Friday, June 25, 2010

Walk Modestly with Your G-d

Haftorat Balak, The Tenth book of Trei-Assar (The Twelve Minor Prophets)
The Book of Michah 5:6-6:8
Printable Version

This week’s haftorah includes the famous verse regarding walking modestly with Hashem. I would like to call on you, dear reader, to share your perspective on how to apply this principle in our time. I’m also interested in your opinion about co-ed college bathrooms.

The Connection between the Haftorah and the Torah Reading
This week's haftorah reveals Hashem's amazing love for His people. It opens by describing the messianic epoch when there will no longer be any need to turn to other nations for assistance. Prior to the war of Gog and Magog the mighty nations of the world will assemble against Israel. However, Israel will turn into a strong “lion among the beasts of the forest,” no longer relying on the other nations, but finally triumphing over all of them. At that time, the Jewish people will place their full trust in Hashem and recognize that salvation comes from Him alone. Michah continues describing the purification process during the Messianic era, leading to complete belief in the one true G-d by all the people in the world. Hashem will remove all the weapons of war from Israel, because they will no longer be needed. In the same vein, Hashem will destroy all forms of idolatry including sorcery, fortunetellers, and the Asherah trees. Michah recalls some of the ways in which Hashem protected Israel during our 40 year journey in the wilderness. He mentions the incident of Balak the king of Moav hiring the sorcerer Bilam to curse the Jewish people – the main topic of this week's Torah reading. He describes how Hashem delivered Israel from Egypt and replaced the curses that Bilam, son of Beor, tried to utter against them with blessings. Thus, this is an appropriate haftorah for parashat Balak. Michah concludes the haftorah with advice regarding the main thing Hashem requests of us, namely to: perform justice, love kindness and walk modestly with Hashem.

Miriam – Inspirational Teacher of Women
Among the many great things Hashem did for us, that we need to properly appreciate was providing us with excellent leadership: "For I brought you up out of the land of Mitzrayim, and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, and I sent before you Moshe, Aharon and Miriam" (Michah 6:4). Reading about this great team of Jewish leaders at the present time can also be seen as a tribute to Aharon the Kohen and Miriam, the prophetess, who passed away in last week’s parashah, Parashat Chukat. Targum Yonatan adds in his translation of this verse: “Miriam to teach the women,” just like Moshe Rabbeinu was the first "Rosh Yeshiva," Miriam was the first Torah teacher of the Jewish women. Rav Aviner explains how humanity is created in the image of G-d, both male and female. Our physical and spiritual differences, make it impossible to teach men and women in the same manner. Each gender has its own way of learning and requires its own separate guidance.

If Miriam is the role-model for all female Torah educators of women, why is it not mentioned directly in the Torah that Miriam was the teacher of women? I believe this is to teach us a vital difference between the teaching method of men and women. Since, men are more rigid and scientific; they need formal teaching such as lectures. However, women learn from many different modalities of education. In a formal lesson, only the intellect is speaking. In real life, the entire personality relates. Since women sometimes learn more from behavior in real life than from a formal shiur (lecture), Miriam did not necessarily apply the formal way of teaching. In the national bestseller, You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, Deborah Tannen explains that men report while women “rapport.” Whereas, men seek information, women care most about “gaining closeness through more intimate self-revelation.” For this reason, Miriam is not described directly in the Torah as “the teacher of women,” because she was not a formal teacher. When she went among the women with her tambourine and danced, they were motivated to get up and join her exhilarating praise of Hashem. It didn't state that Miriam told the women to go out with drums and dances, only that “Miriam the prophetess…took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances” (Shemot 15:20). It was her charismatic personality and righteousness, which inspired the Jewish women to follow her lead. Miriam, the prophetess, taught all the daughters of Israel by way of her righteous deeds. From Miriam, the entire nation of women learned how to improve their behavior and connect with Hashem.

“Walk Modestly With Your G d."
The conclusion of our haftorah describes how in the messianic era, the Jewish people ask for guidance how to serve G-d. The prophet reminds us, that all we need to do is contained within the Torah and the mitzvoth, which he sums up as follows: "He has told you, O man, what is good, and what G d requires of you: only to do justice, love kindness, and walk modestly with your G-d" (Michah 6:8). The Hebrew term for “modestly” used in this verse derives from the root of the word tzniut. This teaches us about the vital importance of tzniut for men, as well as women, especially in the messianic age. The three most important character-traits we need to cultivate are justice, chesed (kindness) and tzniut. It is easy to understand the centrality of kindness and justice in the Torah. Hashem created the entire world for the sake of chesed (Tehillim 89:3), and the Torah is permeated with stories of the chesed of our patriarchs and matriarchs. Without justice, the world cannot continue to exist. Therefore, establishing a court of justice is even among the seven mitzvoth for B’nei Noach (gentiles). However, what is so important about tzniut, that it is included in the three main attributes Hashem requires of us?

It is interesting to note that only tzniut is described as walking with Hashem. Although some mistranslations may read “before your G-d,” the Hebrew word im does not mean “before,” but rather “with” (Maharzav, Bemidbar Rabah 1). Through developing the mida of tzniut, we emulate the ways of Hashem as the following midrash demonstrates:

"'Hashem spoke to Moshe in the ohel moed (the private tent of meeting)' (Bamidbar 1:1). Hashem had spoken to Moshe earlier from the burning bush, in Mitzrayim and in Sinai. Once the ohel moed stood, Hashem said: tzniut (modesty) is beautiful, as it says, '. . . to walk modestly with your G-d' (Michah 6:8). So said David, 'Every honorable bat melech (princess) dwells within' (Tehillim 45:14). Bat Melech refers to Moshe . . . Hashem said, 'Such is My honor, that I will speak from within the ohel moed"' (Bemidbar Rabah 1:3).

