Dear Rabbi and Susan,
After Adam and Eve eat and are questioned about the forbidden fruit, we read [in Genesis 3:16]:
Unto the woman He said: ‘I will greatly multiply thy pain and thy travail; in pain thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.’
What is the real meaning of “thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee”?
I’m looking for an explanation I can share with my wife and six daughters, especially given the current Western world trend of promoting the empowerment and independence of women.
Thanks for your all your great teaching and your work creating the AAJC.
Just as an aside, you may like to know that your father, Rabbi A. H. Lapin married my parents in Johannesburg in 1956.
Your closing sentence was heartwarming for us as my late dad was a distinguished rabbi for many years in Johannesburg. You reminded us of the time we were once chatting with a woman in a park. After hearing our name, she said, “Oh, your father married me.” At that point our six year-old daughter, Ruth, who was playing nearby, pulled herself up to her full 40 inches and said, “He did not. He married my grandmother.”
A direct answer to your specific question would entail sitting for many hours and studying those verses with your wife and daughters. However, there is a prerequisite to doing that learning. The Torah is a package deal. It doesn’t work well when verses are lifted out of context. That is why both sides of an issue whether it be slavery in America in the 1800s or immigration today can easily find “proofs” for their ideas by isolating a few words or phrases from Scripture.
We study the Torah with a few basic assumptions.
- The Torah is God’s word and as such is timeless and infallible and a true description of reality.
- The Hebrew language is a crucial and indispensable part of its message without which 100% comprehension is impossible.
- When we don’t understand something or emotionally object to it, it is due to our lack of comprehension rather than to any flaw in the Torah. In addition, certain parts of the Torah may only reveal themselves and make sense as future history unfolds.
- When valid transmitters of the oral tradition appear to disagree, they are actually each providing a window into one small piece of the picture as the Hebrew word for argument reveals. We explain this in our book Buried Treasure: Secrets for Living from the Lord’s Language in the chapter titled, “Feud for Thought.”
Working with those assumptions is easier when emotions aren’t involved. The verse you quoted is one that provokes defensiveness and even anger among many today. The Passover Seder speaks of four sons who ask questions about the Exodus. The wicked son actually “tells” rather than “asks” his question. We all have a part of that son in us which means that sometimes our minds are closed to truly being interested in learning the answer.
We don’t think that you or your family are coming from that perspective. However, we would suggest starting with God’s response to both the snake and Adam’s sins before moving on to Eve. Both because they will evoke less emotion and because Eve cannot be seen in isolation. Working through those verses (which done at all properly should take many hours) will set the stage for the response to Eve.
While it is true that there is no way we can do justice to your question in this format, we can at least, give you a glimpse of the complexities inherent in God’s response to Eve. The verse you quote, Genesis 3:16, takes us about 4 hours to teach adequately. For instance, the fifteenth word in the verse, yimshol is often misleadingly translated as rule. The root of the word is mashal, which is also the name of the Biblical book of Proverbs—Mishlei. The accurate meaning of the word is neither rule nor proverbs, but implies being influenced by the actions of others. Hence, the Biblical book contains many aphorisms, contemplation of which can influence actions.
One can shape the actions of others by wielding force as do kings and governments. One can also make others comply with your wishes by making them want to do so by means of payment of some kind. Finally, one can influence others in a course of action by example and peer pressure. All of these three could be seen as a form of ruling. The verse we are examining references a combination of the above.
For example, one part of that is God warning that sadly, women will come to be influenced in their actions by what men do. Could there be a more tragically accurate description of the feminism of the past fifty years? And this is only one word of sixteen that we have glanced into. We know this isn’t much to be going on with but better we tell you the truth even if it is not easily accessible.
The thing to remember is that a broad picture of reality is being drawn here of life outside of Eden. It is no longer a perfect life, as all of us can confirm just by looking out the window. However, understanding it lets us cope better with life in a way that provides dignity, respect and fulfillment to both men and women.
Leaving your question mostly unanswered,
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin