By Leibel Estrin
In sicha afer sicha, the Rebbe told us to open up our eyes and to live with Moshiach. If we look at the situation in Israel and in many other areas of life, the task is challenging. But there is one area where living it’s very possible to a live Moshiachdike life—and that’s in your relationship with your spouse. To reach that lofty goal, let’s start by looking at various pesukim that describe women and men.
One of the most famous phrases in Tanach comes from Shlomo Hamelech, who wrote (Proverbs 31), Aishes chayil ateres ba’ala, “A woman of valor is the crown of her husband.” The possuk in Yirmiyahu (31:21), Nekeiva tisovev gaver, “The woman encompasses the man,” expresses a similar idea. Just as a crown is higher than the head, the woman is said to encompass the man. According to Chassidus and Kaballah, the idea of a crown, or encompassing, is ratzon or “will.” A person’s “will” is connected to the essence of the person and represents a level “above” intellect. For example, a person can have an urge to do something or respond in a way that is beyond logic. It’s not irrational (although it may sound that way), it’s supra-rational.
There’s another characteristic of ratzon. Ratzon does not descend by way of cause and effect through the Seder Histalshelus, the order of development of the worlds. Ratzon acts in all the worlds at the same time. In a person, for example, ratzon can affect many different organs simultaneously. If you want to pick up a book, you don’t have to wait for the idea to travel from your desire to your will down to your intellect through your emotions and into deed. The moment you want to pick up the book, your body springs into action.
In addition, ratzon is inclusive, embracing, able to change and evolve without being locked in to the cause-and-effect process that exists below in the worlds of Atzilus, Beriah, Yetzira, and Asiyah. Interestingly, the traits of ratzon and the behavior/character traits of most (not all) women are very similar:
1. We just said that Ratzon comes from a level beyond intellect. So does the concept of women’s intuition. It is a feeling that may not be connected to anything apparent. It is not logical; by that I mean that one probably cannot trace a line of reasoning to a specific conclusion. The feeling or intuition just exists, and it’s usually very accurate. For example, my wife and I were once late for an appointment. She suggested that before the appointment, we run an errand. Although I was nervous about being late for the meeting, I knew better than to argue. We ran the errand. Sure enough, the appointment that we “couldn’t miss” didn’t start on time anyway, and had we gotten there when I wanted to, we would have missed the opportunity to do the errand.
According to Rabbi A.J. Twerski, the renowned psychiatrist, this talent for intuition has an interesting implication. Halachah states that ordinarily, a woman cannot serve as a judge in a legal case. In Rabbi Twerski’s opinion, the reason is because they intuit who is innocent or guilty before any evidence is presented!
2. As mentioned, ratzon is above the Seder Histalshelus, the order of development of the worlds. The best example is the ability to multi-task. Women can easily multi-task. For example, my daughter can do her homework, talk on the phone and send instant messages to three or four people simultaneously. Most men, typically, only perform one task at a time and easily get sidetracked or distracted by something else.
3. There’s another quality of ratzon—its ability to evolve, change, merge, embrace and reconcile differences. I was once buying shoes, and since I liked the ones I found, I bought an extra pair. The lady who took my check looked at my purchase and said, “I would never buy the same shoes twice; there are simply too many others to choose!” Similarly, I once saw an ad that asked the reader, “Who will you be in five years?” It could not have been meant for a man. Once a man feels “comfortable” with who he is, it is very difficult for him to change; and there’s a Chassidic saying to prove it. The saying is “It’s easier to go through the entire Talmud than it is to change over one bad character trait.”
All this goes back to the Torah. In Bereishis (1:18), G-d states, “I will make an ezer knegdo for him” [i.e., Adam]. The Hebrew expression ezer knegdo literallymeans, “a helpmate who opposes him.” In other words, the Torah is telling us that men and women have complementary yet opposite qualities. Specifically, masculine qualities and behaviors seem to fall within wholly predictable levels as much as feminine qualities seem to be beyond them.
For example, men do not discover their reality; rather, they evaluate options (one at a time, of course) and determine it. This perhaps explains why men can wear the same type and color clothes every day, eat the same food, use the same siddur, say the same tefillos, sit in the same seat in the synagogue, etc. Repetition gives us a sense of order, and order, to a man, means security. There are many other examples, as well—and all of them demonstrate that men are wired to follow a type of Seder Histalshelus, i.e., energy that fits a corresponding vessel while women are wired with complementary yet opposite qualities. What’s more, these differences can be elicited in ways that both men and women can find frustrating.
For example, if a spouse wants her husband to do something, she should give him plenty of notice before hand. The reason is, because of the way they are built, men have a limited amount of energy to expend. Therefore, they have to allocate it. When a man is asked to do something on the spur of the moment, it often throws him off guard because he hasn’t allocated the energy. For example, my wife used to say as I stepped out the door, “You’re going to the dry cleaners? Good. While you’re out, please stop at the store and pick up some bread and milk.” Her request would bother me because I hadn’t “allocated” the energy beforehand.
Here is another example of gender differences: When most men speak converse, we typically speak in terms of facts; e.g., the score of the game, the temperature, the type of car, as well as, hopefully, more profound topics like what is the halachah and which Rabbi said which statement. Women can, by comparison, can talk about things, but they are equally at home talking about abstract ideas; e.g., feelings, opinions, ideas, etc.
