Mike Feder: Good evening, here we are again for another edition of Toward a Meaningful Life with Simon Jacobson. I’m your host Mike Feder. Tonight our topic is gender roles, and more specifically the differences or similarities between men and women.
The question that I want to ask you for all of us is, are men and women inherently different, and if so, how and (here’s a good one) why?
Jacobson: Well, we could call today’s show “The Battle of the Sexes,” which is the way it’s been termed. I don’t know who originated that expression but I think it’s a good way of putting things. Because a fundamental part of our society today, particularly brought to our attention in the last few decades, is this battle that has been raging from the beginning of time, going back to good old Adam and Eve, and ever since you find what many people call a battle, whether subtle or overt, between man and woman. In most cases, particularly in the modern age, we find male hierarchy dominating, with women clamoring for attention and equality, equals rights amendments, women’s rights in general, and it still remains quite an elusive goal.
If you look at all the statistics of how many women are really in leadership positions in this country and in other countries for that matter, salaries, the opportunities… So it’s a question that touches all of us, because we’re either a man or a woman.
So it’s not something that anyone’s neutral about or can remain detached from. It affects us all and has seeped into every part of life: social life obviously, business life, professional and personal life, and relationships. And I would like to address your questions, but in addition, to address a more global issue, can there ever be a resolution to not just co-exist but complement each other…
Feder: We have to hope that that’s possible.
Jacobson: Yes, but hope is hope. The question is if that is realistic, and if it is, what can be done? What practically can be done in a climate like ours that is very sexually charged and a climate where dominance and power is a big issue for everyone, with men having monopolized it for a while and women as I said rising to the occasion of trying to compete on that level as well.
So your question in that context obviously is most important because you first have to establish, are they equal, and are the roles different, are they the same, are the roles that we have imposed on men and women socially oriented or inherent?
Feder: I was just going to say, we might add the question, are men and women’s natures essentially different?
Jacobson: Exactly. What is different and what is not different? What is healthy and what is not healthy? Those are essentially the questions at hand.
Frankly, it happens to be one of my favorite topics, the reason being that from the perspective that I come from and was educated in, clearly a Torah perspective and particularly the mystical dimension of it, the Kabbalistic view, has really fascinating things to say about the whole male/female dynamic.
In our day and age, it’s perhaps one of the topics that is the most blatant, where there’s so much ignorance, while at the same time so much relevant information that doesn’t even have a religious undercurrent, it’s just an understanding of who we are in our gender roles.
Clearly there’s a biological and physiological difference between a man and a woman which isn’t created by us and both in the way the bodies are made, in some aspects of the personality, and other effects that society recognizes without doubt. You have men’s tennis and you have women’s tennis. You have other areas of society where gender roles are not seen as discriminatory, but seen as appropriate. A man and woman can’t compete in a tennis match, not because a woman is in any way inferior, but because she can’t compete physically with a man, so she competes against women. It makes sense.
Feder: Well, not yet, anyhow.
Jacobson: I don’t know how many people would really consider that aspiration or goal that a woman should be built like a man, I mean, maybe men should be built like women. Is brute strength the standard, how much you weigh, or your bone structure? So we’ll discuss this but I just wanted to point that out.
Now, the reason this topic also lends itself, and I definitely want to hear from our audience because I’m sure everyone has an opinion on this matter, why it lends itself to so much controversy (which makes it exciting to discuss of course) is that everyone is either a man or a woman. I repeat that because it’s not a small issue, because it makes us all subjective. We’re not discussing a specimen outside of ourselves…
Feder: Or something in the abstract…
Jacobson: Right. We’re discussing something head-on, which is us. And whenever you’re discussing “you,” you’re immediately part of the picture and therefore your attitudes—how you look at your father, how you look at your mother…
Even if we don’t get Freudian, but just on a basic level, we’re influenced by whether we had a good relationship with our parents, with the women in our lives, with the men in our lives, these are big things: male bonding, child bonding, and all of that.
In addition, as we grow older and get involved in our own relationships, we again have experiences that are not always neutral. It may have been deep love, it may have been spurned, you may have been hurt by someone you loved, so again it creates the attitude that “women are like this,” or “men are like that.”
Often, it’s true. There are some of the popular books today about Men and Mars and Women and Venus or Tannen’s book about communication between men and women. Since men and women think differently, they communicate differently.
Feder: Deborah Tannen’s book You Just Don’t Understand, it’s a great book.
Jacobson: …about different communication where both mean well but they just communicate differently. One of the points there is that intimacy for a man is doing things with someone, and for a woman it’s talking about it. A man thinks talking means you’re asking for advice and for a woman speaking about something doesn’t mean you’re asking for advice, but just trying to communicate.
Feder: I once heard it described as the difference between content and contact.
Jacobson: Okay. And so there are very deeply ingrained attitudes that society has imposed upon us that have informed and shaped our own views on gender. And I think it’s critical to begin as a preface with anything that we discuss on this topic that we must recognize that we all have subjective attitudes that are perhaps very deep.
