Sos Tasis V’Sagel Ha’akara
A synopsis of the Maamar found in Likutei Torah
THE BLESSING (traditionally recited at a wedding) “The barren [woman] will greatly rejoice and be glad when her sons gather in to her with joy” raises an obvious question: if the woman is barren, how does she come to have sons?
The answer may be found in the rules of Hebrew grammar, in which the second-person masculine takes the same form as the third-person feminine in the future tense. Thus, the word for “will rejoice” – tasis – is susceptible to two meanings: it can be understood, consistent with the plain meaning of the verse, as an intransitive verb the subject of which is the barren woman (“she will rejoice”), or as a transitive verb whose subject is G-d – in which case the verse would read, “You [G-d] will make [her] rejoice.”
The significance of all this will be understood after a discussion of a Talmudic teaching (Brachos 60a; Niddah 31a) concerning the respective contributions, during marital relations, of the “seed” of husband and wife. On the verse in this week’s Torah portion (Leviticus 12:2), “When a woman conceives and bears a male…,” our sages teach that “if the woman contributes seed first, she gives birth to a male; if the man contributes seed first, she gives birth to a female.” This may be taken as an allegory relevant to our relationship with G-d. It is a recurring theme in Torah literature that the Jewish People is compared to a woman and G-d, to our “husband,” as, for example, in the verse (Hoshea 2:18), “On that day … you [the Jewish People] will call [Me] ‘my Husband’.”
There are basically two approaches to our relationship with G-d. The preferred approach is for us Jews to take the initiative and try to develop a feeling within ourselves of love and respect, or “fear,” for G-d. When we do this, G-d reciprocates and bestows upon us the ability to surpass our limited mortal capacity for love and fear of the Divine, so that we attain a degree of love and fear of G-d unattainable without assistance from Above. After all, G-d is infinite and beyond all ability of humans to grasp, so any “love” or “fear” we feel for Him on our own is not truly directed at G-d Himself, but at whatever limited conception we ourselves have of Him. Yet, when we have tried our utmost to appreciate whatever we are able to appreciate of G-d, G-d rewards us with the Divine assistance necessary to actually love and fear G-d as He is in Himself – i.e., not merely as He manifests Himself within creation – a true love and fear of G-d impossible without His help.
In mystical terms, our efforts to arouse love and fear of G-d within ourselves are called is’arusa d’lesata (“arousal from below”) and ha’alas m.n. (“raising up of ‘feminine waters,’” in which phrase the abbreviation, pronounced man, stands for mayin nukvin). G-d’s response is known as is’arusa d’le’eila (“arousal from above”) and hamshachas m.d. (“drawing down of ‘masculine waters,’” where the abbreviation, pronounced mad, stands for mayin d’churin).
As stated, the preferred order is that we first engage in is’arusa d’lesata in order to elicit G-d’s is’arusa d’le’eila, as hinted in the verse (Genesis 3:16), “And your yearning shall be for your husband.” This sequence to our relationship with G-d causes the “woman” – i.e., the Jewish People (or, in the individual case, any particular worshipper) – to “give birth to a male.”
Now, what does that actually mean?
Jewish philosophy teaches that G-d, Who is omnipresent and all-encompassing, is the only true existence; everything else is literally nothing in relation to Him. This can be understood to some extent by considering a person engaged in a detailed and elaborate dream. Let us say that, in the dream, a character is going about the affairs of his or her life, against the backdrop of a vivid and detailed ostensible “reality”: there are birds twittering in the trees, it is warm outside, other people are bustling about on the street, the character is on the way to the drugstore to pick up a prescription, etc. To the character in the dream, all that seems quite real – in fact, that character’s “perception” (to imagine for the sake of our analogy that the character has one) – is that his or her “world” is the true reality and there is no dreamer at all. In truth, of course, it is exactly the opposite: the person having the dream is reality and everything in the dream – the characters, the world and all its details – is nothing but a manifestation of the dreamer’s imaginative faculty. Putting aside the fact that in real life, things exist other than the dreamer, it would be literally true to say that (with respect to the entire dream world) the dreamer is the only real existence; everything else is actually nothing – it simply does not exist.
With respect to G-d, the above statement is true without qualification. We do not have to say “putting aside the fact that in real life, things exist …,” because in real life, nothing does exist other than G-d. We are like characters in G-d’s “dream,” whose perception of reality is exactly wrong. It is we (and the entire universe) who do not exist; only G-d does. Like characters in a dream, however, we cannot appreciate this fundamental truth, since our entire perspective is limited to the “dream world” in which we live.
