Mercy and justice. Reason and intuition. Truth and faithfulness. These are the qualities that the ba’alei machshava, the teachers of profound insight and mysticism, associate with the two aspects of creation — male and female. The more overt and external qualities describe masculinity, where the more subtle and internal qualities describe femininity.
Justice derives from the intuitive recognition that everything in creation ultimately conforms to the will of the Creator of all; mercy derives from the reasoned conclusion that the function of free will is to influence the world in which we live. Logic dictates that life is an active search for truth, where faithfulness dictates patience and restraint. In the evening prayer, as we conclude our reaffirmation of our national mission through the recitation of Shema Yisroel, we immediately assert emes v’emunah kol zos — true and faithful is all this [that we have just declared]. Either one without the other is not sufficient; male or female by itself is incomplete.
When Adam and Chava (Eve) transgressed the word of G-d in Eden, Adam betrayed his Creator through misuse of his inclination toward truth by rationalizing his decision to eat from the forbidden fruit, where Chava betrayed her Creator by failing to be faithful to the mission that had been given her. Created perfect and immortal, man and woman forfeited immortality and would have to begin the long process of working their way back to perfection.
Consequently, Adam was punished through a curse upon the earth: by the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread. Already assigned the more active role, Adam and his male descendants would have to toil merely to survive; spiritual achievement and perfection would not proceed naturally as they would have according to the original design.
Chava was punished through a curse upon her capacity to produce the next generation: in pain will you bear children. Moreover, the passive role assigned her would become even more pronounced: Your passion will be for your husband, and he will have dominion over you. The sign of Chava’s transgression would be the blood of niddah, her monthly cycle, symbolizing the death she had brought into the world by breaking faith.
This Shabbos, which precedes the week of Tisha B’av and our observance of national mourning, is called Shabbos Chazon after the opening words of the Haftorah, the weekly reading from the Prophets. Scripture describes the prophet Isaiah’s vision of the Jews’ suffering in and ultimate redemption from exile. Says the prophet in the name of the Almighty: [I]f your sins will be like scarlet, they will become white like snow…
The Chassidic classic Me’or VaShemesh offers a deeper insight into the accentuated passivity imposed upon Chava and manifested through the blood of niddah. Because G-d always prepares the cure before the affliction, He built into the system of biology the means for rectification. When a woman conceives, the blood of niddah stops; after she gives birth, the flow of blood does not immediately resume but is replaced by the production of milk to sustain her nursing child. The scarlet of sin becomes transformed into whiteness like snow as the woman, condemned to increased passivity by the first woman’s misdeed, now becomes an active participant in producing and nurturing the future of mankind.
When we become absorbed in our own agendas, our own projects, and our own priorities, we become passive in the sense that we turn ourselves inward with no concern for the world around us. We become resentful of those around us whom we perceive as impediments to our success as they pursue their own individual goals. This leads to the kind of corruption and divisiveness that brought about the destruction of the First and Second Temples respectively.
However, when we look beyond ourselves, when we define our sense of purpose as members of a larger whole and direct our efforts for the benefit of the community around us, then we become true givers. By combining the logic of truth with the commitment of faithfulness, by recognizing that we cannot succeed individually but only in concert with the whole, may we earn the merit to see the scarlet of our sins permanently transformed into the white purity of snow and thereby hasten the rebuilding of the Third Temple, speedily and in our days.