Like, for example, on a simple level, I fully empathize and understand why women would in general be upset at how the men have dominated.
Feder: It’s a man’s world.
Jacobson: Yes. They’ve dominated in business, in money, and in control. Those three items are not necessarily the most important items in life, but in a society that’s highly materialistic and we value people for their status, where they have climbed on the economic scale, that becomes a powerful position, and clearly men have abused that position as we continuously see.
So it’s fully understandable why women would be extremely upset with that.
So I want to discuss that and also how or can we correct it, but it’s important to get to the root of it. And the first question of course I hear, as a teacher as I travel and talk to various men and women, is what does Judaism have to say? Does Judaism also consider women to be inferior?
Feder: It’s a question I have for later.
Jacobson: Okay, but I’m just putting it all into one big pot and mixing it all up to see whether our “brew” will end up being…
Feder: Whether it tastes like anything or whether it’s worth eating, right?
Jacobson: Right. So I get that question very often about the Jewish attitude, the religious attitude toward women.
It may seem like, in the eye of the beholder, women are not given the same religious opportunities, or leadership, or many things in Jewish tradition, that would appear to the naked eye to someone who may not know better, to be seemingly male oriented. So I wanted to throw that into the pot as well.
But I see it this way. We have to distinguish, as in any type of healthy approach, between the people and the system, in other words, in the case that I’m discussing—the mystical cosmic Torah system of how we see a man and a woman in their purest form—has to be distinguished from how people have treated each other.
Feder: And are treating each other right now.
Jacobson: Of course that should be added. In other words, you and I (you, Mike, and myself) may have a standard that we aspire to. That doesn’t mean that you and I are behaving that way. We can behave in a petty way, we can behave in an abusive way, and we can be hurtful. And yet, you can’t throw out the baby with the bath water.
We have to find some standard, some objective system, some goal that we can live up to, and compare that then to where we stand in our attitudes to each other as men and women.
I would say that to start from a very abstract, philosophical approach, each human being has a quintessential nature: who you are, the essential you.
Then there are factors, attitudes and experiences in life that, so to speak, add layers and shape and program us, sometimes in ways that are completely contrary or antithetical to our own natural tendencies.
When we look at a man today and a woman today, you’re not seeing the quintessential man and the quintessential woman. You’re seeing a man and a woman shaped by a society that has imposed its attitudes and viewpoints on them.
So when you’re looking at a man and a woman you’re not just looking at a pure, “freshly fallen snow” as we were intended to be when we were born, you’re looking at a person who has been beaten up, or has beaten up others, or has been shaped by many different factors.
That’s why it’s very difficult to easily answer the question, are men and women different? What part of them are we talking about? The superimposed elements or the quintessential ones?
So my answer to the question would be that we have to—no matter hard it may be being the subjective creatures that we are—step back for a moment, and I’d like to present what’s called the Torah/mystical or Torah/psychological profile of a man and a woman before they are touched by society, by parents and community, and then compare that, juxtapose that, to the modern man and woman as we see them.
Feder: To the original nature or the original essence.
Jacobson: Right. It’s like taking a perfect circle and then drawing your own circle and superimposing them to see where the jagged edges are and see its consistency.
I think that’s a healthy approach in any area of life—because none of us are perfect—that if you want to heal or grow you have to have a backdrop. What am I growing toward? Or else you may be growing in the wrong direction.
It’s like a child who looks at the parent and learns love from the parent. If the love of the parent was distorted, the child’s view of what love is is initially a distortion.
Feder: So when you say you’re going to talk about the original essence or nature, from where is this?
Jacobson: Well, I mentioned briefly, it’s from the Torah, but particularly from the dimension of the Torah which I call the mystical or esoteric dimension which gives us spiritual definitions or profiles of people, of events, and phenomena.
Some may call that the Kabbalah, which is Jewish mysticism. It’s essentially grounded and based on Bible, for instance, in the case we’re discussing, I would begin with the first verse, how are man and woman described in the Bible? What is the description?
Feder: You mean start out from Genesis?
Jacobson: Yes. Straight from Genesis and build up upon that and get some type of profile. This is a profile. A Torah profile of what a man is and a Torah profile of what a woman is.
Feder: So let’s do it. What does it say?
Jacobson: …and then we’ll compare that to where we’re at.
The first time man and woman are mentioned in the Bible it says: “G-d created the human being. Male and female He created them.” That’s the literal translation of the first time man and woman are mentioned in the Bible.
And then it continues by saying that He created them in the image of G-d, this one human being that is created in this somewhat cryptic expression, “Male and female He created them.”
So it’s like saying He created a human being, male and female He created them.
Feder: Isn’t that two separate people right there?
Jacobson: No. As a matter of fact, it is seen to be as one entity.
Jacobson: So in other words, it’s one unified entity that was then split into two. And remember, it is a biblical statement so it has many interpretations, but I will give you the classical interpretation (and it has other, equally valid interpretations but they’re all consistent with each other).
