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Torah Attitude: Parashas Vayakhel: Building a harmonious family
Many health professionals can attest to the frustration and other problems that the modern women have to contend with due to the double obligation of running a household while at the same time keeping a full-time job outside the home. From a Torah point of view, men and women each have their distinct roles in life. The men were secondary to the women to donate to the building of the Tabernacle. Due to their unwillingness to participate in the making of the golden calf the women were given a special holiday of Rosh Chodesh. The husbands had to accompany the wives in order to show that they agreed to allow them to donate their jewellery. The two interpretations show two aspects of the Jewish woman. One of the morning blessings is unique as the men say something different than the women. The Jewish woman who conducts her life according to Torah guidelines is primarily occupied with taking care of her family and household, and it is not necessary to give her constant reminders to remain true to her calling. The exceptions, where women are obligated to perform commandments that are related to specific times, are because it was women who primarily were instrumental in the various salvations of the Jewish people that we commemorate with these commandments. Jewish men and women each recognize their special position in the family structure and as part of society.
In last week's Torah Attitude we mentioned that we live in an era when family values have been seriously diminished. If we try to analyze why this has happened, there is no doubt more than just one cause. However, it appears that a major contributor to this erosion is due to the fact that the women's liberation movement has put up a struggle to gain a position equal to men. On the one hand, the women have gained in many areas where they were treated unfairly, such as not earning equal pay for their work, and not being given the opportunity to develop their talents. However, at the same time we must acknowledge that their new situation has led to a host of problems and frustrations, and for a large part has been detrimental to the traditional family setting. It is no secret that many women struggle with their double workload of running a household while at the same time keeping a full-time job outside the home. Many health professionals can attest to the frustration and other problems that the modern women have to contend with due to this double obligation. The attempt to involve the men in household chores and child-rearing often does not work, as many men do not have the patience and understanding how to deal with these issues.
From a Torah point of view, men and women each have their distinct roles in life, and each gender has been created with their specific strengths and weaknesses accordingly. Rather than forcing equalization, the Torah formula creates a harmonious family life and an ideal structure for society. This is based on mutual respect between men and women, in general, and between husband and wife, in particular.
Women eagerly donate
In the beginning of this week's portion (Shemos 35:1) the Torah relates how Moses gathered the entire congregation of the children of Israel. The Ramban comments that the expression of the "entire congregation" indicates that also the women were invited to participate in this assembly. It later says (Shemos 35:22) "And the men came with the women. Everyone whose heart was motivated brought bracelets … all sorts of golden vessels." The Ramban explains that when the Torah says that the men came with the women it implies that the men were secondary to the women to donate to the building of the Tabernacle. This, says the Ramban, was first of all due to the fact that many of these gold vessels were jewellery worn by the ladies. However, it further implies how these righteous women were more than eager to donate their jewellery to construct an edifice in the honour G'd.
The Da'as Zekeinim adds that this stood in stark contrast to what happened at the time when the golden calf was formed. At that time, the women were not willing to participate. The Tur Shulchan Aruch explains that due to their unwillingness to participate in the making of the golden calf the women were given a special holiday. Every new month on the day of Rosh Chodesh it is a special holiday for women. In some congregations the women get together on this day, and as mentioned in Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim (417:1) many women have the custom not to do certain types of activities on Rosh Chodesh. The Da'as Zekeinim adds that the main day of this celebration is on Rosh Chodesh Nissan, the day that the Tabernacle was erected. This is a tribute to the eagerness of the righteous women who donated their personal jewellery to erect the Tabernacle. Once it was established for Rosh Chodesh Nissan, the celebration was extended to every Rosh Chodesh of the year.
