Tuesday, January 12, 2010

R' Zalman Sorotzkin on Female Creativity

So I'm in the midst of reading Artscroll's Insights in the Torah on Devarim, which is a translation of R' Zalman Sorotzkin's Aznaim L'Torah. And R' Sorotzkin has the coolest understanding of Devarim 5:23:

כג קְרַב אַתָּה וּשְׁמָע, אֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר יֹאמַר יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ; וְאַתְּ תְּדַבֵּר אֵלֵינוּ, אֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר יְדַבֵּר יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ אֵלֶיךָ--וְשָׁמַעְנוּ וְעָשִׂינוּ. 23 Go thou near, and hear all that the LORD our God may say; and thou shalt speak unto us all that the LORD our God may speak unto thee; and we will hear it and do it.'

The question here is: Why is the female form of 'you' utilized? Why does it say אַתְּ?

Here's Artscroll's rendering of R' Sorotzkin (I would look up the exact wording except Aznaim L'Torah is on reference at Gottesman and thus that would require going there and only using the book in the library):
    And you should speak to us. Why did they address Moses with the word at, the feminine form of 'you?' Rashi (q.v.) explains that Moses was so dismayed at this request of theirs that he "became as weak as a woman."

    I think that we can understand Rashi's last few words thus: A woman is not merely on the receiving end of creation. She does not just "receive" a seed and then have it grow into a baby; she also shapes the growing fetus. For consider: one drop enters her, and in the end a living being is born. No one in the world can tell what will become of this tiny seed: whether it will come to be a child at all, and if so whether male or female, wise or foolish, strong or weak, beautiful or ugly. Only the woman, who grows and shapes this seed, helps develop all of these characteristics to recognizable form. At birth all can see the baby's gender and its physical characteristics, and soon after its mental abilities, too, none of which could be recognized in the original seed.

    Now, when the Children of Israel heard God's voice speaking from the midst of the fire, their souls fled from them. They could not understand the Divine word nor comprehend what was expected of them, for this was suddenly beyond their comprehension. So they said to Moses, "Since you can listen and understand all this, you approach and hear everything that God has to say. But don't repeat things exactly as you heard them, because we cannot understand these things as they are. Instead, you [at] speak to us: do for us what a woman can do, who shapes from a seemingly meaningless drop a lovely child whose nature and gifts can be clearly seen. You, at, absorb all that God says, and form it into clear, plain words for us, that we can 'hear and do.'

    We can understand in the same way why the Haggadah says of the son who does not know how to ask, "You- at- open the way for him." If this child is so limited in his abilities that, although he sees how different everything is on this Seder night, he cannot even think how to ask about it, you make yourself like a woman and shape the words for him into a form he can understand.

    -Insights in the Torah: Devarim, the commentary of the Oznayim LaTorah, translated by Rabbi Yaakov Lavon, pages 82-83
Thus, rather than Moshe making himself as weak as a woman, he actually had to utilize the special characteristics of a woman's creativity and clarity of understanding. Huzzah for women!


Anonymous said...

"Thus, rather than Moshe making himself as weak as a woman, he actually had to utilize the special characteristics of a woman's creativity and clarity of understanding. Huzzah for women!"

But that is the weakness of a woman. Everything is creative and clarified and never straight forward! Brute force is never used. :P

Chana said...

Anon 7:33,

Obviously, you haven't met the men whose wives beat them up with 2 liter Coca Cola bottles. Consider yourself blessed and remain happy.

I think a woman's cleverness (and sometimes scheming i.e. Glenn Close in Dangerous Liaisons) are part of what makes her so dangerously beautiful.

Dune said...

Firstly, extremely cute, and I don't mean that in a condescending way. It is a beautiful explanation and though I am a man, I join in with the "huzzah for women". Secondly, it is always good to look at the plain text before trying to understand Rashi. In the text, the people are extremely terrified by such closeness to God. Such a revelation/prophetic experience is simply too much for them to handle. So they say to Moshe "You go listen to God, and then 'at' tell us. The reason they are saying 'at' is clear. Since they say 'at' right after they expose that this revelation is too much for them, therefore the 'at' connotes gentleness. i.e. This is too harsh for us, so you go listen to this and then you will explain it to us as 'at' (It is they who say 'at') - In a gentler way so we will not be so terrified.They are terrified, so they say to Moshe when you explain it be like 'at' - console us, be gentle with us, soft voice... Thirdly, it should be known that Rashi Taught children and thus when reading Rashi this should always be kept in mind. What message was Rashi trying to tell the youngsters with 'as weak as a woman'? Childrens' understanding is Man = strong, Woman = weak. Thus Rashi is simply trying to convey to the children that Moshe was weakened, thus saying that am yisrael did a bad thing. What was the bad thing? A person should feel directly in contact with God, not want someone else to be in contact with God for them. Bnei Yisrael were choosing to have a more pleasant 'at' voice speak to them instead of directly with God though it would have been tougher. Thus, since they refused the holiness, Moshe became 'weak - as a woman' (Rashi says 'as a woman - because that's how kids see things) since they needed a softer interaction.

Dune said...

This explanation though is also lovely and beautiful. I always like multiple explanations. I agree with the cleverness thing.g. To clarify what I was sayin Rashis 'weak' is simply a way to explain to the children that he eplained it as a women or that he became less intense, also it shows the kids that he was weak - meaning this was wrong of bnei Yisrael. Lastly to Anon 7:33 - Women are not weak. It was because of the merit of women that we were freed from Egypt. Men and women can beoth be strong or weak. It's just that different traits are usually emphasized, but they are really one being as in Adam and Chavah. As for men being more stragit forward. Neither is more straight forward, rather "tedaber Lebeit yisrael, Vetomar Lebeit yaakov" - It is a different way of communicating information. Each way is right for different people at different times. You simply think men are more straight forward because that is (tedaber) the way you understand best.

Dune said...

Men and women tend to communicate in different ways. Neither way is a 'weakness'. It is just a different way. Rashis' 'weak as a women' statement is simply stated that way because children associate woman with weak. Thus 'weak as a woman' would convey to the children that Moshe lost his strengrh because Am Yisrael had lost theirs. But again, the plain reading of the text shows that it was simply overwhelming for them and so they wanted Moshe to explain it as a Mother would to a young child 'at'.

Anonymous said...


It was a joke :)

Hell has no fury like a woman scorned. (In a round about way)

That too was a joke. In case it was not understood.

Anonymous said...

fyi hebrewbooks.org should have this sefer