The human race is one entity with two energies, male and female, which we’ll call masculine energy and feminine energy.
Feder: Which could be either both in a male and both in a female.
Jacobson: Exactly. That’s exactly the point. That both do have each other: a male has a masculine and a feminine energy, and a woman has a masculine and a feminine energy.
Now, in spiritual language, you don’t begin thinking in terms of the physical and then travel to the spiritual, you work the other way around. You begin first on the abstract energy level, and that carries forward and is drawn down and manifested on a material level.
It’s simply a different way of looking at life. Instead of looking at it from the outside in, you look at it from the inside out.
Feder: Or from the top down…
Jacobson: When I say top, it’s not physically the top, it means from the inside out. I’ll give you an example. When a person cries and tears come out of your eyes, no one would say that first you have tears in your eyes and then you have emotions. It begins from within. You have emotions and then tears well up in your eyes and then it’s expressed in physical tears.
Now, when you cry, you don’t need to look at the tears in your eyes to know you’re sad. But I have no way of knowing that you’re sad unless you tell me or I see tears or some other physical expression.
Feder: So, spiritually speaking, then you’d have to ask if there are inherent spiritual differences from the get-go.
Jacobson: That’s exactly the point. Because as soon as there are physical differences, like with tears or with laughter, they are only physical manifestations of spiritual differences. Which means essentially, that instead of using the word difference, I would use the term unique qualities.
A woman, or let’s say, feminine energy, has unique qualities.
Feder: Are these spelled out in the Bible?
Jacobson: Well, in the Bible, it’s inferred to, and yes, it is described and I’m going to describe it for you.
Feder: Okay. Now we’re hearing it!
Jacobson: So you’re getting impatient. But I want to take it step by step because I believe in the short-long approach which means that if you cover your early steps correctly, your later steps will be easier to explain.
Feder: Is my impatience a masculine or a feminine quality?
Jacobson: Good question. I hope by the end of the show you’ll know the answer.
So we have here a situation where we’re describing male and female, divorcing it now from how you see yourself. Looking at yourself in the mirror—as you see yourself now in the mirror as affected by society and many factors—is not freshly fallen snow as I put it earlier.
So we have here the human race, meaning the human being, who is created as male and female. You could say it’s two halves of one whole entity, both fundamental and necessary. Take away the male and there’s one fundamental element missing in its existence; take away the female and there’s another fundamental element missing in its existence.
Now they overlap, as we were discussing, but there are still unique feminine qualities and there are unique masculine qualities. I keep using the word “unique” because they are different—not to use a cliché—but they are in no way inferior and superior.
It’s no different than the right eye and the left eye. Or the arm and the legs. Or the heart and the mind. I’m just using that as an analogy.
We are living in a world where diversity does not mean conflict. Diversity is a blessing, because essentially beauty is harmony within diversity.
So we’re talking about the masculine energy and the feminine energy, and interestingly, as the teachings that I’m citing explain, this isn’t just the human race. It’s the animal, vegetable and mineral kingdoms as well. Masculine and feminine doesn’t always mean a male and female as we understand them, it means two energies that always need to come together. So whether that’s the mating in other worlds or a positive and negative energy in physics, in sub-atomic particles, we’ll always see that every force of energy, life-force, always consists of two polars; you can even say that a tension is created between them, a negative and positive charge.
Feder: What’s known in the East as the yin and the yang, a male energy and a female energy.
Jacobson: Yes. Exactly. So we have to somewhat broaden our scope and definition of masculine and feminine to be universal, that’s it’s everywhere in our existence. And in a sense, when a man and woman learn to coexist, they create, in a way, a unity that ripples through all the cosmic levels and all the universe and it’s essentially our role to accomplish that.
But whenever it comes to two types of energy, they also have a potential for tension and conflict. Like a tension and resolution. And the key, of course, is achieving resolution instead of tension, but you first have to understand what these energies are.
Feder: But it can never be static, it’s always back and forth…
Jacobson: Exactly. Or else you have death or numbness, lethargy.
So the Torah continues, “Male and female He created them,” establishing clearly two forces in existence, in the universe, in everything in our lives that are required for an entity to be complete. Then it says that G-d split them into two, which essentially explains why we are different and why we are separate, and we can even get into battle, as we’re discussing.
But what are the quintessential interpretations, and here I ask you to indulge me for a moment in something that may sound esoteric and abstract and somewhat mystical, but I will bring it down to earth in a very practical way.
The Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, begins to explain existence by using the metaphor of light. Light is the metaphor for G-d’s expression. G-d’s expression, or extension, in creating existence is called Divine energy. Energy is light. This energy has different forms, and essentially, even before man and woman, as we understand them in a biological sense, are created, two energies emanated, so to speak, from the Divine. That’s why you’ll find in the Kabbalah that there’s a feminine aspect of G-d and a masculine aspect of G-d. G-d is neither male nor female, but, in a sense, emanates or manifests two types of energy. One is called a projected light and one is called a receptive light.
