Women & Judaism

The Status of a Woman According to Kabbalah

According to Kabbalah, the woman corresponds to the tenth Sphere – the Sphere of Malchut (royalty). This Sphere belongs to the divine Presence as well as the letter “Hey” which is the last letter in the name of G-d (Havayah). And all of these correspond to the world of Asiya – one of the four worlds represented in the hierarchy of the worlds known as ‘A-B-Y-A.

All of these receive their light and abundance from the realm situated above them. The same goes for the Sphere of Malchut – this Sphere receives its light from the upper Spheres as does the world of Asiya (corresponding to the last “Hey”), which receives its abundance from the worlds above it (corresponding to the rest of the letters represented by the Name, Havayah).

And even though each Sphere and each world receives its light from the Spheres and worlds above it, receiving it and transferring it onwards, this is not the case with the Sphere of Malchut and the world of Asiya, as they are the last ones in line and have nowhere to transfer to. Therefore, they possess the quality of ‘receivers’.

However, each world is composed of the four worlds and ten Spheres, and is engendered by the Sphere of Malchut and the world of Asiya situated at the base of the world above it. For example, the world of Briah is engendered by the world of Asiya and by the Sphere of Malchut which comes from the world of Atzilut above it. The same goes for each one of the worlds. So here we find that Asiya and Malchut have the quality of adama (earth), receiving its water supply from the upper atmosphere, then sprouting and generating. Therefore, the upper atmosphere is the giver and the earth is the receiver. One is male and the other female – this is the deeper meaning of the term ‘mother earth’.

And this is the secret behind the verse, Lshem yichud kudsha brich hu ushchintei,

For the sake of the unification of the Holy One and the divine Presence, which is customarily recited after the prayer service and before the performance of a mitzvah. By the Holy One drawing down (this is alluded to in the first letters of the Name Havayah, refer to the words of Rashbi in Ptichat Eliyahu) abundance towards the property of the divine Presence and combining the letters of the Name Havayah, the completion of the good abundance will be formed.

Therefore, the woman has the property of the divine Presence – as the Amora, Rav Yosef used to say when he would hear the footsteps of his mother nearing: “I shall rise before the divine Presence that is approaching”.[1]

And since the root of the woman lies in the Sphere of Malchut which corresponds to the letter “Hey”, containing the source of blessing for a good livelihood, he who honors his wife with kind words, clothing and jewelry, and is sensitive to her feelings, opens for himself gates of blessing and an abundance of earnings. After all, by honoring her he is not honoring the body that’s standing beside him – as the body is merely an encasing. Rather, he honors her soul, which is the main essence of the person. And when he respects the soul as being from the Sphere of Malchut, he draws down an abundance of blessing from the source of all blessings and therefore becomes wealthy. And this is the secret of the Divrey Rabbah who used to say to the Bnei Machuzah: “Cherish your wives so that you may be enriched”. 

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The world of Asiya possesses another great power. After it receives its energy from the worlds above it, any action performed in it by man, goes back and influences the upper worlds again either for the good, or G-d forbid for the bad, at which point the abundance returns again according to the deeds of the people.

Therefore, the female, whose root lies in the Sphere of Malchut, receives from the male in the same way the earth receives and sprouts – and only she has the ability to form and build a complete man.

This is the secret behind the letter “Yod” that’s in the word Ish (man) (in addition to the word Esh [fire] which corresponds to the ‘human’ in the four elements; fire, wind, water, and earth corresponding to the human, animate, plant, and inanimate) which is the spiritual letter in the property of shamayim (heavens), and the secret behind the letter “Hey” in the word Isha (woman) which has the property of earth; hence the world of Asiya. The heavens provide water down to earth allowing the earth to sprout.

And indeed, the letter “Hey” is the letter of procreation, the power to give birth and the actualization of potential. And just as G-d said to Avraham:[2]

As for Sarai your wife do not call her name Sarai, for Sarah is her name. I will bless her indeed, I will give you a son through her(refer to the book Hatzofen, on the letter “Hey” for a more detailed explanation).

This is why the man is commanded to schedule times for the study of Torah on a daily basis (as the word Ish, [man] has the letter “Yod” in it corresponding to spirituality) while the woman is only obligated to study ethics and Jewish law so she will know how to conduct herself (as she has the letter “Hey” [Isha] which corresponds to practicality). But she is not obligated to study Torah everyday.

