Man initiates, woman completes

Man and Woman

As part of my studies in Jewish law and the writing of ‘Peninei Halakha’ [Rabbi Melamed’s highly popular series of books on Jewish law, Ed.], I am presently engaged in the laws of marital relations, and thought to share with my readers some general ideas concerning relationships between man and woman in Jewish law and thought. I am still debating whether to include them in my next book, for I have doubts whether it is fitting to expand on philosophical ideas in a book dealing with halakha. Perhaps some of my readers can offer advice.

Questions frequently asked are: Why does the Torah give preferential status to the man? Why does the man mikadesh (sanctify, or designate) his wife, and is also the one who divorces? And why does halakha place the obligation of fulfilling the mitzvah of onah (conjugal relations) and puru u’revuru (procreation) on the man, and not on the woman?

The Foundation of Marital Relationship in the Torah

The foundation of the relationship between man and woman was determined at the time of creation, as the Torah states: “God [thus] created man with His image. In the image of God, He created him, male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27). Hence, the complete person created in God’s image was both male and female together.

After the first, general description of man’s creation, the Torah goes on to explain that in the beginning, man was created individually, comprised of two partzufim (literally, “faces”, or Divine personae) – one of a man, and the other of a woman. This is what differentiated man from all other living creatures, who were created male and female from the outset, whereas man alone was created individually.

This person consisting of two faces was called Adam Ha’Rishon (the first man); it was he who was commanded to perfect and guard the world – “to till it and keep it”, and was the one who gave names to all the creatures.

God waited until man felt the grief of his loneliness and realized that it was not good for him to be alone, and in response, made him fall into a deep state of unconsciousness – “He took one of his ribs (in Hebrew tzelotav, or ‘his side’) and closed the flesh in its place. God built the rib that he took from the man into a woman, and He brought her to the man” (Genesis 2:21-22).

The Hebrew Word ‘tzela’ means ‘Side’

The translation of the Hebrew word tzela is ‘side’, comparable to tzela ha’mishkan, which means ‘one of the sides of the sanctuary’. So when God took one of man’s “ribs”, as it is often translated, it means He took one of his two sides. At first, the male and female were almost completely formed, but they were connected back-to-back, with the male partzuf more prominent (see, Eruvin 18a).

In the Revealed Order, Man Takes Precedence in Mutual Mitzvoth

Although all the merits and mitzvoth of marriage are shared jointly by both husband and wife, man was given the duty to initiate the relationship. The basis for this stems from what we have learned in regards to Adam Ha’Rishon, that when comprised of two ‘faces’, the male ‘face’ was more evident, while the female ‘face’ was hidden. Consequently, upon separation, the initial self-awareness of Adam Ha’Rishon remained in the male; as a result, he was the one who felt the misery of being alone, he was the one who realized the female had been separated from him, and he was the one who said: “Now this is bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh. She shall be called woman (ishah) because she was taken from man (ish)” (Genesis 2:23).

The First Stage in Relationships

A similar phenomenon to that of Adam Ha’rishon occurs in all relationships. In their heavenly roots, a couple’s souls are connected; in the process of descending to the world, the female soul is separated from the male, with the sense of initial self-awareness remaining more with the male. Consequently, it is usually the male who feels a stronger and more assertive urge to connect with his estranged spouse, analogous to “a man searching for a lost article” (Kiddushin 2b).

Therefore, the Torah imposed upon the man the duty and responsibility to court his partner to marriage, and it is his obligation to sanctify her as his wife, to bring her under the wedding canopy, and initiate conjugal relations to fulfill the mitzvah of procreation.

Since the responsibility to initiate the relationship is placed on the man, the merits of marriage are usually mentioned in the masculine form in order to make clear to man the importance of marriage – to encourage him to take the task upon himself, to court his partner, and sanctify her as his wife. This is what our Sages meant when they said: “Any man who has no wife is not a proper man” (Yevamot 63a). They also said: “Any man who has no wife lives without joy, without blessing, without goodness, without Torah, without a [protecting] wall, without peace” (Yevamot 62b).

