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Peninei Halakha > Women's Prayer > Chapter 03: The Reasons behind Women's Mitzvot > 05. The Superiority of Women and Emotion

05. The Superiority of Women and Emotion

By contrast, emotion, which receives and is impressed upon, is able to grasp faith more naturally and spontaneously. From this standpoint, women are closer to the Divine ideal and are more universal. It is through the manifestation of the divine universal, which sustains the world, that all of the fundamental parameters that the intellect discerns and delineates is drawn. This virtue of women is embedded in the material from which she was created. Whereas man was created from dust, woman was created from a more refined substance – man’s rib. Since the substance from which the woman was created is of higher quality, she is more capable of naturally perceiving the divine ideal. Feminine intuition is closer to faith, and therefore even without the intervention of intellectual Torah analysis, and without the mediation of specific time-bound mitzvot, women can connect profoundly to the Torah and its purpose. In contrast, men require the study of Torah and the time-bound mitzvot in order to firmly establish their connection to faith and Torah.

Likewise, we find that in all the great events which occurred to the Jewish people, the great virtue of women was manifested, for they preceded men in choosing the path of faith. It seems, then, that masculine intellectual analysis is sufficient under normal circumstances; however, where additional spirituality and more faith are required, it is specifically the feminine attributes which are necessary. “R. Akiva preached, ‘In the merit of righteous women, the people of Israel left Egypt’” (Yalkut Shimoni, Tehilim 795, and see Rashi on Shemot 38:8). At the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, the women were addressed first (Rashi on Shemot 19:3, based on a midrash). Similarly, we learn how to honor the Torah from women (below, 7:1). Men even learn Torah in the merit of women’s profound insight (see Berakhot 17a and below, 7:1). Additionally, women did not participate in the sin of the Golden Calf (Pirkei De-Rabbi Eliezer §45) or the sin of the Spies (Tanĥuma Pinĥas §7). Concerning the future, the Sages say “Generations are only redeemed in the merit of its righteous women” (Midrash Zuta, Ruth 4:11). 1

The virtue of woman also finds expression in the holy language of Hebrew. Many universal ideas are expressed in the feminine form: ĥadashot (news), nifla’ot (wonders), netzurot (secrets), and nisgavot (sublime ideas). Also, emuna (faith), Torah, mitzva (commandment), tefila (prayer), segula (uniqueness), Yahadut (Judaism), kehuna (priesthood), and melukha (royalty), are in the feminine form. As noted, this is because the feminine nature is closer to divinity (Siĥot Ha-Ritzya, Bereishit p. 77). 2

This same trait that enables women to integrate and accept the divine idea also allows them to accept masculine principles and apply them to life. Men are more able to define the ideas, but women are better able to apply them in life. The conception of a fetus originates with the man, but it is the woman who actually develops it in her womb, gives birth to it, nurses it, and raises it. Therefore, women constitute the essence of the home and it is they who merit managing the grand ideal of constructing the family.

  1. It seems that from the standpoint of the human intellectual virtue, men are more universal, whereas from the standpoint of the perception of the divine idea and faith, as expressed via intuitive vitality, women are more universal. Therefore, women grasp momentous historical divine processes to a greater degree.
  2. Perhaps, therefore, when discussing the principle of Jewish tradition, it is said (Mishlei 1:8), “Do not forsake the Torah of your mother,” for the primary building block of education is the construction of the natural universal connection with God and his Torah, a quality more prominent in women. In contrast, the father’s guidance centers on detailed and prescriptive guidelines, and since sometimes it is difficult for one to completely identify with those limiting and restricting teachings, it comes with an aspect of reproof – “Listen, my son, to the rebuke of your father” (ibid.).

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Translated By:
Series Editor: Rabbi Elli Fischer

The Laws of Shabbat (1+2) - Yocheved Cohen
The Laws of Prayer - Atira Ote
The Laws of Women’s Prayer - Atira Ote
The Laws of Pesach - Joshua Wertheimer
The Laws of Zemanim - Moshe Lichtman

Editor: Nechama Unterman