Rabbi Mordechai Willig learns from this midrash, that our pasuk from Michah refers not only to man’s tzniut before G-d, but also to Hashem’s own modest behavior. Hashem acts with utmost tzniut by speaking from the interior covered space of the ohel moed. We acquire closeness to Hashem by emulating Him through tzniut behavior. Therefore, we must be tzanua with Hashem, who modeled tzniut to the point of being invisible.

Co-ed Bathrooms and the Honor of the King’s Daughter
In contrast, I was made aware by some of my Shabbat guests, that the female students in certain very well respected colleges, like Yale, have no option but to share bathrooms with their fellow male students. “What exactly is wrong with co-ed bathrooms?” asked my guest. “There is nothing specific in the Torah against that.” I’m not even going to attempt answering the question, as the issue seems to me so basic that it doesn’t need any particular command. I am saddened about how decadent our Western society has become, that we have lost all sense of decency and modesty. Even the Moabite women were permitted to convert to Judaism precisely because of the notion of modesty. While the Moabite men are forbidden to convert, “because they met you not with bread and with water in the way, when you came out of Miztrayim” (Devarim 23:4-5), this did not apply to the Moabite women, since it is not the way of a woman to go out towards wayfarers, to bring them bread and water (Babylonian Talmud, Yevamot 77a). Now tell me, is it the way of a woman and “the honor of a king’s daughter” to go out to the co-ed bathroom, brushing her teeth next to a man shaving, even if she is perfectly covered by her bathrobe?

Tzniut is Beautiful”
Although tzniut applies to men and women alike, women have the potential to express this attribute to an even greater extent. Perhaps, this capability is related to the inherent beauty of women. The phrase “tzniut is beautiful” is a recurring theme in the Oral Torah. In our midrash from Bemidbar Rabah, Hashem calls tzniut beautiful. Prior to the giving of the second luchot (tablets), Hashem told Moshe, “No man shall ascend with you [up the mountain]” (Shemot 34:3). Rashi explains, “…there is nothing more beautiful than modesty.” The Torah giant and landowner Boaz, noticed Ruth because of her exceptional tzniut (Rashi, Ruth 2:5).The midrash commenting on this verse, explains, that since he [Boaz] saw her beautiful deeds, he asked about her (Ruth Rabah 4:6). Through her beautiful deeds, Ruth merited to become the mother of royalty, the ancestress of King David, and ultimately, the Mashiach. Likewise, if we, Jewish women learn to excel in tzniut and model exemplary modest behavior, in spite of the immodest spirit prevailing in our current Western society, we will G-d willing walk with Hashem on the path of our final redemption.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Pilegesh in Our Times

Haftorah Parashat Chukat
Shoftim 11:1-33
The Connection between the Haftorah and the Torah Reading
This week’s haftorah, describes how the people of Israel were attacked by the nation of Ammon, whereupon the elders of Israel called upon Yiftach to battle with Ammon. Yiftach attempted to negotiate a peaceful resolution, by sending a delegation to reason with the king of Ammon; but the latter remained inflexible. Yiftach then successfully led his countrymen in battle. They were victorious and eliminated the Ammonite threat, and Yiftach became the leader of Israel. The haftorah is connected to Parashat Chukat, by teaching us the importance of absolute support for our acknowledged Torah leadership. Yiftach was the recognized leader and a prophet, although logically he wasn’t the most suitable candidate for leadership. His maternal lineage was questionable, and he was not the greatest scholar. Nevertheless, he was accorded the absolute support of the halacha and the people, as the Talmud teaches: “Yiftach in his generation was like Samuel in his generation” (Babylonian Talmud, Rosh HaShana 25b). Likewise, the statute of the Parah Aduma (Red Heifer) described in Parashat Chukat, teaches us the importance of accepting the laws of the Torah, even when we are unable to understand their reason. Thus, both the parashah and the haftorah teach us not to rely on our own sense of logic, but rather to have faith in the halachic authority as brought down by the Rabbis in each generation. This is the foundation of our legal system and the eternal transmission of Torah.

Son of a Harlot
“Now Yiftach the Gileadite was a mighty man of valor, and he was the son of a harlot, and Gilead begot Yiftach” (Shoftim 11:1). It was necessary for Scripture to emphasize that Gilead was the father of Yiftach, since it is usually difficult to identify the father of the children of harlots. Although Yiftach is called son of a harlot (zona), Yiftach’s mother was not a regular harlot. Many commentators, including Radak and Malbim hold that Gilead’s first wife was a concubine, rather than a prostitute. A concubine (pilegesh) is not necessarily a second wife, but a woman with whom a man has a physical relationship without a chupah (canopy) and marriage contract. Radak explains that she is called a harlot because she lives with her man without a ketubah (marriage contract) and without the holiness of being properly married (kedushin). For this reason, she is considered in the category of being a harlot, even if she is dedicated to one man alone. Gilead had a relationship with Yiftach’s mother without being properly married to her, because she was from a different tribe. At that time, there was a tradition in Israel, not to marry outside of the tribe, in order that the land should not be removed from one tribe to another (Radak, The Book of Shoftim 11:1).

