Feminine Redemption - ויגש

Friday, 30 December, 2022 - 10:35 am


Feminine Redemption 


The family of Jacob was heading toward the land of Egypt, a journey that would eventually lead to the slavery which had been foretold to Abraham. As they were entering Egypt, a child was born that symbolized the ability to persevere through exile and ultimately transform it. 


When Jacob and his family travel to Egypt, the Torah tells us that they numbered seventy souls:  


All the souls coming to Egypt with Jacob, those descended from him, excluding the wives of Jacob's sons, all the souls were sixty six. And Joseph's sons, who were born to him in Egypt, two souls; all the souls of the house of Jacob who came to Egypt were seventy. (Genesis 46:26-27)


The problem, however, is that when we run the numbers, we see only sixty-nine, not seventy, names. Rashi addresses this discrepancy by explaining that both are true; sixty-nine people traveled to Egypt, but seventy arrived in Egypt because at the city's walls, a baby was born who completed the number seventy. The baby was Yocheved, who later became the mother of Moses. As Rashi explains: 


This [missing one] is Jochebed, who was born between the walls when they entered the city, as it is said: "whom she bore to Levi in Egypt". Her birth was in Egypt, but her conception was not in Egypt. (Rashi, Genesis 46:15)


Yocheved, born at the gates of Egypt, symbolized the unique ability to be in Egypt but not be from Egypt, to live within the spiritual darkness of Egypt yet to remain connected to the light and inspiration of the holy land. The Kabbalists explain that she embodied the feminine Divine attribute of Malchut, sovereignty, which descends from the spiritual world of "emanation", where G-d is the only reality, to the three lower worlds of "creation", "formation", and "action", where G-d's vitalizing energy is concealed. The energy of Malchut is present within creation but yearns for, and occasionally ascends to, its source in the world of unity. 


This feature of the feminine attribute, the ability to bridge two worlds and perspectives, ultimately led to redemption. 


In Kabbalistic thought, Masculine energy represents the ability to conquer and dominate. The masculine energy seeks to undermine and destroy its challenger and opponent. The feminine energy, by contrast, seeks not to dominate but to cultivate. Where the masculine energy seeks to highlight the superiority of the spiritual over the physical, of holiness over the mundane, the feminine energy demonstrates how the created mundane reality itself can be cultivated and refined to become a vessel for holiness. While the masculine energy would seek to break Egypt, the purpose of the exile would ultimately be fulfilled through the feminine perspective, that Egypt should not be destroyed but should come to recognize that "I am the L-rd in the midst of the land". 


In Biblical Hebrew, numbers can take either masculine or feminine form. When the Torah describes the sixty-six souls that descendent to Egypt (excluding Joseph and his sons and Yocheved), the Torah defies the laws of grammar and writes the number sixty-six in the feminine (Shisim Vashesh, in the feminine, as opposed to Shisim Vishisah in the masculine), to highlight that for the Jewish people to achieve the purpose of exile, they would have to cultivate within themselves the feminine energy as exemplified by the young Yocheved.  


Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos 20 Vayigash 2


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