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Wisdom: A Thought for Women’s History Month

From the Desk of Cheryl Hauer

There are three Hebrew words that are translated wisdom in the Bible. They are chokma, binah, and da-at. Interestingly, the Orthodox Jewish organization, Chabad, chose an acronym using these three words as their name: Cha (chokma) ba (binah) d (da’at). According to the Bible, there is nothing in life more important than wisdom. It is to be sought after, loved, and cherished; true wisdom is to be based on fear of the Lord; wisdom is a guard and a protector; although the search for wisdom may cost us everything, it is worth it.


There is an interesting lesson for us, however, as we come to understand the meanings of those three words. Chokma is the word for wisdom, as we as westerners usually understand it. A wise man is one who has the ability to judge correctly and to follow the best course of action based on his talents, education and life experience.


Da’at, on the other hand, means knowledge, the accumulation of information about the world around us. It can also refer to a deep knowledge of ourselves in certain contexts.


Binah, however, means discernment, understanding, intuition; it is the ability to apply both chokma and da’at to our lives. The sages teach that women are gifted with an extra measure of binah, giving them a depth of spiritual understanding that men don’t have. Binah is the reason that women are not required to attend synagogue in the way men are.


We find a Biblical example in the Book of Genesis, when Rebecca tells her son, Jacob, to pretend to be his brother, Esau, in order to receive the blessing of the first born from his father, Isaac. Many Christian teachers condemn her for this action, and Jacob as well for obeying her. For some, it is even foundational to replacement theology and Christian anti-Semitism. Because Isaac received the blessing through his mother’s lie, the thinking goes, the Jews were doomed to a history of tragedy. They would eventually be written out of God’s plan and replaced by Christianity.


But, Judaism teaches that Rebecca was actually exercising Binah. She knew from the time the two boys were born that God had chosen Jacob, the younger son, to receive the blessing and carry forward the lineage that began with Abraham. And, she also knew that Isaac, her husband, favored Esau, an outdoorsman and hunter, over his younger son, Jacob. When she realized that Isaac intended to give the blessing to Esau, she had to take action.


In that ancient world, the blessing of the first born was bestowed by the father. It was irrevocable and literally determined the life of the son. But, it also had implications for the entire family and for the future of the tribe. Rebecca knew God had clearly spoken that it was Jacob who was to be the third patriarch and ensure that the legacy of Abraham and his God were carried forward to ensuing generations. The text doesn’t say if Rebecca tried to convince Isaac that his choice had to be Jacob, but she had obviously reached a point where extreme measures were needed, so she resorted to “deceit.” Unlike Christian teachers, the sages laud her for this choice, which guaranteed that Esau, a rebellious son who was drawn to pagan women and who cared so little for his inheritance that he sold it for a bowl of soup, would not be the leader of God’s people. She was exercising binah, the rabbis say, a deep, intuitive understanding of spiritual truth and the ability to make it a reality.


You’ve heard of women’s intuition? In the Bible it is called binah, and it is written in the DNA of every woman.


Blessings and Shalom,

Issachar Community


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