHAI: Because Beruriah is such a flash-point for contemporary feminism, you’re going to lose your potential readers over your argument in this chapter. I have developed an alternative feminist context, in which to insert your reading so that it doesn’t crash land.)

Beruriah is known from a half-dozen or so stories scattered in the Babylonian and Palestinian Talmuds and midrashic collections.37 The story that gives the best flavor of the living women’s spirit, without any veil of either idealization or misogyny, is one in which she meets Rabbi Yose Ha-Gelili (“The Galiliean”), on the road. He asks her, “By which road shall we go to Lod?” And she replies, “Galilean fool! Did not the sages say, ‘Do not talk too much with a woman.’ You should have said, ‘By which to Lod?'”38 She did not suffer fools or hypocrites gladly. Daughter and husband of rabbis, a woman with sharp rabbinic learning, known as someone who once learned three hundred traditions in one day from three hundred different masters,39 she engages in learned argument with sages and apostates alike, but she is not accorded the status of either disciple or colleague. She is an anomaly in the rabbinic world.

The most famous story of Beruriah is also the most heartbreaking. It is told in the margins of another story about her husband, R. Meir, and her unnamed sister. R. Meir had gone to Rome at Beruriah’s request to redeem her sister from a brothel, to which the Romans had consigned her when they sentenced their father to death. At the end of the story, we are told that when Meir returned, he left for Babylonia, “because of the Beruriah incident.” That Beruriah incident is not narrated in the Talmud, but Rashi, in his marginal gloss to the Talmud, brings down the following tradition, whether folk or rabbinic we do not know:

“And some say because of the Beruriah incident:” One time she mocked what the sages said: “Women are frail of mind.” He (R. Meir, said to her: “By your life! in the end, you will admit that they are right!” He ordered one of his students to tempt her to sin. And he (the student) propositioned her for a long time, until she finally agreed. When the matter became known to her, she strangled herself, while R. Meir fled because of the disgrace.40

This is the only instance known to us of Rashi’s bringing down a tradition that is not attested anywhere else. (THIS IS MY CLAIM – BUT IS IT TRUE?) We believe that this story was considered so horrific that it was suppressed in written form and only passed down orally, until Rashi wrote it down in the 11th century, about five hundred years after the closing of the talmudic text.

What makes the story so horrific, we believe, is R. Meir’s betrayal of Beruriah.41 A rabbinic sage was willing to have his wife violate the most sacred bonds of marriage and transgress the divine commandment against adultery in order to prove the validity of the sages’ words. What misplaced loyalty! A scholar of folklore has suggested that the story is entirely fictional, based on parallel legends circulating in the ancient world.42 If so, it may have been the sages’ way of killing off the threat that Beruriah, a learned woman, represented to their entire system.

We would now like to suggest another, perhaps even more controversial reading of the story, refocusing our attention on the rabbinic tradition over which Beruriah and Meir argue, namely, that “women are frail of mind.” In context, it is evident that “frailness of mind” signifies women’s inability to resist sexual temptation. Because of our sympathy for Beruriah as a victim of her husband’s machinations against her, it may be hard to acknowledge that Beruriah is her own worst enemy. She denies that she is capable of being seduced, as any average woman might be. She had sought a place among the intellectual elite of her time. In order to prove herself, she feels she needs to be a “man.” She needs to prove that the patriarchal construction of feminine characteristics, such as fickleness or “frailness of mind,” do not play any part in her psychological make-up.

Is Beruriah’s struggle personal or ideological? Is it an attempt to prove that she is unlike other daughters of Eve, who could be seduced by the alluring promises of the snake? Or is her mocking the sages’ teaching an attempt to create a precedent for how the world should rightly perceive her sex? Ironically, it is Beruriah’s very failure to overcome temptation – her “frailness of mind” – that boomerangs on her.

One way of reading the end of the story, Beruriah’s suicide, is to understand that her breaking point occurs at the moment when she is forced to admit her frailness to her husband. She did not commit suicide at the moment that the sexual act was over, as did R. Hiyya, who burned himself immediately upon sinning. If we read the talmudic phrase, “when it became known to her,” as “when it became known” [HL: CAN YOU FIND A DIFFERENCE OF VERSIONS among various Talmudic MS? OTHERWISE, THIS BLAMING THE VICTIM IS HARD TO JUSTIFY.] then the story shifts its meaning considerably. Rather than killing herself over Meir’s betrayal of her, she kills herself when the matter became public. Perhaps she was capable of coping with a sense of personal failure, but not with the publicized version. Coping with the shame of having her weakness revealed to her husband was more than Beruriah could endure, and she committed suicide.

What we see in the story is how a patriarchal construction of gender difference was internalized by Beruriah to the point of self-denial and complete psychological break-down. Her internalization of these mores caused her to feel the need to prove both to herself and to the world that a woman could be as scholarly as a man without falling into sexual impropriety. At the same time, the many stories about men and sexual temptation suggest that men’s sexual desire presented no hindrance to their joining the spiritual and intellectual elite. R. Akiva could chase up the date palm after a beautiful girl and not stand accused of “frailness of mind,” because male sexuality is no threat to the male world. Beruriah, standing closer to R. Hiyya in this regard, required an asexual passport into the world of scholarship, a passport that was a negation of her human nature. Tragically, no amount of proving herself sexually repressed could have gained Beruriah full admittance to the rabbinic elite.

The Biblical Leah, and her kabbalistic counterpart among the partzufim, did not fall victim to the Beruriah complex. Even though Leah, coming from the world of Binah, the highest “feminine” world, is related to a “masculine” mode of being, this did not render her susceptible to the Beruriah complex. Leah never tried to prove herself asexual. Quite the opposite. The Leah archetype joins together two wholly different orientations. On the one hand, Leah is an intellectual, i.e. from the sefirah of Binah, but on the other hand, she is the sexual agent in the story. Her loftiness and her spiritual independence lead her to demand the same rights afforded to men.

She refuses to internalize values constructed so as to restrict her freedom and her desires. The Ari thus limits the rule that “women have weak minds,” and argues that it applies primarily to the Rachel archetype. Leah’s mind, he comments, is not weak at all: “Only the mind (da’at) of Rachel is part of the mystery of ‘women have weak minds,’ as we have often explained.”43

According to the Ari, the “weak mind” is characteristic of the lower female partzuf, whose mores and values men can easily understand. This is not the case with Leah. We have seen already how Leah initiates intimacy with Jacob – how just one look at her wet eyes is enough to disarm him both emotionally and sexually. Jacob realizes that the Leah archetype implies a spiritual, sexual and intellectual freedom, which threatens his status. He therefore tries to push this figure into the margins of society. From this orientation comes the midrash that Leah is first engaged to the much maligned older brother, Esau, and then she becomes the hated and rejected wife of the younger brother, Jacob. Her provocative behavior evokes the rabbis’ not so subtle suggestion that she may be a prostitute. The Ari took this one stage further and recognized in Leah the archetype of the greatest of all prostitutes – Lilith.

Chapter 14: Doubt and Sexual Failing

In the name of the Baal Shem Tov: One should say the following poem before going to sleep. “Certain is His name, Certain is His fame” (Ha’vadai shmo, ken teheelato – and this is useful for chasing away demons, spirits, and Lilith from him who says it.44

In hasidic tradition, this charm is attributed to the founder of the movement. Its purpose is to chase Lilith and her fellow demons away from a sleeping man, for they are liable to mock him in his sleep by arousing him with erotic dreams and sexual transgressions. The repeated words are meant to inspire confidence, conviction and certainty in whoever utters them before falling into the mysterious and uncertain world of sleep. “Certain is His name, certain is His fame” is a line taken from the liturgical poem “And all believe” (V’khol ma’aminim), recited during the Days of Awe. The significance is clear: doubt will turn illicit, whereas certainty can deliver us from every impropriety.

Lilith can grasp a person who suffers from doubt more readily than someone who has certainty. According to the hasidic masters, the Hebrew word for doubt, safek, has the same numerical value as Amalek (240). In Hasidism, Amalek is the internal enemy who causes nocturnal emissions (keri). Doubt cools (mekareret) a man’s attachment to the sacred, and so the fire in his soul gets channeled into less holy waters. Amalek is perceived in hasidic thought as the cause of both doubt and sexual arousal, which leads to spilling the seed.

Lilith represents longing for the “other woman,” with whom there can be no acceptable family tie, only an illicit connection. Lilith is the “forbidden fruit” that attracted Adam. This is why Lilith remains both seductive and dangerous. Eve, the legal wife, the housewife, the mother of children, is linked to certainty. She represents stability, continuity of the family dynasty, and the safe place one can always come home to. Lilith, on the other hand, is the unpredictable woman. She is the unknown, or doubt in its broadest sense. Hence, the charm of certainty “chases Lilith away,” because it imprints certitude and psychological stability on whoever utters it. It is like an Eastern mantra, which moves one from conscious to unconscious awareness. Thus it protects a person at the deepest levels – even in those parts of himself to which he has no direct access.