The Pilegesh Outburst in our Times
I was quite shocked, when I learned that, nowadays, there are people engaged in pre-marital or extramarital sex, among those who consider themselves modern orthodox. They justify their actions, to be halachically valid under the category of pilegesh. It is easy to understand why a pilegesh relationship would be ideal for certain noncommittal men, concerned about their personal pleasure. As one man seeking a pilegesh explained,” It is less stressful than an affair, and longer lived than a fling or that elusive one-night stand. It’s still a cA pilegesh is a woman that you are mekadesh, but dont give a kesubah to. I would assume you would need a get to finish the relationship. But it allows casual relationships as since there is no kesubah, you dont have to feed her, house her, bury her, heal her, redeem her and so on, and you dont have to pay her a lump sum upon divorce.. A pilegesh is a woman that you are mekadesh, but dont give a kesubah to. I would assume you would need a get to finish the relationship. But it allows casual relationships as since there is no kesubah, you dont have to feed her, house her, bury her, heal her, redeem her and so on, and you dont have to pay her a lump sum upon divorce.. A pilegesh is a woman that you are mekadesh, but dont give a kesubah to. I would assume you would need a get to finish the relationship. But it allows casual relationships as since there is no kesubah, you dont have to feed her, house her, bury her, heal her, redeem her and so on, and you dont have to pay her a lump sum upon divorce.. A pilegesh is a woman that you are mekadesh, but dont give a kesubah to. I would assume you would need a get to finish the relationship. But it allows casual relationships as since there is no kesubah, you dont have to feed her, house her, bury her, heal her, redeem her and so on, and you dont have to pay her a lump sum upon divorce..asual relationship without a ketubah, no need to feed her, house her, heal her, bury her etc. You could also do a week with her and then end the relationship if you like.” It is quite disturbing to read that the fastest growing Jewish relationship sites on the web are promoting Jewish Polygamy and the pilegesh relationship. One such site has recently passed the ten thousand visits mark, which is close to three thousand visitors a month on average. Sites as these “help” not only “religious” men but even couples finding a Jewish pilegesh. Surprisingly; more than ten percent of the members of such sites are women seeking to be a pilegesh. Why would a woman choose to lower herself to a status that was always considered degrading compared to having the rights of a full-fledged wife? In a letter called “Confession” written October 9th, 2007, an anonymous woman explains: “I’ve been a pilegesh for three years with two different men (not at the same time obviously). I keep all the rules. If you saw me in the street, I’d look the same as the other girls. The desperate, naive shidduch daters. I’m frum. I went to a religious high school. Once I turned eighteen, it seemed I would have to get married to be able to act on the feelings I’d been having for a few years. I didn’t like the idea of having to settle down, but it didn’t seem I had a choice. Then I met a girl who changed my life. She was a few years older than me and introduced me to the idea. Not long after, I met my first boyfriend… What I’m doing is not acceptable in the frum community. I understand why it can’t be. If everyone did this, chaos would ensue... I’m glad that I don’t have to get married in order to have this kind of relationship. I believe what I’m doing is halachically valid, even if it’s not accepted. Sure it can be difficult, but on the whole I feel it’s liberating.”

Halachic Justification?
This anonymous woman, who faithfully keeps the laws of mikvah and waits three months between relationships, is convinced, like most others, who allow themselves to become a pilegesh or to have one or more, that this institution is halachically permitted. This misconception is backed up by certain “Rabbis” who “halachically” justify the institution. One of the pilegesh websites even claims to be under ultra orthodox Rabbinic supervision. Yet, most if not all of the “Rabbis” promoting sexuality without marriage are far from orthodox. Jewish renewal Rabbi, Arthur Waskow, ordained by Rabbi Laura Geller, and Dr. Judith Plaskow, questions whether it is desirable to forbid all sexual relationships between unmarried people, and thereby insist on celibacy for an enormous proportion of Jews in their 20s and 30s, and for divorced Jews. He writes, “From biblical tradition on, there has been a category for legitimate non-marital sexual relationships that could be initiated and ended by either party without elaborate legalities It was called pilegesh, usually translated “concubine,” though it meant something more open, free, and egalitarian than “concubine” connotes in English. Those who prefer the pilagshut relationship may certainly do so… For, perhaps either party is unprepared for the burdensome responsibilities of marital obligations…” In conclusion, Waskow suggests drawing on the pilegesh relationship to “establish a sacred grounding for sexual relationships that are not marriages, and create patterns of honesty, health, contraception, intimacy, and holiness for such relationships.” (Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Sexuality & Spirituality, A Prophetic Voice in Jewish Multi-religious & American Life).

