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The Female Estate

The Female Estate

Parshat Pinchas

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Linda listened attentively to the two lecturers. Both were dynamic speakers; both enthralled their audience with their interesting material and vibrant presentation.

But Linda couldn’t help but notice their contrasting styles.

The first lecturer, a man, would invariably pose a thought-provoking question. When participants ventured to answer, he’d disprove or discredit their offerings, in order to build up his central point and hypothesis. He’d demonstrate the fallacy of other responses, leading every participant towards his line of reasoning and conclusion.

The second lecturer, a woman, also posed a thought-provoking question. But every answer from participants received a complimentary comment. Somehow, this lecturer was able to discover or elicit from even the more farfetched responses some point of similarity—some point that would complement the concepts that she was conveying.

Linda wondered if the different styles of the lecturers were related to their genders.

Was the masculine mode more direct and goal-oriented, and the feminine one more intuitive, more geared toward finding the common grain of truth and connection? Was it inborn for women to empower and nurture, just as it was natural for a man to be more confrontational and conquering?

The more she thought about it, the more Linda wondered if these different modes of communication were perhaps a reflection of some spiritual, cosmic arena of the masculine and feminine energies within creation . . .


This week’s Torah reading contains the laws of inheritance. These laws were revealed to Moses through the daughters of Tzelafchad.

The daughters of Tzelafchad—Machlah, Noah, Choglah, Milkah and Tirtzah—stood before Moses and the entire congregation saying, “Our father died the desert, but he was not in the assembly that banded together against G‑d in Korach’s assembly, and he had no sons. Why should our father’s name be eliminated from his family because he had no son? Give us a portion along with our father’s brothers.”

So Moses brought their case before G‑d.

G‑d spoke to Moses, saying: “Tzelafchad’s daughters speak justly. You shall certainly give them a portion of inheritance . . .

“Speak to the children of Israel saying: If a man dies and has no son, you shall transfer his inheritance to his daughter.” (Numbers 27:1–8)

From every episode in the Torah we can discern an everlasting spiritual lesson. The Kabbalistic masters understood this law of inheritance as a metaphorical reflection of the spiritual roles of men and women.

The “conquest of the land” was not a command for the generation of the wilderness alone. Each of us is enjoined to “conquer the land”—to gain mastery of our physical world and transform it into a proper and holy home for G‑d.

The nature of the physical is that it is resistant and hostile to G‑dliness, holiness and spirituality. The way to “conquer the land” has traditionally been to battle, subjugate and uproot the darkness and negativity (whether by battling evil people or regimes, or by fighting value systems that are antithetical to the morality of the Torah). We “battle” by suppressing the materialistic nature of our world and imposing on it a higher purpose and function.

But there is another method of transforming our world into a G‑dly home. This approach does not aggressively battle the negativity, but rather cultivates and exposes the inherent positivity within creation. In this mode we are not working in the traditional, linear method of imposing and overcoming, but rather in the more inner and pervasive manner of raising and elevating our reality to make it more G‑dly.

These two methods, in a nutshell, reflect the masculine and feminine modes of spiritual endeavor. We employ the “masculine” mode when we conquer, subjugate or overcome. We employ the “feminine” approach when we cultivate, nurture and bring out the inner qualities. (This is not to say that every man will always use the masculine mode and every woman the feminine, but these are the masculine and feminine energies within creation.)

Both roles are vital for transforming our world into a G‑dly one. But from the beginning of time, the male role was traditionally perceived as superior and more effective. And for a time, that role was the vital one. When evil abounds, you need to fight it aggressively and head-on.

But there comes a point when humankind is ready to make a transition from male to female values—from authority to dialogue, from dominance to persuasion, from control to nurture.

The daughters of Tzelafchad understood this reality. They realized that there would come a time and a place when “conquering and settling the land” would not be an exclusively masculine endeavor. Not all conquests are achieved by overpowering one’s adversary. There is a feminine way to transform the materiality of our lives into a “holy land.”

G‑d agreed with their perception.

G‑d instructed: “If a man has no son, you shall pass his inheritance on to his daughter.” The Kabbalistic masters understood this to mean that at times the qualities of the “son,” the masculine, aggressive and combative nature, are better replaced by those of the “daughter,” the passive, compassionate, non-confrontational side.