The charm might be thought of as an oxygen tank for those diving into the world of dreams, but who do not want to be spiritually awake to the unknown depths of their souls. They prefer to be spiritually asleep. In order to remain anchored during this sleep-state, such souls demand a safe place to which they can retreat and survive. On the other hand, when we do not experience this powerful inner need to fortify ourselves with words of certainty, then we may be feeling more secure in ourselves, in a place where doubt does not threaten us. When we are indeed spiritually awake, then we are capable of containing the dangers of uncertainty and profound doubt.45 Lilith represents the negative force threatening the sleeping, unconscious dreamer. Someone in a state of spiritual alertness is quite capable of integrating her. This is why the mantra of certainty “chases Lilith away” from a sleeping person, whereas a person who is awake does not need such a mantra.

Lilith, as we have said, causes sleeping people to loosen their grip on reality, fall into fantasy, and spill their seed. The first man in the Jewish tradition to spill his seed, and incur the wrath of God, was Er, Judah’s firstborn son. Er (in Hebrew, “awake”) is named after the waking state. We need to delve more deeply into the character of Er in order to better understand the connection between Lilith’s powers, which are characterized by sexual failing, and the fact of her connection to doubt and uncertainty.

In Genesis, we are told that Er was the husband of Tamar, but that “Er was displeasing to the LORD, and the LORD killed him.” It was a brother-in-law’s duty to marry his brother’s widow in order to produce offspring who would carry on the dead brother’s name. But Onan, the next brother in line, “knowing that his seed would not count as his, let it go to waste whenever he joined with his brother’s wife, so as not to provide offspring for his brother. What he did was displeasing to the LORD, and He took his life also” (Gen. 38:7-8) The Torah does not tell us the exact nature of Er’s sin, but, based on a comparison with his brother Onan, who spilled his seed on the earth and was killed, the Rabbis claimed that both brothers shared the same dishonorable trait. “Why did Er destroy his seed? So that she (Tamar) would not get pregnant, which might destroy her beauty.”46 He doesn’t want his wife to get pregnant, because he does not want her to look worn-out and so cease to arouse him sexually. He associates pregnancy and birth with a lessening of sexual magnetism, and he wants to be constantly aroused.

Er’s name means that he constantly strives to keep awake. We might conclude that he fears sleep and the loss of control that sleep represents. He fears Lilith’s world, the unconscious world of nightmares and dreams, which might ignite erotic fires in other places over which he has no control.

The name Er also has another meaning, connected to the verb l’arair, to appeal or undermine. When one takes a legal case to the court of appeals, it means that there is some doubt as to the truth of the verdict. Thus, Er is awake as a skeptic. He does not accept things at face value. Such doubt jerks people awake. They start to ask questions. But it can also upset a person’s equilibrium, leading to feelings of inner exhaustion, apathy, and coldness. Then doubt becomes an obstacle and Lilith’s demonic powers take control.

So, Er is subject to Lilith on both counts – fear of the unconscious connected with sleep, and fear of uncertainty, connected with waking reality. His attempt to control Tamar by spilling his seed is a turning away from pregnancy and birth, which are characterized, according to the Mei HaShiloah, by their hiddenness and uncertainty:

For every birth comes only out of concealment and forgetfulness, just as no seed can grow unless it first decomposes in the ground and rots. So it is, too, with the drop of life that comes down from the brain – it cannot cause birth until it firsts materializes and becomes corporeal in human seed. For this is the moment when human consciousness stops and is forgotten. And, if a person would constantly maintain awareness and consciousness of his Creator, he could never come to the state of concealment and forgetfulness that allows birth to occur. Therefore Er….did not want to destroy this. This is the meaning of “he did not want to destroy her beauty.”47

While the Mei haShiloah seeks to characterize Er as a religious seeker, we would suggest that Er wants to remain awake to reality, because he does not have a basic confidence in it. Instead of bravely entering the uncertainty of the night, as the Baal Shem Tov recommends, Er prefers to maintain his illusory stance of total consciousness and control. He attempts to create a situation in which Tamar will always remain an alluring virgin. By spilling his seed and completing neither the sexual act nor their bargain as husband and wife, he treats her essentially as the prostitute she will later impersonate.48 This way, he never stops desiring her.

According to the Baal Shem Tov, to contend with his unconscious, man must dive into the world of dreams (albeit with an oxygen tank). Inner certitude – “Certain is His name, certain is His fame,” – does not contradict the mysterious. In fact, a person is enabled to dive more fully into himself or herself through such protection. Pay attention to the poem’s phrasing: “Certain is His name” – that is, the certainty is ascribed to the name; to name is to be certain. The certainty one needs to safely enter the world of the unconscious is contingent upon self-identity. I must first know my name if I am to step into the world of the unknown.49 Only with such awareness can the forces inhabiting this world express themselves constructively, without injury. Then I will be capable of contending with Lilith in a positive way. I can also allow myself to encounter another, more subtle Lilith, than the one I am habituated to fearing.

The mantra of certainty can be used by any true student of the Baal Shem Tov’s teachings, as a small raft upon which to traverse the immense sea of the unconscious without drowning. This certainty within uncertainty is the real waking state – the ability to be both awake and in a state of reverie. The opposite direction is represented in the figure of Er, who turns out to be “evil,”50 precisely because he is incapable of transforming bad into good. This is why he spills his seed and “gives birth to demons” – they are the demons in his soul, his unresolved fears. Er does not have the spiritual strength it takes to unveil the humanity that every demon conceals.

In his book, Mei HaShiloah, the Rebbe of Ishbitz teaches us that Er is the archetype of one who is afraid to enter uncertain situations, or, as he calls them, “doubts.” Jacob likewise, according to the Mei HaShiloah, was always trying to follow well-trodden paths in his spiritual life, in order to avoid the darkness of uncertainty. According to the Mei HaShiloah, the story of Er, comes to teach his grandfather Jacob, quite explicitly, what happens when you try to steer clear from all doubt:

“Jacob wanted to live peacefully” (REFERENCE)- this means that he wanted to stay away from any deed that would put him into a doubtful situation. This, however, is not the Holy Blessed One’s desire for this world. God therefore showed him – see who “shall issue from your loins” (Gen. 35:11), since he (Er) also guarded himself from any type of deed that brings loss, except that he did so on the physical plane…. for Jacob had the same lack as Er did, except that Jacob’s lack was in the service of God. He protected himself so as not to destroy the beauty of his service (of God).51

Just as Er was concerned about “destroying his wife’s beauty, so too, says the Mei HaShiloah, Jacob was concerned not to destroy the beauty of his spiritual service. The Mei HaShiloah goes on to connect such loss of beauty with “concealment and forgetfulness,” since in every birth experience, creativity and fertility are necessarily associated with “‘destruction of beauty’ – as we quoted above – “no seed can grow unless it first decomposes in the ground and rots.” Because Jacob fears the unknown in his own soul, he prefers certitude, although this is not necessarily God’s will for Jacob, which he could realize were he to contemplate the story of Er, his descendant.52

According to the Zohar, it is for these very reasons that Jacob fears marrying Leah. Leah emanates uncertainty. He prefers, in the words of the Zohar, “to stay attached to what he understands”53 – that is, Rachel, whose beauty symbolizes clarity of consciousness. Jacob’s aversion to Leah’s tender and mysterious eyes demonstrates his fear of the unknown. Entering the darkness of uncertainty implies leaving his housewife, Rachel, behind. Only by entering into the darkness can one know or understand Leah’s fertility and creativity; but this, the Zohar says, is precisely what frightens Jacob.

In this respect, the idea that both Leah and Lilith come from the sefirah of Binah is very significant. One of the most fascinating names the Zohar gives to Binah is “the place that stands in question.”54 Binah challenges a person to study, investigate and ask questions. Hence, a person may savor their attachment to the Divine when faced with those ultimate questions which can never be answered.

The Zohar unequivocally maintains that the people of Israel was spiritually incapable of asking the questions that emerge from Binah. This inability caused them to seek out quick and easy answers, such as the golden calf.55 Those who made the calf said: “This is your god O Israel.” The Zohar points out that the words “this” (eileh)56 and “god” (elohim) have the same letters, and the two extra letters in elohim can be used to spell “who is this?” (mi eileh). The Zohar teaches us that, without the element of wonder, we are left only with conclusions. This is just like removing the two letters that form the word “mi” from “elohim,” so that we are left with the letters that create the word “eileh” – turning the unknown into the transparent – “eileh elohekha Yisrael” – this is your god, O Israel.”57

When we cannot face the question that disturbs us, then each of our doubts becomes a devilish monster; “creating demons,” says the Kabbalah. Both Er and Jacob share in this dynamic; Er symbolizes fear of the unknown, and Jacob suffers deep anxiety when faced with unresolved questions. Following out the Ari’s suggestion that Leah is Lilith, we might say that Jacob’s impulse to run away from Leah’s taunts is what enables him to imagine her as the demonic figure of Lilith. He turns his doubts into unwanted strangers trespassing upon his soul, and these strangers are only entertained at night, in his dreams, when they become capricious and demonic. Because Leah symbolizes the uncertain quest for understanding, she belongs to the sefirah of Binah; the questions she asks really have no answers. Her provocative presence, and the uncertainty it intimates, causes Jacob great discomfort, for he cannot live under the sign of the question mark. He relates to the one who calls his attention to the unresolved expanses of his soul as a terrifying and demonic being.