Halacha: The Concept of Pilegesh
Let us examine more closely these attempts to popularize pilegesh relationships as forms of premarital, non-marital and extramarital relationships permitted by halacha. What is the true contemporary halachic status of pilegesh? Rambam explains that the word pilegesh is comprised of the words “Pi Shagal,” which indicates a woman who is used in both domestic and “intimate” ways. Alternatively the word pilegesh is related to the Hebrew/Aramaic palga isha, “half a wife,” and the Greek pallax/pallakis, “mistress” or “lover-girl.” In contemporary Israeli Hebrew, the word pilegesh is often used as the equivalent of the English “mistress” – i.e. the female partner in extramarital relations even when these relations have no legal recognition. In the Talmud, a pilegesh is defined by Rav Yehudah in the name of Rav as a woman married without kidushin and without a ketubah (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 21). However, Rambam (Hilchot Ishut 1:4) defines a pilegesh as a woman without a ketubah but with kidushin. Kidushin, which means sanctified, is part of the marriage ceremony and reflects the holiness of Jewish marriage. During the ritual of kidushin, the man sanctifies his woman and designates her for himself and no other. According to Rambam, after the Torah was given, one who has relations with a woman without kidushin is punished with lashes by Torah law. A pilegesh without kidushin, is an institution exclusively reserved for Jewish kings. An ordinary person may not take a pilegesh, or engage in any type of relations outside of a marriage (Rambam, Hilchot Melachim 4:4). The Shulchan Aruch, explains that if a man lived with a woman the way of znut, not for the sake of kidushin, she is not considered married. This is the case even if  he designated her for himself and lived with her for the sake of intimate relations exclusively between the two of them. In this case, [the Rabbis] compel him to take her out of his home (Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer 26:1).

The Rema (Rabbi Moshe Isserless, ibid.) quotes the Ra’avad who maintains that a pilegesh is a woman who is designated to one man, and this is permitted as long as she goes to the mikvah at the appropriate times. It is important to note that even the Rabbis, who do not consider pilegesh to be an infringement on a Torah commandment, may still hold that pilagshut violates the positive commandment of the Torah that a man must marry by way of kidushin. The mitzvah for a man to marry is derived from Devarim 24:1. See Yad, Ishut 1:2; R. Shelomo Luria, Yam Shel Shelomo, Yevamot 2:11; Resp. Tzitz Eliezer 1:27, part 18.
The Rema concludes his comment by quoting the Rambam, Rosh, and Tur who rule that the practice of pilegesh is prohibited and liable for the punishment of lashes for transgressing the Torah prohibition of “There shall be no prostitutes of the daughters of Israel” (Devarim 23:18).

Likewise, the great Torah sage, Rabbi Yonah of Gerona writes: Our rabbis taught that the verse, “Do not prostitute your daughter to cause her to be a harlot, lest the land fall to harlotry, and the land become full of lechery,” comes to warn that a man should not give over his unmarried daughter for intercourse except in marriage... and a pilegesh without, ketubah and kidushin was only permitted to the king. (Gates of Repentance, part 3:94) The halachic position in case of a safek d’Oraita (the possibility of transgressing a Torah command) is to always be strict. Therefore, the accepted practice is to follow the ruling of the Rambam and to prohibit the practice of pilegesh. Rav Yakov Emden concludes that he would not permit the practice of pilegesh unless two other halachic authorities signed with him to permit it, and thus it has remained the practice not to allow it. (See Resp. Igerot Moshe, Eben HaEzer 1:55, where the prohibition of pilagshut is simply assumed).

Contemporary Halachic Responsa Regarding Pilegesh
Beyond the pilegesh, a 1979 teshuvah of the Central Conference of American Rabbis Responsa Committee provides textual references detailing rabbinic responsa intended to prevent “casual” sexual relationships between consenting adults and unmarried partners who have made a long-term commitment to each other. There can, after all, be no greater long-term commitment than that made between a properly married couple. There are several halachic responsa aimed at ensuring that no sexual contact takes place even between a man and his betrothed bride prior to their wedding. For this reason, kidushin (betrothal) and nisuin (marriage) became fused into the single ceremony that still remains in place. One of the important motivations behind this enactment was the desire to prevent sexual contact prior to marriage, even for those who had formally committed themselves to each other through kidushin. It plainly follows that the contemplation of a sexual relationship for those who, no matter the depth or the longevity of their feelings, had made no formal commitment to each other would have been absolutely out of the question. Unmarried Jews must not live together, and certainly not to engage in sexual relationships, even if their personal commitment to each other is profound. The accepted standard is evidenced by the passage in the betrothal blessing (birkat erusin), “He has prohibited to us our betrothed spouses.” R. David Ibn Zimra stated the prohibition most clearly when he declared, “At present time a woman is permitted to no man except through chupah, sheva berachot and ketubah” (Resp. Radbaz 4:225; 7:33).

Rabbi Yaacov Ariel, Chief Rabbi of Ramat Gan, commenting on the issue of pilegesh explains that the rabbinical authorities who permitted the institution of pilegesh were not talking about the kind of temporary relationships found among young people today, but rather, lifelong commitments. Regarding this important distinction, he emphasizes that all halachic authorities agree that passing sexual relationships between unmarried people are forbidden, as a form of whoredom, even if the woman goes to the mikvah. Rabbi Ariel cites that, according to Rashi and the Gaon of Vilna, the ancient practice of pilegesh was, in fact, accompanied by a kosher marriage ceremony, or kidushin, so that the daughters of Israel should not fall into harlotry.

On the modern orthodox Nishmat Women’s Health and Halacha website a woman asks whether intimacy before marriage is permitted by the Torah through the status of “pilegesh.” The answer given is that pilegesh is forbidden by the Torah, as the Rambam understands the Torah prohibition of kedeshah (prostitution) to prohibit any sexual relations outside of the context of marriage. Therefore, there is no room for a woman to acquire the status of pilegesh nowadays. As challenging as it may be to refrain from physical relations prior to marriage, restraint is demanded by halachaHalacha has a positive view of physical intimacy and its potential for joy and holiness exclusively within the halachic framework and commitment of marriage.

