ESSAY: Men of the Hour
Man is of the hour, but woman is time incarnate
THE WRITTEN WORD: Torah and Geometry
Parallels that are worlds apart
Men of the Hour
And Moses ascended to G-d. And G-d called to him from
the mountain, saying: So you shall relate to the house
of Jacob, and pronounce to the children of Israel...
The house of Jacob are the women; the
children of Israel are the men.... Relate the general
principles [of Torah] to the women, and pronounce [its] exacting
particulars to the men.
As physical beings, we are subject to the rule of time, that
faceless force that drives us from a receding past, through
a fleeting present, to an ever-elusive future.
As Jews, we attain a more intimate experience of time. With
a series of time-related mitzvot, the Torah empowers us to
delve beyond times homogeneous expanse to behold a terrain
of great diversity: a terrain marked by workdays and a weekly
Shabbat; annual landmarks of shofar, sukkah,
and matzah; weeks designated for the counting of sefirat
haomer, days for putting on tefillin, hours
for reciting the Shema; and a host of other time-specific
observances. As Jews, the very entity time becomes
another object of our lifes mission of developing G-ds
creation, as we reach within its featureless flow to uncover
its multi-faceted nature and actualize its particular potentials.
And yet, fully half of us are exempted from this aspect of
Jewish life: according to Torah law, the Jewish woman is absolved
from virtually all time-specific mitzvot. To be sure, a woman can (and many do) observe
but the very fact that she is not obligated to do so implies
that they are not intrinsic to her mission in life. Why, indeed,
does the Torah de-emphasize the Jewish womans role in
its program for the development of time?
Separated At Birth
Our sages tell us that when G-d sent Moses to tell the Jewish
people to ready themselves to receive the Torah, He sent him
to the women first, and then to the men.
The entire community of Israel was given the same Torah.
But the fact that this was preceded by two separate communications,
one to the women and another to the men, implies a basic distinction
between the womens reception of Torah and the mens.
In other words, men and women differ not only biologically
and psychologically, but also spiritually, having been charged
and empowered by their Creator with two distinct roles in
mankinds overall mission in life. Hence there are mitzvot
commanded only to men, and mitzvot specific to women.
This is not to say that each of us relates to only half a
Torah. Indeed, if man and woman were two separate species,
such would be the case. But man and woman are two dimensions
of a single soul, separated at birth and reunited through
marriage. So each individual soul is charged with the implementation
of the entire Torah--its masculine element, acting through
a male body, to carry out the Torahs masculine commandments;
and its feminine element, vested in a female body, to realize
the Torahs feminine goals. In the words of master Kabbalist
Rabbi Isaac Luria, When the male performs a
mitzvah [commanded specifically to men], there is no need
for the woman to do it on her own, since she is included in
his performance of the mitzvah.
This is the deeper significance
of what our sages have said, A person's wife is as his own body.
What exactly does this division of roles entail?
Man and woman are both multifaceted and complex creatures,
and no single sentence or thesis can possibly summarize the
many ways in which they complement and fulfill each other.
Ultimately, we can only say that G-d, who created the human
soul and halved it into two separate bodies and lives, has
ordained for each a program for life--delineated by the Torah--
that is consistent with its strengths and potentials. The
Torah, however, does provide a number of clues that illuminate
certain aspects of the male and female
One such insight into the distinction between these roles
is expressed in the Midrash quoted at the beginning of this
essay. As the Mechilta derives from Exodus 19:3, G-d told
Moses to relate the general principles of the
Torah to the women, and its exacting particulars
to the men. The woman relates to the essence, the all-inclusive,
in Torah; the man relates to the detail, the specific law,
the particular application.
[This distinction is also seen in the role of the father
and mother in determining the identity of their child. According
to Torah law, it is the mother who determines the Jewishness
of the child: if the mother is Jewish, so too, is the child;
if the mother is not, neither is the child, no matter how
much Jewish blood there is in his parentage. On
the other hand, regarding the particulars of his Jewishness--his
or his classification as a Kohen, Levite,
or Israelite--the child takes wholly after his
Thus the man is the one with the more intellectual
relationship with Torah--it is to him that the commandment
study it day and night
is directed. The woman, on the other hand, imbibes the Torah
at its supra-rational root with her female faith and receptiveness.
She is one with the truth of G-d, without the need to dissect
it and analyze it--a process that is crucial for the particular-minded
man, but which cannot but deflect its force and refract the
intensity of its light. 
This also explains why Moses was sent to the women first.
The Torahs revelation to mankind unfolded from the general
to the particular, from the supra-spatial point of concept
to the breadth and depth of thought and law. Originally, we
received the Torah from G-d in the form of a single divine
utterance, which encapsulated all Ten Commandments.