Chapter 15: Leah’s Tefillin

In the Lurianic writings, the figures of Rachel and Leah are linked to the mysteries of tefillin. Tefillin are composed of two “houses” – black leather boxes containing portions from the Torah. One “house” is worn on the left arm, facing the heart, while the other is worn on the top of the forehead, facing the brain. In rabbinic terminology, woman is also called a man’s “house” or “household,” so it is only natural that, in kabbalistic thought, the two houses of tefillin came to symbolize the two partzufim – Rachel and Leah. It is not difficult to guess how the two women are identified with the two houses: Rachel, the more practical and housewifely is identified with the arm tefillin, facing the heart, while Leah, the more intellectual, is associated with the head tefillin, facing the brain. Rachel is represented by the actual tefillin of the arm, the black box that has the portions from the Torah in it, while Leah is represented only by the knot formed by the two leather straps, which is shaped like the letter dalet.58

This kabbalistic image is based upon two rabbinic sources: one maintains that God, also, wears tefillin;59 the second relates to the dialogue in Exodus 33: 18-23 between Moses and God, in which Moses asks to see God’s face, but God will only allow him to see His back. Moses hides himself, at God’s command, in a cleft in the rock when the glory of God passes over. He does not gaze at the face of God, and only after God passes is it permissible for Moses to look upon his back. But the Rabbis, with their very literal approach, try to determine exactly what Moses saw when he looked upon God’s back. Their answer: “‘Then I will take My hand away and you will see My back’ – R. Hanna bar Bizna said in the name of R. Shimon Hasida: This teaches us that the Holy One, blessed be He, showed Moses the knot of the tefillin.”60

If the Shekhinah in its lower aspect – Rachel – is the hand tefillin, but in its higher aspect – Leah – is the knot of the head tefillin, then we can say that the peak of Moses’s spiritual realization is the revelation of partzuf Leah. Hence, the aspect of the divine universe at which Moses arrives is Leah’s face in the Shekhinah. This is enormously significant. Given that Moses’ s seal is impressed on the entire Torah, the level of consciousness he achieves must then have tremendous influence on the Torah’s essential nature,61 as we will presently see.

According to the Zohar, Jacob did not merit to assimilate the higher Leah partzuf. He preferred to love Rachel, who was on a lower level (we recall that Rachel’s head only goes up to Leah’s feet),62 and more easily mastered by him. Leah was beyond his grasp and Jacob was afraid where he could not understand. Unlike Jacob, however, Moses merits attaining the level of Leah, according to R. Hayyim Vital.

And this is what the Rabbis said concerning the verse, “The effect (ekev in Heb., also means heel) of humility is fear of the LORD” (Prov. 22:4) – just as humility becomes a heel to her sandal, so fear becomes a crown for her head. For humility is the aspect of Leah. And since Moses achieved this and reached the fiftieth gate of Binah, he is called “very humble” (Num. 12:3), because he reached the place of Leah.63

Leah expresses the character trait of humility, while Rachel expresses fear. In the Torah, Moses is regarded as the most humble of people, leading the Ari to conclude that Moses achieved the spiritual intuition of Leah – humility – which enabled him to receive the Torah. Moses perceived the partzuf Leah of the Godhead – the knot of God’s tefillin. He perceived higher feminine reality’s connection to the sacred, whereas Jacob could not. Jacob only sensed how fear and the sacred complement each other – how, in the words of Proverbs, “a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised” (Prov. 31:30) – but not how Leah, who demands equality and expression of the whole of her being, including her sexuality, could possibly belong to the sacred. For Jacob, Leah is far from humility, and closer to audacity, perhaps even to licentiousness.

In order to finally understand Leah, Jacob needed to experience a serious metamorphosis, including changing his name from Jacob to Israel. This name change reflects an archetypal process of transformation that the archetypal image of Jacob needs to undergo before it can face the spiritual challenge that Leah presents. “Because these (…aspects of partzuf Leah) were concealed, and were not revealed to Jacob before he was called Israel as we explained earlier. Only then (i.e., when he was named Israel) could he realize the entire partzuf of Ze’eir Anpin, as is well-known.”64 The name “Jacob” represents only the diminished aspect of the masculine partzuf, while the name “Israel,” represents fullness, which is the mature figure of Ze’eir Anpin. This is why changing Jacob’s name to Israel enabled him to understand where he had formerly not been capable of understanding, and to accept Leah instead of rejecting and hating her.

In the Lurianic writings, it is Moses, the giver of the Torah, who sees the knot of God’s head tefillin, and receives spiritual enlightenment from this revelation of partzuf Leah. The revelation of the feminine received by Moses is that the real meaning of humility is to be truthful about who you are. When people fail to admit things about themselves, they become sly, the opposite of humility, which entails simplicity and straightforwardness. A humble person is capable of saying that he possesses positive qualities in the same direct way that he is capable of confessing his failings. This is why Moses was capable of writing all of his praises in the Torah, including the fact that he was “a very humble man, more so than any other man on earth” (Num. 12:3). This, too, was said simply, without craft, without hypocrisy, i.e. humbly. In the Babylonian Talmud, there is a list of many things that ceased to exist the day the Temple was destroyed, or the day a certain tzaddik died. The Talmud tells us that the amora R. Yosef said to the man who had quoted the mishna before him that he should not say “from the time that Rabbi died, humility was abolished,’ – since he, i.e. R. Yosef, still lived, and he is a humble person. The amora, R. Nahman, went on to say that people should not say that fear of God was also abolished, since he, R. Nachman, is still alive, and he fears God. R. Nahman of Breslov learns from this talmudic text that humility does not mean that I hide my merits. Quite the opposite – humility means my ability to accept my merits without being haughty about them, as Moses did.65

Moses received the attribute of humility from partzuf Leah. This implies that Moses’s humility is connected to his ability to perceive the role of Leah within the divine image, and to recognize that, what Jacob saw as brazenness, was in fact her modesty. Leah was faithful enough to herself to seek out the proper place for herself in the world. Unfortunately, the society in which she functioned saw her as “someone who goes out,” like a prostitute.

We are arguing that patriarchy is forged in the image of Jacob. But Moses, in Lurianic Kabbalah, represents a different approach. He looks at Leah eye to eye. The root of Moses’s soul comes from partzuf Leah, and the highest level of his perception of the Divine is rooted in supernal Leah. He recognizes that Leah’s psychological vulnerability is an expression of great humility, and so his entire teachings are sealed with the image of her partzuf.66 The Kabbalah sees Jacob and Moses as two separate beings symbolizing one essence. Jacob represents the external, while Moses (and Israel also) represents the internal: “Moses from the inside, Jacob from the outside.”67

According to the Ari, the purpose of the Torah that Moses brought down from heaven was to bring the entire people to a sublime state, so that those insights Moses had merited to receive would become accessible to everyone. In the Lurianic writings, the “Torah of Moses” is read as an effort to bring society to a state in which Leah can wholly belong. Lilith became a demon only because she could not fit into Adam’s patriarchal paradise. The children of Israel in the generation of the wilderness were not so high as Moses as to be able to receive Leah-Lilith into the realm of the sacred. The general level of Israel, as the Ari explains, were souls from the lower, Rachel partzuf. Moses, however, heralds a new era. He has a message for a simplistic, patriarchal, Jacobic society, a message that is geared toward changing that society step by step in order that it reach a new state in which it can truly answer to its name – Israel. The Torah’s goal, conceived in this way, is to change the Jacobic world, to expand it, and make it more flexible – more Israeli. When this happens, Leah-Lilith will no longer be relegated to a state of separation and alienation, and she will no longer be perceived as a demon. She will be seen for what she is – an essential part of all women. As long as Lilith is playing the role of the demon, she is murderous and jealous, and she seeks to kill Eve’s children. The moment she is liberated, however, she no longer has any need to usurp Eve or Rachel’s place. On that day, all aspects of women’s experience will be fully expressed. and Lilith can return to the Garden of Eden.

