What do I tell my daughters?

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.

Dear David,

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.

  1. The Torah is God’s word and as such is timeless and infallible and a true description of reality.
  2. The Hebrew language is a crucial and indispensable part of its message without which 100% comprehension is impossible.
  3. 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.
  4. 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

32 thoughts on “What do I tell my daughters?”

  1. Dear Rabbi and Susan Lapin, many good ideas and points of discussion have been raised in this forum about the understanding and meaning of the forbidden fruit in Garden of Eden, Adam, Eve, the snake, and God’s responses to them. So I’ll throw in my 2 cents and welcome both of you to respond.

    The central question is how can we better accomplish His divine will and calling for each of our lives until His kingdom comes or our time on this earth comes to an end…. whichever comes first?

    Rabbi and Susan Lapin, I would love to hear your thoughts and comments.
    Thanks for all your great teaching and wonderful work.

    1. Dear Michael, I’m afraid that we had to edit your interesting comment as it was way too long for publication. We do appreciate the thought you put into the matter and are always pleased when something we write stimulates more Bible study.
      Both of us.

  2. Since this format can not do it justice, may I suggest you produce another CD in the Genesis Journeys Set to teach us what we need to know about God’s responses to the snake, Adam and Eve. If not, how about a podcast? I think I speak on behalf of all students of Ancient Jewish Wisdom when I say I would invest at least four hours of my time in such learning. I’ve often wondered why these teachings are so often inaccessible to people, with the exception of yours and Susan’s insights, which your ever-growing audience greatly appreciates. It is truly unfortunate that so much of this great wisdom has been hidden from view for so long, mostly lost on the so-called Conservative and Reform communities, and buried in the rituals and closed community of the Orthodox. Please continue to produce, publish and share God’s lessons for humankind in the many ways you do!

  3. Isn’t it true that you typically feel like you have left questions about Torah “mostly unanswered”. I know I do, even if I leave my listener in a wide-eyed daze.

    1. Dane, every year the Torah is read in a weekly cycle in synagogues around the world (sometimes more than one section is read a week). On a holiday called Simhat Torah – the rejoicing of the Torah – we finish Deuteronomy and immediately begin Genesis. There is never any “finishing and completing” learning God’s word. There is always more. There is no such thing as leaving no remaining questions when you are talking about limited human beings and the infinite Torah.

  4. Dear Rabbi , I must be the only one disappointed the answer wasn’t more lengthy ! I have wondered about it for 20 years since I first read the Bible , being raised in the 60’s-70’s and having read every feminist book , having always worked “men’s jobs” , I am anti feminist and looking forward to what God meant when He said that !! I am not kidding , being immersed in something lets you see all the bad outcomes . I know God’s words are perfect , and I want to understand them. Does your book go into the detail of this ? Thank you Karen Jones

  5. Dear Rabbi,
    Your teachings never cease to teach me how little I know about the bible and the lords language. For instance, rule vs influence. I have tremendous influence over my wife. You would be amazed at how easily I can make her angry. But we do have an agreement whereby I make all the big decisions like, what we ought to do about China, N. Korea, NAFTA, roads and bridges, etc, etc. She makes all the small decisions, what we’re going to wear, eat, watch on tv, color to paint the walls, and like that. It seems to work just fine.
    With best wishes. Brian
    A happy wife means a happy life.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thanks Brian–
      For taking enough time away from your contemplation of the many heavy and important issues awaiting your decision in order to write to us.

  6. WOW. So much to learn and so much we can never, ever know about what the Torah a.k.a. the Old Testament REALLY means! Prophecy is dangerous, but it is not hard to envision a new 21st century Gematria software to apply to Torah. This software would analyze every word in Torah, connect it to its tri-letter Hebrew root, analyze the meaning of each individual letter, calculate numeric (numerological?) messages, and project possible composite interpretations. It sounds as frighteningly complex as ab initio particle-in-the-box quantum mechanics… and it still might miss the mark. It’s all too much for yokels like me.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      James, James, James,
      After all our time together, do you really still even consider the possibility that everything in the world can be digitized and done better on a computer? Haven’t you heard me repeatedly challenge any machine to compose music that can bring a lump to the throat or music that can make old ladies tap their toes? Some things can only happen within the human soul. There is already software that counts all the letters in the Torah and spots interesting patterns but nothing can or ever will provide interpretations because that is not what the Torah is about. But you really know all this; you’re just trying to rattle my cage.