Then, we heard the two basic precepts of the Torah, I
Am the L-rd your G-d, which embodies all the positive
commandments (mitzvot assei), and You shall have
no other gods, from which all prohibitions (mitzvot
lo taasseh) derive.
These were followed by the communication, through Moses, of
the other eight Commandments and G-ds inscription of
the Ten Commandments on the Two Tablets. For the next forty
years, Moses taught the people of Israel the particulars of
Torah, which he transcribed, by divine dictation, in the Written
Torah (the Five Books of Moses ); but the Written Torah, with
its 613 mitzvot, is only a detailing of the principles embodied
in the Engraved Torah of the Ten Commandments. Nor did the extrapolation of Torah end with Moses: thirty-five
generations of interpretation and application produced the
Mishnah, and a further 300 years of analyzing the Mishnah
gave us the Talmud. Indeed, it is a process that continues
to this very day, as the many streams of Torah--Halachah,
Aggadah, Kabbalah, Chakirah, Mussar and Chassidut--continued
to flow from the wellspring of Sinai, an ever-expanding mass
of wisdom and law, every word of which is encapsulated in
the single utterance of the original divine communication.
So when G-d sent Moses to prepare the Jewish people to receive
the Torah, He sent him first to the women. First, the Torah
must be received as is, free of Talmudic pilpul, free
of philosophical theorizing, free of mystical experience--free
of everything save the unequivocal identification with its
truth. Go first to the Jewess, said G-d to Moses, for she
is the prime conduit of this first step in the communication
of My truth to humanity. Then, go to the men and instruct
them of the details; it is they who shall play the pivotal
role in the second stage--the application of Torah to the
particulars of mans external experience of his world.
Trees and the Forest
Now we can understand the different emphases that the Torah
places on men and womens respective roles in the sanctification
The detail-oriented spiritual life of the male is a process--a
sequential string of particulars in which each item is dealt
with on its own terms and fitted into context with the others.
In time, his is the domain of the year, the month, the week,
the day and the hour. So it is he whom the Torah charges to
imbue these time-particulars with holiness, to develop their
individual natures and potential.
But while man is of the hour, woman is time incarnate.
She relates to the essence of time, to the pure potential
of change and flux as it transcends the particulars of quantified
time. So the mitzvot assigned to her are primarily time-neutral,
relating to the whole of life rather than the specific slices
of it defined by calendar and clock.
Based on the Rebbes talks, Shabbat Yitro 5745 (February
9, 1985) and on other occasions
Torah and Geometry
The following is a freely translated excerpt from a letter
by the Rebbe dated Sivan 25, 5712 (June 18, 1952):
... From your letter I surmise that you are an engineer,
though it is unclear to me whether your work involves the
construction of buildings or is in the field of measuring
distances or areas or the like. In any case, fundamental to
all of the above is the science of geometry. And what is one
of the things that the nature of this science can teach us?
Geometry has the characteristics of an exact science as well
as of an applied science. The same is true of our holy Torah
(lehavdil ad infinitum). For though the Torah is the
wisdom of G-d--the ultimate in truth and exactitude--and no
man can know its worth... and it is hidden from the eyes of
all living, nevertheless, as its name, Torah (from the
word horaah, instruction), implies,
its purpose is to instruct our daily lives in this physical
and material world. Thus, the difference between these two
disciplines (Torah and geometry) can enlighten us as to the
fundamental and infinite difference between the Torah, of
which it is said for it is your wisdom and understanding
before all nations,
and the wisdom and understanding of the nations and also of
the intellect of the animal soul of the Jew.
All human sciences, including the exact sciences,
are founded upon axioms that are wholly unscientific. For
science, especially exact science, accepts only proven facts,
while the axioms of all sciences, mathematics and geometry
included, are not proven in any way, so that a person is free
to accept them or reject them. This is most apparent in the
science of geometry, which has three different systems, each
of which is founded upon a number of axioms, with the axioms
of one system being contradictory to the axioms of the others.
In other words, no science can present to a person anything
definite, only a series of contingencies. It can only say:
if you accept a number of axioms as true, and you accept a
particular method of deduction from them, the results will
be such and such.
There are two points here: a) It is the persons prerogative
whether to accept the axioms or not. b) Also in the case that
he does accept them, there is nothing to compel him
to act in a manner that is consistent with the results of
the particular method. For all the method says is, If
you act this way, the result will be such and such.
But if the person is willing to accept the adverse consequences,
there is nothing that compels him not to act in any
way he desires. In other words, science does not instruct
life, but only narrates--as a sort of fortune-teller--a sequence
of events, maintaining that according to past experience,
and based upon certain axioms which we fancy to accept as
true, things will unfold in such and such a manner.
Utterly different is our holy Torah. As the wisdom of the
Absolute Existence--the Almighty--it is absolute. Its axioms,
as well as the rules that dictate the manner in which laws
are to be derived from these axioms, are utterly true. And
since this is the wisdom of the Creator of the entire world,
man included, it is self-understood that these laws obligate
a person to act in concurrence with them, and in no other
This is one of the points that you, as a scientist, ought
to engrave in your mind: there can be no refutation of Torah
by science, since the Torah is absolute truth, while science
itself attests that it is not absolute, but dependent upon
the persons willful acceptance of certain givens; that
the science has full license to establish several contradictory
systems, all legitimized by the persons choice to accept
their axioms, as is the case with the three systems in geometry--the
Euclidean, Lobachevskian and Riemannian....
Adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe by
. The exemption of woman from time-specific mitzvot
applies only to the mitzvot assei, or positive
commandments, not to the mitzvot lo taasseh,
or prohibitions. Thus, a woman is equally obligated
to observe time-specific mitzvot that entail a mitzvat
lo taasseh, such as resting on Shabbat or fasting
on Yom Kippur. In addition, there are certain positive commandments
to which the Torah specifically obligates the Jewish woman,
such as the active observances of Shabbat (kiddush,
etc.) and eating matzah on the first night of Passover.
For a full treatment of the womans obligations under
Torah law, see Encyclopedia Talmudit, vol. II, pp. 242-257.
. With the few notable exceptions (e.g., putting
on tefillin) proscribed by law or custom (see ibid.,
. The Holy Ari, 1534-1572.
. Talmud, Menachot 93a.
. The Aris Likkutei Torah, Bereishit 15a. Cf.
Zohar, part I, 91b; ibid., part III, 7b, 109b and 296a;
Genesis 1:27 and Midrash Rabbah, ibid.; Talmud, Sotah 2a
(Forty days before the formation of the fetus it is
announced in heaven: The daughter of so-and-so [shall
marry] so-and-so ). See Cloven To Cleave,
WIR, vol. VI, no. 5.
. The Jewish people comprise twelve shevatim,
or tribes, descendent from the twelve sons of
Jacob. A Jews tribal identity determines his share
in the Holy Land as well as his role in Jewish life.
. Joshua 1:8. See Talmud, Kiddushin 29b; Shulchan
Aruch, part II, 246:6.
. Another related distinction that the Torah points
to is that the male has been equipped with the nature and
inclinations of a conqueror (Genesis 1:28, as
per Talmud, Yevamot 65b.) while the woman is basically a
cultivator and nurturer. Thus, man has the more extroverted
role--it is he who battles a world hostile to G-dliness,
struggling to wrest a civilization of holiness from the
wilderness of a material and egocentric world. The woman,
on the other hand, is entrusted with the mission of cultivating
the G-dly: it is she who brings children into the world
and plays the major part in forging their personalities;
it is she who is the homemaker in the ultimate,
spiritual sense, setting the tone of the sanctum of divinity
that is the family. Man fights to transform mundanity into
holiness; woman recognizes and safeguards the holiness implicit
in G-ds creation. Man does; woman is.
As with all human traits, a persons masculinity
or femininity can be properly channeled, or
abused. The mans conquering nature can be applied
to its divinely intended aim, or corrupted into the aggressive
and brutish behavior that typifies the insensitive
male. On her part, the woman can develop her nurturing
potential, or allow her femininity to fester
into a fatalistic docility. The human being having been
granted freedom of choice, he or she can even choose to
attempt to assume the role of the opposite sex. Usually
this results in an emulation of a negative application of
masculinity or femininity. But even when a man pursues a
positive feminine ideal, or vice versa, this constitutes
a tragic denial and suppression of ones own highest
. Mechilta on Exodus 20:1.
. Talmud, Makot 24a; Tanya, ch. 20. See Yes
and No, WIR, vol. VII, no. 8.
. Rashi, Exodus 24:12.
. Jerusalem Talmud, Peah 2:4.
. In the language of Kabbalah, woman is malchut
(sovereignty), which is the source of time and
space (see Ohr HaTorah, Pinchas, pp. 1191-1203).
Sichot, vol. XXXI, pp. 93-98.
. Igrot Kodesh, vol. VI, pp. 145-146. See also
Reshimot #3, pp. 48-49; Likkutei Sichot, vol. II, p. 561.
. Deuteronomy 4:6; cf. Midrash Rabbah, Eicha 2:17:
If a person says to you, There is wisdom among
the nations, believe it; [but if a person says] There
is Torah among the nations, do not believe it.
. See Tanya, ch. 1, pp. 6-8.
. The best way to demonstrate the difference between
two things is to compare them at the points at which they
are most similar. So the science of geometry, which resembles
the Torah in that it is both an exact and applied science,
can best serve as the model that demonstrates the difference
between Torah and human wisdom.