In the same vein, Rav Peretz Moncharsh answers a sha’alah regarding a divorced woman who is engaging in intimate relations with a man she is not married to. Would the institution of pilegesh be a legitimate halachic option for such a couple? The Rabbi answers that a pilegesh is not an option, because the majority opinion of the poskim is that it only applies to a king or to a marriage without a ketubah, but not to an extra-marital relationship. While she may consider her “friend” a princely fellow, halachah certainly does not accord him royal status.

Rabbi Zev Leff being asked the similar question, answers on an audio recording, that living together without kedushin is a Torah prohibition. A pilegesh relationship involving a man and a woman who live together without being married is actual znut (harlotry). Therefore, in order not to promote znut, the Rabbis prohibited single women from immersing in the mikvah. Although living with a niddah is a much more serious prohibition than living with a single woman after her mikvah, the Rabbis still considered it so important to minimize premarital/extramarital relations, that it took precedence over minimizing the transgression of sexually active unmarried couples. Rabbi Leff concludes that there is no heter (permission) for unmarried couples to live together, as we say at the marriage canopy: “Who forbade us those betrothed to us, but permitted us those married to us by means of chupah and kidushin.”

The Pilegesh Trend – Pursuit of Instant Gratification
The real problem facing us today is that the sanctity of marriage has broken down, even among the religious. The Kabbalist Rabbi Eliahu Leon Levi said that “One does not have to offer Kabbalistic explanations to understand that to renew the practice of pilegesh today would destroy the institution of Jewish marriage. A pilegesh was something exclusive to the times of the Bible.” Rabbi Yaacov Ariel, concurs: “Our duty as rabbis is to encourage the holy institution of marriage, not to ape the licentiousness of the Western world, which places egotistical satisfaction before everything else.” Unfortunately, those “spiritual leaders” who promote pilegeshut have seemingly forgotten that the main reason of our life is to perform mitzvoth and thereby elevate our lower inclinations in the service of Hashem. It seems to me that the main motivation for the attempt to halachically legitimize the institution of pilegesh, is in order to cater to the yetzer hara (selfish inclination) of religious people, who have become greatly influenced by the pleasure seeking of Western Society, and its pursuit of instant gratification. The problem is, that many of those practicing what they call a pilegesh relationship, validate their individual yetzer harah, believing that their actions are totally halachically justified. This reminds me of the Jewish gay movement. Before that movement became popular, a man, born with an abnormal sexual disposition, was aware that acting upon his tendencies, violates the Jewish practice. However, today some people do not see a contradiction between being gay and Jewishly observant. Nowadays, you can find gay “Rabbis,” gay minyans (prayer quorums), and even gay “married couples.” In a similar manner, certain “Rabbis” and “spiritual leaders” wearing the orthodox garb with long beard and peyot, promote the social institution of pilegesh. They may quote and misquote all kinds of halachic sources to legalize their position, most often because of their personal desire to take a pilegesh for themselves. It is alarming that these “Rabbis” have no shortage of followers who welcome the opportunity for instant corporal gratification through minimum effort, without having to make any commitment. We may have compassion for a single man who is unable to control himself and live in long term celibacy. When such a man gives in to his inclination, he is fully aware that his behavior is far from the ideal, but that unfortunately, he can’t help himself. However, it is much more alarming when pleasure-seeking and lust turns into a trend, disguised by the so-called pilegesh relationship, without the slightest feeling of shame.

Spiritually Disadvantaged Women’s Lack of  Self-Respect
I believe that the underlying reason for the growing number of Jewish women willing to become pilagshot, is an estrangement of women from their innate feminine nurturing strengths. A spiritually healthy Jewish woman yearns, by her very nature, for the long lasting, committed relationship of marriage and raising a family. For this reason, it was unnecessary for the Torah to command women to get married and become fruitful. Nowadays, unfortunately, influenced by Western society’s competitive career-race, pleasure-seeking, and the nonchalant, noncommittal attitude, certain Jewish women have lost their sense of true Jewish femininity. Being detached from their spiritual feminine essence causes these spiritually disadvantaged Jewish women, to lose their sense of dignity and self-respect. They are unaware how they degrade their Divine Image by allowing their bodies to be available for men, who are unwilling to make a lifelong commitment to them, and unite with them fully through both body and soul. I call on all believing Jewish women to start believing in themselves, and start to consider themselves fully deserving of their true soul-mate’s total love and commitment. May Hashem bless all single Jewish women to find committed Jewish marriage partners worthy of them!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Birth, Renewal and Redemption

Haftorat Parashat Korach
Shabbat Rosh Chodesh
Yeshayahu  66:1-24

When Shabbat falls on Rosh Chodesh, a special haftarah is recited instead of the one usually related to that week’s parashah. This haftorah is all about redemption, making me think about the specialness of Shabbat Rosh Chodesh – I believe it is a sign of the forthcoming geula! Chodesh Tov!

