The doctor and a team of nurses surround the laboring woman. One wipes her furrowed brow with a damp cloth. The other grasps her clenched fist. Anticipation palpably fills the sterile, white room, but for now, only groans and forced short pants of breath can be heard.

A final loud moan is accompanied by a difficult push of exertion, and then utter stillness envelops the room. The shallow moment feels like eternity until the baby's long-awaited wail pierces the silence.

A large smile, then a gentle, soft laugh breaks across the tired woman's features. The moment of tension has passed.

The newborn shrieks louder and with each wail a greater blissfulness fills the room. The baby's cry signifies vitality, health and vigor. Great expectations await this child!

Gently the baby is hushed, swaddled and tenderly cradled on her mother's bosom. As the mother's chest calmly rises and falls, baby's does too, and the only sound now is the content breathing of both.

With each tender inhale and exhale of her child, mother gains newfound appreciation for the miracle of her baby. Each inhale and exhale is a testimonial and a tribute to life itself.

But a few floors down, in the corridors of the same building, a very different scene is unfolding.

Here my aged grandmother lies motionless on the sterile sheets of the hospital bed. Her labored breathing complements the soft beeping of the heart-monitoring machine.

My grandmother's face is slightly wrinkled; yet her eyes are fully focused and attest to her years filled with experience and shared wisdom. She is surrounded by her many children and grandchildren.

A tear rolls down the cheek of one adult child, while a younger one clasps her grandmother's fragile hand, and yet another sings softly some words of prayer. All eyes are focused on the matriarch of the family.

Each one's thoughts are varied. One reminisces a special, private moment shared with this elderly woman. Another, her sage words of advice that were to change the direction of his life. While yet a third, her open home, filled with hand-baked delicacies and her equally open ears, perpetually ready to listen.

My aged grandmother, like the members of her family encircling her, is aware that the end is but moments away. Each laborious breath attests to its imminent arrival. She gazes intently, poring into the eyes of each of her loved ones. An inner contentment and peace passes over her features. Her breathing becomes softer and softer.

And then her chest falls and rises no longer.

With her final exhale, the legacy of this cherished family matriarch has come full circle.

Breath, the inhale and exhale, marking life itself. From the first breath to the last, the constant inhale and exhale signifies vitality.

Take a moment to experience it. Breathe deeply. Fill your lungs with the fresh, pure oxygen. This inhale represents your very inner, core essence; your very being in life. It signifies who you are.

Now, release it; let it all out. Witness your breath exiting and meshing with your surrounding. This represents your doing in life, your impacting on the outside world and accomplishing.

Your inhale is self-preservation, defining your own boundaries of self. Your exhale is your universal imprint on the society and world around you.

All beings and any life force experience this duality of inner and outer; inner parameters and boundaries versus outer affects and imprints. Who it is and what it does. The protection of its inherent boundaries, and its reaching out to the world.

The greater a life force the more evident is its inhale and exhale.

Indeed all creation, say the Kabbalists, is characterized by this to and fro movement, called ratzo v'shuv (running forth and drawing back) or mati v'lo mati (reaching and retreating).

The heart contracts and expands; the lungs exhale and inhale. On a deeper level, the body sleeps, extinguishing its active faculties in order to rejuvenate. The earth enters an interlude of night and winter in order to vivify itself with the necessary energies for its more outward oriented dawn of spring.

The same is true of the flow of vitality from G‑d to His creation. This flow also comes in flashes of running forth and drawing back, reaching and retreating.

Furthermore, each breath of life — each protective withholding of boundaries as well as each outer exertion — reflects the Divine balance and flow to creation.

The masculine and feminine dichotomy is not simply two genders within a species. Each reflects, rather, subtle forms of Divine energy that are constantly being renewed within the process of creation.

In its most abstract form, the feminine energy reflects internal energy, the withdrawal and inhale of the cosmos. The masculine energy reflects projective energy, expansiveness and revelation, or the cosmic exhale of all creation.

This is not to say that all women have only characteristics of this elusive inner trait, or all men of this powerful external trait. While it is true that a woman is generally more characterized by her feminine energy and a man by his masculine energy, the energies of both are found in each other.

This is true because ours is a world of integration, where there are no absolutes, but rather things blending, sharing and balancing each other. So, in everything male there is at least a small bit of female, and likewise in all things female, there is some male. As a result, every aspect of creation shares in this duet of masculine and feminine.

However, to be attuned to her inner self and her feminine self, a woman would need to discover what and how to use her feminine energies productively and positively. The same holds true for a man.

Torah encourages the awareness of these equally important, yet different arenas of masculine and feminine energies. We are encouraged to learn how to integrate these qualities in our lives, on a personal as well as on a cosmic level.

This awareness may uncover some of the secrets in understanding why each of us, man and woman, husband and wife, brother and sister, behave the way we do — sometimes to the very chagrin, or allure, of the other.

In tribute to my grandmother, Sara Sosha Schochet, of blessed memory