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Torah Attitude: Parashas Vayakhel: Ladies first
This Torah Attitude is dedicated to David Deverett on his birthday. May HASHEM bless him with all the best that life has to offer!
The Torah views women with great reverence and respect. "In the merit of the righteous women of that generation, the Jewish people were redeemed from Egypt." One young girl was instrumental in saving the future of the Jewish Nation in Egypt. Joseph Friedenson and his bride got married in the Warsaw Ghetto. "These mirrors are dearer to Me than anything else, for they were used by the women in Egypt to encourage their husbands to build their families." One of the functions of the water basin in the Tabernacle was to restore the domestic peace and ensure that every husband and wife lived in harmony. The donations of the men were "secondary" to the donations of the women. The women were the first to get involved and were happy to donate their jewellery to erect a dwelling for G'd. The Jewish woman is the foundation and the builder of her household. Women have a special ability to rise to an occasion and make the right decision.
Women viewed with great reverence
A few years ago I had a conversation with a young man who had just become observant. He told me that he had had several discussions with his mother who felt that Orthodox Rabbis are prejudiced against women. Unfortunately, this opinion is expressed by many who do not realize that the Torah views women with great reverence and respect. It is a great pity that so many people have such a distorted picture of how the Torah views and treats women.
Redeemed from Egypt
The Talmud (Sotah 11b) states: "In the merit of the righteous women of that generation, the Jewish people were redeemed from Egypt." The Talmud continues to explain how the women took great pains to look after their husbands and be loyal to them. They went out into the fields, where their husbands were suffering under the harsh conditions of their slave labour, and provided them with food and nourishment. Despite that the future looked bleak, these brave women encouraged their husbands to build families.
The Talmud (ibid 12a) further relates how one young girl was instrumental in saving the future of the Jewish Nation in Egypt. The men were depressed and bemoaned their seemingly desperate situation. When Amrom, the leader of the generation, heard that Pharaoh had decreed that every newborn male must be thrown into the Nile, he decided that there is no purpose in continuing his married life and divorced his wife. When the Jews saw that their leader divorced his wife, they followed in his footsteps and divorced their wives as well. Amrom's young daughter, Miriam, said to her father, "Father, your decree is harsher than Pharaoh's decree. Pharaoh only decreed on the males; your decree affects both males and females. Pharaoh only decreed in regard to this world; your decree has an affect both in this world and in the world to come. Since Pharaoh is a wicked man, it is doubtful whether his decree will come about altogether. But you are a righteous man; your decree will for sure be fulfilled." Amrom listened to his daughter and with great fanfare remarried his wife. We can well imagine how the other men followed suit and remarried their wives as well. In this way, the Jewish families in Egypt continued to grow despite the very harsh conditions. The Talmud tells us of the many miracles G'd performed looking after and providing for these children.
Miriam and the other Jewish women had the optimism to look beyond their immediate circumstances. They had complete trust that G'd would take care of the newborn children. These righteous women fully believed that "The One Who provides life will also provide sustenance" (see Taanis 8b). They had no doubt that eventually G'd would fulfill His promise and redeem them from their slavery. It was this strong belief and perfect trust that brought about the redemption from Egypt.
Marriage in Warsaw Ghetto
It is interesting to see how history repeats itself. I once read an article in the Jewish Family Weekly, Mishpacha, interviewing the late journalist, Joseph Friedenson, who survived the Holocaust. As incredible as it sounds, he and his bride got married in the Warsaw Ghetto. Many residents wondered aloud how the journalist's father could sanction this wedding amidst such uncertainty. His father answered them, "If we stop marrying off our children, we are in effect surrendering. We have to put our trust in G'd." One of the great Chassidic leaders of the time, the Zichliner Rebbe zt"l, was also confined in the Ghetto. The Rebbe promised that their marriage would serve as a merit and ensure the young couples survival. His promise came true, and they were among the few couples who were reunited after having gone through immense suffering in Auschwitz and other concentration camps. This is the kind of trust the women exhibited in Egypt, and this is how we have survived throughout our long and bitter exile even in the most difficult times.