Humanity will reach a time when the feminine qualities of receptiveness, nurturance and empathy will be valued and vindicated for their equal, if not more effective, role of changing the very nature and hostility of “the land” and transforming it into a home for G‑d.


The chassidic masters explain that each of the forty-two legs of the journey from Egypt to the Holy Land reflects another generation and stage in our world history. The incident of the daughters of Tzelafchad occurred on the last stop of this journey. It reflects the end of our cosmic journey, right before our ultimate conquest of the Land, in the messianic age.

From the time of our patriarchs onwards, and throughout Jewish history, there have been select individual women who displayed spiritual qualities that their husbands (who were themselves great men and leaders of Israel) could not attain. These were individuals who tasted the messianic era in their own time. They experienced a touch of the future, when the feminine values in our world will rise above the masculine.

The generation of the desert was also exposed to this messianic reality. In that generation, the women repaired what the men broke down. The women refused to participate in the making of the Golden Calf. Similarly, the women refused to listen to the negative counsel of the spies against the land of Israel. And, in our Parshah, when the men had been unwilling to enter the Land, the daughters of Tzelafchad petitioned to receive an inheritance.

The great Kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria (“Arizal,” 1534–1572) explains that the generation of the final redemption is a reincarnation of the very same souls of those who were freed from Egypt. Their strong feminine values will be mirrored in the last leg of our history, causing and heralding the ultimate redemption, when the feminine role will be valued and appreciated.1


Perhaps this is hinted to in the special sacrifice of the New Moon recorded later in the Parshah. The New Moon offering was different from all the other sacrifices of each of the holidays.

On the beginning of your months, you shall offer . . . one young male goat for a sin offering to G‑d. (Numbers 28:15)

Rashi: The young male goat brought on the first day of the month differs (from all the other offerings) as it says, “to G‑d.” In the Aggadah (Talmud, Shevuot 9a) it is expounded: The Holy One, blessed is He, said, “Bring atonement for Me because I diminished the moon.”

When did G‑d “diminish the moon,” and why does He ask us to bring an atonement on His behalf for doing so? The Talmud relates the story: On the fourth day of creation, when G‑d made “the two great luminaries,” the moon approached G‑d complaining that it was the same size as the sun.

The moon said to G‑d: “Sovereign of the Universe, can two kings share a single crown?”

G‑d replied: "Go and make yourself smaller.”

“Sovereign of the Universe,” she said to him, “because I made a proper claim before You, am I to make myself smaller?”

He said to her, “Go, and you will rule over both the day and the night.” She said, “What good is a lamp in broad daylight?”

He said, “Go! Israel shall use you to count the days and the years.”

On seeing that the moon would not be consoled, the Holy One said, “Bring an atonement for Me for making the moon smaller.” (Talmud, Chullin 60b)

The moon pointed out a fundamental flaw in creation: how can two “kings” equally dominate the same territory? G‑d commands the moon to make herself smaller, implying that one luminary does have to be bigger. But the moon complains that this decision is unjust, and no matter what other gifts and enticements she is offered, she refuses to give up her claim. G‑d admits that the situation is unfair, and makes a sin offering every month to atone for this injustice.

In the time of Moshiach, however, the moon will regain her original stature and will be returned to her full glory.

When the moon was first created, she was a glistening jewel. She did not merely reflect light, but rather transformed it and brought out its inner beauty. In her own way, the moon was greater than the sun—for the sun shines only from its surface, whereas the moon shone from its inner essence. And so will be once again—and much more so—in the time to come. (Rabbi Isaac of Homil, Maamar Shnei Me’orot)

Women have a strong connection to the moon and to the holiday of the New Moon, Rosh Chodesh. The moon metaphorically symbolizes the feminine energy, with her waxing and waning and monthly renewals.

In the beginning of creation, for reasons beyond our understanding, the moon was diminished—just as in our perception the more nurturing and intimate feminine energies has been devalued, as if they are of lesser import than the masculine, aggressive and assertive public role.

But, G‑d assures us, that there will come a time when humanity will evolve and these values will change. There will be an era when we will reach our final destination, on the last leg of our six-millennia journey, poised to enter the holy land.

And at that time, in that era, the “daughter” too will inherit the land, and the moon will shine with equal, if not greater, brilliance than the sun.

