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Feminine Power

Feminine Power

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The goal of creation is that this physical, practical world should become a dwelling for the Divine, a domain in which real human beings express holiness in their daily lives. Jewish teaching tells us that women and girls have special power and responsibility in this process. This week's Torah reading1 speaks of two special women: Sarah and Rebecca.

The traditional name of the reading is Chayei Sarah, "The Life of Sarah." Although she passes away at the very beginning of the reading, the name "Life of Sarah" indicates that in some sense she continues to live. Her body was buried in Hebron, but the effect of her goodness and holiness did not cease.2 She was equal with Abraham as founder of the Jewish people.

In fact, earlier in the Torah we learn that G‑d instructed Abraham to follow Sarah's advice even though this went contrary to his own feelings.3 She was a full partner in the task to spread the idea that G‑d is the Creator of the Universe and that G‑d is One. While Abraham would teach men these profoundly spiritual ideas, Sarah would impart them to women.4

The Sages5 tell us that Sarah had a deep spiritual power. Each week she would light a flame in honor of Shabbat, as women today light Shabbat candles. In a miraculous way, Sarah's flame continued to burn, and gave light throughout the week. When she made dough for bread, there was a blessing of unexpected increase. Further, an unusual cloud over her tent, giving shade from the hot sun, hinted also at her feminine modesty and purity.6 It is not surprising that millions of women through the ages have carried her name. Sarah lives in each one, and in every Jewish girl and woman.

The reading begins with Sarah and continues with the account of locating a suitable wife for her only offspring, Isaac. This was Rebecca. In the description of this young girl we see again an example of spiritual strength.

Rebecca was a member of the wider family of Abraham and Sarah. However, her parents, like those of Abraham, were idol worshippers. Rebecca saw the folly of this. She jumped at the chance to marry Isaac, despite her parents' attempt to slow down the proceedings. She would join the special clan of Abraham and Sarah, which would eventually become the Jewish people.

The Torah describes how she first saw her future husband Isaac. At that moment he was standing in solitary, meditative prayer. Later, when she joined him as his wife, moving into his tent, she too acquired the spiritual power that Sarah had shown. She too lit a flame for Shabbat, and it would last all week.

In fact, every Jewish woman and girl has a similar power. Each one has a unique role to play in making the world a dwelling for the Divine. That moment on Friday afternoon, before sunset, when the Shabbat candles are lit, reveals this potential. The flame may not be visible all week long, like that of Sarah and Rebecca, yet it has comparable effect. Every Jewish girl, from three years old, lights one candle, saying the blessing, while a married woman lights two. The Zohar tells us that these Shabbat candles bring peace to the world. Thus spiritual feminine energy is harnessed in order to bring us all closer to the goal of Creation.

Footnotes
2.

See the Lubavitcher Rebbe's Likkutei Sichot, vol. 15, p.146.

4.

See Rashi to Gen. 12:5.

5.

See Rashi to Gen. 24:67.

6.

The Sages see the cloud as representing the waters of the mikvah.

Dr. Tali Loewenthal is Lecturer in Jewish Spirituality at University College London, director of the Chabad Research Unit, author of Communicating the Infinite: The Emergence of the Habad School and a frequent contributor to the Chabad.org weekly Torah reading section.
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ruth housman marshfield hills, ma May 30, 2013

the SHE kin ah the indwelling feminine There is this deep feeling that earth "herself" is feminine, and that is "her" great receptive powers, for growth, for birth and rebirth. Generational. The stories of our women patriarchs reverberate today, as this piece describes. I find that every Sarah I meet, has something of that "original", perhaps template, and all David's possess a certain something that is hard to describe, of David, the original. And of course, not all people who bear Biblical and other names, always live up to their names, but it's hard, not to think back, and make these deep connections. it could be, we're all profoundly part of something far far bigger, and that something has everything to do with One ness. What's in a name? Perhaps, Everything. Reply

Welcome to our candle-lighting section, where you will find the details and practicalities of lighting Shabbat candles, along with the meaning, spirituality and power of doing so . . .
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