We find an example of this of revaluing of Leah over Rachel in the writings of the Ari, where he offers his interpretation of the sin of the golden calf. The Torah tells us that, after the sin of the golden calf, God wanted to create a new people out of Moses. In the Kabbalah, “erasing the people” means destroying its root in the world of Atzilut, or, as the Ari puts it, “to abolish partzuf Rachel.” God wanted to establish a new people from partzuf Leah, who would be the spiritual descendants of Moses. However, it was Moses himself who halted this plan:

The intention of the Supreme Emanator was to annihilate the entire reality of the lower wife of Ze’eir Anpin – Rachel – and to make a new wife for Ze’eir Anpin out of the aspect of the higher Dalet – Leah – which would have ten complete sefirot. As the rabbis have already stated, this blessing was realized in Moses’s seed, as it says, ‘And the children of Rehavya were very many’ (I Chron. 23:17) – more than six hundred thousand.68

But Moses did not want this, and God listened to him, and kept His word and the word of His servant Moses. Both (intentions) were realized. He did not destroy the lower Rachel, while higher Leah, which was at that time one solitary point, He developed into ten sefirot, making her a complete partzuf, but not bringing her back (to the) face to face (relationship). And this is the secret of ‘and you shall see My back’- this is the knot of the Tefillin that was fixed. However, “My face,” which means returning face to face with Ze’eir Anpin, must not be seen” (Ex. 3:23), this can not be.69

Interpreting this quotation requires a review of human history until this time. At first, femininity belonged to the Leah partzuf, since Lilith, who is Leah, was the first Eve. Then Lilith flees, and the second Eve, who is also Rachel, becomes the mainstay of the household. Rachel is the dominant wife and Lilith is perceived as a demonic figure. Now, after the sin of the golden calf, God suggests turning back the course of history. He is prepared to erase partzuf Rachel, and build a new society based exclusively upon partzuf Leah. However, Leah herself (represented by her human counterpart, Moses), does not agree to this plan. Rather than the erasure of Rachel, she awaits a reunion with her sister and a healing of women’s divided self.

In the Zohar, the sin of the golden calf is associated with human beings’ inability to bear the spiritual state of questioning and uncertainty. Those who worshipped the calf said “eileh elohekha Yisrael” – “This is your god, o Israel” (Ex. 32:4), eliminating the letters mi from the word elohim, which is composed of the same letters as mi eleh (“who are these”)?70 The ideal concept of the divine assumes uncertainty, thus making faith the human being’s facing of the Divine unknown. Divinity perplexes man, who constantly seeks to understand it with his rational mind. The sin of the golden calf is the attempt to escape from the unknown to the comforting bosom of the familiar – “This is your god, o Israel.”

In patriarchal society, the housewife, Eve or Rachel, will always be in the place that men deem fitting for her. She poses no threat. On the other hand, Leah, with her soft eyes, broadcasts threatening messages; facing her, a man must have courage to face the unknown, without needing to escape to the familiar bosom of that which he already knows. Rachel symbolizes the exact opposite – the need for boundedness and fortification in a revealed, and familiar universe.

With this Lurianic paradigm in mind, we can appreciate that religion itself can become an obstacle to a believer’s facing the unknown. This is why R. Tzadok HaCohen of Lublin maintains that the sin of the golden calf was an attempt to hide behind the commandments of the Torah and to make them into a statue and a graven image. If we take the Torah and see it as a closed system of familiar rules, which are not open to the Infinite, then we are making the Torah itself an idol:

For this is the entire Torah: that there should be no fence or known boundary, which is also called a statue and a picture…but…they wanted something tangible and accessible, and they therefore eliminated the face of the ox from the divine chariot – meaning that they made its picture tangible, making the observance of the commandments like the harnessing of an ox to its yoke, which becomes their primary focus, since they do not perceive anything deeper. And this need for a statue and a picture in order to grasp the Holy One or His Torah is idol worship. For just as God is infinite and has no end, so His Torah is infinite and has no end.71

In R. Tzadok’s remarkable refocusing, God wants a people who are constantly open to questions and to wonderment, which, like His Torah, is infinite and has no end. To make this point, R. Tzadok reverses the import of his talmudic source concerning ox-like observance of the commandments, where this was seen as a positive value. According to B. Avodah Zarah 5b: “It is taught from the House of Elijah: A person should always be towards the Torah as an ox to the yoke and an ass to its load.” But this is what R. Tzadok calls “making a calf out of Torah.”

It is our characterization of Leah as the higher partzuf of the Shekhinah – open to wonder and uncertainty – which has brought us to this point of understanding the role of Torah and faith in God’s unfolding plan. Now that we have become familiar with the characterization of Lilith in Jewish thought, and with the nature of the bond between her and Leah – both in the Torah, and as the higher partzuf of the Shekhinah – we need to answer a few questions that present themselves in the wake of our discussion: What is the meaning of the change from Jacob into Israel, and what is it that finally enables him to understand and accept Leah? What is the meaning of the change that Leah-Lilith undergoes, from a murderous, demonic, evil creature into someone who protects Rachel, as Moses did? How does the Ari think that the Torah manages to create the means by which Lilith will be liberated from her excommunicated state and returned to the circle of sacred legitimacy? These questions will be addressed in the next two gates, where we examine the processes leading to Lilith’s redemption, as they are described in both the Torah and Lurianic Kabbalah. The next gate will focus on dynamic processes rather than static situations. We will be looking at changes undergone by man, symbolized by Jacob, and also at changes undergone by woman. Through myriad reincarnations, woman gradually takes leave of her divided self and paves the way for her eventual redemption.


1. Bereshit Rabba 47, 6: “Reish Lakish said: The patriarchs are the divine chariot.” See also in the Tanya, which was written by R. Shneur Zalman of Lyadi (Section one, chap. 39): “This is what is meant by the sages’ comment that the patriarchs are the divine chariot: that all their limbs were holy and separate from this world, and they were a vehicle for the Divine Will all the days of their lives.”

2. Sha’ar Hamitzvot, on the mitzvah of Shiluach Haken. See also Sha’ar HaKavanot, Discourses on the Amidah, 2, explanation of the word Eloheinu.

3. An interesting viewpoint on the conflict in the feminine soul between these two identities can be found in the myth of Eros and Psyche, specifically in the analysis of this myth by Erich Neumann. REFERENCE In the saga of Eros and Psyche, which describes the course of development of the female, Aphrodite gives Psyche four tasks. The first one is to clean a giant stack of seeds mixed with garbage. Aphrodite, who both fears and loathes Psyche, throws the following dart at her: “I cannot imagine how a repulsive handmaiden like yourself could ever allure her lovers, other than by working very hard and diligently, in order to satisfy their desires…” Erich Neumann approaches this myth using depth psychology, and he notes that “the conflict between Psyche and Aphrodite takes place within the domain of the feminine sphere”, and is no longer a “conflict between individuation….and female motherhood whose chains the individual seeks to free himself of.” The struggle between Psyche, who expresses a femininity that has developed to the point of equal consciousness, and Aphrodite, who wishes to imprison her within the borders established for woman in patriarchal society, is a conflict that takes place for all women. In our terms, between partzuf Rachel, which seeks to secure her position through the simple labor of her hands, and partzuf Leah and its shadow image – Lilith – which seeks to break out of the state of back-to-back relationships (which in the Psyche-Eros myth is expressed by intercourse in the dark, when it is forbidden for Psyche to see who her lover is), and to achieve equality in diversity, face to face.

4. Rachel, who was the housewife (akeret habayit – usually understood as the term for a barren wife) – was the mainstay (ikar) of Jacob’s household, as it says (Gen. 46:19) “the children of Rachel, the wife of Jacob” (Bamidbar Rabbah, 14, 7).

5. See for example Jesse Rapport’s book, Feminism and its Opponents, the chapter entitled “Women are Motivated by their Emotions,” p. 53. After serious hesitation, we decided to use the word “intellectual” to describe someone with mohin. We feel the need to clarify that in our opinion, modern language does not have a term with a meaning as rich as that of mohin in Lurianic Kabbalah. Mohin means the light intended for the brain. In Lurianic Kabbalah, in every world, level, configuration, or point of time, there is a slightly different definition of mohin. Notwithstanding, we have chosen the word “intellectual,” to describe abstract, conceptual, pure thinking.

6. R. Isaac of Homil, Chana Ariel (Berditchev 5678), Par’shat Va’etchanan, p.24

7. The Baal HaTurim, cited above, understands softness as love-talk. Soft words are words of love and kindness, so that “soft eyes” would imply eyes that express longing and desire for intimacy. The Baal Haturim, true to his usual form, is very terse. He leaves us to understand the meaning of his interpretation.

8. In her book Women Above, devoted to women’s sexual fantasies, Nancy Friday describes how the publishers originally reacted to her manuscript (pp. 15-17). At first they were very curious to see something usually not accessible to them. They later reacted aggressively, making comments like “I threw your book on the other side of the room,” or even, “I wanted to kill you.” She notes that female editors did not react any differently than male editors in terms of the hate they expressed towards the accounts of the real nature of women’s sexual fantasies.

