Project Genesis

Women's Issues

Genesis 3:16 - “He Will Rule Over You”

Question: After Adam and Eve are sent out of the Garden of Eden, G-d informs them of the new social and physical order within which humanity will now exist. In this world, the ground is cursed and we will eat by our manual labor. Women will experience pain in childbirth, and women will be ruled over by their husbands. It is this last curse that has captured my curiosity the most. I had the impression that men and women had different roles in Judaism, but men did not rule women. Can you elaborate for me the differences between men and women, as understood by the Torah, and how this curse from G-d fits into this picture? It seems from my uneducated mind that G-d is explaining the new reality of existence, and in this new reality women will be compelled to submit to the rule of men, just as women will have no choice but to submit to pain in childbirth, and men must toil on the earth for sustenance.

Answer: Hi! It’s a very interesting question, and a hard one. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time, and whatever I can say will barely scratch the surface.

Let me start with a general principle. As you know, G-d designed this world in the way that it would work best, with incredible order within order on every level. When we sin, we do damage to that order. It still runs, but now there’s “grit in the machinery”, so to speak; things that are supposed to mesh smoothly now rattle. The general setup must stay the same, though, or things wouldn’t work at all.

In the original plan of creation, there was a wondrous linkage between three parts of the creation: Man, Woman, and the land (Earth). They were all very closely bonded together, meshing perfectly. Each had its function, and part of the whole. None of the three would ever have caused problems for the other two, just as one would never imagine one hand fighting with another.

Just as the Earth is different from the other two, so too Man and Woman were different. The world has changed so much since then, it’s hard to give reasonable examples, so let me just pick some from our lives – you’ll understand that it’s just my way of describing a totally different world. I imagine that the Man went out to work in the Land, just as he does today. Of course, the “work” was more spiritual than physical in those days. I imagine that the Woman “made him supper”, whatever that meant. He “led the family” and “brought home” the “wealth”, she bore and “raised the children”... I’m going to run out of quotation marks. But in those days (day), whatever they were doing was not painful. Everything was good to eat. They didn’t need clothing: The Earth was their friend and their servant, as were the Beasts of the Earth, and there was nothing in it that could hurt them or even make them uncomfortable. And the relations between Man and Woman were not difficult, as they often are today; even childbearing was simple and easy (as it still perhaps is for other animals). They each enjoyed their roles.

But they ruined all this. A Beast of the Earth influenced them to do something harmful, the Woman betrayed her role and gave it to the Man, he betrayed his role and allowed them to set policy, instead of keeping a proper eye on how things should be. As a result, all their relationships were harmed, and they were distanced from each other. Things that should have come naturally are now a struggle. The Earth is no longer their friend, Beasts are scary, making a living comes hard, and husband and wife no longer take to their roles as naturally. The Hebrew phrase there is “v’hu yimshol bach” – and he shall rule over you. There are two words for “rule” in Hebrew: “Melech” and “Moshel”. The Vilna Gaon writes in his commentary that” Melech” means a king who rules with the consent of the governed, but a “Moshel” is a dictator: He rules by force. The leadership role comes more naturally to a man than to a woman, but it doesn’t work as smoothly now as it did then.

I’ll mention as an aside that the exact same phrasing (take a look and compare them, it’s very striking) is found in the words of G-d to Cain, when he speaks to him about his jealousy of his brother Abel. G-d says, “Sin crouches at the door, and his desire is to you, and you should rule (timshol) over him.” Just as Man lost the smooth functioning of his relationship with Woman, he also lost the smooth functioning of his relationship with his own desires. He was supposed to be the leader over his faculties, and he still can be, but now there’s going to be a lot more resistance.

Best wishes,
Michoel Reach

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