Male Characteristics

Man possesses the characteristic of being focused, ignoring everything going on around him, and concentrating his energies completely on one goal. This feature is what leads young men to vigorously pursue their partner, overcome difficulties, and persist until the woman agrees to marry him. This attribute is also fitting for soldiers, or someone who must devote himself to work. Therefore, it is the man who sanctifies his wife.

The Second Stage of the Woman

Following each man-initiated stage, the woman – through acceptance of her husband – deepens and perfects their relationship, and raises it to a higher level. Upon examination, we find that man’s strength lies in initiating matters, breaking through, courting his partner, and sanctifying her in marriage. Frequently, however, after achieving their goal of marrying, men lose interest in attaining a complete, emotional connection; with all their focus on getting married, they fail to prepare themselves properly for all the challenges marriage entails. At that point, the women’s strength – her ability to deepen and broaden their emotional connection – appears. But in order for her to accomplish this, her husband must be at home. Therefore, a man is commanded to please his wife in their first year of marriage, as the Torah says: “When a man takes a new bride, he shall not enter military service or be assigned to any associated duty. He must remain free for his family for one year, when he can rejoice with his bride” (Deuteronomy 24:5). During this time the woman, the nucleus of the house, builds, nurtures, and unifies their marital relationship.

This is also true in regards to the mitzvah of procreation – it is the woman who nurtures the baby in her womb, and during that time, women are inclined to make a greater effort to strengthen and deepen their relationship with their husbands.

Revealed and Hidden Sides

From a revealed aspect man comes first – he is the leader, and consequently, the one to initiate the relationship. On the other hand, seeing as man is considered the successor of Adam Ha’Rishon, and woman the successor of Chava, from a certain aspect, women are on a higher level, given that the material from which man was created was dust from the ground, as the Torah says: “God formed man out of the dust of the ground” (Genesis 2:7), while woman was created from man, as it is written: “He took one of his ribs”. In other words, the creation of woman was an additional stage of development. Moreover, God formed woman in a special way in order to beautify her, as it is written: “God built the rib He took from the man into a woman”, and thus, woman was created with additional beauty (Eruvin 18a).

Man’s strengths are more revealed and external, whereas woman’s strengths are hidden and internal. The world functions in such a way that at first, the external side is revealed, and afterwards, the internal. Therefore initially, man’s status is higher – he courts his partner, sanctifies her, and is awakened to the mitzvoth of conjugal relations and having children. Over the years, however, thanks to the female virtue allowing her to absorb her husband’s initiatives and turn them into something complete, the status of women within the family advances , to the point where upon closer investigation, many times we find that her influence is greater than that of man.

Woman’s Cooperation in the First Stage

If we delve further, we find that in the same way as the man participates in the second stage in which the woman sets the foundations of the family, in a hidden manner, the woman also motivates the first stage. True, the visible romancing is performed by the man, but the very beauty and goodness of the woman draws him to pursue her. Indeed, the husband sanctifies his wife, but the woman’s deep desire to create a relationship and family leads him to this. There are even cases in which a man desires intimate contact with a woman without any long-term commitments, and only because she refuses to do so without a marriage contract, he marries her.

God willing, in my next article, I will continue delving into these concepts, and clarify the predetermined process in which man’s status is initially higher, but over the span of time, the status of women rises. Such is the historical process – from the low point following the sin of Adam Ha’Rishon until Olam Ha’ba (the World to Come) where the status of women will be higher than that of man’s. This is also a microcosm of the married-life of each and every couple.

This article was translated from Hebrew.

About the Author
Rabbi Eliezer Melamed; The writer is Head of Yeshivat Har Bracha and a prolific author on Jewish Law, whose works include the series on Jewish law "Pininei Halacha" and a popular weekly column "Revivim" in the Besheva newspaper; His books "The Laws of Prayer" "The Laws of Passover" and "Nation, Land, Army" are presently being translated into English; Other articles by Rabbi Melamed can be viewed at:
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