9. If we re-arrange the order of the letters in her name, Rebecca comes from the root b”k”r” (cattle). On this association, see the Radak in his commentary on Jer. 46:21: “Like fattened bullocks – like calves waiting to be fattened up, so they sit and eat and drink…marbek, [like Rebecca], means fattening up…just as our Rabbis said, “they took her in for fattening up (ribka).” Rebecca is linked with animal life-force. She wants to impart this to her son Jacob, who is instinctively repulsed by this side of nature.

10. “That (people) would say: “This was the condition – the older one will go to the older one, the younger one will go to the younger one.” And she would cry and pray: “May it be your will that I not fall into the lot of a wicked man” (Bereshit Rabba 70, 16).

11. Bereshit Rabba, 60, 5: “Reish Lakish said: The daughters of idol worshippers guard the place of their virginity, and are wanton elsewhere. This one, however, was a virgin in both the place of her virginity, and no man had known her elsewhere.” The wantonness from which they are excluding her is anal intercourse.

12. The JPS translation of va-tipol as “alighted from the camel,” misses the drama in the moment.

13. Yalkut Shimoni, ?? entry 109; “Smitten by wood” is a talmudic way of describing a woman whose hymen was injured, as Rashi says in B.Ketubot 11a: “smitten by wood – that she was struck by wood in that place… (she and others like her) if they marry, they do not lose their ketubah,”, i.e. they are still considered virgins. It should be noted that according to the opinion of R. Shimon and R. Yossi in the Talmud, (B. Yevamot 60a), she who was struck by wood is not considered a total virgin, as the high priest, who is obligated to marry a virgin, cannot, in R. Shimon’s opinion marry her. The above-mentioned midrash concerning Rebecca’s virginity also enters into a halachic discussion about she who was struck by wood, and brings the opinion of the Rabbis who held that she who was struck by wood is not considered a virgin: “‘And the girl was exceedingly beautiful, a virgin…’ we learned: A maiden who was injured by wood receives a ketubah of two hundred, in R. Meir’s opinion. The Sages say that she receives one hundred. R. Hanina in the name of R. Eliezer says that R. Meir’s reasoning is (because it is written: ‘And no man knew her,’ (which implies) that if she was injured by wood, she is still a virgin. The Sages base their opinion (by emphasizing the word) ‘virgin’ – if her hymen was broken by a piece of wood, she is no longer a virgin.” (Bereshit Rabba, 60, 5). This is probably an echo of the midrashic tradition quoted in the Yalkut Shimoni which says that Rebecca was injured by wood.

14.In addition to the two points mentioned in this midrash, there are many other similarities between the cases of Rebecca and Tamar: 1. Both of them come from outside local family circles, that is, they are both “outsiders.” 2. They are both assertive: (Tamar initiates the encounter with Judah; Rebecca is responsible for Jacob’s deception of Isaac). 3. Both of them appear at critical points in the continuing saga of the Abraham/ Isaac/Jacob dynasty, and the story develops positively only because of their presence at the right place and at the right moment. 4. Both of them are described as seers, while the men do not see (Judah doesn’t see Tamar, but thinks she is a prostitute, while she sees straight into him. And when Isaac meets Rebecca, the events that occur are described subtly – Rebecca sees Isaac, but Isaac only sees camels: “And Isaac went out to meditate in the field at evening time, and he lifted up his eyes, and he saw camels coming. And Rebecca lifted up her eyes and saw Isaac” (Gen. 24:62-63). 5. Peretz and Zarach, Tamar’s twin children, are a recapitulation of the story of Jacob and Esau, Rebecca’s twin sons (or, to put it differently, reincarnations of them). Yair Zakovitch noted this point in his article, “The Heel of Jacob,” REFERENCE, and developed it according to his way of understanding. Zerah, who should have been the first-born, is similar to Esau in a few respects. For instance, the midwife ties a scarlet thread on Zerah’s hand (this is the reason he was named Zerah, which is derived from the word zrihat hashani, i.e. the rising scarlet), and Esau, too, was red (adom), as he is the father of Edom. Jacob, whom the dynasty develops from, is similar to Peretz, who broke forth (paratz) and unjustly took the birthright and went on to become the patriarch of the Judean dynasty.

15. Lit. “as the Sages awakened (our attention to)”. For more on the concept of awakening in the Zohar, see Melila Helner-Eshed, “That You Stir Not Up, nor Awake My Love, Until it Please – The Language of Awakening in the Zohar,” (forthcoming) REFERNCE. See also our later discussion of the mystery of Er, Judah’s firstborn.

16. The Zohar refers to M.Kiddushin (4:12), which says: “A man may (be alone in a room) with his mother, and with his daughter, and may sleep close to them. And if they are already grown up, she sleeps in her blanket and he sleeps in his.” The phrase, “a son may be alone with his mother,” does not appear in the mishna, but does in the Gemara (B.Kidushin 60b).

17. Nitzah Abarbanel, Eve and Lilith (pp. 14-15, and p. 41), touched on Freud’s analyses of the incest taboo and the Oedipus complex as the factor responsible for the schism between the two aspects of the female image: the loved one, and the one that is despised but desired. See our discussion in the introduction.

18. In the male body, the sefirah of Yesod symbolizes the genitals, and in a woman, it is the womb, as R. Hayyim Vital says elsewhere: (Etz Hayyim, Gate 1, Branch 5): “For in her, yesod is the womb, and the crown is her fleshy apple, which the Rabbis call “the lower part of the intestines.”

19. Etz Hayyim, Gate 38, chapter 2, second edition. In order to understand this subject in terms of the structure of the worlds, see the original, as we have summarized here.

20. C.G. Jung, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, REFERENCE – check for quote pages 81-92.

21. Michah Ankuri, And This Forest Has No End, p. 199. Ankuri illustrates his point with an anecdote from his clinic:

A divorced man would occasionally tell me about a new relationship with a woman, and explain why he had left his previous girlfriend. In one of our conversations he said that he occasionally has feelings of pain and anxiety, accompanied by a hallucination of a huge spider which is holding him by his stomach with tremendous strength. (205. The anxiety and the hallucination that accompany it are the flip side of the Don Juan. He leaves the woman slightly before the spider embraces him with its hug of death. Behind the persona of the successful Don Juan there is a frightened man, whose weakness is fed by the power of the terrible woman (205). We highly recommend the chapter “Shekhina h and Malkhut,” in which Ankuri presents important guidelines for understanding the connection between Depth Psychology and the Kabbalah in the field of female symbolism.

22. Chana Rachel Werbermacher (b. Ludmir 1815 – d. Jerusalem 1892), the daughter of R. Moonish Werbermacher, a Tchnernobler Hasid, was known for her scholarship and extreme piety from the time she was a young girl. She wore tzitzit, and prayed wearing talit and tefillin. When her father died, she said kaddish in his memory and built a synagogue in Ludmir from the money she received from her inheritance. She would give discourses there from behind a curtain so as to conceal herself from her audience. The synagogue of the Maid of Ludmir existed until the time of the Holocaust. There are many legends concerning the figure of Chana Rachel which describe her as a miracle-worker, and many sought her out, including Rabbis and scholars. However, her unusual behavior outraged local Jewish leaders, and the Rebbe of Tchnernobel eventually persuaded her to marry at the age of forty. After that, the number of her followers decreased. In 1858, when she was 43 years old, she divorced her husband and emigrated to Israel. In Israel she continued to conduct a hasidic tish every Shabbat for the traditional third meal, and went to Rachel’s grave every New Moon together with a group of women. Yohanan Twersky (whose family name indicates that he comes from the Tchernobel dynasty) wrote a novel about her entitled “The Maid of Ludmir” (Mossad Bialik, no mention of publication date), and the Chan Theater produced a play written by Yossefa Even-Shoshan about her in the late nineties (see the Hasidic Encyclopedia, Mossad Harav Kook, vol. one, p. 627, and the footnotes, for more about her).

23. R. Aaron of Tchernobel is cited in The Hasidic Encyclopedia for pressuring her to stop acting like a hasidic rebbe. However, in Twersky’s novel (p. 70), R. Mordechai of Tchernobel, rather than R. Aaron, is credited.

24. Compare the career of Hana Hava Horodetsky of Tchernobel, the daughter of R. Mordechai Twersky of Tchnernobel, lived during almost the exact same years as the Maid of Ludmir (1810-1893). Surprisingly enough, she too is described in the Hasidic Encyclopedia as “having taught Torah interspersed with Kabbalistic teachings…both Hasidim and Hasidic Rebbes sought out her counsel…she received both pitka’ot (slips of paper with petitions and the name(s) of the petitioners that were traditionally given to Hasidic Rebbes) and pidyonot (monetary donations)…her father testified that the Holy Spirit was with her since birth, and her eight brothers said that she was as righteous as they were.” If it was R. Mordechai who refused to allow the Maid of Ludmir to function as a hasidic rebbe, then the fact that he himself had a daughter (Hana Hava) whose behavior was very similar to that of Hana Rachel of Ludmir throws a very interesting light on the story.