Another way of describing it is that one of them is a light or energy that flows outward and one is a light or energy that flows inward. One is revelation and expression to others, an expressive light, and one is an internalized one.
To translate this in psychological terms so we can relate to it, there are times when we want to express ourselves to others. And there are times when we need time for ourselves, the introverted element as opposed to the extrovert, where you need to compose yourself and reflect, where you need your own space. And it’s no less an output of energy. In a way, someone may say that it’s more powerful energy than when you express yourself because you’re communicating with yourself. But it is an energy—it’s not a silent state, and it’s not a sleeping/comatose state—it’s a state where the arrow is facing inward instead of outward.
And then there are times when we socialize, when we communicate. Now, the balance in our lives, for most of us, is often out of whack. There are people who are great socialites and socializers, people who are very extroverted, but can’t really deal with themselves, they don’t have enough time to deal with themselves or they’re afraid to.
And there are people who are overly introverted, they’re very shy and very internalized. They may be very powerful people, but they don’t have that courage or they’re very private, or whatever it may be, but ultimately for a human being to be balanced, you need both, and you need a good balance of both; you can’t allow one to compromise the other. You always need time for yourself, but you can’t always be for yourself. That’s Hillel’s famous line: “If I’m not for myself, who will be for me; and if I’m only for myself, what am I?”
So it’s a dance and a balance. So to apply it now to the energy I’m talking about, one is more of a male expression. The energy of projection is more of a male type energy. Masculine energy. Again, we’re not talking about the man yet, we’re talking about the energy.
And feminine energy is primarily the other way. It’s much more internalized. When you say a human being, for example, has the ability to communicate with others, just that idea of expressing is more masculine. When you say a human being has inner majesty and an inner glow or an inner dignity, that would be considered to be feminine.
Now, again, both need each other and both have a part of each other. There’s no such thing as a feminine energy that doesn’t have expression and there’s no such thing as a masculine energy that doesn’t have inwardness. But yet, for practical purposes, we have to define them somewhat with the understanding that 80% of both masculine and feminine energy may overlap with the other, with one or the other being the primary force.
So this is how the Kabbalah explains the first…let’s call it the “big bang,” the original essence of where male and female originated from on a cosmic level, very far from where we are right now. By far I don’t mean physically far, but far on a different dimension.
This evolved into what we’ll call in Kabbalistic terminology the light and the vessel, the energy and the container.
Feder: Now before you go any further, I have to ask you a question. Is it masculine or feminine for me to pause right now and go into some details and reidentify ourselves?
Jacobson: If it’s done in a healthy way, it’s part masculine and part feminine. Which part you are, you’ll have to determine by the end of the show.
Feder: Okay. So in a masculine and a feminine sense, let me reidentify who you’re listening to right now. You were just listening to Rabbi Simon Jacobson, and this is Toward a Meaningful Life with Simon Jacobson. My name is Mike Feder and we’re here every Sunday night from 6-7pm and you’re listening to WEVD, 1050AM in New York City.
This show is an outgrowth of the Meaningful Life Center in Brooklyn, and this show is also based very much on Rabbi Jacobson’s book called Toward a Meaningful Life, in which almost every subject that you hear discussed on the air here is discussed in the book.
We really want to thank everyone who has emailed us or written or called us. Here are some of the ways you can get in touch with us, and we want to hear from you. The most important thing is the telephone number: 1-800-3MEANING or 1-800-363-2646. You can also email us at email@example.com. You can always write to us at The Meaningful Life Center, 788 Eastern Parkway, Suite 303, Brooklyn, NY 11225.
I’d like to also tell you that we have a new website where you can download transcripts of this program, and previous and future programs. It’s www.meaningfullife.com.
Let us proceed. Now, we’ve already approached the original essence of male and female and now we’re coming down to earth. We have men and women walking around here. History, and even current events, seem to be very, very far away from this balance that we’re supposed to achieve originally. Things have gotten way out of whack, I think. So here we are, on earth, we’re men, we’re women, there’s a battle of the sexes, men are seen as aggressive, ambitious and violent, women are seen as receptive, nurturing, gentle. How did it all get to be this way, is that the way it’s supposed to stay? These are the questions we have to deal with as we’re living on earth right now.
Jacobson: So what I was doing was giving you the cosmic history of male and female, where it originates from in its quintessential form and I was going to bring it down to where we are now on earth. But I want to take one more step from where we left off.
So these two forms of energy evolve, and they evolved into what Kabbalah called lights and containers, the receptacles and energy, which again are two forms of energy that exist in every part of existence in every part of the universe.
For instance, when you write a book or write an article, you have the words, which are the containers, the vehicles. But you have the energy which is the spirit and the message between the lines.
Any type of communication, any transmission, requires a spirit behind it and vehicles to express it. Now the mistake that some people have is that the vehicles are just passive or receptive. They too are a form of energy.