The Connection Between the Haftorah and Shabbat Rosh Chodesh
I believe that this haftorah was chosen for Shabbat Rosh Chodesh because it connects Shabbat with Rosh Chodesh and describes the renewal of redemption, which the New Moon heralds. “It shall come to pass on every new moon after new moon, and Shabat after Shabat, that all people shall come to bow down to Me, said Hashem”  (Yeshayahu 66:23). By comparing Rosh Chodesh to Shabbat, the prophet gives it great significance. Since the newborn moon of Rosh Chodesh gives us hope for redemption, the entire haftorah describes the forthcoming redemption. At that time the holiday of Rosh Chodesh will become renewed to receive the status of a full-fledged holiday on par with Pesach, Sukot and Shavuot (Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer 44). Rosh Chodesh has always endowed us with a fresh start and an opportunity for introspection regarding what we went through during the past month, and the new opportunities and challenges facing us in the upcoming month. The Tur, (Orach Chaim 417) explains that the three pilgrim festivals correspond to Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’acov, whereas, Rosh Chodesh corresponded to the twelve tribes. When the tribes sinned by making the Golden Calf, Rosh Chodesh was taken away from them and given to their wives. Therefore, each Rosh Chodesh uniquely reveals the qualities of one of Israel’s tribes. During exile, however, the light of Rosh Chodesh is withheld to a certain degree. Yet, we are already experiencing the beginning of the era of Mashiach when Rosh Chodesh is returning to its intended capacity. This parallels the unfolding of the feminine light in the world. In the last generation, women, especially have begun celebrating and tuning into the message of Rosh Chodesh. This is a prelude to the days of Mashiach, when the entire Jewish people will experience the Divine Feminine Indwelling Presence at the Beit Hamikdash (Temple) every Rosh Chodesh. When our hearts will be purified from the yetzer hara (negative impulse), Rosh Chodesh will become an uplifting experience filled with opportunity for spiritual elevation. (P’sikta Rabbati 1:3). Already now, we increasingly celebrate each month’s particular quality and energy, through our exuberant Rosh Chodesh festivities.

Constant Renewal
The rebirth of the moon constantly calls us to become reborn from the nights of routine and corruption. It ensures eternal freshness, to the extent that Israel is forever immune to the spiritual and ethical corruption. This Divine clock, given to Israel at the verge of redemption is internalized through the experience of womanhood. By means of our monthly cycles, women embody the renewal of the moon. “From my flesh I will see G-d” (Iyov 19:26). Through the experience of the changes in our own body, we are able to feel how nothing in life is static. We internalize the realization that life does not run its course automatically like a windup clock. When pregnant or nursing we do not need the monthly cycle to remind us that G-d continues to renew the world. Nothing makes G-d’s miraculous renewal of the world clearer than the sensation of a new being growing within us. Moreover, the rapid unfolding of our nursing infant teaches us to keep renewing ourselves as well. By the time of menopause, we will hopefully have integrated the message of the moon into the very fiber of our being. (Excerpt from Rebbetzin Chana Bracha’s book Women at the Crossroad. To order, visit

Birth, Renewal, and Redemption
The forthcoming redemption described in our haftorah, in fact employs the metaphor of labor and birth: “Before she labored, she was delivered. Before her pangs came, she bore a son. Whoever heard of such a thing?...Can a land pass through labor in a single day? Or shall a nation be born all at once? ...Shall I, who bring about labor, not bring about birth? ...Shall I, who cause birth, shut the womb?” (Yeshayahu 66:7-10). According to Metzudat David, “Before she was in labor she gave birth” refers to Tzion, because when all of her children will gather inside of her, it is considered as if she gave birth to them, without labor or contractions. Radak explains this metaphor to refer to the sudden redemption which will come upon Israel. Yerushalayim is compared to the mother, and the Jewish people, her children. Before all the children of Israel have gathered completely, the redemption will come unexpectedly to Israel, just like a woman giving birth prior to having contractions. Since the difficulties of pregnancy and childbirth were the consequence of eating from the Tree of Knowledge, at the time of redemption, when the Tree of Knowledge becomes transformed into the Tree of Life, labor pangs are lessened and the process of birth will be less painful. In our time, we are already experiencing the beginning of this change. I know many women who gave birth before they reached the birthing clinic. This almost happened to myself. I just made it, and gave birth both times, less than twenty minutes after I had arrived. Our haftorah is overflowing with lush promise and hope, maternal love, and divine protection. “I will extend peace to her like a stream...Then you shall suckle, and be carried upon her sides and be dandled upon her knees. As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you and you shall be comforted in Yerushalayim” ( Yeshayahu 66:12-12). Radak reveals that the metaphor of a woman is employed because women puts more effort into things than men. Just like a mother comforts her children from any difficult experiences they may have gone through, so will the Divine Mother comfort her children, Israel, from the suffering of exile. The prophet relates the place of comfort to Jerusalem, for in this place Hashem will reveal His glory to us. Metzudat David expands this concept and explains that we will be comforted in Yerushalayim, because specifically in Jerusalem will Israel receive much goodness, as a comfort for all the suffering we endured. During redemption, Hashem will give birth to a renewed reality. Spiritually, the world becomes reborn, with a heightened consciousness and capacity for prophecy. This is reflected in Rosh Chodesh, when, on a small scale, we renew our awareness of Hashem. Rabbi Shimshon Refael Hirsch explains, that each time the moon finds the sun again, receiving its rays of light afresh; Hashem wants His people to find Him again, and to be illuminated with His fresh rays of Light. By seeing the renewal of the moon, we access our potential for personal renewal. The more we allow this renewal to enter our lives, the closer we get to the ultimate renewal and the final redemption, as described in our haftorah.