Hana Hava of Tchernobel was the mother of the Rebbe of Tulna, the founder of a well-known Hasidic dynasty. Chana Bracha Shapira, the mother of R. Kalonomus Kelmish of Piasetsna (the author of Hovat Hatalmidim, Bnei Machshava Tova, Eish Kodesh, etc.) was also a great scholar, wore tzitzit, and also received pitka’ot and pidyonot from Hasidim (see the Hasidic Encyclopedia, p. 626). See Nehemia Polen, translation of her autobiography (forthcoming grom JPS)

25. This “inverse blessing” is obviously not common practice in the Jewish world, and it can be assumed that the official Habad institutions would prefer to deny that such a practice exists at all.

The blessing “Who has not made me a woman” is also a thorn in the side of Orthoprax Rabbis sensitive to feminist issues. On the one hand, a blessing like this, which is part of the standard version of the prayers, cannot be changed or omitted according to the Orthodox tradition. On the other hand, they cannot accept it. One of us once heard from a certain Rabbi who claimed that when he says the blessing “Who has not made me a woman,” his intention is this: “I thank the Lord for not giving me feminine attributes as part of my nature. I am thankful for the opportunity I have received to work on myself spiritually in order that I merit to develop the female sides of my personality.” It is clear that as long as there is no inner model based on traditional sources that could offer a basic change in the way the new reality of women’s lives is dealt with, we will be treated to all kinds of silly apologetics of this kind. In our opinion, in Lurianic Kabbalah we find an alternative and dynamic model for understanding the possibilities of women in Jewish culture. In his discourse on the nesira, the myth of the original hermaphroditic creation of the human (man and woman created back to back and then separated) the Ari presents a diagram of a gradual process by which we can map and analyze all the stages in the development of women’s status. REFERENCE

In light of this, it seems that the present situation in which women say the blessing “Who has made me according to His will,” while men say the blessing “Who has not made me a woman,” is no longer acceptable. It is also very unjust, as this blessing contradicts what we said at the outset is the central divine revelation of our time, that of the female voice. It is clear that it is the task of the rabbinical establishment to right this wrong. As long as they procrastinate in doing so, it is incumbent on both men and women, as a sort of “positive commandment relevant to this time in history,” to bring pressure on the rabbinical establishment by every legitimate means. It is equally important that women claim their right to serve as rabbis, thereby becoming a part of the halakhic and Torah establishments, so that change will take place within the very fabric of this framework. Until that time, it is our halakhic opinion that a person who feels that, by saying this (possibly insulting) blessing, she is being dishonest to her basic tenets of belief should either omit the blessing “Who has not made me a woman” entirely, or find a creative re-phrasing. The Conservative movement has adopted the traditional form of the women’s blessing for both men and women: “who has made me according to your will.”

26. R. Hayyim Vital quotes the Zohar: “Supernal Mother (Imma Ila’ah) is called male, as is written in the Zohar parshat Vayechi”. (Sha’ar Mamarei Razal – tractate Shabbat).

27. B. Sukkah 52a, translated according to Rashi’s commentary.

28. Boyarin, Ch. 5, esp. 165-66.

29. Tzidkat haTzaddik letter 248. See also his Resesei Lailah. letter 13, and Poked Ikarrim, letter 6.

30. B. Berakhot 20a

31. B. Ketubot 17a

32. This is the way that the author of Sefer HaHinukh understood this story (mitzvah 188). He explains that we should not learn from these sages since “they, may their memories be blessed, were like angels, and were always occupied with the Torah and the commandments, and their intentions were as clear to everyone as the sun is bright, and they had no sense of evil in anything due to their intense devotion to the Torah and its commandments. We today, however, may not disregard even a small fence (which protects) these matters, but must rather respect all the distancing mechanisms which the Sages of blessed memory taught us.” The deification of the sages of earlier times is useful for the author of the Sefer HaHinukh, as it was for other rabbis, as a means of exempting these stories from the category of those teachings whose intention was to instruct the students to follow in their footsteps and to do as they did. Sefer HaHinukh and similar thinkers sought to present spiritual man as a being indifferent to sensuality. We would like to go down a different path. R. Tzaddok HaCohen of Lublin discusses this matter at length in his book Yisrael Kedoshim (entry 4, opening words “but”). He maintains that it is permissible for someone who is spiritually developed to decide for himself as to the degree of care he needs to exercise in erotic matters insofar as rabbinical decrees are concerned. King Solomon took more wives than he was permitted to, but his mistake, according to R. Tzaddok, was that he thought that he could do so even in relation to “that which was commanded in the Torah, which applies to all souls, and can never be superceded. This is not the case with rabbinical decrees, for they did not intend their edicts for a person who knows themselves” (see the entire source from R. Tzaddok, who chose to conceal his extremely profound opinion by scholarly debate and many references. In contrast, see Rabbi Y. Hankin’s article , REFER TO TITLE, Dayot no. 3, Feb. 1999, p. 15. He understands this issue differently than R. Tzaddok, seeing it as erotic indifference, which he also attributes to other authorities such as the Ritva and the Maharshal. The truth is that a simple study of their words shows that it is entirely unnecessary to understand them in this fashion. R. Tzaddok’s interpretation is much more complex.

33. R. Wolf of Zhitomer, a student of the Maggid of Mezeritch, in his work Or Hamaier, p. 16. For the expression “most beautiful among women,” see Song of Songs 1:8; 5:9; 6:1. This could be explained in the tradition of the Hassidic contemplative schools as follows: The Shekhinah is the element of beauty that is found amongst women. See also M. Idel, “The Beauty of Woman,” REFERENCE

We will later discuss the story of R. Akiva and the wife of Turnus Rufus, who became R. Akiva’s second wife (see B.Avodah Zarah 20a). According to Lurianic Kabbalah, R. Akiva’s first wife, who was named Rachel, was part of the Eve matrix, while the seductive Roman wife is part, of course, of the mystery of Lilith.

34. Sefer Haredim, entry 99. See also entry 98. The obligation to have sexual relations is derived in the Talmud from the word “times” in Ex. 21:10. See also Shulhan Arukh, Even HaEzer, No. 76, par. 1: “What are her times? Every man is obligated (to have sexual relations) at certain times according to his strength and according to his profession.” “The times for sages” is a talmudic expression which, in its original usage, referred to the frequency recommended for sexual relations between sages and their wives. As the Shulhan Arukh stipulates (there): ‘The time for Sages is once a week, and it is their custom to have sex every Friday night.:

5. Azcari’s use of the word “times” signifies that when one is obligated to be with the first wife, i.e. the Torah, then the “times” are observed intellectually, as spiritual union. Kissing is used as a metaphor for such spiritual union with the Torah. There may also be a sense that the mouth, the bodily organ which is used for study, is also responsible for union.

“The living organ” is the name used to describe the erect male penis in Jewish sources. The source is from Yahel Or, the Gaon of Vilna’s commentary on the Zohar (Vilna 5673, p. 18, column 2). See also Y. Liebes, “On Sabbateaism and its Kabbalah,” p. 351, footnote 202. The importance of this is its surprising similarity to the comment of the Maggid of Mezretch on the swaying movements of the body during religious practice, which he compares to mating with the Shechina. See also Liebes ibid. p. 99, and O. Ezrahi, “The Two Cherubs,” footnote 154.

36. As it says in Sefer Hasidim: “‘To love God’ (means) that the soul becomes full of love, and that love is connected to joy, and that joy chases away from his heart the pleasantries of the body and the pleasures of the world. And that joy is so strong and overpowering, that even (the pleasure of) a young man who has not been with his wife for many days, and is full of desire, and has intense gratification when he shoots out his seed like an arrow, is as nothing compared to the intensity of the power of the joy of the love of God.” Sefer Hasidim, No. 300

37. For a survey of the textual traditions, see David Goldblatt, “the Beruriah Traditions,” Journal of Jewish Studies 26 (1975), 68-86.

38. B. Eruvin 53b. The quote from the sages is from M. Avot 1:5, repeated in B. Nedarim 20a.

39. B. Pesahim 62b

40. Rashi on B.Avodah Zarah 18b; the tradition in question is from B. Kiddushin 80a.

41. See Rachel Adler, “The Virgin in the Brothel and Other Anomalies: Character and Context in the Legend of Beruriah,” Tikkun, vol. 3, no. 6, 28-32, 102-05.

42. A parallel Roman story about the stoic philosopher Secundus testing his mother’s virtue was in circulation in various European and Middle Eastern languages. For a description of this and other tales of faithful men and faithless wives, some couched, like this one, as a “chastity wager,” see Haim Schwartzbaum, Studies in Aggadah and Jewish Folklore (Jerusalem, 1983), 66-71, n. 38.