The Sforno has a different insight why it says that the husbands came with the wives. It is well known that when a man and a woman get married the husband must give his wife a Ketubah. In one part of the Ketubah the husband undertakes to take care of his wife. This includes to feed her, clothe her and to provide her with her daily needs. In lieu of that the husband is entitled to the earnings of his wife. This was instituted to protect the wife and to ensure that she is taken care of throughout her married life. If she decides that this arrangement is not to her benefit, she has the right to free her husband from this obligation and instead she would be entitled to keep her earnings. However, in most marriages this is not the case. The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 248:4) therefore teaches that unless a wife has freed her husband from his responsibility, she may not donate large sums to charity without her husband's consent. Says the Sforno, the husbands had to accompany their wives in order to show that they agreed to allow them to donate their jewellery.
These two interpretations do not contradict each other. Rather, they show two aspects of the Jewish woman. On the one hand, the woman has a mind of her own. She often has a better understanding of right and wrong. This is clearly demonstrated by the women's reluctance to participate in making the golden calf and their eagerness to contribute to the building of the Tabernacle. On the other hand, her role in life is in general to take care of the home. She is superbly equipped to lay the foundation for her family, and subsequently build it. In this way she is most capable to complement and assist her husband who in general is better equipped to earn an income and provide for his family through his work and business affairs.
Every day we start our prayer service with the morning blessings. In most cases, there is no difference between the prayers said by a man and those said by a woman. However, one of these blessing is unique, as the men say something different than the women. The men say "Bless are You HASHEM … that did not make me a woman." The women say "Bless are You HASHEM … that made me according to His will."
When the Reform movement in Germany made their own prayer book, these two blessings were omitted together with other parts of the prayer service that they felt were outdated. In his commentary on the daily prayers, The World of Prayer (Volume 1, p.28), Rabbi Dr. Eli Munk explains that these blessings in no way impair the honour and dignity accorded to the Jewish woman. She has always maintained her special position of distinction and respect in the Jewish family and community. The time-related commandments such as wearing tzitzis and putting on tefillin were Divinely-designed to protect the men from temptations they may encounter in the course of earning an income. As Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains in his commentary (Vayikra 23), these commandments serve to remind us from time to time of our destiny as part of the Jewish people. When the Jewish man remembers that he is part of the Chosen Nation and therefore has special obligations fit for a nation that is supposed to be a kingdom of priests, this will stand as a reminder not to fall into the daily temptations that surround him. The Jewish woman who conducts her life according to Torah guidelines is primarily occupied with taking care of her family and household. Therefore, says Rabbi Hirsh, she was absolved from observing these commandments as it was not necessary to give her reminders to remain true to her calling.
We do find some exceptions to this exemption, where women are obligated to perform commandments that are related to specific times. The Rashbam (Pesachim 108b) explains that the reason for these exceptions is because it was women who primarily were instrumental in the various salvations of the Jewish people that we commemorate with these commandments. In a few short weeks, we are going to celebrate Purim when both men and women are obligated to hear the reading of the Megillah. It is well known that Queen Esther was the leading figure who brought about the downfall of Haman and pleaded with Ahashvarous until the Jews were saved. A month later we will celebrate Pesach, where again both men and women are obligated to fulfill the commandments related to the Seder night, including the four cups of wine. The Talmud (Sotah 11b) says that it was in the merit of the righteous women, who built their families in Egypt despite tremendous difficulties, that our ancestors were redeemed from Egypt. On the eight days of Hanukkah, as well, women are obligated to participate in the kindling of the Hanukkah lights. Again we find that Judith, a prominent female member of the family of Chashmonaim, helped the Jewish people to defeat the Greek army by managing to behead the reigning Greek Governor.
This is but one example of the high esteem in which our sages held the Jewish women. Further, says Rabbi Munk, the Jewish woman is honoured as the guardian of the purity and moral of her people. When she recites her blessing in the morning she does so in joyous gratitude towards her Maker that He created her "to His satisfaction." On the other hand, the Jewish man thanks G'd for the fact that he was given the extra commandments designated only for males. Each one recognizes their special position in the family structure and as part of society. And both thank G'd for their lot in life. When we start our day with this perception it fosters a mutual respect between husband and wife. It further provides the perfect setting for a harmonious family life where the children will see both parents content with their lot in life and with the fullest respect for each other.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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