At the end of this week's parasha (Shemos 38:8), the Torah relates how Moses made the water basin for the tabernacle from the copper mirrors donated by the women. Rashi quotes from the Midrash Tanchuma that these mirrors were the very same mirrors that had been used in Egypt when the wives had beautified themselves to encourage their husbands to build their families. Originally, Moses was hesitant to accept mirrors, as he felt that they were tools of the evil inclination that could be used to incite immorality. It is quite common that women use mirrors to dress up when they go to work or social gatherings, making themselves attractive to other men. Therefore, Moses was concerned that the mirrors had been used in an inappropriate way, rendering them unfit to be used in the construction of the Tabernacle. However, our sages relate that G'd told Moses, "These mirrors are dearer to Me than anything else, for they were used by the women in Egypt to encourage their husbands to build their families."
Rashi continues to explain that one of the functions of this water basin was to restore the domestic peace and ensure that every husband and wife lived in harmony. The water would be used to prove the innocence of a sotah (a woman suspected of having been disloyal to her husband). The Ibn Ezra points out that by all the other vessels in the Tabernacle, G'd gave an exact description of how much material should be used. By the water basin no such instruction was given. All the mirrors donated by these righteous women were to be used.
Men were secondary
In the beginning of the parasha, the Torah relates how the Jewish people generously donated all of the material to build the Tabernacle and the vessels. In this connection it says (Shemos 35:22): "And the men came on top of the women. Every generous heart brought bracelets, nose-rings, rings, body ornaments, and all different golden ornaments." The commentaries point out that the expression of the "men coming on top of the women" is very unusual. The Ramban explains that the jewellery was mainly from the ladies, and as soon as they heard that there was an opportunity to donate to the building of the Tabernacle and its vessels, they came forward. The men also came, but they were not as fast as the women. This is the meaning of "coming on top of", the men's donations were "secondary" to those of the women.
The commentary Kli Yokor points out that these donations were a special merit for the women. A major reason for the men to donate to the Tabernacle was to repent for their participation in the golden calf. The women, on the other hand, had no such need, for they had not participated at all in the golden calf. Aaron had told the men to bring the rings of the women and children. However, the men were so eager that they just took their own rings (see Shemos 32:2). By the Tabernacle the women were the first to get involved, and they were happy to donate their jewellery to erect a dwelling for G'd.
Foundation and builder
Our sages also hold the judgment of women in high esteem. The Talmud (Niddah 45b) states that G'd blessed the women with a superior understanding of what is right (see Rashi's commentary on Midrash Rabbah Bereishis 18:1). As it says (Mishlei 14:1): "The wise woman builds her house and the silly one destroys it with her own hands." King Solomon here teaches us that the Jewish woman is the foundation and the builder of her household. If she uses her special understanding to follow in the footsteps of the righteous women of the past her house will be a bastion of faith where she will enjoy the pleasure of bringing up her family together with her husband. But if she allows the outside world to infiltrate her home, she destroys it with her own hands.
In general, men are more vulnerable to foreign influences due to their involvement with the outside world. As a protection against these dangers men are obligated to toil in Torah study and to perform more mitzvos than the women. As a result of this they are commonly more knowledgeable about the intricacies of Torah study and the performance of mitzvos. However, as long as wives follow in the footsteps of our matriarchs, husbands must keep in mind what G'd said to Avraham (Bereishis 21:12): "Whatever Sarah tells you, listen to her voice."
Every man is different and every woman is different. Every human being can be right or wrong. But we clearly see that our sages held Jewish women in high esteem and they never looked down upon them as being inferior to men. To the contrary, they acknowledged that women have a special ability to rise to an occasion and make the right decision.
These words were based on notes of Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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