43. Sha’ar Hakavanot – Drushei HaAmidah (the second discourse, commentary on the word Eloheinu). In spite of what we said here, as is often the case with Lurianic Kabbalah, this rule concerning the weak mind of women is occasionally applicable to other partzufim which are expressions of the feminine, such as Supernal Mother: “During the repetition of the silent Prayer, they both (Ze’eir Anpin and Nukva) ascend into the sefirah of Binah in Imma, but not into her Da’at….the reason being that women’s minds (da’at) are weak and therefore bereft of da’at and they can therefore only ascend into the binah of Imma, as she comes from the sefirah of Gevurah of Arikh Anpin, as is well known” (Sha’ar HaKavannot – Drushei Rosh Hashanah, discourse 5).

44. Toldot Yaakov Yosef, Deut.; Keter Shem Tov 6; Sippurey Tzaddikim, Levov 5628, 11; Midrash Rivash Tov, vol. 1, 77.

45. We heard this interpretation from R. Yitzhak Ginsburg.

46. “Displeasing to the LORD” – like the evil of Onan, who spilled his seed. As it says concerning Onan, “and He took his life also” – the death of Onan was like the death of Er. And why did Er destroy his seed? So that she (Tamar) would not get pregnant, which might destroy her beauty.” Rashi, based on B. Yevamot 34b. In Jewish tradition, spilling seed is therefore associated with Er as it is with Onan (the source of the word “onanism,” which is also the word for masturbation in modern Hebrew).

47. Mei Hashiloah, volume one, parshat Vayeshev, source beginning with the words “Vayehi Er,” commenting on Rashi, ad locem, cited above.

48. On the connection between completing or not completing the act and prostitution, consider the Hebrew word gomer (finishes, stops) as the highly symbolic name of the prostitute that God commands the prophet Hosea to marry. This was a symbol of how Israel had been unfaithful to her husband, God, and the Midrash has a very apt comment on this incident: “The Holy One, blessed be He, said, What should I do with this old man? I will tell him to marry a prostitute who will bear him children of prostitutes, and then I will tell him to send her away. If he actually sends her away, I too will drive Israel away. Immediately (it says) “the LORD said to Hosea, Go and take a wife of whoredom and children of whoredom… So he went and married Gomer the daughter of Diblaim” (Hos. 1:2-3). Why was she called Gomer? Rav said, Because everyone finished (came) in her. “Bat Divlaim” – wicked slander (dibah) the daughter of wicked slander. Shumel said, Because everyone plowed her like a ?. R. Yohanan said, Because she was sweet to everyone like a cluster of figs (d’vila). (Yalkut Shimoni, Hosea 1, entry 515).

49. C. G. Jung has supplied us with an excellent example of this in his autobiography. He describes a series of experiences occurring deep within his unconscious, events that were so powerful that they threatened his very sanity. In order to enable himself to penetrate to the depths of his unconscious without being damaged, he had to establish a few basic, definite truths about himself. See Memories, Dreams, and Reflections, p. 181. REFERENCE: NO RELEVANT QUOTATION APPEARS ON THIS PAGE IN MY EDITION – HL).

50. Evil is ra in Hebrew, which is Er’s name spelled backwards.

51. Mei Hashiloah, volume one, parshat Vayeshev, source beginning with the words “Vayehi Er.”

52. As far as the Mei Hashiloah is concerned, the soul of Er derives directly from the mind of his grandfather Jacob. That which existed in the grandfather’s mind as a thought and state of awareness became transformed into a soul whose saga is realized in his descendants, and brings to the surface that which previously existed only in a latent state in the soul of Jacob. See the remainder of his comments there.


54. Introduction to the Zohar, 1b.

55. Later we quote the Ari who says that God wanted to destroy the partzuf of Rachel after the sin of the Golden Calf, and rebuild the people from Moses’ seed, which belongs to the partzuf of Leah. In light of what we have developed here we can see that the sin of the golden calf can be ascribed to those who are incapable of living with doubt and questions. They are impatient, demand immediate answers, and want to return to the world of certainty as soon as possible. This is a psychological state characteristic of someone who comes from the partzuf of Rachel. This is why God wanted to erase them from the world of Atzilut after the sin of the golden calf. NEED REFERENCE>

56. Based on the verse in Isaiah 40:26: “Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who has created these things” (mi barah eileh). It is interesting to note that the first person in the Tanakh to use the two words “mi eileh” was Esau, when he encountered all of Jacob’s entourage (see Gen. 33:5). There was good reason for people to think that Leah, who comes from the sefirah of Binah, the place where the unknown can be studied, was right for Esau. He too asks, “who are these?,” while Jacob, at least until he is healed, is frightened of questions. Looking for definite answers, he prefers Rachel’s beauty.

57. See the Introduction to the Zohar, 1b

58. In Lurianic kabbalah, this tefillin is worn by the Ze’eir Anpin partzuf. This means that Leah, the aspect of the female experience that is connected to the female image of the mother (malkhut d’Imma), is present in the consciousness of the maturing son (da’at d’Ze’eir Anpin). As R. Chaim Vital explains:

But Leah is the concealed world (alma d’itcasya), as we have explained, which is the image of the Dalet in the knot of the head Tefillin. …since Leah emerged from the back of Ze’eir Anpin, i.e. from the malkhut of Imma which is in the Da’at of Ze’eir Anpin, this being the mystery of the (letter) dalet that is in the knot of the head tefillin

(Etz Hayyim, gate 38, chapter 2, second edition).

In the Sha’ar HaKavannot, four reasons for Leah being the secret of the letter dalet are presented: “[1] For this reason also she is called dalet: Since she emerges from in back of the four minds of Za’ir Anpin, which are four sections from the Torah (which are placed) in his head tfillin. [2] She is also called dalet because she is poor and destitute (dalat in Hebrew means the poor one), since she represents powerful judgment (dinin takifin), as she is the backside of Supernal Mother. [3] She is also called poor and destitute since she is not an entire partzuf like Rachel is, as she is only skin, being the mystery of the knot of the head tefillin, as previously mentioned. [4] This is also the reason that she is the large dalet (of the word echad, the last word of the shma). This is because the entire alphabet of the large letters (referring to all the enlarged letters that appear in the Tanach, e.g. the enlarged dalet in the word echad) is in Imma Ila’ah, and Leah is the backside of Emma Ila’ah, so she is therefore the large dalet.” Sha’ar HaKavannot, Discourses on the Kavannot of Kriyat Shma, Discourse no. 6, on the meaning of the word echad.

In Lurianic Kabbalah – Leah is only leather, skin, while Rachel has mohin – minds, a box full of sections of the Torah. At first glance, it would seem that Rachel has an intellectual advantage over Leah, but a closer reading of R. Hayyim Vital’s comments leads one to arrive at the opposite conclusion. R. Hayyim Vital deals with the difference between Rachel and Leah, in which Leah is considered to be “nothing more than skin:” “I have already told you about the two wives of Ze’eir Anpin, Leah and Rachel. Rachel was his true soul mate, because she is the mainstay of the house, the tenth of the ten sfirot of Atzilut. It therefore says that “Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah,” since Leah comes from the back of Malkhut of Imma, which fell together with Jacob, at the time of the Death of the Kings. And she is not really Ze’eir Anpin’s wife, only temporarily, like something borrowed. I have also told you that Leah does not take light for her mohin from the mohin of Ze’eir Anpin themselves, but rather from their garments, which are the (sefirot of) Netzah, Hod and Yesod of (partzuf) Imma. She is therefore the knot of the head tefillin, which is only leather, and she has no real portions of the Torah, as does Rachel, who is called the tefillin of the arm, and takes actual lights of mohin. Therefore, everywhere that it says leather refers to Leah, and in the Sha’ar Ruah HaKodesh I pointed this out on the verse “and after my skin is torn from this (my body)” REF, how the lights that go out to Leah have the same numerical value as the word or (=276)” (R. Hayyim Vital, Sha’ar HaPesukim, the Book of Job). Rachel does, in fact, get mohin, but they are the mohin of Ze’eir Anpin. The mohin of Ze’eir Anpin represent what he thinks, and what he thinks is that Rachel and everything she represents, is the right woman for him. This is why he loves her, because she is the housewife. Rachel’s mohin are indeed mohin, but they are mohin placed as tefillin on the arm, facing the heart, not the mind. In other words, Rachel’s mohin are both more pragmatic and more emotional. She is the housewife, so her wisdom is the wisdom of women, a practical wisdom that is part of her function as a woman according to the standards acceptable to Jacob, standards that do not threaten him. Leah may not be so practical (remember that her feet do not touch the “ground” of the World of Atzilut). She is positioned on a plane with the head of Ze’eir Anpin, tied to the thinking side itself, not only to its pragmatic side. Jacob, however, who is Ze’eir Anpin, does not make space for such a woman, so she cannot be his mohin, i.e. be his tefillin box. In spite of this, and possibly because of this, Leah receives her lights from the deep impression left in the soul of Ze’eir Anpin by the garments of his mohin, which he received from the partzuf of Imma-Binah. The concept of an educated, spiritual woman exists in his soul as a sort of inheritance received from above, from his mother (Rebecca), but these concepts only encase his own understanding, and he cannot accept them. It is equally difficult for him to accept Leah as a soul mate before he attains the level of Israel. (“The back of Malkhut of Imma, which fell together with Jacob, at the time of the Death of the Kings” refers to what Ze’eir Anpin can conceive of the ceaseless coupling of Abba and Emma. He understands what relates to him. The Death of the Kings, which is the mythic name for the breaking of the vessels in Lurianic Kabbalah, is sometimes in a person’s adolescent traumas. In Jacob’s biography this took place when he left his parent’s home and went to Aram Naharayim, to the house of Lavan HaArami. He leaves his mother Rebecca in a physical sense, but her character is deeply engraved in his soul print, as the archetype of the Great Mother. This archetypal engraving was earlier called the “back.” For a more extensive discussion of how Leah becomes the secret of the knot of the head tefillin, see Etz Hayyim, Sha’ar HaKlallim, chapter 12.