In addition, the male possesses the attribute of kindness (right side), while the female is Judgment (left side. The progression of the differences between the spiritual and the physical is expressed through the human brain. It’s been shown in recent studies that the left lobe of the brain is more developed in the woman while the right lobe is more developed in the man[3]). But it seems baffling that the man who is more aggressive and bold than the woman possesses the quality of kindness while the soft-natured, delicate woman is judgment.

However, as we know, the attribute of judgment inhibits the kindness from overflowing. This inhibition is important and beneficial, because without it the attribute of kindness alone would have destroyed the world. This is analogous to a father who walks through the door and his son says: “Dad, can I go to my friend’s house?” or “Dad, can I take a snack from the cupboard?” and the father, whose root is kindness will reply without hesitation and say: “Yes!” But then the mother begins to shout: “What do you mean ‘yes’??? Do you even know which friend he wants to go to? This friend is a bad influence!” or, “He already had a few snacks before, too many will hurt him!”

The mother is the attribute of judgment that inhibits the kindness for the sake of the child.

Therefore, we can often see how some men become so involved in helping their friends that they forget about the house and kids. The phone may suddenly ring and the wife’s voice is heard: “Where are you? It’s late! Come home already”. She is the barrier that stops the kindness that can otherwise easily overflow because the man feels obligated to help or because of his strong desire to help. This is the secret behind the words of our sages in the Talmud:[4]

“A man without a woman is a man without a wall”. This is besides for the protection she provides against outside temptations that may cause him to stumble upon grave sins.

The concept of the woman being a wall and a receiver is alluded to in the word nekeva (female). It comes from the word nekev, meaning a round hole. While the word zachar (male) comes from the words chetz mizdaker a prominent arrow, whose root originates above in the heights of the great heavens in the spiritual worlds and ends down below in the form of microscopic sperm cells.

The attribute of judgment however, must be moderate and not extreme, as that will cause breakdowns, rebelliousness, suffering, and complete paralysis. Therefore, it is perfectly fitting for the soft-natured woman to possess the quality of judgment and for the aggressive man to possess the attribute of kindness. Just as our sages have said:[5]

“The left side must always reject while the right side must always draw near”.[6] As we’ve said, the left side is the side of judgment but is weaker, while the right side is the side of kindness and is stronger. If the man were to possess the root of judgment and the woman the root of kindness, the attribute of judgment and limitation would work so intensely that it would be impossible to withstand.[7]

From this point it is clear that the provider, whose essence lies in the letter “Yod”, must utilize the system involving the many spiritual tools in order to delegate, create, and formulate the active abundance in the spiritual realm and the physical world as well, while the receiving part – the one who processes, carries out and sprouts, needs fewer tools. This is in addition to the fact that he who was created tougher (as the provider), needs to be refined by means of the mitzvoth that will help him achieve the ultimate perfection, whereas, the one who was created in a more delicate manner (as she is the receiver), requires a small set of spiritual tools to help her achieve the ultimate perfection.

This is analogous to a king who goes out on an exhausting hunting expedition. Upon his return to the palace with the deer that he hunted, the queen simply koshers and prepares them for eating. The king needs horses, guards, hunting equipment and wide ranging forests while his wife needs only a few modest pieces of equipment and a decent sized kitchen.

By the way, it should be indicated that according to studies that were conducted about the inner worlds of men vs. women, the reason for the differences noted above is embedded within the roots that correspond to the two of them.

And since a central part of the correction of the world is contingent upon the different times of the day, a man must conduct himself like a soldier with regard to the practical aspects of being the provider, and is obligated to fulfill all the mitzvoth without worrying about the limitations or difficulties concerning time. For example: He must recite the Shemah at the designated time even if he is tired after an exhausting evening, and so on, whereas women are exempt from positive time-bound mitzvoth. A woman is only required to observe the mitzvoth that are fixed, as in, not bound by time, and avoid any of the negative mitzvoth (the ‘do not do’s’), regardless of whether they are bound by time or not.


Notes and Sources

[1] Kiddushin 31b

[2] Bereishit 17:15

[3] One of the studies was briefly discussed above in the research summary by Prof. Simon Baron Cohen.

[4] Yevamot 62b

[5] Sottah 47a

[6] For more on this topic refer to the chapter in this book called “The Approach to Parenting”

[7] For more on this topic refer to the book, Hatzofen in the chapter entitled, “The Structure of the Spheres and the Progression of the Worlds” p.334

Adapted from “The Keys to Life” by Rabbi Zamir Cohen

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