      1. Not at all, Sir! I’m inventing a metaphor to compare the infinite complexity of the Torah to quantum mechanics, whose infinite calculations can integrate one under the table and burn out a computer, yet at best it can describe but ONE smallest of atoms…so it falls short in real-world applications. Consider my Gedankenexperiment an appeal to your love of mathematics as God’s secret language of the Universe. And you have confirmed my suspicion nicely, that such Torah software does exist and that it also fails.

  7. Perhaps you could create a new lecture series on Genesis 3. I have enjoyed listening to Tower of Power and would greatly appreciate having a deeper understanding of the Hebrew insights on this topic.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Actually Alisa–
      It’s all part of our new book on Money and Male/Female relationships which we hope we’ll soon publish in audio book form as well as in normal book form.
      Until then, you’ll find much of it in this resource https://rabbidaniellapin.com/product/madam-im-adam-2-audio-cds/ as well as in our Thought Tool collections. We also deal with it frequently in our TV show you can watch online here http://www.tct.tv/watch-tct/on-demand-ajw

  8. Catherine well said. Rabbi Lapin and Susan. Love love your program. I have learned so much. Graceful to
    to have you. I was born to Catholics . My father was jew at heart. Reed the old testament many time in his life time. Always regret that he couldn’t speak Hebrew. He since deceased . I know what a source of inspiration and joy it your program would have brought to him. i have the since desire for knowledge he had and I believe with your help I will continue to learn so much more. Rabbi Lapin and Susan ,may God bless you and your family. We are all so very graceful for you,

    1. Thank you, Carmen. We are pleased to be a part of keeping the connection between the generations alive.

  9. Thanks for kicking the entire discussion up to a higher level, as did Jesus. You remind us of how much is packed into scripture. To help with the “feminist” issue, I like philosophy professor Christina Hoff Sommers, “Who Stole Feminism? How Women Have Betrayed Women”. She refers to herself as “an equity feminist” asking for “a fair field and no favors”, rather than as “a gender feminist”. We would do a lot better with the Proverbs wife model (31: 10-31), than with the Ephesians model (5: 22-24), although the “love” part that follows is of course wonderful.

  10. Dennis Prager once made and amusing comment on how a woman agreed the husband was the head of the family, but the woman was the neck of the family and the neck turns the head to where the head needs to be looking.

    1. Ty, that was also an effective line in the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding. From either source, there is truth in the saying.

  11. Yes, women are not nobodies, who have nothing, not even a name.
    As some men would have taught their daughters and some men treat a wife. Actions, words, attitudes influence.

  12. Heavy, heavy, heavy. Deep calling unto deep. Indeed Rabbi, everyone should have a rabbi along with Hebrew study and cultivating a middle eastern mindset. Thank you again for such revelation.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Lisa–
      I’m with you on trying to cultivate a Torah mindset but surely not a Middle Eastern mindset. That is not a particularly pleasant or success-inducing mindset.
      But I know what you meant.

  13. What a wonderful commentary – thank you. It led me to think of your teachings in “Madam, I’m Adam” about how the wife adapts herself more readily to the husband’s circumstances than is true in the reverse. You point out that the fairy tale shows the poor girl becoming a princess far more often than the poor boy a prince (by marriage to a princess, at least). I am reminded of women I have known over the years who have become more influenced by their husband’s behaviors and attitudes than they meant to allow. Perhaps this is part of the admonition – “look carefully, ladies, at whom you choose to wed, as you may become more like him than you expect”. At the very least, this is something to keep in mind!

    1. Catherine, it’s a good idea for both men and women to look very carefully at whom they choose to wed!

      1. Wow gang, good stuff. Why is it that the more I learn from the Torah it reminds me of the less I know? I’d still like to take it out of context and show the wife I really am the boss but… oh well… I doubt it would work anyway. Keep up the great work.

        1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

          Wow, you too Jeff?
          I thought it was only me. The more I learn the more there is to learn.

    2. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Great point Catherine–
      In a successful happy marriage change does take place. We call it growth. It’s one of God’s purposes for marriage. In never married people, you can sometimes notice a slight stunting of emotional maturity such as I suffered from in the years between my physical maturity and the many years that elapsed before I was fortunate enough to persuade Susan to marry me.

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