There is an outer Bible—a story of men and women, of wars and wonders. And there is an inner Bible, according to ancient traditions, in which each word uncovers fathomless wisdom, beauty and light.
From the outside, the women of the Bible appear to play only a supportive role in a drama dominated by men.
From the inside emerges a story of men manipulated by potent women and nurtured with feminine values. A story that reveals the inner quality of womanhood that transcends the minds of men.
The inner light of womanhood is of an essence-quality, of a place the mind cannot touch
This is the secret of the words of Solomon’s wisdom, “A woman of valor is the crown of her husband.” As a crown is above the head and beyond it, so the inner light of womanhood is of an essence-quality, of a place the mind cannot touch.
1) Chavah (Eve)
Then Adam called his wife Chavah, for she was the mother of all life. (Genesis 3:20)
She was the other side of the image of G‑d. For G‑d is not just a boundless light, beyond all things. G‑d is something that is here now, within all things, giving them life, being whatever they are being. In her source above, she is “the Shechinah”—the divine presence that dwells within.
This is what drove the earthly Chavah to eat the fruit: this yearning to be within, to experience the taste of life, to be immersed in it. With this she transgressed—she carried herself from the realm of the divine into a world where all that is real is the here-and-now, where there is no vantage point from which to discern good from evil, no light to discern the fruit from its husk. And she took with herself the Shechinah and she imprisoned Her as well, so that havoc ensued throughout the cosmos.
But the desire behind her transgression was the holy yen of the Shechinah to permeate all. And in the end, she will succeed, and life within will also be G‑dly.
As long as the drama of this universe remains incomplete, the Shechinah is silent, she does not sing. We see the world She vitalizes, but we do not hear her voice within it. In all people’s minds, She plays a secondary role—for her husband conquers and subdues, while she, they say, only provides life and nurture. Such is the mindset of an immature world.
There is a time yet to come, when the secret of the Inner Light will be revealed. Then the Mother of Life will sing loud without bound.
“Whatever Sarah tells you,” G‑d told Abraham, “listen to her.” (Genesis 21:12)
The first to heal the wound that Eve had made was Sarah. She descended to the lair of the snake, to the palace of Pharaoh. She resisted his lure and rose back up. While living within, she remained bonded Above.
It was Abraham who empowered Sarah to do so. Yet Abraham himself was not capable of such a thing. This is the role of a man—to activate the power that lies dormant in a woman. Without a woman, a man has no bond with the Shechinah. Without a man, the woman cannot be the Shechinah. Once there is a man, the woman becomes everything.
Sarah is the embodiment of the cosmic power of purification and healing of souls. What Chavah confused and stirred together, Sarah sifts and refines; where Chavah entered in darkness, Sarah switches on the light. Her work continues through each generation: as the soul of Abraham draws souls in and holds Where Chavah entered in darkness, Sarah switches on the light them close to the Infinite Light, the soul of Sarah discerns the stains that must be cleaned and the dross that must be rejected. When any soul or spark of light is healed and returned to its source, you will know that Sarah’s touch was there.
“Drink . . . and I will also draw water for your camels to drink.” (Genesis 24:17–18)
With these words, Rebecca betrothed herself to Isaac and rose to become the mother of two great nations. Not for her act of giving alone, but for her eagerness, because she chased after any opportunity to do good, seeking it out with joy and delight, with all her soul and being.
And she implanted this within us as our inheritance. We only need awaken it, and we will find the Rebecca within.
There are few stories as detailed in the Bible as the telling of the union of Rebecca and Isaac—it is told and retold twice. For in this tale lies the birth of our people and our purpose. In it lies the inner secret for which all the cosmos was created: the fusion of opposites, the paradox and beauty of life. For this, we are here—to unite heaven and earth. And in the union of man and woman is found all these.
And who is the matchmaker in this cosmic drama? It is the simple servant of Abraham, who speaks to the Master of the Universe from the sincerity of his heart, who is obsessed with his mission and delights in its every step. It is each and any one of us.
4) Rachel & Leah
A voice is heard on high,
wailing, bitterly crying.
Rachel weeps for her children
She refuses to be consoled
For they are gone.
“Restrain your voice from weeping,” G‑d tells her. “Hold back your eyes from their tears.
“For your work has its reward, and your children shall return.”
Rachel is the embodiment of the Shechinah as She descends to care for Her children, even to travel their journey of exile with them. And so she ensures they will return.
Her sister, Leah, is also our mother, the Shechinah. Yet she is the transcendent, concealed world; those hidden things of the divine mind too deep for men to fathom. She is the sphere of royalty, as She rises above to receive in silent meditation.
