Gender is a smoking hot topic right now. Depending on your world-view, you’ll either be offended or relieved to hear that for the purposes of this Thought Tool, there is no gender confusion. The defining axiom is found as early as the 27th verse of the Bible—“…male and female He created them.”
Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that the implications of this verse go way beyond the creation of Adam and Eve. Not only does biological reproduction of humans, animals and vegetables depend upon the collaboration of male and female, but all creativity springs from the engagement of those two complementary opposites. In trying to understand how the world REALLY works, this sexual insight is so foundational that God even gave every noun in His language a gender.
The chief difference between a feminine noun and a masculine one is that typically the feminine noun describes something capable of ‘giving birth’. For instance, the word for a minor argument, RIV, is masculine while the word for an ongoing feud in which every disagreement gives birth to yet another, MeRiVaH, is, not surprisingly, a feminine word.
The Hebrew words for a cup, KoS, or ball, KaDuR, are both masculine because neither gives birth to anything else, however the Hebrew word for a thought, MaCHSHaVaH is feminine since every thought can give birth to another thought. Similarly, the Hebrew word for an investment, HaSHKaaH, is feminine for the same reason.
The general Hebrew word for woman is ISHaH, obviously a feminine noun. Typically, a feminine noun can be converted into its masculine equivalent by lopping off the feminine suffix—aH. Thus, our generic word for a man is ISH.
You might think that since a father is AV, a mother should be AVaH. It is actually an entirely different word, EM, because a mother is not merely a feminine version of a father, but rather a unique creation.
Now that you have a basic working knowledge of Hebrew noun gender, you should be able to predict the gender of almost any Hebrew noun on the basis of whether it ‘gives birth’.
Try the Hebrew word for a game. Since we often say, ‘oh it was just a game’ we correctly signify that there are seldom any meaningful outcomes of a game. Not surprisingly the Hebrew word for game, MiSCHaK, is masculine. I am sure you got it right.
How about work? Is work a male or female concept? Since work almost always produces some outcome, we’re not surprised that both main words for work, AVoDaH and MeLACHaH are feminine nouns.
What is the difference between these two words that appear to mean the same thing? We derive a hint from how they are used in the Bible:
And they (the Egyptians) embittered their (the Israelites) lives with hard work,
with mortar and bricks, and with all work in the field;
all their work at which they worked them was with harshness.
All four instances of work in that verse are the Hebrew AVoDaH providing us with the sense that AVoDaH is grueling and arduous. It is seldom rewarding at the time but of course eventually yields its benefits.
The other word for work, MeLACHaH is the more satisfying and creative component of work though it is seldom attainable without the AVoDaH also having been accomplished.
We find both words for work combined in the Fourth Commandment, instructing us to remember the Sabbath day.
Six days shall you work(AVoDaH) and do all your work (MeLACHaH)…
Why do we need both words? God is giving us a significant message. MeLACHaH is the creative work that transforms our world and uplifts our lives, while AVoDaH is work that lacks that exciting element. Yet we do not usually get to enjoy our MeLACHaH if we don’t first do our AVoDaH.
Life in Egypt was tough precisely because slaves have only AVoDaH with no possibility of MeLACHaH. But don’t dream that you can enjoy MeLACHaH without AVoDaH. Integrating the two types of work makes everything possible.
Seeing one’s toddler blossom into a responsible teenager and then a thriving adult with whom you share a close relationship is incredibly exciting. But this requires many hours of consistent and sometimes AVoDaH-like parenting.
Closing a big transaction is thrilling. But many hours of AVoDaH in the form of hard work, disappointment and dedication precede the excitement. Sometimes it is years of AVoDaH-like perseverance that lead to that MeLACHaH moment.
Understanding how the world really works means knowing that we must tackle the AVoDaH of life with zest, enthusiasm and gratitude for being alive. Only this way can we reach the sheer magic of MeLACHaH, that part of our work which is so thrilling and so energizing that it becomes almost self-sustaining.
If MeLACHaH had a masculine form, what might it look like? You know the rule—lop of the feminine aH suffix.
By shining the spotlight on the masculine core of creative work, MeLACHaH, we find ourselves with the word MaLACH—an angel. Once we have performed the tough preparatory work of AVoDaH and then throw ourselves into the MeLACHaH moment, we often feel a surge of strength and confidence we didn’t know we possessed. In some almost mystical way, we have conjured up an angel through our creativity. Sometimes we can feel the angel alongside of us assisting us while whispering irresistible words of encouragement. That is why the creativity of MeLACHaH often causes amazing doors to open, partners to materialize, and unseen collaborators to push our projects forward.