Translated (by me) from Ba El Ha-Kodesh by Ari Elon (Yediot, 2005)
I. When a woman inseminates herself
There is no phrase more fitting than “when a woman will bring forth seed” (Leviticus 12:2) to characterize the tremendous revolution that is taking place before our very eyes. In today’s rapidly-unfolding future, the man is no longer the sole inseminator, and the woman is no longer a receptacle of male seed. Rather, the woman decides how to inseminate herself, when, if at all, to inseminate herself, and with which men or women she will do so.
The future-tense construction “when a woman will bring forth seed” alludes to more than just artificial insemination. This future-tense construction reflects a reality in which nature herself, and God Herself, designates the woman to legislate over all matters of insemination, both of herself and of all Creation. For only this power of legislation will put an end to the violent reign of “and unto your husband will be your desire, and he will rule over you” (Genesis 3:16).
The internalization of the divine power that is inherent in the phrase “when a woman will bring forth seed” will put an end to the reign of the imperious husband, the man who marks his conquered territory with the help of the seed that he sprays and plants on every hilltop and under every blossoming bush.
II. A woman is useless; then her husband makes her into a receptacle
A student of Torah discovers new knowledge. But everything that she discovers has already been given to Moses on Mount Sinai. The insights of Torah scholars is part and parcel of the original divine utterance. When the Divine said to Moses, “when a woman will bring forth seed,” She was referring, among other meanings, to a liberated Hebrew language that will be spoken someday in the future.
The Torah has seventy faces. Seventy thousand faces. The linguistic field of the Torah is seeded with the possibility of a more liberated language, one that breaks the bounds of the translations and explanations that we have hitherto known. In contrast to this liberated language of the future stands the linguistic field of the past and the present, much closer to the patriarchal literalism that assumes that the man is forever the inseminator and the woman is forever the inseminated.
The woman of the past was essentially a receptable for male seed. As the Talmud (Sanhedrin 22b) says, “A woman is useless, and God does not make a covenant except with one who makes her into a receptacle, as it says in Isaiah (54:5): ‘For He who made you will espouse you — His name is Lord of Hosts.'”
So long as the woman of the past failed to realize her destiny as a receptacle, she was useless. Then, when her husband espoused her, she underwent a felicitous metamorphosis – not into a butterfly, but into a receptacle. And the man who espoused her was converted, through his act of mastering, into a member of the ancient militaristic order whose motto is, “‘For He who made you will espouse you — His name is Lord of Hosts.'”
III. Niddah K’Negged Niddah: Since she spilled the blood of Adam, she was given the mitzvah of niddah
The first husband, Adam, came into existence only by ruling over the legend that was [untranslatable pun: mashal haya/mishel haya]. He ruled over the legend of his wife’s desire; he ruled over the legend of his own desire; he ruled over the legend of the Holy Writ; he ruled over the legend of the Torah portion Tazria; he ruled over the legend of Seder Nashim and the legend of Masechet Nidah; and he ruled over the legend of “to what is this similar” [v’mashal l’mah ha-davar domeh].
All his days, Adam would spray his seed and mark his conquered territory in order to continue to rule over his wife’s desires; and in order to rule over his own desires; and in order to continue to mark the territory of his dominance with a sign that would soon be obsolete.
He used to say [all quotes in this section come from Breishit Rabah]: “Why is a man prone to seduction whereas a woman is not? Man was created from earth, and drops of water can soak the earth; but Woman was created from bone, and even if bone is watered for several days, it will never become soaked….
And why does a woman have to put on perfume whereas a man does not? Man was created from earth, and earth never stinks; but Woman was created from flesh. If you leave meat sitting out for three days, it will begin to stink….
And why does a man woo a woman, whereas a woman does not woo a man? A parable: A person loses an item – who woos whom? The one who has lost something woos the lost item.
And why does a man deposit seed in a woman, whereas a woman does not deposit seed in a man? A parable: A person holds a pledge in his hand, and he entrusts it to another….
And why does a man go out with his head uncovered, whereas a woman covers her head? A parable: A person committed a sin and was embarrassed, so he would only go out with his head covered and hidden from view.
And why are women the first ones to walk out with the dead body at a funeral? Because women brought death into the world at the beginning of time…..
And why were women given the commandment to light Shabbat candles? Because Eve extinguished the soul of Adam, and thus she was given the commandment to kindle light.
And why was she given the commandment to take challah? Because she corrupted the first man who was the bread-and-butter of the world; thus she was given the mitzvah of taking bread.
And why was she given the mitzvah of nidah? Because she spilled the blood of the first man; therefore she was commanded to count the days of her bleeding.”
And were it not that these things were written, it would be impossible to give them voice…..
IV. Nidah K’neged Nidah: Women die in childbirth because they are not careful about the laws of nidah
“Women die in childbirth on account of three sins: They are not careful when it comes to nidah, challah, and lighting the Shabbat candles” (Mishnah Shabbat 2:6). This mishnah has developed into a prayer. Every Friday night, between Kabbalat Shabbat and Maariv, men recite the chapter “Bameh Madlikin,” and at the end, they remind themselves of the three sins for which women who are not careful will die in childbirth.
By age six, I knew this prayer by heart, and ever Shabbat I would pray it with intensely devout concentration. I worried about my mother. I remembered the stories of Aunt Nechama and Aunt Miriam, the two sisters of Grandma Rivka, who died in childbirth. I knew that my mother had already lit the Shabbat candles; and I knew she had laid the challot on the white tablecloth. But no one knew how to tell me what it meant to be “careful about the laws of nidah” – and so I continued to worry.
Now I understand even less, and still I worry. I understand that being careful about the mitzvah of challah is not about laying the challot on the white tablecloth, but rather about buying products that say “Challah has been taken.” And I understand that “Every woman and daughter lights Sabbath candles” is a Chabad slogan. And I understand that being careful about Nidah is a thousand times more problematic and more complex than being careful about lighting candles or taking challah. Above all, I know that “a woman who brings forth seed and gives birth” is, if nothing else, a woman who has not died in childbirth.