In terms of religious life, this may explain why many women relate to spirituality in terms of experience. To some, involvement in a ceremony is a means to capture the feeling of spirituality. Men, by comparison, typically relate to spirituality through objects, rules, and structure. Most men need concrete objects such as a synagogue, a siddur, a Chumash, talis, tefillin, etc. to connect to their spirituality. This does not imply that they/we are incapable of learning understanding, or relating to abstract concepts. It just means that most men find it easier to relate to things they can see, hear, touch, smell and taste than things that are beyond their five senses.
The differences between men and women, between living within the seder histalshalus and living above and behind it, can be seen in almost every aspect of their behaviors.
For example, a spouse might mention to her husband that she likes roses. So, like a good husband, he will buy roses for Shabbos. When she sees them, she is very excited and happy. The next week, he again buys roses. And again, she is happy. By week seven, he buys roses and she doesn’t seem to be as excited. The reason is that a woman’s taste can evolve and change; and after a while, even the most beautiful bouquet becomes “boring” if you see it every week. . So what should a guy do? Don’t be afraid to try different things—lillies or candy or a necklace for Shabbos. Women like surprises; often, just the fact that you were sensitive enough to try something different will make her happy.
Here’s another example. Most women will often discuss/express, rather than try to solve. Many years ago, my daughter was having a hard time with high school chemistry. I told her that she should withdraw from the class. That did not make her feel any better. I offered to write a note to the teacher asking for additional help, but she didn’t want to hear that suggestion either. Finally my wife told me that our daughter wasn’t looking for a solution, she was expressing herself and just wanted to be heard.
By comparison, when a guy is confronted with an issue, he will likely try to find a solution. If he/we can’t, we won’t talk it out. Instead, we’ll put it on the back burner and mull it over until more information becomes available or the problem goes away. If it doesn’t go away, we may end up forcing a solution, for better or worse. The point is, both men and women have to keep in mind each other’s reality, when dealing with each other.
This is especially true as men and women (ie. husbands and wives), fulfill their various responsibilities. For example, in a group, men keep track/count and use that fact to get things done. A guy might say, “I davened for the minyan yesterday, so today, it’s your turn.” Alternatively, a guy may say, “We need someone to lead the minyan.” In this case, he isn’t asking anyone in particular; he’s asking everyone to determine whether they need to take their turn. Unfortunately for women (or fortunately for men), women do not “keep track.” As a result, there is the potential for misunderstanding.
Here’s a common example. The husband at the Shabbos table might say, “We need salt.” His wife understands the statement as a request. So she leaves the table and brings the salt. Later on, he might say, “We could use some more water or soda pop on the table.” Again, a woman understands his statement as a request. So she complies. By the time he says, “It’s time for bentchers,” she is ready to tell him off.
What’s happening? In the man’s subconscious, he assumes that she too is keeping count. He also (mistakenly) assumes that a woman will keep doing things until she will say, “I did this, now it’s your turn…” The problem is, most women do not typically keep track. If they become aware of a lack or need, they keep filling it until they feel that someone is taking advantage of them. To avoid that situation, men need to be aware of their tendency to expect everyone to count, and just in case he forgets, the woman has to know how to respond in his terms.
The next time a man says, “We need X,” a woman can just say, “I just did Y.” At that point, he should (I am not saying that he will) respond by doing his part. Is this the sign of a mature, sensitive relationship that most wives expect from the husbands? No. Does it reflect the way most men are wired? Yes.
There are dozens of other examples that could be given, but the point is, to recognize that differences exist; and that these differences are deeply rooted in the very nature of most men and women.
The question is, what if a woman wants to put on tefillin. The answer is that she must ask herself whether she’s doing it for G-d or her own ego.
If that is the case, how is it possible to have a Moshiachdike relationship? In my opinion, the first step is to understand that men and women view reality through two different filters—and that means knowing the characteristics that apply to you. The next step is to understand the characteristics that apply to your spouse. The third step is to know that, since both of you have look at the world differently, disagreements are naturally going to come up, either through the course of daily activities or when faced with vital issues such as money, where to live, or chinuch of children. The key is to be aware of and to respect the basic differences that exist. For example, if a man is facing a problem, his wife might ask him to discuss it. If he’s smart, he’ll say, “I can’t put it into words right now. I’m having a hard time grappling with it.” Usually, given time, he’ll be able to reach a point where he can express the issue that’s bothering him, discuss it and accept advice. Similarly, if a wife is talking over an issue, she should say, “I’m not looking for a solution. I’m just expressing myself, because I need to be heard by you.”
Yet accepting (and appreciating) differences between men and women is just the first step. The next step is to go above and beyond. That involves leaving our own personal golus mentality, and our own habits, whether from nature or nurture, and concentrate on the other partner, and bringing out the best in him and her and helping the partner leave his/golus mentality and do the same. At that level, there are no differences, no disagreements, and no such thing as “he” or “she.” At that level, there is only “we,” husband, wife and G-d Almighty.
Leibel Estrin has been writing about Jewish topics for four decades. He is working as a Jewish chaplain for the Aleph Institute. Leibel has recently published a work on Jewish perspectives and values entitled “Judaism From Above The Clouds.” To read more of Leibel’s writings and to purchase his book click here.
This article is dedicated to Yosef ben Sara, with prayers for a speedy refuah sheleimah. The author thanks Rabbi Yechezkel Lebovic and Ms. Sharon Saul for reviewing this manuscript.