The Month of Tamuz Rectifying the Sense of Seeing
Vision is the sense of the month of Tamuz, and its tribe is Reuven, which means “see a son.” At his birth, Leah named him Reuven because she said, “Surely Hashem has looked upon my affliction” (Bereishit 29:32). The crystal of the tribe of Reuven is the ruby, related to the word Reuben. Due to its brilliant red color, this stone is called odem (from the language of adom/red) in Hebrew, and is the most sensually visible of all the stones. The midrash teaches us that the Jewish people were tempted to make the golden calf on the 17th of Tammuz as a replacement for Moshe, because Satan showed them a vision of Moshe floating dead between heaven and earth (Shemot Rabah 41:7). Perhaps television today can be compared to the vision of the Satan who made the Jewish people lose hope. The screen shows a vision, which is seemingly objective. However, often it is a product of a certain agenda, to destroy the Jewish people and our mission in the world. It may show a vision of Jews murdered and tortured, making Israel loose hope and scared to live here. It may also portray a false image of the Jews as perpetrators reacting excessively aggressive. This is destructive for the Divine Image of Israel, and can alienate people spiritually from her. During this month we have to really work on purifying our vision, and seeing beyond the mask of external physical reality, by connecting with the Divine light behind the mask. What you see is not what you get. You can visit Israel and just see a lot of old rocks. You can walk on the Judean hills, and see nothing but trees and houses. If you look with G-d-colored glasses, you may see beyond the surface to get a sense of David Hamelech who walked these very hills with his flock as he composed the lyrics and tunes of the Tehillim.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Rachav: Woman of Ultimate Renewal

Haftorat Parashat Shelach Lecha

Yehoshua 2:24

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This week’s haftorah about Rachav the convert, teaches us about the ability of a person to completely turn her life around from being on the lowest spiritual rung (Rachav was a harlot) to raise herself up to the highest spiritual level of closeness to Hashem. (Rachav merited becoming the wife of Yehoshua the leader of the Jewish people). It is also interesting that Rachav’s declaration of conversion includes recognizing the right of the Jewish people to conquer the Land of Israel.

Rachav the Harlot

“Yehoshua the son of Nun sent out of Shittim two men to spy secretly, saying go view the land, and Yericho. They went, and came to the house of a woman harlot named Rachav, and lodged there...” (Yehoshua 2:1). Most commentaries agree that Rachav was a harlot, and although the word zonah can also be translated as inn-keeper (from the same root as the word mazon), she was only called thus as clean language – to diminish her disgrace. Possibly the “inn” served as both a place for lodging and meals, where even her body became food for the lodgers. Rachav, the harlot was a “loose” woman. Just as she lacked the boundary of morality, her home, rather than being inside of the boundary of the city, was strategically built into the city-wall. Rachav became well-known in the world, since important officials visited her “inn” and confided in her. The spies of Israel went to Rachav, because top secrets were revealed to her through her important connections.

Rachav: Woman of Ultimate Renewal

Upon meeting the Jewish spies, a spark was ignited in Rachav’s soul. She was inspired to turn her life completely around and perform the highest teshuva possible. She risked her life to save the Jews from the king of Yericho, as she explained the reason for her heroic action: “I know that Hashem has given you the Land, and that dread of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away because of you. For we have heard how Hashem dried up the waters of the Sea of Suf before you, when you came out of Egypt…” (Yehoshua 2: 9-10). The midrash explains how there was no ruler or noble-man who had not come to Rachav, the harlot. She was ten years old when Israel left Egypt, and she was involved in an immoral way of life during all the forty years when Israel was in the wilderness, but in the end of her fiftieth year she converted. (Yalkut Shimoni, Yehoshua 1:9). What motivated Rachav the harlot to do this intense teshuva? It was what she heard about the miracles Hashem performed for Israel that inspired her, as she stated, “For we have heard…” There are many different levels of hearing. The rest of the Canaanites also heard. They became afraid and were trembling, but their hearing did not motivate them to any personal commitment or action. Only Rachav responded to the truth that she heard – about Hashem’s miraculous salvation of the children of Israel, and she processed what she had heard for forty years. Despite all of these years, none of the original excitement of the event had faded in her memory. At the age of fifty, she was finally moved to act upon what had made such an impression upon her as a little girl. Her recognition of Hashem being the Master of the Universe moved her greatly. However, it was only by meeting the righteous Israelites that she received the impetus to change her life around completely. In response to Rachav’s intense teshuvah, the Jewish spies promised her that they would save the lives of her and her family, at the time of the Jewish conquest of the city.

Elevating the Tools of Immorality

The highest form of repentance is through using and elevating the identical tools employed for the previous sin. This kind of teshuva is called teshuvat hamiskal. For example, if someone used to cook milk and meat together daily, for a decadent non-Jewish restaurant, then the highest form of repentance would be elevating his cooking skills by cooking for a holy Jewish event, such as a wedding or sheva bracha. This kind of teshuva transforms the previous sins into merits. Perhaps the reason why Scripture mentions Rachav’s previous occupation, calling her “the harlot” even after her conversion (Yehoshua 6:22), is to emphasize the greatness of her teshuva. Davka (specifically) from the lowest place of being a harlot, a person can seek refuge under the wing of Hashem and be saved from both physical and spiritual death. It was actually the extent of her prior sins that eventually brought her to convert and seek closeness with Hashem. Rachav saved the Jewish spies by “letting them down by the rope through the window” (Yehoshua 2:15) Rashi explains that by means of this same rope and window the adulterers used to come up to her. She said, “Master of the Universe! Through these I sinned, through these please forgive me! Through these I had my escapades so to speak. With these very tools of sin, I'm going to risk my life and let down these two Jewish spies.” Rachav teaches us that human beings can use the exact tools of their failure to anchor themselves closer to the Ribono shel Olam, and merit to be accepted into the elite of Klal Yisrael. Rachav merited to become the wife of Yeshoshua, and have eight prophets and Kohanim descend from her. They were: Yermiahu, Chilkiah, Shariah, Ma’aseha, Baruch ben Niriah, Chanmael and Shalom.... Rabbi Yehudah says even Chuldah the prophetess was descended from Rachav. If someone who came from a people [the Canaanites] about whom it states, “Don't keep any soul alive,” could bring herself so close to Hashem, how much more so concerning the Jews when we keep the Torah. There are several pious female converts: Hagar, Osnat, Tziporah, Shifra, Puah, Bat Pharaoh, Rachav, Ruth and Yael the wife of Chaver the Keni (Yalkut Shimoni Yehoshua 1:9).