59. B. Berachot 6a: “R. Yitzhak said: How do we know that the Holy One, blessed be He, puts on Tefillin? As it says, ‘God has sworn by His right hand and the arm of His strength’ (REF). – ‘by His right hand’ – this is the Torah, as it says ‘From His right hand a fiery law was given to us’ (Deut. 33:2) and the arm of his strength – this is Tefillin, as it says ‘God will give strength to His people’ (Ps. 29:11)…R. Nahman bar Yitzhak said to R. Hiyya bar Avin, Those tefillin of the Master of the World, what is written in them? He answered him, ‘And who is like Your people Israel, one nation on earth II Sam. 7: 23)?'”

60. B. Menahot 35b. The rest of the quotation is also very interesting: “R. Yehuda said, The knot of the tefillin should be high up in order that Israel be above rather than below, and it should be towards the face, in order that Israel should be towards the face, not the back.” The parallel between the knot of the tefillin and the situation of Israel is evident from this comment, and it will suffice to say that the entire feminine partzuf, which includes both Rachel and Leah, is the partzuf of the Shekhinah, which is also called K’nesset Yisrael, the “congregation of Israel.” But what is the intention of the directive that this knot should be towards the face in order that Israel be towards the face rather than the back? Rashi, too, has some difficulty in explaining this, and suggests two ways of understanding it: “Towards the face – in the back of the neck, not on either side of the head. Another way of understanding: Towards the face – that the actual knot be inside and the shape of the dalet outside, as they said, ‘and their beauty shall be outside’ (REF). It is still rather difficult to understand the usage of front and back when describing Israel’s situation.

61. R. Isaac of Homil, the greatest thinker of the early masters of Habad Hasidut, points out in his book Hanah Ariel (Vayikra, 2a) that Moses’s personality had a definite effect on the Torah that he brought down from heaven. He comments on the following Midrash: “‘Write for you’ (Ex. 34:1; Deut. 10:1) – the ministering angels began to say to the Holy One blessed be He, You have given Moses permission to write whatever he wants! Because he will say to Israel, I have given you the Torah, I have written it and given it to you! God said to him, God forbid that Moses would do such a thing, and even if he were to do so, he is trustworthy, as it says, ‘Not so my servant Moses, in all my house he is faithful’ (Numb. 12:7). R. Isaac, who relies on an early Kabbalistic tract, the Sefer HaTemunah, explains why the Torah is called Torat Moshe (the Torah of Moses), even though the Rabbis said that ‘whoever says that even one verse of the Torah was written by Moses is a non-believer’ (REF). R. Isaac explains, “as it says in the Sefer HaTemunah, whatever God actually said to Moses cannot be fathomed by any living creature.” R. Isaac compares this to a minister in the king’s court, who has a much deeper understanding of the king’s intentions than do the other citizens, so he takes care of the country’s needs according to his understanding of the king’s will, even though the king did not go into the specific details of how he wants everything done. In order to explain the Midrash’s meaning when it says that, even if Moses were to have written ‘whatever he wants,’ it would have been fine with God, R. Isaac says: “even if (Moses’s) nature and inner order would have influenced him in any matter – he is still trustworthy, because the inner supreme will be actualized through his words, as is known concerning the matter of ‘both these and these are the words of the living God…’ (REF). The reader will note that R. Isaac is here minimizing the traditional gap between the Oral Torah and the Written Torah.

62. See illustration #REF and our discussion there.

63. Etz Hayyim, gate 38, chap. 2, second edition. According to the Talmud (B. Rosh Hashana 21b, B. Nedarim 38a), “Fifty gates of Understanding (Binah) were created in the world, and all of them were given to Moses except one, as it says, ‘You have made him a little les than divine’ (Ps. 8:6).”

R. Hayyim Vital’s words are a combination of two rabbinic sources: The first, from which the style is taken, is Y. Shabbat, 8b: “R. Yitzhak bar Elazar said: Just as wisdom (not fear) becomes a crown for her head, so humility becomes a heel for her sandal, as it says; ‘The beginning of wisdom is the fear of God’ (Ps. 111:10).. And it is also written: ‘The effect of humility is fear of the LORD’ (Prov. 22:4). See also Shir Hashirim Rabbah 1, 9. The second source, Tanhuma Bereshit REF?a, is the origin of at least some of the text, although it may be taken in the opposite sense: “….that the Torah’s sandal is humility and its crown is fear. Its sandal is humility as it says, ‘The effect of humility is fear of the LORD’ (Proverbs 22:4). And its crown is fear as it says, ‘The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the LORD” (Ps. 111:10). Both are attributed to Moses, as it says, ‘Now Moses was a very humble man’ (Num. 12:3). Fear as it says, ‘For he was afraid to look at God'” (Ex. 3:5).

64. Etz Hayyim, gate 38, chap. 2, second edition

65. Liqutey Moharan, first edition, 147, citing B. Sotah49b.

66. “And know, that our teacher Moses, of blessed memory, about whom it says in the Zohar that he reached the level of Binah, is from this Leah, which comes from the Malkhut of Binah and becomes the dalet, the knot of the Tfillin. And this is the mystery of ‘and you will see My back’ (Exod. 33:23), as the Rabbis said in the Talmud: ‘This teaches us that he showed him the knot of the eefillin.’ It also means to say, that Leah, whose place is where the knot of the tefillin is, sees the back of Ze’eir Anpin, since she stands with her face towards the back of Ze’eir Anpin, as we explained earlier. And Moses is therefore in Leah, as it says, “and you will see My back,” and this is understood (Etz Hayyim, gate 38, chap. 2, second edition). The meaning is that since Leah is positioned in a manner that does not allow her to see the face and only the back, and since Moses is part of this aspect of Leah, it is evident that he too only sees the back, and not the face.

67. Tiquney Zohar, 29b?. REF

68. R. Hayyim Vital is quoting B. Berachot 7a. “And R. Yohanan said in the name of R. Yossi: God does not take back any word that left His mouth with good intention, even if it was conditional. How do we know this? From Moses, as it says, ‘Leave Me alone, and I will destroy them, etc., and I will make you into a great nation.’ Even though Moses beseeched God (to forgive the people) and the decree was annulled, (God’s original intention) was still realized through Moses’s children, as it says (I Chron. 23:17), ‘The sons of Moses were Gershom and Eliezer, and the sons of Eliezer were Rehavya, the chief, etc., and the sons of Rehavya were very many,’ and R. Yosef said, More than six hundred thousand.

69. Etz Hayyim, gate 38, chap. 6, second edition. Until this juncture, Leah was only one point, the malkhut of Tvunah.

70. Zohar, Introduction to Bereshit, 2b. See our discussion above.

71. Divrei Sofrim – Liqutey Amarim, at the completion of the Shas, beginning with the words “v’yadua.” This is based on Shemot Rabba 42, 5: “And God said, I have certainly seen (Heb. ra’oh ra’iti) – God said to Moses, You see one seeing, and I see two seeings. You see them coming to Sinai and receiving My Torah, and I see that, after I came to Sinai to give them the Torah, and after I retun to My four beast chariot, they contemplate it and delete one of them and this angers Me, as it says ‘each of the four had the face of an ox on the left’ (Ez 1:10) and they anger Me through it, as it says, “And they exchanged their glory for the image of a bull” (Ps. 106: 20). R. Tzadok is reversing the import of the source concerning ox-like observance of the commandments. According to B. Avodah Zarah 5b: “It is taught from the House of Elijah: A person should always be towards the Torah as an ox to the yoke and an ass to its load.”


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