Torah’s Ancient Recipe for Political Reconciliation and Marital Bliss
It is a law of nature that opposites attract. Magnetically, positively charged material will fuse to negatively charged material, while two similarly charged substances will not adhere. This law of physics teaches us a profound and essential lesson about our world: that in order to build and grow, we must incorporate opposing forces. From the interaction of thesis and antithesis comes synthesis. Without this dialectic interplay, structures will be weak, lopsided, and will eventually fail.
Yet for some reason there seems to be a neglect (or willful ignorance) of this natural law in many advanced, democratic societies today. We would not expect much free debate and pluralism in the authoritarian regimes that dominate much of the third world. But it is surprising and alarming to see the recent turn toward extreme polarization and illiberalism in advanced societies that have built themselves and prided themselves on democracy and intellectual diversity.
In the United States, Israel, and France, just to name a few, we are witnessing a breakdown in civil discourse and a turn toward political extremism and intolerance. In some circles, ideological diversity is not only no longer valued, but it is demonized. Those with opposing viewpoints are deemed the enemy, and they are shouted down rather than allowed to present their alternate point of view. How long is it before political foes are not merely shouted down, but taken down or hunted down? How hard is it to see the trajectory of societies that have resorted to absolutism rather than viewpoint diversity and dialogue?
In the opening of parshas Tazria, the Torah provides us a powerful lesson on human interaction and communication that is extremely timely and relevant.
אִשָּׁה כִּי תַזְרִיעַ וְיָלְדָה זָכָר
Isha ki tazria v’yalda zachar.
If a woman conceives and gives birth to a male…
The chapter goes on to describe the laws of childbirth and family purity. But on this section of the verse, the Sages present a strange and cryptic teaching:
אשה מזרעת תחילה יולדת זכר איש מזריע תחילה יולדת נקבה
Isha mazraas techila yoledes zachar, ish mazria techila yoledes nekeiva.
If the woman emits seed first, she gives birth to a male, and if the man emits seed first, she gives birth to a female.
What is the meaning of this maamar Chazal? Is this a biological concept? Is it scientifically accurate? What does it mean to “emit seed”? And what type of guidance are the Sages offering us? As with all Talmudic discourse, there has been much discussion and debate on this subject throughout the ages. But the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, provides a wondrously insightful explanation according to the teaching of Chassidus.
The world, Kabbala teaches, is comprised of ten basic building blocks which are called the 10 Sefiros. These ten qualities are what God utilized to create the universe, and they are comprised of three intellectual attributes – Chochma/wisdom, binah/understanding, and daas/knowledge – and seven emotional attributes – chesed/giving, gevurah/restraint, tiferes/mercy, netzach/victory, hod/humility, yesod/bonding, and malchus/sovereignty. It is beyond the scope of our discussion to explain all of these concepts, but what is relevant here is that each of us is imbued with a full complement of these qualities. What distinguishes us is the particular combination and prevalence of these attributes – in some of us, the intellect prevails, while others are more emotional. Within the emotional realm, some of us are more inclined to giving, while others are more inclined to restraint. None of the qualities are “better” or “worse” than others, as they are all holy and can all be utilized to fulfill the purpose for which we were created.
In general, Kabbala teaches, the attribute of “chesed/giving” is more foundational in the male while the quality of “gevurah/restraint” is more prevalent in the female. This does not mean that men are more generous that women, but that the male force tends to be more indiscriminate in its giving, and the female force is more discriminate and deliberative. Biologically, we see that male creatures can sow their seed broadly, while the female receives the seed and nurtures it so that it can gestate, develop, and then mature properly.
Biblically, we can see this distinction in Abraham and Sarah. Abraham built an open tent and offered his generosity to all, while Sarah channeled the Godly flow and directed it and focused where it would be properly utilized. Abraham wanted to share his energy with both of his sons, Ishmael and Isaac, but Sarah knew that Ishmael was wild and uncontrolled and would not channel Abraham’s energy to the appropriate places, while Isaac was wise and refined and through him God’s blessing would blossom and grow productively for all of the creation. Both Abraham’s chesed/giving and Sarah’s gevurah/restraint are forms of love, but they are diverse and complementary energies that need to be partnered in order to be proper and contructive.
With this, we can understand the Sages teaching. While the ish/man represents chesed/giving, and the isha/woman represents gevurah/restraint, both of them are comprised of the full complement of sefiros/attributes. In order for them to communicate and unite, each must find within her/himself the quality that the other relates to and requires. If the male gives only chesed and the female gives only gevurah, then they will clash and be unproductive. But if they search within themselves and find the aspect of the other, then they can join, unite, and reproduce.
This, the Alter Rebbe teaches, is why the man’s initiation will produce a daughter and the woman’s initiation will produce a son. Because the man has found the feminine quality, gevurah, within him in order to relate to his wife, and the woman has found the male quality, chesed, within her in order to relate to her husband. Therefore, as each brings the influence of the other, they result in the fruition of the other’s energy.
Over 200 years ago, the Alter Rebbe expounded on this profound relationship guidance that was offered by the Talmudic Sages nearly a thousand years before. While we all have our particular “nature” and tendency based on that nature, when we communicate with others our job is to find within ourself what the other needs and is capable of relating to. We give not what we are naturally inclined to assert, but we work to find the other within ourself so that we can connect with them and bring out the complete unity that is hidden within all of us.
Such wisdom is needed today not only in the home and the familial sphere, but it is desperately needed in the public square and the socio-political arena. When we recognize our common source and our inevitable interconnection, we can begin to heal the rifts and bridge the chasms that have threatened to tear us apart.
— Derived, in part, from PNEI HASHEM, an introduction to the deepest depths of the human experience based on the esoteric teachings of Torah. www.pneihashem.com