| Jews are from Sinai, not Mars
or Venus Dr. Yisroel Susskind, Pittsburgh
WHAT does Torah teach us about the inherent differences between men
and women? An answer to this question can be found in our preparations
for the Shavuos Holiday.
Before Passover, we go to great lengths
to rid our homes of even the minutest traces of fermented materials or "chometz".
Chometz is symbolic of negative characteristics in general, and, more specifically,
of the prototypic and primordial personality defect, namely arrogance.
parallel fashion we are expected, during the seven weeks from Passover to
Shavuos, to do extensive internal housecleaning in our hearts and minds.
For 49 days we count the "omer", that is we number of days that have passed
from the second day of Passover, at which time the barley offering was brought
to the temple and the new crop of grain became permitted for use. On each
of those days, we are supposed to refine a particular personality characteristic.
Our goal is to arrive at Shavuos morally improved and advanced, so that we are
ready to receive the Torah.
How do we know which personality characteristic
to work on each day? And if men and women are different, do men and
women work on the same set of characteristics? To answer those questions,
I will need to ask you to bear with me in the next three paragraphs, as
I summarize a little bit of terminology from Jewish mysticism or "Kaballah".
We will attempt to demonstrate that Judaism asks each of us to be multifaceted
rather than uni-modal in our emotional repetoire. In particular, Jewish
philosophy advises each of us to draw on the advantages of both the feminine
and the masculine aspects of our soul.
Torah explains the structure of
our personalities, and in fact of the entire world, by describing the 10 basic,
elemental building blocks through which G-D creates the world. These
building blocks are "emanations" from G-D, or "sefirot". Just
as a physicist would describe aspects of the manifest material world in
terms of protons and electrons, Torah describes the ultimate structure in
terms of sefirot. There are seven sefirot that are immediately relevant
to our personality traits. For example, one of the sefirot, "chesed",
is characterized by gentleness and receptivity, while another, called "gevurah",
is associated with severity and dominance.
On each of the 49 "days of the omer",
we refine the personality trait represented by the interinclusion of two
of these sefirot. Since there are seven emotional sefirot, we can generate
49 (or 7 times 7) pairs. Thus, on the eighth day of counting omer,
we refine the personality characteristic represented by the pair "chesed
sheh-b'gevurah", that is " kindness that is in severity." What
might that pair mean? Well, there are times when we must be demanding of
someone, for example when we set limits on our teen age children; nonetheless,
we need to do so without anger, while simultaneously being in touch with
our love for our children, and while attempting to convey that love in our
words and tone, even though our actions may appear severe and controlling.
does Torah have us work on these characteristics in pairs? Wouldn't it be
more efficient to work separately on each of the pure, unalloyed seven sefirot?
Torah answers that any characteristic that appears in extreme form, unmodified
and unmitigated by any other of the sefirot, belongs to "the world of chaos"
and not to "the world of order". By way of analogy, the chemical elements
sodium and chlorine, when they are in their pure form, are extremely unstable
and toxic. However, when they combine as sodium chloride, or table salt,
they become a stable ingredient that is necessary for human survival. In
the realm of personality, it can be harmful when a person is always gentle; sometimes
love requires that we honestly confront the person we love. Similarly,
it is harmful if a person is always critical, under the guise of wanting to bring
out the best in others.
Let us know return to our original question: What does
Torah teach us about the differences between men and women?
states that there are clear, inherent differences between the masculine
and feminine forces of the universe. For example, the feminine forces have
more of a connection to G-D through profound faith that is beyond rationality,
that is trans-rational. In comparison, the masculine forces achieve
more of their connection to G-D through rationality and flashes of insight; the
experience of ecstatic insight in learning Torah ultimately leads men to mystical
faith. Endurance and breadth are characteristic of the feminine forces,
while intensity and focus are masculine. In computer terminology,
parallel processing is feminine, whereas serial processing is masculine.
In football, the wide receiver is feminine, while the quarterback is masculine.
The transcendental number pi is feminine, while logarithms are masculine.
Analog is feminine, while digital is masculine. My favorite metaphor
for the difference is that gravity is a feminine force, while lightning
is a masculine force.