Rachel is the world of revealed words and deeds. She held beauty that Jacob could perceive and desire. But Leah was too lofty, too far beyond all things, and so Jacob could not attach himself to her in the same way.
Yet it is from Leah that almost all of the Jewish nation descends.
If the Shechinah is a diamond and each woman is a different facet, then Serach is the spark of hope
When Jacob’s sons returned home with their news about Joseph, they feared their father would not believe them. So Serach, the daughter of Asher, took her harp and stood outside Jacob’s tent. She composed a ballad about Joseph and his travels, concluding each with the chorus, “. . . and Joseph still lives.”
“Yes!” her grandfather finally exclaimed, “Joseph still lives!”
And then his sons were able to speak with him.
For this, Jacob blessed Serach with life. She was still alive to show Moses where the tomb of Joseph lay. She was still alive as a wise woman who saved the city of Abel in the times of King David. And she still lives, for she was one of the few to enter paradise alive.
If the Shechinah is a diamond and each woman is a different facet, then Serach is the spark of hope that glistens in each one and emanates from deep inside. The spark that never became detached, that remains above and beyond, even while the Shechinah that contains it sinks below. A resilient spark that all the rivers of exile cannot wash away, and oceans of tears cannot extinguish. Serach lives, she lives in paradise, and so paradise lives within us.
His sister stood from afar, to know what would become of him. (Exodus 2:4)
A young girl stands amidst the reeds that embrace the river’s bank, still and quiet, watching from afar. She is the guardian of the promise, of all her people have yearned for, and she will not allow that promise to leave her sight.
Her name is Miriam, and Miriam means “bitter,” for it is a bitterness that drives her, all the bitterness born of her people’s harsh lot. Only her vision can assuage that burning pain, and she alone sustains its pulse. It is a powerful vision, one that will transform the bitter to sweet, the darkness of exile to the great light of freedom.
In her merit, we were redeemed from slavery. And in the merit of women of faith today, the entire world will be redeemed of its darkness.
“They ceased living in unwalled towns in Israel, they ceased, until I, Deborah, arose; I arose as a mother in Israel.” (Judges 5:7)
Deborah did not see greatness in emulating the qualities of manhood
In the peaceful shade of an ancient date palm in the hills of Ephraim, there you would find a wise woman, a prophetess to whom all of Israel streamed for counsel, for guidance and for hope.
She summoned Barak, a mighty warrior, and instructed him to wage battle against the oppressors of her people. But Barak insisted he would not go unless Deborah went with him, and for that she scorned him.
For Deborah did not see greatness in emulating the qualities of manhood—in fighting and winning and conquering—but as a mother in Israel, as a giver of life, nurturing her people with kindness and with faith.
“Where you go, I will go. Where you dwell, I will dwell. Your people are my people, and your G‑d is my G‑d.” (Ruth 1:16)
She is the paradigm of those ancient souls who discover that they are lost, and yearn to return home. They must fight an uphill journey, fraught with sacrifice and challenge, along twisted and even bizarre paths, but only because the package is so precious and its delivery so vital.
In this case, it was a spark of pure holiness lost since Abraham, destined to surface as Ruth’s great-grandson, David, redeemer of Israel. And, many millennia later, as the final redeemer.
There are souls that travel a velvet highway through life, finding their mate and homing in on their destiny as per a neat, cosmic script.
Others travel a maze of obscure passages, knocking their heads against the walls in repeated false resolutions, occasionally striking open another secret passage to the unknown.
According to the ancient wisdom, this is the only way that the most lofty of souls can be squeezed into our tightly bound world, where the forces of darkness hold such sway. And so it was that from the union of Batsheva and David, a union wrought through scandal and disgrace, a son, Solomon, was born, to build the Temple, a portal in Jerusalem for the Infinite Light.
Esther contains the final redemption, for she married miracle with mundane
“So I will go to the king, contrary to protocol. And if I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:16)
A woman of secrets, of mystery, cloaking her true identity within many garbs—until her time arrived. A woman like the morning star—at that impossible place where the night becomes so dark it has nothing left but to reveal the dawn.
One who dared set foot in the innermost chamber of evil, raising Haman, its prince, to the pinnacle of glory—only that he should manufacture his own demise.
When she ripped away her mask and her inner light burst forth, the facade of chance and coincidence and palace intrigue opened like a curtain to reveal wonders and miracles on their back stage. In this way, Esther contains the final redemption, for she married miracle with mundane, she discovered unbounded light within a cloud of darkness.
Of the most lofty, enlightened souls, 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 masters of the Kabbalah.
This is because these great men, in their personal lives, were already tasting of the World to Come. In that time, the quality of womanhood will loom over man.