Feder: Now before you move on, let me ask this? Do you mean that the spirit and the ideas are the masculine and the vehicle is feminine? Or am I misunderstanding?
Jacobson: I’ll explain. In context of a true container or receptacle, it can be seen as a passive state, for example, if you pour water into a jug, the jug is just a passive vehicle, and water is the main thing that you want to have. The vehicle is just carrying it.
But in the context of masculine and feminine, the vehicle is really the inward energy. That’s why its expression is not always expressive and projective, its expression may be through a more gentle approach or a more silent approach.
So when a person is sitting silently, which is louder, silence or sound? Most people say sound is louder. Not necessarily. We’re not talking about silence as being weakness. The silence of a wise person may be louder and more powerful than sound. But it can appear almost as being a passive state because you don’t hear anything.
The inner majesty or inner dignity of a human being, that inner energy I mentioned before, can in some ways appear as a receptacle, as a recipient or a container or vehicle, but in essence it’s really energy that equally has its own virtues and qualities in contrast to the masculine energy which is the more expressive one.
In the purest of worlds, where there’s a complete dedication and understanding that (going back to the Biblical verse: “Human being, male and female He created them,”) masculine and feminine are two forms of energy that are required in everyone’s life, in such a world there is no room for confilct between the two forces. Both are equally indispensable elements in all human experience. Using the example I gave before of the introvert and the extrovert: you need both expression and inwardness. In a pure world where there are no distortions and no corruption, these two energies (masculine and feminine) completely complement each other.
In other words, the man has a balance of yin and yang, his masculine and feminine energy, and the woman has a balance of her masculine and feminine energy. And of course that spills over and has implications and consequences that a man and woman will respect each other as such.
A man will not take advantage of a woman’s physical weakness, for instance. He won’t take advantage of her sensitive or gentle nature. And a woman won’t take advantage sometimes of a man’s bruteness and lack of sensitivity.
Feder: How do you take advantage of that?
Jacobson: We’ll discuss that in a moment. Ask some men out there on the street and they’ll tell you how wily women can be.
Feder: They can twist men around their little finger.
Jacobson: Right. And they make us feel that we’re powerful and strong but it’s really the woman that controls it all. You’ll hear plenty of it. The battle of the sexes can be directed in both directions once things are out of whack and once there’s no respect and trust. But let’s not discuss that distortion for a moment. Let’s talk about the other side of things.
So when there’s a full appreciation, and let’s put it in very simple context, when the male and female recognize that they’re both part of a larger Divine image, a larger image that they’re both living up to, then they realize that my energy was created or given to me to serve, to build something greater than myself. It’s not a selfish oriented life. The male and female both recognize that—as Adam and Eve both did before eating from the Tree of Knowledge—then there’s a certain complementary element that comes into play, that’s more than the sum of the parts; a synergy that is a perfect union: perfect love, the perfect marriage, divine union of two forces complementing each other.
The woman, the feminine, helping the masculine to be in touch with his own feminine energy, and the man, the masculine, helping the woman to be in touch with her own masculine energy.
Feder: Let me ask you a question, since we’re right here in the beginning of the Bible stage, and we have to move on obviously, it seems to me (maybe I’ve been reading the wrong Bible and you’ve often pointed out to me that I seem to have been reading the wrong Bible)
Jacobson: Wrong translation…
Feder: Okay. I seem to remember learning in school, that G-d created (I think this is how I remember it, in fact, I know that most people I know remember it this way) G-d created man, Adam, and then G-d said, “Man needs a ‘helpmeet,’” which is the word I read in translation, and “helpmeet” is an old-fashioned word for someone who is a helpmate. So He creates man, which is His original creation, His first creation, His first thought for a human, then He creates woman by taking one of Adam’s ribs and creates a woman to “help” him.
Now right away that’s a subservient, secondary position. Now, did I get it wrong? Did I read that wrong someplace?
Jacobson: I would suggest that you and all listeners open up your Bibles tonight, or tomorrow, and you’ll notice (you read half right, but you don’t remember the first sentence) that the first verse is the way I read it.
Feder: But does the other one exist?
Jacobson: Yes. And I’m going to explain that. But the first time it’s expressed is that G-d created a human being. Now “adam” means human being. Because at that time we didn’t yet have an Adam and Eve, because then it goes on to say, “He created them male and female.” As a matter of fact, most commentaries say that that human being was androgynous, it was both male and female and it was then split into two.
Feder: Do you know that scientists, if I remember correctly, have discovered recently that the first beginnings of a fetus are female, and the male is added later? Have you read that?
Jacobson: Exactly. Yes I have read that and I would say that from a Torah perspective it’s accurate but a little different. I think the first stages they’ll discover are neither male nor female. Then there’s the female dominant element and then the male. Because similar to the creation of Adam and Eve, you’re talking about a complete entity that is half male and half female, and then comes a second section of the Bible several verses later where it begins to discuss the details.