The Wall, the Rope and the Window

There are different opinions as to which tools of sin Rachav elevated through her teshuva. According to Yalkut Shimoni they were the wall, rope and window. These three things can be compared to the three main mitzvoth of women: Chalah, Family Purity and Candlelight. The wall protects the home and teaches us proper boundaries, this corresponds to the mitzvah of chalah. Taking a piece of our bread and giving to the Kohen teaches us the proper boundary of holding ourselves back from grabbing everything for ourselves. Like the wall, the gift of chalah protects and blesses the rest of the fruits in our orchard. It is interesting that only after her realization of Hashem’s oneness does Scripture emphasize that Rachav lived in the wall (Yehoshua 2:15). Now she has learned to place the proper wall around her being, which used to be open for all to take. However, she keeps a window open in order to interact with the outside world. She is learning when to open herself to others and how to raise up her vulnerable spot. Instead of being taken advantage of by men, now, with full consciousness, she allows herself be vulnerable, by risking her life for the sake of saving these holy men of Israel. From the window light emanates into the home. This corresponds to the mitzvah of candlelight, which enlightens the home. With the rope you connect. This corresponds to the mitzvah of family purity through which a woman connects herself to her husband. Possibly, the rope can also symbolize how Rachav elevated her past sins and thus connected her past and her future.

The Flax and the Rope

According to the Maharal of Prague, it was the flax, the rope and the window that Rachav used to help the men who came to her for prostitution. She would hide them with the flax, to save their reputation. By means of these same three things, she merited to rescue the spies. The Maharal explains that someone who commits illicit relations, sins first with his eyes. This can be compared to the window as we know the eyes are the windows of the soul. Afterwards he begins to sin with lustful thoughts, and finally, G-d forbid, through the deed itself. Just as flax is used to produce the rope, so is the thought (hirhur) the beginning of actual sin. The lustful thought is still present during the sin, in the same way as flax continues to be part of the rope. The rope is compared to the act itself, as the rope can be used to connect two people together for bad or for good (Chidushei Agadot, Part Four, Page 74, Mesechet Eduyot).

Becoming White as Snow

“She bound the scarlet cord in the window” (Yehoshua 2:21). The red thread of our haftorah ties together with the blue thread of this week’s parasha reading, where we read about the mitzvah of the techelet string in the tzitzit. Why was Rachav instructed specifically to hang a red thread of scarlet from her window as a sign to Yehoshua’s men that her family was to be saved? The color scarlet, in Hebrew is usually referred to as tola’at shani. The word “tola’at” means “worm” and “shani” refers to the dye (or the dyed material) obtained from the eggs of the insects which attach themselves to the kermes oak. The red color carries associations to Rachav’s previous occupation, such as the “red light” district. However, just as the red color of fire turns in to white ashes, the red string is a vivid symbol of no matter how immoral and wormy anyone has become, there is always hope of returning. Actually, the Hebrew word used for cord in our verse, is the very unusual “tikva,” which means hope, like in Israel’s anthem “Hatikva.” The exquisite Torah verse that we read in Shabbat hachazon eternally reminds us that “Although your sins be like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be like [white] wool” (Yeshauyahu 1:18). Even if our sins are as striking as a red dye, through teshuvah we can rise above them, like Rachav, the harlot, who became the wife of the leader of Israel.

Transforming the Fire of Lust into Passion for Holiness

While the color scarlet contrasted with white usually is a negative color symbolizing sin, The Eishet Chail uses the color of scarlet in the reverse way, to protect her household against the cold of snow. “She does not fear the snow for all of her household are clothed with scarlet” (Mishlei 31:21).The color of scarlet – deep red – is the color of fire. Perhaps we can say that the Eishet Chail has her own and her family’s fire in control. She protects her family by channeling the very same fire which usually causes people to sin, into fire and passion for Hashem’s mitzvoth. One of the problems of our time is that even when a person is able to overcome his passion for sin; he sometimes forgets to remain hot for holiness. This makes him susceptible to Amalek’s influence, which cooled down Israel’s desire and yearning for holiness. Pursuit of holiness such as Torah learning, tefilah, yearning for the Temple and for Mashiach requires deed, initiative and warmth. The scarlet string may symbolize how Rachav transformed her fire for immorality into the greatest passion for holiness. This also fits in with the name Rachav which means broad.

As Rav Tzadok of Lublin explains, the advantage of the ba’al tshuva over the tzaddik is that when a crocked line is made into a straight line, the line becomes broader (Sefer Chesbonot Charutz, Chapter 6). I’d like to call on the readers to give examples of the broadness of the ba’al teshuva/convert.