If we could appreciate it – if we could, somehow, attain a true recognition that nothing exists but G-d alone – we would naturally yearn to cast off the illusion of our own separateness from G-d and instead revert to our true state of unity with G-d Himself. This would necessarily entail self-sacrifice, in the sense that we would literally cease to exist as entities in our own right were we to be “re-absorbed” into G-d’s all-encompassing Oneness. Nevertheless, it is the nature of the Jewish soul, which is literally a “part” of G-d, to earnestly and sincerely desire this.
This is the attitude expressed by the verse (Psalms 73:25), “Whom do I have in the Heavens [other than You, O G-d], and other than You I do not desire [anything] on earth.” (See the synopsis of the discourse Mayim Rabim Lo Yuchlu L’Chabos on the Torah portion Noach.) The Hebrew word used for “other than You” literally means “with You”; the verse can thus be read, “Whom do I have in the Heavens? I do not desire anything that is ‘with You,’ etc.” That is, the speaker is so enraptured with love of G-d and G-d alone that he is rejecting anything, no matter how spiritually sublime, that is not G-d’s very Self.
Such yearning and love for G-d alone, even to the point of forfeiting one’s own independent existence, is known as “great love” (ahava rabba), and is considered a superior quality of love to that which falls short of self-sacrifice. The more common level of love for G-d has the worshipper loving G-d because he or she recognizes (through Torah study and contemplation of its teachings about G-d’s greatness) that G-d is the true source of one’s own life; it is He Who gives one sustenance; protects the Jews from our enemies, etc. On this level of love for G-d – although it is certainly praiseworthy – one still retains an awareness of one’s self as the one who loves. This is not as high a level as the love discussed above, in which one loses all sense of self.
Now, to switch gears for a moment, Jewish philosophy identifies three distinct faculties within the intellect: chochmah, bina and da’as. These parallel certain attributes of G-d, the so-called sefiros of the same names. While chochmah is the ability to conceive new ideas, bina is the faculty which expands on these seminal flashes of inspiration, fleshing them out into fully understood concepts. Da’as is the ability of the mind to internalize the result of chochmah and bina, to make the idea so much a part of one’s consciousness that it drives one’s actions. For example, a person might thoroughly understand that E=mc2, but except in rare individuals, this is unlikely to motivate any particular action. However, if a person thoroughly understands that human life is valuable, they will hopefully internalize that abstract intellectual understanding to the point where they automatically shrink from the prospect of harming others, or exert all possible effort to save a life. This is the effect of da’as.
Furthermore, the above faculties are associated with either masculinity or femininity (a fact which has mystical, as well as practical, relevance). Bina is mystically associated with femininity; women are thus said to have a greater degree of bina than men. Da’as, on the other hand, is mystically considered “masculine”; as a practical reflection of this, men are said to have more of it than women.
With all the above in mind, we may now come back to the underlying significance of the teaching that “if the woman contributes seed first, she gives birth to a male; if the man contributes seed first, she gives birth to a female.”
As explained above, when the “woman” – the Jews – are first to initiate our relationship with G-d, when we engage in is’arusa d’lesata as a prelude to is’arusa d’le’eila, the response from G-d is Divine assistance in attaining that degree of love for G-d Himself which we could not achieve on our own. This is the superior type of love which involves a person’s desire to be utterly absorbed within G-d’s true Unity, even though this would mean losing one’s existence as a seemingly separate entity. The person realizes that G-d is the only true existence and that one’s own “self” is insignificant by comparison; he or she has such a firm grasp of this truth that they are motivated to forego the relatively unimportant (even their own “selfhood”) in favor of what is really important (G-d and G-d alone). Since this motivation is an aspect of da’as, the true and superior, self-sacrificing, degree of love for G-d is referred to as “male.” The first half of the teaching therefore means that when we take the initiative and engage in our own efforts to draw close to G-d, rather than wait for G-d to first inspire us, we develop, we “give birth to,” the superior, “male” degree of love for G-d described above as ahava rabba, “great love.”
That “great love,” a completely selfless desire for G-d, is what is meant by the advice of the Mishna (Avos 1:3), “Be like servants who minister to the master altruistically [literally, ‘not for the sake of receiving a reward’].” On the other hand, the second half of the teaching (“if the man contributes seed first, she gives birth to a female”) means that if we wait around for G-d to inspire us before engaging in any effort of our own to draw close to him – if we allow is’arusa d’le’eila to precede is’arusa d’lesata – then we can only reach a level of love for G-d known as “small love” (ahava zuta), that which the Mishna considers “for the sake of reward”: the person loves G-d and yearns to draw close to Him in Heaven, quenching, so to speak, his or her thirst for G-d (the “reward”), while yet retaining his or her own existence. Although this is considered a legitimate level of love for G-d, it is nevertheless indicative of a deficiency in the faculty of da’as, since it neglects the main, important thing in favor of the secondary, insignificant one, and is thus considered “female.” This “selfish” love of G-d is hinted at in the verse (Isaiah 26:9), “My soul desired You in the night”: If “my soul” is what desires You – that is, if my soul still exists on its own and has not been absolutely nullified in Your all-encompassing Oneness – then this can only be considered “night” and darkness in comparison with true, selfless love of G-d.
