The Unique Potency of a Jewish Woman's Speech, as Heard Through the Seven Prophetesses - Part 1
Adapted from a lecture by:
Rebbetzin Tehilla Jaeger
Men Go to Their Caves and Women Talk
(Men Are from Mars; Women are From Venus)
The following essay examines "speech" as it relates to the Jewish woman.
Speech can enhance relationships, exert influence and inspire others towards
productive change. It is the vehicle through which we leverage our innate
gifts of perceptiveness, sensitivity and character assessment. Without
effective speech our intellectual, spiritual or emotional assets remain to
some degree inaccessible.
Speech is a port of entry into the world for the complex thoughts and
feelings inherent to feminine wisdom. This wisdom is produced through an
internal partnership between intuition and intellect, unique to each
individual. In order to be understood by others, it requires verbal
translation, through the mechanism of speech.
Women are innately connected to the spoken word. According to the Talmud,
"Ten measures of speech descended to the world and women took nine measures
of speech." Thus, a Jewish woman has the potential to be a great
communicator. Her capability may be a source of either fulfillment or
frustration depending upon how it is cultivated. Improperly used, such a
gift deteriorates into gossip and other unproductive or abusive talk. Because
speech is so potent, the Jewish woman needs constantly to work on refining
what she says as well as how and when she says it.
A Jewish woman's power of communication aligns her with God who, Himself,
constructed and sustains the cosmos through speech. We are told, "By the
word of Hashem the heavens were made..." (Psalm 33) and "With ten utterances
the world was created" (Ethics of Our Fathers). Inasmuch as the Torah tells
us to "emulate God's ways," the significance of speech in God's creation
implies that our own speech holds enormous creative possibilities.
Eve: Productive vs. Unproductive Speech
The feminine ability to communicate has roots in first woman. The very name
Eve (Hebrew: "Chava") is related to the word, "life" (Hebrew: "chai") and to
the verb "articulate" or "express" (Hebrew: "mechava"). Another word related
to the name, "Eve" is "joy" (Hebrew: "chedva"). This implies a dimension of
joyousness and vitality that a woman may bring to her surroundings, through
what she says. A Jewish name conveys a person's essence and, since Eve's
essence is shared by all Jewish women, her heightened capacity for expression
is ours for the taking.
The Seven Prophetesses: Sarah, Miriam, Devorah, Chana, Abigail, Hulda and
Speech is at the heart of the prophetic gift. Once the prophetess had
perfected her character, subdued her evil inclination and aligned herself
with divine will, God heightened her powers of articulation. Thus, a brief
look at each prophetess through the prism of speech, provides insight into
the many ways we can use speech to unlock our own potential. (For a more
detailed look at each prophetess see the "Women in Judaism" archives).
Sarah: Speech of Wisdom
The Talmud relates that Sarah was extremely beautiful.
Another name for Sarah was "Yiskah," which Rashi translates as, "to gaze."
On one level, everyone gazed at Sarah's physical beauty, which the Talmud
describes as extraordinary. On a deeper level, Sarah's face radiated her
inner spiritual beauty, and this enabled all to behold a signature work of
Sarah's beauty was second only to Eve's. Eve's physical appearance reflected
the fact that, as first woman, she was most intimately connected to the
Divine. Eve damaged her own purity through the sin in the Garden of Eden.
One its consequences was loss of trust between husband and wife, since Eve
persuaded Adam to join her in their Fall. Sarah, as the woman next closest
to God, repaired Eve's mistake - and she did so through words. In the Book
of Genesis, Sarah tells Abraham that he must banish Ishmael and Hagar from
the home they all share, because Ishmael is a negative influence on Isaac:
"Drive out this slavewoman with her son, for the son of that slavewoman shall
not inherit with my son, with Isaac!" (Genesis 21:9-`10).
When Abraham resists Sarah, God intervenes and tells Abraham, "Whatever
Sarah tells you, heed her voice..." (Genesis 21:12). God in effect tells
Abraham to trust the words of his wife. This trust repairs the spiritual
residue of mistrust left by Adam and Eve.
Miriam: Speech of Jewish Continuity
Another name for Miriam is "Puah," which means, "to infuse with life" or, "to
make appear." As midwife to the enslaved women in Egypt, Miriam is
responsible for the "appearance" of a fledgling Jewish nation. Miriam's
unique connection to speech is best conveyed through the episode at the
splitting of the Red Sea, where she leads the Jewish women in a song of
praise to God:
"Miriam spoke up to [the women], "" Sing to Hashem for He is exalted above
the arrogant, having hurled horse with its rider into the sea." " (Exodus
Miriam refers to the Egyptian army and their horses, which charge into the
sea, drowning their riders. As regards horses and riders, our sages state
that, in King Solomon's "Song of Songs," God compares the Jewish people to
the mighty Egyptian steeds who pursue the Jews into the Red Sea, following
the Exodus. God causes the waves of the Sea to take on the appearance of
female horses and the impassioned Egyptian steeds charge into the water,
overcoming any control their riders might normally have had. God compares
the Jewish people to horses, rather than riders. The comparison alludes to
the fact that, while God directs the world, our own choices and daily actions
affect His decisions.
The Jewish people lead and empower God, so to speak, through the choices they
make. In Egypt, the Jewish women with Miriam, take the lead in this regard,
persuading their exhausted husbands to sustain family relations and gaining
God's participation in their efforts to procure Jewish continuity. To this
day, Miriam reminds women of their importance in a Jewish future, their
effectiveness as an organized group and their relationship with God.
Rebetzin Tehilla Jaeger has inspired scores of Jewish women worldwide. Her
lecture series, "Ayelet HaShachar - Woman to Woman Inspiration," is
available on cassette. Titles include, "Speech - the Power to Recreate
Your World," "Marriage - the Exquisite Approach," "Our Three Mitzvot -
Wellsprings of Renewal, " and "The Art of Parenting." For further
information and a complete list of cassette offerings, please phone (718)
Women in Judaism, Copyright (c) 2002 by Mrs. Leah Kohn and Project Genesis, Inc.