As a rule, there is equality between the sexes. Men and women are all created in the divine image, and the uniqueness of the Jewish people inheres in Jewish women and men alike. The Torah was given to all Israel, men and women alike (see below, 7:1). The Sages derive from the verse “These are the laws that you must set before them” (Shemot 21:1) that “The Torah equated woman to man concerning all the laws in the Torah” (Kiddushin 35a).
Nonetheless, it is impossible to ignore the specific differences between men and women, whether innate physical and emotional differences or halakhic differences like those regarding positive time-bound mitzvot. These dissimilarities enable man and woman to complement each other.
In order to unveil the divine ideal in this world, revelation must occur through two complementary facets. Every individual creature is limited, and therefore cannot grasp divine perfection, but the people of Israel as a collective allows divine perfection to be manifest in the world. This indicates the tremendous importance of a unified Israel, because only the Jewish people, in all its components, can receive the Torah and with it rectify the world. Just as there is a difference between souls, so do the words of the Torah have multiple meanings, as it is written: “God said one thing from which I have heard two” (Tehilim 62:12) and: “Indeed, My word is like fire, like a hammer shattering rock” (Yirmiyahu 23:29). The Sages extrapolate, “Just as this hammer fragments into sparks, so too each and every statement that came from God’s mouth refracts into seventy languages” (Shabbat 88b). “Just as this hammer is divided into many fragments, so one verse of scripture generates many meanings (Sanhedrin 34a). Likewise, it is said about the disagreements between Beit Hillel and Beit Shamai, and all other rabbinic disputes, “These and those are the words of the living God” (Eruvin 13b).
The most significant human reciprocal completion is the one between male and female, for with it human beings can reveal the divine image within them and achieve perfection. Not only concerning humanity, but in all of creation, from the sublime realms down to this earth, there is a division into male and female; neither sex can exist and endure independently, without the completion of the other. This fundamental principle is clarified at length in the wisdom of the Kabbala. That is what R. Elazar meant when he said: “Every man without a woman is not a [complete] person, as it is written: ‘Male and female He created them, and He blessed them and called them man’ (Bereishit 5:2)” (Yevamot 63a). Likewise, the Sages teach us: “Every man without a woman is inundated by unhappiness, without blessing, without goodness…without Torah, without fortification” (Yevamot 62b).
Just as the dissimilarity between men and women enables them to marry and have children, so too the spiritual and emotional difference between them allows them to unite so that they may complete and enrich one another spiritually.
Based on this, it is possible to grasp to some extent the basic reason for the halakhic differences between the mitzvot given to men and those given to women.