Sunday, March 14, 2010

Parshah Vayikra (Leviticus 1:1-5:26)

“When a prince has sinned…he shall bring his offering, a kid of the goats, a male without blemish” (Vayikra 4:22–23). The atonement for a prince who sinned unintentionally is to bring a male goat. When, however, one of the common people sins unintentionally, his atonement is a female goat. “If a soul of the common people sin in error…he shall bring his offering, a kid of the goats, a female without blemish…” (Vayikra 4:27–28). Why is the atonement for the prince a male goat, whereas the common people bring a female goat for the same misdemeanor?
Is Female Less Worthy Than Male?
Ibn Ezra answers that the common people bring a female goat because they are on a lower level than the prince. I have a hard time accepting this kind of statement. Why should the male represent a higher level than the female? Does this imply that men are more important than women? The modern Torah commentators emphasize that this is not the case at all. The reason why women are exempt from certain mitzvoth is that they are naturally in tune with the will of G-d, and therefore, do not need as many mitzvoth to keep them on track. However, some of us sense deep down that these kinds of explanations are apologetic rationalizations designed to smooth over the many statements in the Torah that seem to denigrate women. It is hard to cover up the fact that the Jewish man thanks G-d every morning for not having been created a woman. Women cannot count as legitimate witnesses in a Jewish court (Shavuoth 30a), and a woman cannot become a Rabbi according to the Torah tradition. Many of the more classic commentaries explain that women are exempt from certain mitzvoth so as to be able to serve their husbands. The standard teacher in a woman’s Torah seminary will gracefully skip this sort of commentary.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Pekudei

Parashat Pekudei is often neglected. Usually, it is joined to Parashat Vayakhel, and seems to be hiding behind it. Yet, every Torah reading has equal importance, since every word of the Torah comprises the word of the living G-d.

Women, Creativity and Divine Assistance
In order to understand the importance and spiritual message of Parashat Pekudei, we need to look deeper. This can be compared to the relationship between a husband and wife. Although the wife may appear to be standing in the shade of her husband, this does not indicate that she has less value. As we explained in Parashat Bereishit, both are equally created in the image of G-d. “Behind every great man is a great woman.” If we are to understand the spiritual impact of the Jewish woman, we need to look deeper, behind the facade.
Connecting the Spiritual with the Mundane
“All the gold that was applied for the work in all the work of the holy place, the gold of the offering, was twenty-nine talents, and seven hundred and thirty shekels, in the holy shekel” (Shemot 38:24). One can only wonder why the book of Shemot, which is called “The Book of Redemption,” culminates in a mere accounting of materials, rather than ending on a grand spiritual note. This teaches us an important principle in Judaism. Unlike certain religions, Judaism is not just a spiritual ideology disconnected from the world, but a practical way of life as well. We are not commanded to separate ourselves from the world while meditating on Hashem’s name. If that were the purpose of the Torah, it would have been given to the angels, who have no part in this physical world. Our purpose, however, is to build a dwelling place for Hashem below by carrying out the spiritual message of the Torah, and applying it to day-to-day concerns. It is our task to forge a connection between the Torah and even the most mundane business. The culmination of the Exodus is not simply receiving the Torah, but being able to apply it to material circumstances, such as monetary matters. Similarly, it is the challenge of the Jewish women to connect our mundane tasks of career and homemaking with the spirit of building a dwelling place for G-d below.

Parshah Vayak'hel-Pekudei - (Exodus 35:1-40:38)

Parshah Vayak'hel
“They came, both men and women, as many as were willing hearted, and brought clasps, and pendants, rings and golden beads, all vessels of gold” (Shemot 35:22). The expression translated in our verse as “both men and women” reads in the Hebrew, ha’anashim al hanashim which literally means “the men on the women.” Rashi, Ramban and Rabbeinu Bachaya explain that the women took off their jewelry and brought it at once. They preceded the men in bringing clasps, pendants, rings, golden beads and different vessels of gold.

For the Mishkan, the Women Gave First
When the men arrived they found that the women had already brought their contribution. This is a great tribute to the women, who had previously refused to give anything to the Golden Calf. The above explanation would also hold true had the verse read ha’anashim acharei hanashim – “the men after the women.” Perhaps the word al which literally means on alludes to the fact that in preparing for the Mishkan, the men relied on the women. It was the merit of the righteous women that enabled the building of the Mishkan. G-d rewarded the women both in this world and in the coming world for refusing to give to their jewelry to the Golden Calf, yet giving generously to the Mishkan, which was erected on Rosh Chodesh. They received the privilege to keep Rosh Chodesh more than the men in this world, and they will be rewarded in the coming world to be renewed like the moon (Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer 44). May the renewal of the wisdom of women bring about the building of the Temple in our time!