When the Jews – the “wife” of G-d, as it were – are on this level of “small love,” they are considered “barren.” Although some form, at least, of love has been “born” within them, it is not attributed to them, since it was a result of the “Husband’s” contribution, not their own efforts; is’arusa d’le’eila preceded is’arusa d’lesata. However, even in this condition, there is hope, expressed in the liturgical wedding blessing as “The barren woman will … be glad when her sons gather in to her…”: even though she is “barren” in the sense described above, she may yet bear “sons” – the “male” offspring symbolic of selfless “great love” for G-d.
How can this be accomplished? As the text continues, it comes about “with joy.”
It is written (Deuteronomy 28:47), “Since you [the Jews] did not serve G-d your G-d with joy and with gladness of heart ... you will serve your enemy.” It seems unreasonable that failure to serve G-d with heartfelt joy be given as the reason for “you will serve your enemy” – serving G-d with joy is important, to be sure, but is failure to do this so severe as to deserve such harsh punishment? The answer is that in fact, it is not lack of joy in worship that is being punished; rather, the punishment (may G-d protect us from such things) comes as a result of one’s sins, as we are told (Ecclesiastes 7:20), “For there is not a righteous person upon earth that does good and sins not.”
However, joy has a wonderful quality: it brings about an impulse to ignore the usual boundaries and overflow into other areas. For example, a king is usually a paradigm of propriety and protocol. He may bestow grace upon favored nobles, but mete out strict justice to the common thief. At his daughter’s wedding though (for example), when the king is rejoicing, he tends to overlook protocol and grant favors and gifts to even the lowliest peasants, and may even pardon criminals. The same is true in our context. Although one must never sin (G-d forbid), and if one does, one may be liable to punishment (G-d forbid), nevertheless, the power of heartfelt joy in worshipping G-d is such that when G-d sees this in a person, it elicits joy (allegorically speaking) in G-d as well, and He tends to ignore the ordinary protocol and overlook our sins. Thus, in the verse in Deuteronomy, the meaning is that had we worshipped G-d with the requisite simcha shel mitzvah – joy in the performance of mitzvos – we would not have been subjected to the punishment for our sins of “serving our enemy.” (For a discussion of how to achieve this joy, see the synopsis of the discourse Tachas Asher Lo Avad’ta Es Hashem Elokecho B’Simcha, Etc., in the Torah portion Ki Savo.)
All this applies to our relationship with G-d as well. Although ordinarily, under the usual protocol, it requires “the woman to contribute first” in order to “give birth to a male,” this can be overridden, as it were, through service of G-d with joy. This brings about such “joy” on G-d’s part that He bestows His blessings on great and small alike, on everyone without distinction, even to the point where the “barren” woman is blessed with “sons.” That is the inner significance to the wording of the wedding blessing, ambiguous by the rules of Hebrew grammar. On the one hand, it is the barren woman who will rejoice; this refers to the Jews (even in a “barren” state) experiencing simcha shel mitzvah, rejoicing in the worship of G-d. On the other hand, it is G-d who will cause the woman to rejoice; this is the resulting blessing from G-d which causes even the “barren” to bear “sons.”
Along these lines, a final point can be made about the power of simcha shel mitzvah. The verse quoted above speaks of the Jews as “serv[ing] your enemy” for want of joy. The expression “your enemy” can also be understood as a reference to temptation by the pleasures of this material world, and to decline in the quality of one’s worship. Serving G-d with heartfelt joy, simcha shel mitzvah, and with the degree of love in which one loses all sense of self, safeguards a person from having to “serve their enemy,” from succumbing (G-d forbid) to temptation.
Ó 2002 Yitzchok D. Wagshul. Please note that the foregoing is an informal synopsis by a private person, and that, therefore, errors are possible. Also, the Hebrew original contains much more than could possibly be presented here, and constitutes a much more direct transmission of the Alter Rebbe’s teachings. Furthermore, the synopsis may contain supplementary or explanatory material not in the original, and not marked as such in any way. Thus, for those with the ability to learn in the original, this synopsis should not be considered a substitute for the maamar. Good Shabbos!