It's a deep, scholarly, mind-blowing book that delves into several different personalities of Jewish women in Tanach and, with power and depth, explains some hard-to-understand events that occurred (like Rachel Imeinu's death after birthing Binyamin).
Anyway, before I read Mirrors of Our Lives, I never noticed the pronounced differences between the personalities of the Imahot (Matriarchs) and their marital relationships. Therefore, I certainly didn't realize what they had to teach us in this regard.
What Rebbetzin Pavlov inspired me to realize was that despite some presentation to the contrary, there are different ways of being a great Jewish woman and different ways of being a great Jewish wife and different styles of marriage dynamics — all of which can be very good.
(There are also different ways of being a great Jewish man, as we see throughout Tanach.)
Until then, I'd been receiving a narrower view.
This depends on your community and the books you read and the shiurim you listen to, but if you aren't careful, you can imbibe a narrow interpretation of what's acceptable or emulatable.
Some people can make you feel bad for being an assertive, driven type while others can make you feel bad for being less driven and more contemplative.
Some people have more physical energy while others possess more mental energy.
Some advisers emphasize the importance of balance, but that often ends up trying to make everyone the same by, say, advising driven people to scale back and contemplative people to up their game.
Yes, it's true that driven people may need to scale back a bit at times and that contemplative people should up their game at times, but it's really yishuv hadaat we should aim for as our guide.
Meaning, we should look to channel our capabilities and vibrancy in Torah ways rather than try to smush them this way or that in the futile struggle to achieve the ever-elusive "perfect balance."
The goal is not to be a Stepford Yid.
There's No Single Ideal
They worked mostly as equals, a hand-in-hand partnership. He represented chessed and she represented gevurah, and they acted very much as two halves of a whole.
They were both solidly in the center of the world, reaching out to the society around them.
Sara Imeinu was very assertive, bringing the idea of a second woman to fulfill the promise of progeny for Avraham Avinu, then ordering Hagar and Yishmael out when their presence proved a threat to her son Yitzchak.
Chazal even notes that her level of prophecy was higher than that of her husband's.
Rivka Imeinu's relationship with Yitzchak Avinu seems almost the exact opposite of the first set of Patriarch-Matriarch:
- She was chessed, he was gevurah.
- She was the daughter of a rasha, he was the son of a tzaddik.
- They are the only couple who never brought in another woman to deal with the lengthy infertility.
And from the moment Rivka Imeinu leaned off her camel and covered her face before Yitzchak Avinu, their relationship displayed a different dynamic.
Though full of mutual love and trust, Rivka Imeinu held onto to a certain reserve with regard to Yitzchak, a reserve which comes up repeatedly.
At the same time, Rivka Imeinu and Yitzchak Avinu are the only couple described as "metzachek" in Parshat Toldot.
Chazal gives interpretations for this word and that scenario, but its root is "laugh." In this otherwise serious, self-contained, reserved couple, there was happy affection.
Yet despite all their differences and contrasts, all four of these people are considered models of good Jews and their very different marriages are also considered equally good!
Both Sara Imeinu and Rivka Imeinu are considered ideal women and both Avraham Avinu and Yitzchak Avinu are considered ideal men.
And you can continue on examining the different personalities and marital dynamics in all the relationships of the rest (Leah Imeinu and Rachel Imeinu to Yaakov Avinu), including those of Zilpah and Bilha to Yaakov Avinu.
Making the Torah Your Own
There isn't one ideal.
Sometimes, people present a narrower view of Jewish ideals and models simply because they are projecting too much of themselves or their own desires onto their audience.
This is certainly not intentional and I'm not sure that it's even avoidable.
We see things how we see things, and how can one imperfect human being completely avoid bias and personal blindspots?
This is why I feel it's so important to do your own research and delve in as deep as you can.
You may be limited by language, time, and concentration capabilities.
(These also vacillate as your personal situation vacillates throughout your life. One life-stage is conducive to heavy-duty immersion in scholarship while another stage gets you overwhelmed just by reading a magazine sidebar.)
But whatever you can manage at any stage is still really good.
Some of the classic commentaries (like Rashi, Ramban, and some of the Kli Yakar) have been translated into English.
There are also books (like Mirrors of Our Lives) and articles that delve into detailed descriptions and analyses of a particular personality's facets and events.
A variety of shiurim also bring you deep into different personalities and events.
So even if you can't manage 12th-Century Hebrew (or English translations of 12th-Century Hebrew), there are still other and more digestible options, as described above.
And rather than others (including this blog) telling you what you should get out of a certain role model or event in Tanach, I think it's ideal if you extract it yourself as far as you can using whatever tools you have.
Hashem guides each person in the way they need to go.
When you sincerely try to understand, you merit Heavenly assistance.
(This Heavenly assistance can still be a process, BTW, and not instant illumination, frustratingly enough.)
Hashem gave us the Torah with all its breadth and depth in order for us to enhance and elevate ourselves, and not to confine or repress ourselves.
May Hashem grant us all blessing success in our soul's journey.