Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus is an international bestseller first published in the early 1990’s and it remains one of the quintessential books on the philosophy of inter-gender relationships. Its unique presentation of the differences between men and women has assisted many couples in bettering their relationships. Found in many frum homes, the book contains valuable tips on how to get along with the opposite gender. The facts are irrefutable: even in this age of Feminism, men and women’s differences must be focused on if we are to get along.
The Gemara (Niddah 34b) states that Jewish bodies react differently to certain things than those of gentiles due to kosher food. In fact, the Chasam Sofer (on Avoda Zarah 31b) decried gentile medical practices being applied to Jewish bodies since He held the Jewish body works differently.
So if the Jewish body, which resembles the non-Jewish body, is different, how much more different must the Jewish soul be which has no resemblance to a gentile soul at all.
With different bodies, souls and relationships, it only makes sense to base our marriages on the Jewish perspective.
The secular approach has the story beginning when the Martians saw the Venusians through a telescope and delighted at uniting and building fulfilling relationships together. Eventually the happy couples moved to earth, forgetting about their planet of origin and then running into problems. The marvelous solution is to remember you are not both equal citizens of earth, but a distinct Mr. Mars and Mrs. Venus.
Or in real life terms:
A man is attracted to a woman and vice versa. They find the ensuing relationship very fulfilling and meaningful so they decide to marry, and as life passes and becomes busy they forget the initial excitement. The resulting crisis could be avoided if men and women realize they are different and learn how to react to each other’s weaknesses effectively.
Marriage seems to be a strange creation. Each gender is attracted to the other, and then they have to overcome so many differences to live in peace. Still, there is a point. We’re attracted to each other because we share an emotional need that can only be satisfied by the opposite gender. A normal person realizes if wants to get what he needs, he needs to give her what she needs in return; it’s an economical system called an intimate relationship.
That’s the secular approach, which is expressed on the front cover of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus: “A guide to getting what you want in a relationship” – a sentence with two words – “get” and “want” – which are the antithesis of marriage according to Judaism.
The Torah describes Ya’akov returning home from Charan with his large family: “He lifted up his sons and wives onto the camels.” Rashi on the verse (Genesis 31:17) points out that Ya’akov “put the males before the females” while Eisav “took his wives and his sons” (ibid 36:6).
Was Ya’akov a chauvinist? Was Eisav a gentleman and educator who taught his children to respect their mothers? Or instead, perhaps they were demonstrating their unique approaches to life – secular versus Jewish.
The Jewish approach begins with the Midrashic-Kabbalistic slant on the story of the first male-female relationship in the Torah, Adam and Chavah:
According to the Kabbalah, G-d created a soul which is made up of middos – intellectually controlled emotions and forces, and malchus – the ability to receive those very thoughts and emotions and transmit them further, thus creating new life.
Both aspects of the one soul were “back-to-back” to each other and therefore had no ability to use their procreating powers, making it impossible for the malchus to receive what the middos had to give.
So G-d performed a “surgical procedure” and separated the two aspects into two separate identities, allowing them to unite and procreate. Since then, the middos are the dominant force in a man’s soul, and the malchus is dominant in the woman’s. The two genders are attracted to one another so they can live up to their united potential of bringing new life to the world.
Jewish men and women are not from different planets, rather two halves of one whole. If we were a perfectly complete soul at one time, there must have been a purpose for the separation. The goal was to separate, reunite and then procreate.
Yet two halves from the same origin do not make a complete whole. Money alone cannot bake bread. Man alone cannot reproduce. Each half, with its distinct role to actualize its unique character, is needed to create.
The husband’s unique character provides the material and the wife with her unique qualities receives and develops it into a wholesome product. According to Chazal, this pattern exists in all realms of a Jewish home, from the basic parnassah system to the creation, development and upbringing of children and, although not as clearly articulated, in the loving relationship between man and his wife so a Jewish home may function.
In the ideal Jewish marriage, the husband and wife are both dedicated to each other intrinsically. There is respect and care and the beauty of Taharas Hamishpacha allowing the fire to never dwindle. There is appreciation for each other’s unique contributions and unwavering commitment. Because only with a healthy relationship in body and soul can they possibly fulfill their unified mission of creating healthy children.
This is perhaps why in Judaism, intimate relationships between men and women only have a place within the beautiful framework of marriage.
Neither is the husband or the wife here to “get” what he/she “needs”. They form a union in order to achieve continuity for humanity and for Judaism. They are married so they can give to their children and the world.
Men and women’s differences should be looked at in a new light:
A secular relationship is successful when male and female show love and respect despite their differences. A Jewish marriage is only possible because of the differences and is successful when the husband and wife use them to show love and respect to the uniqueness of their differences.
Mefarshim explain that Ya’akov placed his children first, expressing the approach of focusing the relationship on its essential purpose –reuniting to reproduce both in the literal as well as the figurative sense of procreation. Eisav placed the women first, demonstrating the more shallow focus on simply getting what he could only get from the female.
Let’s be Ya’akov’s children, for the sake of our Children!
Some of the thoughts in this essay were developed from a talk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe King Moshiach, printed in Likkutei Sichos vol. 30 p. 141