Thursday, June 01, 2006

What is a 'yelud isha' doing here in shamayim?

When Moshe ascended to shamayim to receive the Torah, he was accosted by angels demanding, “Mah l’yelud isha beineinu?” – what is this ‘born of woman’ doing among us? (Shabbos 88)
Clearly the term ‘born of woman’ is intended as a derogatory lowering of Moshe’s stature, and the misogynistic overtones may indeed be intended (see Mei HaShiloach for a striking comment in that regard). I think there is more to it than that. The Alter m’Slabodka writes that what distinguishes man from angel is man’s power of free choice. An angel’s existence is static, but man has the ability to elevate himself and all the universe to come closer to G-d. He reads this idea into the debate between the angels and Moshe, but the essential point is that Torah is the vehicle that directs bechira. Who was it that first exercised this right of bechira? It was woman. Chavah made the first choice to disobey, which may have in fact changed the whole concept of bechira to allow man freedom to turn away from G-d (see R’ Dessler, vol 2). The gemara highlights the double edged sword of free choice – Moshe is ‘yelud isha’, a descendent of the one who introduced disobedience to G-d in the world, yet, according to the Alter’s reading (see vol 2), that very power or free choice to disobey is what makes man most deserving to receive the dvar Hashem.
Our discussion of ‘Moshe hosif yom echad m’da’ato’, Moshe adding an extra day of preparation for kabbalas haTorah, got me thinking of this term ‘yelud isha’ in a different way. Rashi (P’ Braishis) explains that Chavah was led to sin by her having added to the command of Hashem – G-d commanded not to eat of the eitz hada’as, yet she told the nachash that she was commanded not to touch it. By confusing the prohibition, she ended up eating from the tree. By the angels’ measure, Moshe was a day late in getting to shamayim. ‘Yelud isha’ may be intended as a reminder that adding to the dvar Hashem m’da’ato can have tragic consequences, as the history of Chavah illustrates. This approach is a bit harder to work into the answer of the gemara, which highlights man’s mission of overcoming a yetzer hara. Perhaps Moshe was suggesting that in Chavah’s pure environment of gan eden adding to G-d’s command was unnecessary, but after man has already fallen and must overcome his base instinct, we require the additional preparation and enactments of torah sheba’al peh to prepare us to receive and help us observe the dvar Hashem.

10 comments:

  1. Anonymous11:32 AM

    Beautiful!

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  2. Bill Selliger11:52 AM

    Yelud isha’ may be intended as a reminder that adding to the dvar Hashem m’da’ato can have tragic consequences, as the history of Chavah illustrates.

    Excellent!

    This approach is a bit harder to work into the answer of the gemara, which highlights man’s mission of overcoming a yetzer hara.

    I don't think the answer of the gemara highlights man's mission of overcoming yetzer hara - as much as it highlights that the Torah is a document/roadmap/guidebook intended for man. Look at the gemara again - only the last portion of his response references the Y"H. As such, I think it goes very well with the vort you mentioned yesterday. The 'hosafa' of man is a valuable - and necessary - tool, if used within the parameters of Torah (which we call Torah sh'Baal Peh - see the Rambam in his hakdama to Peirush Hamishnayos, that everything not stated directly to Moshe at Sinai is incorporated within the rubric of TSHB"P).

    Therefore, Moshe is telling the malachim that the Jews are accepting the vehicle with which they inform their decisions (the first thing Moshe tells the malachim is 'likabel Torah') - and are using the uniquely human attribute of bechira in a positive way.

    What would be super-sweet would be if we could figure out why each of the examples enumerated within the aggada relate to a certain aspect of TSHB"P or bechira, but that's not going to happen now.

    Great shtell. Good Y”T.

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  3. I would not see any misogynistic overtones here in the phrase "yelud isha." it seems to be a common natural language expression used as a contrast of man to angels, just as melech basar vadam is used often as a contrast to Hashem.

    we see in Yoma 75b, regarding the manna, that they were afraid they would explode since the manna went into their bodies but not out, that this is not the way of a "yelud isha."

    the phrase also calls to mind Macbeth, with

    "Fear not, Macbeth; no man that's born of woman Shall e'er have power upon thee.'"

    where of course it is the set up for one who came to the world via Caesarian section harming Macbeth.

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  4. >>>By the angels’ measure, Moshe was a day late in getting to shamayim. ‘Yelud isha’ may be intended as a reminder that adding to the dvar Hashem m’da’ato can have tragic consequences


    I am not sure if you mean this but you seem to imply that because Moshe added on an extra day this indirectly caused the eigel.

    A) is this what you mean
    B) is this true?

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  5. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi's story about Moshe, God, and the angels is, I think, mainly a derash on Tehillim 8, trying to blend the pesukim found there with the story of matan Torah. Furthermore, since Hazal's conception (and ours, too, I suppose) of angels is that they are purer than we are, the Holy Torah seemingly should have stayed with them.
    As such, yelud ishah is, indeed, a derogatory term, but not against women, but against all mankind by the angels - as they are not as spiritually pure or as on high of a level (not just [meta-]physically]) as angels are.

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  6. No, Chaim M., I did not mean to imply that.

    Josh, I am mighty impressed with the MacBeth quote, as philistines like myself would not think beyond the similar reference in the climax of Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.

    Bill,
    >>>What would be super-sweet would be if we could figure out why each of the examples enumerated within the aggada relate to a certain aspect of TSHB"P or bechira
    Ain hachi nami, but probably beyond my ability. The gemara goes through a response dibra by dibra, and now that I look back, it is interesting that lo sisa and shabbos are in reverse order, and the last 2 dibros are missing from the lost. Wonder if there is some deeper message behind the text.

    Good Y"T everybody, and thank you for the comments!

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  7. >>>As such, yelud ishah is, indeed, a derogatory term, but not against women,

    But why that term - if all it means mankind then it could just as well say 'ish', 'gever', 'ben adam', etc. The insult specifically draws your attention not just to man qua man, but man as a descendent of women. I would write out the Mei HaShiloach, but my wife hates when I quote it so you will have to look it up : )

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  8. In dealing with the Alter's idea I should have mentioned the Meshech Chochma (into to Sefer Shmos, also in Ohr Sameich in Yesodei haTorah) that Moshe had no bechira because it is not mistaber that there was a real choice whether or not to accept the Torah.

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