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 Esther
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 their Creator.
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 15:21).
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) 471-7141.
Women in Judaism, Copyright (c) 2002 by Mrs. Leah Kohn and Project Genesis, Inc.