Notice that in the preceding paragraph I used the words
"feminine and masculine forces" rather than "women and men". On the
one hand it is true that a majority of women (but not all women) will tend
to have more of the feminine forces, and a majority of men will show more of the
masculine. And women's special contribution to the world tends to
draw more on the female forces, such as enduring faith and symbolism, while men's
offering draws more on intensity and rationality.
Nonetheless, all of
these characteristics are found in both men and women. Our task as
individuals is not to inflate gender differences, thereby becoming physical or
spiritual Ken and Barbie dolls. Rather, our task is to recognize the clearly
different and complementary contributions of the male and female, while nonetheless
integrating (and pairing) both types of forces within each of us. Torah's
cosmological instruction that the universal forces of male and female need to
be paired is reflected in the physical realm by the commandments that we marry
and have children. Those two commandments are among the very first
to appear in the Torah (Genesis, 1:28 and 2:24), although they are listed
in Maimonides' enumeration of the 613 commandments as # 213 and #212.
does this mean on a practical level? Historically, Jewish men have been
described as gentler and more spiritual than the general male population;
gentleness and spirituality are viewed as more feminine characteristics.
Similarly, Jewish women have been described as more assertive and intellectual
than the general female population; assertiveness and intellectualism are
viewed as more masculine characteristics. Torah assigns women a major
leadership role in the home, not in the rational task of deciding law, but in
the emotional task of setting the spiritual tone for the family. Torah
says that we should be proud of this androgynous pairing of characteristics.
there are those in the general secular culture who mock Jews for those very
androgynous qualities. For example: What is the point of nearly every Jewish
American Princess (JAP) joke? A J.A.P. joke is an anti-semitic
atttack on essential Jewish values, whether told by a Jew or Gentile, whether
by a man or a woman. Those jokes ridicule Jewish men for being too gentle,
in the face of Jewish women who are characterized as too demanding and sexually
non-subservient. The very same pairing of masculine and feminine forces
that have been the pride of the Jewish people is distorted into ugly caricature.
Such jokes can have insidious consequences for young Jews' self-image and behavior.
There are young Jewish males today who are probably less nurturing than
were their fathers, as many have assimilated the values of the majority culture.
They are more likely to admire being physically tough, interpersonally demanding,
and sexually exploitative. The secular general culture characterizes
their gentleness as "being a wuss". Similarly, many young Jewish women
are less trusting of men, less willing to serve the family, because they
distrust that they will be loved and respected for doing so. They
may delay or avoid marriage. Conversely, they may decide that in order
to attract a man they must subdue their intellectual or spiritual powers and hyper-project
their sexual desirability; the secular general culture advises a young woman to
"strut your stuff". The negative stereotyping of the Jewish genders
has contributed to the fact that people will blame their divorce on the
Jewish ethnicity of their ex-spouse. Thus, a significant percentage
of inter-marriage is due to Jews, who have divorced a Jewish spouse, and
go on to look specifically for a non-Jew as their second spouse.
tells us to work at integrating both masculine and feminine forces within ourselves.
At the same time Torah also tells us that there are systematic differences
between men and woman, and, as a consequence, to accept that the genders have
arenas in which their roles are equal in importance but different in substance.
Despite this equality in the male-female partnership, there appears to be an
area in which one gender is superior to the other. That is, the Lubvavitcher
Rebbe has commented that ultimately it is the feminine quality of trans-rational
faith that must guide the masculine quality of rationality. The Rebbe
quotes from Jeremiah's description (31:21) of the Messianic era, during
which "the female forces will be superordinate over the male forces"
("u'nekayvah t'sovev gawver").
It is on Shavuos that we receive G-D's
word and revelation. During the 49 days of the omer, we prepare ourselves
for that revelation by refining our personality traits. These traits are
generated by a pairing of the elemental forces of the universe. One
such pairing is the powerful fusion of female and male forces.
be that we fuse the force of enduring, extensive, female faith with the energy
of immediate, intense male insight, such that we experience a personal,
powerful, emotional connection to G-D, which then elicits G-D's desire to bring
about the Redemption, with the coming of Moshiach, speedily in our day,
Dr. Yisrael Susskind is a Pittsburgh psychologist
(Ph.D., Yale '69) who lectures nationally and who also counsels nationally
over the telephone. His e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org . He is the producer
of Soul and Psyche: Torah insights and family psychology.