So how did He split them apart? So we have an entity that’s both male and female, clearly equals. There’s nowhere that you can imply from that that the male is the dominant one. It’s clearly two halves. Then it speaks about how G-d split them apart, and when it speaks about the splitting apart, your reading is more or less accurate, with some corrections that I would make.
First of all, rib is only one interpretation. Some interpret it that the word in the Torah is really “side,” it doesn’t say “rib.”
There is an interpretation of rib, and there is an interpretation that it’s an entire side, meaning, that in a sense a male and female were like two sides, two halves, and they were split apart by taking the female side and the male side. So it’s not really like taking a rib out.
Now, regarding the helpmate issue, I’ll discuss that a little later in answering that question of yours. But I just want to respond to your question of the Biblical reading of it.
Let me go back for a moment to where I left off, and I think overall, I’ll try to cover it all and this show will leave people with more answers than questions. That’s our objective.
Now we have two forms of energy, masculine and feminine, and clearly they have different roles and different virtues and qualities, but in a world where there is trust, in a world under G-d, where two people are serving a higher goal, you don’t have any reason for anyone to abuse or corrupt their particular qualities and no way of abusing the other person’s qualities.
Clearly, a man is physically stronger than a woman, and it has been used in history as a form of abuse; the worst type we don’t have to mention, but that physical dominance gives man power, physical power. He can physically subdue a woman, he can physically put her in her place, he can beat her up. And even if he doesn’t do it, it creates a psychological fear—the woman knows she can always be subdued.
Feder: This seems to explain much of the last several thousand years of human history.
Jacobson: Correct. And I’m in no way rejecting that, and I’m not trying to go into some utopian fantasy. But I do believe that we have to describe what a man and a woman are, and that it resonates in each of us.
So now a distortion comes into play. Adam and Eve eat from the Tree of Knowledge and, in a sense, they lose touch with their purpose of existence.
Feder: Which was?
Jacobson: Which was to build something greater, to make a home for G-d in this world. To sanctify their lives and the world around them. To, as the Bible puts it, to serve, to protect, to transform the world and make it a unified place.
Feder: So they went off the wrong track.
Jacobson: They went off by becoming self-involved; each of them now recognizing a sense of self, including a sexual identity. Oh, I’m a man, this is a woman. I’m attracted to a woman. Which in itself is not a problem, especially if that attraction and union leads to something greater. But now, man is also aware that he’s stronger physically. A woman is aware that she may have certain sensitivities.
In a world where materialism is dominant, who will be the more powerful? The one who’s more material, who has more matter. First of all, body bulk on a simple level, but also more money, more aggressiveness, more aggression.
So now this energy that I described before as being projective, expressive energy which is a very healthy thing can turn into brute aggressive energy. What happens if that man who’s physically stronger or able to be more aggressive suddenly becomes a warrior? And he’s no longer just expressing his inner energies in a healthy context, he’s now dominating. And if he doesn’t get what he wants he says to the woman, “I want, I insist on this,” and he’s aggressive about it. He can even be physical about it, or violent.
Feder: So the more that the two sexes separate themselves as male and female, the more a man thinks he’s a man and the more a woman thinks she’s a woman, the worse things get, correct?
Jacobson: Yes. The potential for abuse essentially comes from a dichotomy and a schism between matter and spirit. That’s how I would put it.
The more that the world sees itself, or human beings see themselves as self-contained materialistic creatures, the more a world where the male and female will be going in two different directions.
Because they only really unite in a higher context. Their unity is based on building that Divine image, which is building something greater.
Once they become self-absorbed, what happens is that the tools at your disposal—a man will say “my tools are that I’m physically strong, I’m aggressive, I have different talents, I can go out and get a great job, make a lot of money,” and men begin pursuing that. First of all, they get out of touch with their own feminine side, that’s number one, which of course splits them apart from any actual woman, because if you’re not in touch with your own feminine element, you’re not going to be in touch with another.
Feder: It splits them apart from the earth itself.
Jacobson: Right. And most importantly it just creates a climate where material things, where brutal strength, where physical things, where quantity is more important than quality. Quantity takes over.
Now for thousands of years, men have created this type of hierarchy. So it slowly accelerates and they build institutions and governments and businesses and communities and cultures, and we’re all programmed to think this way: that the man is the breadwinner, and he’s the stronger one, and he leads, and the woman is the helpmate who sits at home…
Feder: The homemaker, the nurturer,
Jacobson: The caretaker of the home and the children. Now that per se is not a problem and is not unhealthy, but the problem is, what is valued? What is really the center of life? Is the center of life gentleness, caretaking, children, spirituality? Or is the center of life career, business, making money, building things, going to war, conquering, conquests?
Feder: You just asked the question, can you answer it?
Jacobson: Of course. In a world prior to the Tree of Knowledge, which is the healthiest of worlds, it’s very clear. The center is soul, spirit, quality. The inner dignity of the human being.
Feder: The female essence.
