Sunday, November 09, 2008

Jewish Couples, Jewish Mothers, Jewish Voters

Hadassah Sabo has inaugurated the Yiddishe Mama Blog Carnival over at her In the Pink blog. Besides my favorite Isramom post there are Jewish mother posts from all around. Worth visiting. Jewlicious has posted a very well organized Heveil Havalim which should keep everyone busy analyzing the election etc for at least a week.

I'd like to share some ideas that came to mind this week.
Dr. Beetcha Har-Shefi has a piece in this week's Makor Rishon* entitled ספר תולדות הזוגיות which roughly translates as The History of Couplehood. (Zug means couple as in involved in an intimate marital relationship and zugiut describes that relationship. I have never seen a good English term for this.)

I'd like to take some of her points (in my own words and shorter) and link them up to an idea I heard about Noach and some of my own ideas.

Dr. Har-Shefi writes that while B'reshit is a history of humanity it is presented as the story of male and female and how close (or how far)their relationship comes to being complete and complimentary. Before the tree of knowledge sin Adam and Eve had a perfect relationship. The punishment and the banishment from the garden of Eden led to the a severe breach in the harmonious relationship where women are ignored almost completely except in the capacity of anonymous childbearing. Lemech is mentioned as having two wives giving rise to the description in B'reshit Raba of the description of the generation before the flood having kept two wives, one for childbearing purposes and the other for sexual relations. The one who bore the children lived 'like a widow' and the other 'drank from the cup of sterility' and spent her life sitting by him 'decked out like a harlot'. The situation deteriorates and the objectification (is that a word?) of women gets so out of hand that just before the flood things have gotten so out of hand that we have difficulty even understanding the last few sentences in parshat B'reshit (with the giants and the sons of the elohim taking the daughters of man as they wish).

This brings us to the flood and Noach and his wife and his sons and their wives. Here I'd like to tell of an insight which I heard from Rav Dr. Benny Lau (on TV no less, erev parshat Noach). He pointed out that when they enter to ark the go in Noach and Shem and Ham and Yafet and Noach's wife and the wives of his sons (B'reshit 7,13). This is because they will not be having sexual relations as this is not appropriate while the world is being destroyed outside. But then Rav Lau pointed out that when Hashem tells Noach to leave the ark (B'reshit 8, 16) he tells him to leave the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives with you. The message is that although the destruction was brought about because of promiscuity and degenerate life style you must not fear returning to normal couplehood (zugiut). In the end Noach essentially fails at this. (Rav Lau continued on this point but I want to get back to Dr. HarShefi and I don't want this post to take forever to write.)

Then Avram comes to mark the beginning of a new era. He and Sarai are a unit, she is referred to often throughout the text by her name Sarai the wife of Avram. Indeed this is not in harmony with the world around them and their couplehood is put to the test by rulers who have yet to internalize the faithful relationship between one man and one woman. Their inability to bear children together is of course a major force in their story. From the Hagar story we learn that Hashem's promise to Avraham of giving him progeny was meant for him and Sarah. This teaches us a lesson about the connection between the ideal of marriage and the mandate 'be fruitful and multiply'.

"One the one hand marriage is not just the vehicle for fulfilling 'be fruitful
and multiply' but an ideal in its own right, as it is written: "Anyone who finds
himself without a wife finds himself without goodness, without blessing …
without peace" (Tur Even Haezer aleph, as quoted in Yebamot). On the other hand
the commandment 'be fruitful and multiply' is intimately connected with the
ideal of marriage. The completeness which is achieved through marriage is a
precondition as well as the means of begetting children and it is the method of
establishing place for the shechina in this world by filling the world with
humans who were created in Hashem's image."

Rav Ezra Bick of Yeshivat Har Etzion's KMTT started a series in which he will be teaching the parsha with Ramban's commentary. In the Lech Lecha podcast he elaborates on familiar מעשה אבות סימן לבנים 'the actions of the fathers are a sign for the sons'. We often read this as a forshadowing of history as in just as Avraham walked about Eretz Yisrael symbolically taking possesion of it so do his children inherit the land; just as Avraham goes down to Egypt so his children return to Egypt, etc. But Rav Bick expands on this. He says that we can also read this as our father's action being a sign for us to follow, an example to learn from.

I love reading B'reshit and having access to insights like these in the print and elctronic media have enriched my understanding and appreciation of torah.

*Many of this week's articles are posted there in Hebrew but this one isn't (yet?) and there is no English site that I know of.
**My translation of the last paragraph (including the quote) of Dr. Har-Shefi's article.


Anonymous said...

So why did the Torah not forbid polygamy?

Risa said...

Stay tuned, I will have to figure that one out.

muse said...

Risa, you've become a very powerful blogger!

Isn't it strange that the more beloved wife is the infertile one? Maybe Elkana's obnoxious statement to Chana can be understood on another level, that he didn't want her as a "wife?" He wanted her more as a "mother?" Only after she returned with Eli's message did he agree to be a real husband. Could that be it?

Risa said...

I have to think about that one. I don't like Elkana's answer there either but I don't think he was purposely keeping Chana from bearing children. Perhaps he wasn't praying with her though and after her prayers and Eli's message got a different perspective.

Anonymous said...

R' Soloveitchik aiui stated that the reason chana went at that point to pray was that up to then she felt her husband was truly in it with her. when he said aren't I better than 10 children, she realized (me-as we all should) that in the final analysis we are existentially alone (or lonely people of faith) and thus she threw herself totally and uniquely into her prayers/relationship with hashem.


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