Retranslating »… and he shall rule over you.« Quick Comment on Parashat Bereshit: Genesis 1:1–6:8
The verse is familiar: »And your sexual desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you!« (Genesis 3:16). I would like to put this translation aside because for millennia it has supported female subservience.
The Hebrew root לשמ mashal does mean »rule.»But it can also connote similarity. A mashal in rabbinic literature is a parable. It is often preceded by the question, »What does the matter resemble?« Literally, »To what is it like?« Using this interpretation, I translate our verse this way: »Your sexual desire shall be for your husband, and (in that regard) he will be like you!«
An obstacle to this translation confronts us in the next chapter where the word הקושת »sex- ual desire« appears with the root לשמ (Genesis 4:7). Here God compares the strong urge to sin to sexual desire and declares to Cain that we have the power to »rule over it«. Our Sages teach that sexual desire is an innate human feature. Without it, we would never mar- ry or have children (Genesis Rabbah 9:7). Like re the sexual urge can add great meaning to our lives but unchecked it can cause great harm. So we can say the inclination to evil is »like us» in that it is innate to our nature, and God wants us to embrace and harness it for positive purposes. Real support for my translation of לשמ as »to be like« comes from the only other use of הקושת in Tanach. That is in Song of Songs (7:11) where the woman states that her lover’s sexual desire is towards her, a counterbalance to the Eden passage.
All evidence considered, I think there is very good reason to scrap, »he shall rule over you«, in Genesis 3:16 in favor of, »he shall be like you«.