Jacobson: Exactly. The feminine aspect. And the masculine is a way of expressing it to the world, a way of refining and taming the material aspects. To use a very simple example: a man is stronger so he goes out and he knows how to chop more wood, so he takes the chopped wood and puts it into a fireplace, and now he can sit with his family and study, and read, and have a Shabbos table together, as an example.
What happens if the man says no, wood chopping is a career, I’m making a lot of money, I’m going to start a wood manufacturing business, and it becomes an end in itself?
Feder: He creates www.wood.com.
Jacobson: Exactly. So suddenly careers and the type of male bonding that goes on in the male community becomes a corporate entity. Corporations are an end in themselves. They have lost touch with the human side, that the whole point of business, and money, and conquest, and aggression is meant to make life better.
But life is being played out not in the marketplace and not on Wall Street, and not on the battlefield. It is being played out in a very gentle place. In the home, in a hearth, with a mother and father and children.
Feder: So everything has gone very wrong from the original essence it seems to me looking at history, but let me pin you down a little bit here.
Jacobson: That’s very masculine, you’re going to pin me down…
Feder: Okay, what can I tell you? So men are going out and working most of the time in a lot of communities, this is the old way I guess, up until the 60s and the 70s.
Jacobson: Wait. I’m not up to the 60s and 70s yet.
Feder: So women are home, and they’re nurturing and gentle and they’re rearing the children.
Jacobson: In the traditional role.
Feder: Now, may I say that maybe it’s incorrect, but especially in the tradition that you’re coming from, perhaps, that there are more women—you’re what’s called Orthodox?
Jacobson: You know what I think about the word “Orthodox”…
Feder: Yes, so tell me…
Jacobson: That’s another radio show. Don’t define me as Orthodox. You can define me as a Jew, as someone who’s searching for G-d.
Feder: Okay. So there are a lot of women home taking care of the family, and there are a lot of men out working. This is the way most of the world is it seems. Is there something naturally right about the fact that women are taking care of children, watching the home, nurturing, being spiritual, creating a place of spirit and rest and meditation, and nurturing, and men are out there with their brute strength which is larger and more real, chopping things down, bringing home whatever it is… Is that right, is that correct? Is that the way it should be?
Jacobson: If the center of life, and there can only be one center, is understood by everyone to being the same center, that we’re trying to build, and I’ll use the expression: “a home for G-d in this world,” and what I mean by that is that your home is not in your office, your home is not in the battlefield, your home is a very gentle, soft place. Also in your own heart and spirit which is the core, the hub, where everything begins. And everything else is a means, like spokes that are connected by that hub.
In that type of world, then they’re both balanced. There’s no problem with going out and chopping wood. You know why you’re chopping. You know why you’re investing. You know why you’re on Wall Street. You know why you’re aggressive in the marketplace— not as an end in itself.
That gives you satisfaction, but it’s not the ultimate satisfaction. The ultimate satisfaction is that that can fuel a wholesome life, a spiritual life, a life where you can pass something on to your children, values. And when your deepest satisfaction comes from that, then you have more or less of a balance, and more importantly, you will not have a man abusing that gentleness and abusing the feminine aspect.
Now what happened in history is that this male hierarchy was built.
Feder: By men.
Jacobson: Yes. And clearly in a distorted world, where materialism can be seen as an end in itself, and spirit and quality can be almost squelched or ignored or abused. In such a world, we basically live in a battlefield. A battlefield doesn’t mean shedding blood, a battlefield can also mean a competitive marketplace.
Now suddenly we look at the last few decades, at something called the Women’s Rights Movement, the feminist movement. In many ways, as they call it in the marketplace, it’s a reality check.
The women begin to complain. They say, oh, we see that the deal is different. We all thought that the deal was that we were all building something together. Suddenly the men are out and they’re not coming home. Or they’re not coming home on time. Or they’re not coming home altogether. They have a new center. New priorities.
So the women come out of their aprons and out of their homes and out of their kitchens and say to the men, that’s not fair. We want a part of the action, too. So women essentially want to create a check and a balance and want to become like men—let’s all go out there and we also want to go out there and pursue careers and make as much money as you do, and we also can be as aggressive as you can in our own way.
And women have been trying to prove that point.
Feder: And do men also want to conversely go home and stay at home?…
Jacobson: You hear of different movements, some people say that… but let me finish my thought and I think that will be answered.
So what’s really happening is that the root of the women’s restlessness and being upset is a very healthy one, because the men, in a sense, have messed it up. But the truth is that their response is not necessarily the right one. So the women are going to become like men? So we’re all going to move away from the center of life…
Feder: And we’ll all go out there and beat each other up…
Jacobson: We’ll all become warriors, no one’s staying home. And the whole attitude in a sense shifted to one of aggression and battle.