Footnotes
1.
Shaar Hagilgulim, Introduction 20.
Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of five popular books.
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Anonymous UK July 9, 2014

The Female Estate. Thank you for this wise and beautiful explanation of the complimentary roles of the masculine and the feminine, especially of using the example of taking possession of the Promised Land. In my lifetime, I experienced World War 2. Considering what we had thrown at us, it was necessary to employ the masculine mode of opposing in order to break the aggressive power; but that was not sufficient. The devastation and ruin of Europe, especially Germany was appalling. Then the feminine aspect was needed in rebuilding, repairing and transforming to new and better use. Neither was possible without the other. Victory after the violence was only complete when a new transformed Europe emerged from the ruins. Thank you for this profound lesson which I will always bear in mind. Reply

Yael Bradenton, Florida via chabadtallahassee.com June 29, 2013

Beautiful As a Jewish woman who has had this very discussion with my only adult child son, the validation and synchronicity is not lost on me.
I had a 'mythic dream' and all of this fits.

I especially enjoyed many comments here, too.
I'm a widow now and am interested in studying and finding a local Chabad. Have thought of this many times and the reincarnation theme is key. I became a certified astrologer at 13. Went to school and earned a degree. Hmmmmm Reply

jamie moran London, UK June 26, 2013

whilst the description of the feminine rings true, the description of the masculine is more its shadow of 'power over the other', an imperialism of spirit, a Satanic love of power.. This is not the true masculine. This is not the true warrior, king, prophet.. This is really the 'fallen' parody. There are ways of fighting evil in which you become the exact same as your enemy.. The true masculinity, especially the warrior, though he fights head on, is chivalrous, generous, courageous, and self controlled.. 'the hidden man of heart' is a being of passion, not the power mongering described here. Reply

aliza Zion June 4, 2011

masculine and feminine wonderfully written, yashar koach.
my only comment is that - although the feminine was taken for granted at times in the past, and we see it returning to its place... the Shechina, that is, after all... ... ... now we have this power to turn things around and say look how amazing the feminine is, and make it larger than it is. this leads to the worship of the feminine we see too often in todays world as well .... and so it's dangerous to - we want everything to realize Hashem which is beyond the masculine and the feminine. and so i just say, let us be bigger, let us be truer - let us recognize that the masculine and feminine are partners in creation and one is not better than the other........ Mashiach!! Reply

Jane Siet San Clemente, CA via jewishsc.com July 10, 2009

I really loved this I really enjoyed this article. Sometimes as a Jewish woman, I feel like a pariah when I'm in the company of Jewish men. The time of the Mashiach can not come here too soon. Reply

Daniel July 9, 2009

Interesting I did not know that this generation is a reincarnation of the generation of the desert. Interesting.

Seems difficult times are ahead -- we've just gotta stick it out until G-d decides the time has come for the sun to rise. Reply

Andi Caldwell Monroe, CT/USA July 7, 2009

The Estat of Women Compassionate and thoughtful. Well-done Reply

Anonymous winnipeg, canada July 7, 2009

Women This was an excellent article. Chabad is sometimes peculiar about the role of women. All the davening seems to be about the Patriarchs, and men, and G-d. The great Chassidic masters and most stories are about men. Equality of men and women seems to be missing. I guess that it is too obvious to require inputting. Reply

chana givat zeev, Israel July 7, 2009

well-articulated - thanks. Reply

Anonymous OOB, Maine, USA July 12, 2006

Parsha Pinchas This is difficult to understand, this article, but i think i understand it. I think, from my learning from Kabbalah, that this has to do with the Shechinah as well. Also, i have heard before that the final Redemption will come through Jewish women. It is definitely in our spiritual DNA as women to achieve the level of diminishing our ego and letting the Light Force of G-d come through and so to speak "fix the physical world". This also has to do with women being the Malchut level and when they help others in the many ways that women help others we are also affecting the repair of the world. Even when things appear so difficult and dark, we Jewish women who are aware of these Divine Secrets, these "Divine Whispers" and are willing to listen and affect quietly by overcoming our egotistical tendencies will slowly bring the age of Moshiach. That is my learning and you substantiate it with your articles. Thanks again, Chana Weisberg Reply

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