Along with you, I yearn for a time to come when this blessing will no longer be said.
A woman of valor is the crown of her husband, wrote King Solomon, and the chassidic masters give their interpretation: There will be a time when the feminine in this world will rise above the masculine, as a crown is placed above the head.
Of the very great tzaddikim, many had wives greater than themselves and daughters greater than their sons. So it was with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. So it was with Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Meir. So it was with many great chassidic masters. This is because these righteous persons, in their personal lives, were already tasting of the World to Come.
In the world the rest of us live in, however, women continue to get the short end of the stick. Whatever women's emancipation gains on one hand seems to get taken away from the other. There are currently about four million female slaves worldwide -- 400,000 were sold last year in the U.S. One of the largest sectors of American society living beneath the poverty line is single mothers and their families. Working mothers almost always do more work at home than their working husbands. And when was the last time you heard a man ask someone to accompany him home at night for protection? It goes on and on.
This perception extends itself to our understanding of male and female roles in mitzvahs: Masculine performance is oriented to action and public performance, whereas the feminine role in Torah is an inner and pervasive one. Again, the highly tangible and visible male role is more valued in the current consciousness.
Why is our world this way? This is not just another injustice. It is a stage in humanity's development, a reflection of the state of the general human consciousness: We -- both men and women -- are stuck within the perception of the masculine role as superior and the feminine as inferior. Our behavior only reflects our perception.
What are the male and female roles? As with any concept, the best way for us to understand this is to examine it at its roots, as a cosmic principle.
G-d is neither male nor female. For the sake of creating a world, however, two complimentary forces were conceived and brought into play. The Torah gives them many names: In Genesis, "Heaven" and "Earth." In the Talmud, "The Holy One, blessed be He" and the "Divine Presence". In the Zohar, "The King" and "The Queen". In the language of Chabad Chassidism, "Transcendent" and "Immanent". Or: The power to create ad infinitum and the power to constrict that creative power to the limitations of a real world.
And so we have two modalities for G-d, of two genders: As the Creator who stands beyond, directing a world, G-d is He. As the Divine Presence (Shechinah) found within each thing, G-d is She. Two manifestations of a single essence. Just as your power to think and your power to articulate your thoughts are both equally expressions of your single mind.
When the world was first brought into being, a goal was set: That it will begin as a duality, where G-d and His world appear distinctly apart from each other -- and then eventually achieve a higher union. Gradually, the true nature of the creation would become clear and the Divinity within it would be revealed. Heaven and Earth, the King and the Queen, the transcendent light and the immanent, would unite.
All things begin in Torah, since Torah contains the inner soul of creation, and Torah is the dynamo behind this transition in the world. In Torah, too, there is a male and a female voice: The Written Torah (the Bible) and the Oral Tradition (Talmud and all classic Torah teachings). The Written Torah speaks with the voice of transcendence and authority -- a voice that cannot be challenged or altered. Not even a single letter can be added, nor taken away. The Oral Tradition is quite the opposite: Constant dialog and growth, rethinking and re-application of ideas according to the situations that arise at each point in time.
The written Torah and the oral tradition are both Torah. Both G-d's voice. One voice speaking from Above. One speaking through us. Both work in tandem to create the Judaism we know -- a Judaism that adapts to every situation without inherent change, renews itself with ever-fresh vigor while remaining constant and eternal, a stunning balance of the heavenly and the earthly, the temporal and the timeless. Only that the second aspect of Torah, the female, emerges incrementally with time until it finally attains dominance with the Torah that Moshiach will teach. As the Midrash says, "The Torah we learn now is hevel (vanity, hot air) compared to the Torah of Moshiach."
Every aspect of the creation reflects this duet -- in every thing there is both male and female. Including humankind. Only that in our world, a world where all things integrate with one another, blending and sharing and balancing one another, there are no absolutes. In everything that is male, there is at least a small bit of female. In everything female, there is some of it that is male. When it comes to human beings, we seem 90% the same stuff -- two arms, two legs, most of our mind and heart the same, some more, some less. In fact, the first human being was originally created as a single whole -- only later to be divided. But the difference is something to celebrate, something Divine.
As with the general scheme of the cosmos, so with man and woman and the human consciousness. The history of humankind can be seen this way: A transition from male to female values, from authority to dialogue, from dominance to persuasion, from control to nurture.
But we're not there yet. And the best evidence is that we do not have the power, according to Halachah, to change this blessing. It was accepted by the ancient Jewish Parliament (the Sanhedrin) as a way for the Jewish male to express his thankfulness for having been given the more assertive, aggressive role in the fulfillment of mitzvot -- a role which, at that point in the spiritual history of Creation, was perceived even by women as greater than the more intimate and nurturing feminine role. According to Torah law, that blessing cannot be changed until another such Sanhedrin arises that is greater in wisdom and in number (see Maimonides, Book of Judges, Laws of Mumrim, Chapter 1). If it was time to change it, we would have the power to do so. My personal speculation is that when the world will have changed enough to warrant it, a Sanhedrin will arise that can change this blessing. The signs of the times show we are on our way. Women are studying Torah today as never before and values of power and control are waning before the feminine qualities of compassion and nurture. May the ultimate step for which Jews have always prayed be very soon.
For further elucidation on this point, please see The Lunar Files"
For further study on the feminine within Torah, see the Lubavitcher Rebbe's Likutei Sichot vol. 30, pages 9-15, and the sources cited there.