I would say, that the real feminist revolution should be one, and in many ways is becoming one, which states: “No, in the name of equality we are not going to succumb to the male-warrior model for life. We see each other (maan and woman) as partners. We women can excel at work. We can be political leaders, oftentimes better than men because we’re sensitive. But we’re not going to forget our priorities as well. We’re here for a purpose in this world. We will not compromise our power of nurturing. Our gentleness, our sybltelty — that is vital to men and to all of life. That purpose does not mean sitting in the kitchen—I don’t want to create this demeaning view of a woman sitting in the kitchen and she’s the one staying home with the kids and nurturing, because that’s become almost like a caricature—but let’s put it this way: we are nurturing life itself.”
The name “Chava,” the Hebrew for Eve, means mother of life. Do you know what “Adam” means? Dust of the earth. Because it reflects on the different qualities. A man is much more earthy in a sense, where we talk about the brute strength. A woman is much more of a mother. I don’t mean a mother, but what I mean to say is a bearer of life, appreciation of life.
We, women, were given to safeguard and to protect and to build life in this world. And in a sense the objective should be to reintroduce a core or center of spirituality, which in many ways is very feminine, and men should serve their role in fulfilling that as well.
Feder: So maybe I missed it, or maybe you just gave the answer, but I still am wondering, did I hear the answer to the question? Do you think women’s place is basically to nurture, to be at home, let’s say rearing children and a man’s place is to be out in the world with their brute strength bringing home the goods. Is that true or not?
Jacobson: As I said earlier, there’s overlap and we have to also deal with the realities of the situation as it is. If you want to turn the clock back and you have the power to do so, that may be a possibility the way you describe it. But the reality is that many, many women are in the workplace today and I would not suggest that they all quit and go back home. That’s obviously ridiculous.
Feder: Do you think it would be better if they did?
Jacobson: No, not necessarily. Because they have much to contribute there too. The question is not where a woman belongs, but what is a woman and what is a man, that’s what we were discussing.
What are you? Are you a career person or are you a nurturer? What is a man? Are you a warrior or a form of expression of energy? So I would look at it more like men and women should try to get who they are. Where they spend their time clearly has to deal with the realities of our lives today.
Everything is by Divine providence. The fact is that many women are in the workplace and there are men who are beginning to appreciate what real homelife is about. I would not suggest that we turn the clocks back and say, “Women, you all go back home.” That fundamentalist approach is not at all the Judaism I know of, that women should quit their jobs and go back home and men should out to work. That’s not at all the objective. The objective is to take what we have and the virtues—and women can introduce into the workplace a sense of their gentleness as well, and men can use their strengths to help nurture.
Feder: You know, I hate to do this, but in the requirements of time, we only have a couple of minutes left in the program. We’ve raised so many questions and there are so many issues that I think we could do a part two, I believe.
Jacobson: Let me say that I’ve discussed this topic at length extensively in some of my classes and I would welcome anyone who is interested in this to make available to them more information on this topic. Especially as our website develops we’ll post it. But anyone wanting more on this—and I really see this show as a catalyst, not necessarily as giving all the answers—should call us and we will provide more information, and as you said Mike, do a part two.
Feder: We also want to say that we have received a lot of requests from people how they can donate to the Meaningful Life Center which sponsors this radio show and essentially to help this radio show do what it’s doing which is to bring, we hope, some meaning to people’s lives. The way you can do this, in effect becoming a partner in this undertaking, is to contribute money to the Meaningful Life Center which provides all of this. Right after we get off there will be someone there and you can call at 1-800-3MEANING or 1-800-363-2646 and you can talk to them about how you can donate and how you can help us to continue what we’re doing here today.
We have approximately one minute left and this is such a massive issue that we are going to do a part two, but in the last minute, is there something that you can say in terms of how we can resolve these things, so that tonight or tomorrow morning we can understand ourselves better and begin to resolve these issues?
Jacobson: Well, it’s critical that both men and women realize that we’re both on the same boat, universe, life. And we are allies, and we are part of one bigger picture. And to do that the men have to get more in touch with their feminine side and the women perhaps with their masculine side. We need more integration. And we need to recognize that the dominant force in our lives should not be individual (male or female) interests, but the higher good, the greater cause, the higher calling.
In a world where the masculine and feminine energies are so unbalanced in favor of material, brute aggression, we need to counter balance it by recognizing and cherishing the power of the soul, the spirit. Because when we look at the quality of our lives, that helps identify our quantity. Like form and function. You need to be able to recognize that which is the vehicle and that which is the spirit. And I think both men and women, those who are in relationships and marriages can practically do something every morning to talk about these issues with each other. To begin the initiate the dialogue, to go to a class, read a book.
In my book Toward a Meaningful Life these ideas are captured in the chapter on Men and Women. By putting this issue on the agenda and discussing it, we come closer to resolving the struggle. This is by no means exclusively for couples; relationships begin when you are single. Every one of us can contribute to a better relationship between men and women, by recognizing and studying something that’s spiritual that helps us cultivate these two different types of energy in a Divine way.
Feder: Thank you very much.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Due to the many questions and great demand for more on this topic, this discussion will continue two weeks from now, on the radio show titled The Battle of the Sexes – Part II.