Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Our Actions Today Empower the Future

B'erot Trip to the Ma'arat HaMachpala, buriel place of Sarah Imenu
I have always been amazed when discovering in the Torah how our actions have such powerful effect on people and things that happens many generations later. Sarah our Mother not only rectified Chava’s relationship with the Serpent, she ensured the purity of the Jewish women in the Egyptian exile, and brought about our redemption. We too can walk in the path of Sarah and link ourselves to her redemptive energy!

Haftorah Va’era
28:22- 29:21 

Sarah’s Merit Empowered the Jewish Women in Egypt to Withstand Pharaoh the Serpent
“…Thus says Hashem G-d; behold I am against you, Pharaoh King of Egypt, the great serpent that crouches in the midst of his streams, who has said, My River is my own, and I have made it for myself” (Yechezkiel 29:3).

According to the Kabbalah, we learn from this verse, that Pharaoh is the incarnation of the Primordial Serpent (Ariza”l, Beshalach 14). It was Sarah, our Mother, who empowered the women in Egypt to stand up against this Pharaoh many generations later. In her merit, the Jewish women were able to guard themselves from being defiled by the Egyptians, throughout the entire two hundred and ten years of the Egyptian exile. In the Eishet Chail we sing, “Her husband’s heart trusted in her” (Mishlei 31:11). This verse applies to Sarah (Midrash Tanchuma, Chayei Sarah 4). Avraham not only trusted her, as they were going down to Egypt, when he told her, “Please say that you are my sister.” He, moreover, trusted in her righteousness, and understood that through her merit, she would be able to withstand the impurity of Pharaoh and enact great rectifications. Avraham foresaw that Sarah’s greatness would have repercussions for her descendants, who in the future would be exiled in Egypt under Pharaoh’s rule.

Extracting the Sparks of Holiness Stuck in the Abyss of Egypt
When Sarah was taken captive by Pharaoh and brought into his castle of impurity, she made a holy path within the spiritual impurity that was pervading his place. Unlike Chava, the first woman, who succumbed to the great Serpent and was injected with spiritual pollution, Sarah succeeded to avoid becoming defiled by Pharaoh – the great Serpent. She not only rectified Chava’s sin, but, moreover, enabled her descendants – the Jewish women – during the Egyptian exile, to guard their purity from Egyptian penetration. Avraham trusted so strongly in Sarah’s merit that “…he lacked no booty” (Mishlei 31:11), for she was able to extract the holy sparks stuck in Pharaoh’s palace. This is why the following verse of the Eishet Chail reads, “She bestowed him good and not bad…” (Ibid. 31:12). Contrary to the scheme of the Serpent, who planned to use Sarah as a medium to trap Avraham with his evil powers, the same way that he used Chava to bring Adam down; the exact opposite happened. Through Sarah, sparks of holiness from the abyss of Egypt, were drawn to Avraham. For this reason it states “To Avraham he did good for her [Sarah’s] sake…” (Bereishit 12:16).

Sarah, Our Mother Paved the Way for Israel’s Redemption
Just as Sarah’s holiness caused all the goodness buried within Egypt to be released for Avraham, likewise, during the Egyptian exile, Israel was able to empty Egypt of the remaining sparks embedded there (Shemot 12:36), (Shem MiShemuel, Chayei Sarah). There are numerous parallels between Sarah’s experience in Egypt and Israel’s experience during the redemption from Egypt. In the merit of Sarah’s modesty, and great righteousness, she had a host of angels at her fingertips. Each time Pharaoh tried to touch her, she commanded the angels to hit him with harsh plagues (Rashi, Bereishit 12:17). These plagues, that Sarah enacted, brought about the plagues that Hashem brought upon Pharaoh and his people six generation later. Avraham trusted that Sarah had to be taken captive by Pharaoh in order to pave the way for the future redemption of the Jewish people from Egypt. Sarah propelled the accumulative force of righteous women in every generation that engender the redemption process. May we merit tapping into her redemptive energy and bringing about the final redemption!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

On the Verge of Redemption

This Haftorah is about the ups and downs of the Jewish people on the verge of redemption. Sometimes when we feel most disconnected, we find solace in the voice of Hashem within us calling us back. In my experience, no matter what, we women retain our inner fire of desire for holiness which eventually will bear fruits!

Haftorat Shemot
Yesha’yahu 27:6- 28: 13, 29:22-23
From the Roots of Ya’acov to the Blossoms of Israel
This haftorah vacillates between harsh rebuke and the hope of redemption. It opens up on a promising note: “Those who are coming will strike roots as Ya’acov and will blossom and bud as Yisrael” (Yesha’yahu 27:6). When the Jewish people began settling the Land of Israel, we were a weak survivor of anti-Semitism. Like Ya’acov, which means heel, all we that was left of us was our roots under the ground. Yet, during the process of redemption, we unfold the potential of Ya’acov to become strengthened like Yisrael – (ישראל - לי ראש – I have a head) developing ourselves and the Holy Land to bud and blossom. However, it is not enough to remove Israel from the exile, we, furthermore, need to remove the exile from Israel. We are still in the process of removing what remains of the Western culture: worship of the material and the body of youth. Like the touristy image of the sunbathed beauty at Tel Aviv’s beaches, “…the Asherim and sun images shall not remain standing” (ibid 9). The images of immodest women pasted on billboards and bus-stops will not remain in the Messianic Jerusalem.

The Connection between the Haftorah and the Torah Readin
This week's haftorah parallels the week's Torah reading on many levels.In Parashat Shemot the people of Israel are enslaved and suffering under the hands of the Egyptians, until Moshe leads them into spiritual freedom. Similarly, in the haftorah, the people in the Kingdom of Israel suffered greatly, because of their own lack of faith in G-d, and the corruption and greed of their leaders. Still, Yeshaya’ahu brings us a message of hope and redemption: “Hashem shall beat out His harvest from the strongly flowing river as far as the brook of Egypt and you shall be gathered one by one, O children of Israel” (Ibid. 12). These words remind us of the message of Redemption that G d spoke to Moses at the burning bush: “I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good and large land, unto a land flowing with milk and honey (Shemot 3:8).

The Sound of the Shofar
“It shall come to pass on that day that a great shofar shall be sounded, and those lost in the land of Assyria and those dispersed in the land of Egypt shall come and they shall prostrate themselves before Hashem in the holy mount in Jerusalem” (Yesha’yahu 27:13).

According to the Ramchal, in his commentary on the Prophets, the great Shofar is binah (the Kabbalistic aspect of the feminine Divine Understanding) which will arouse the mercy of the archetypal mother and father to gather the lost and dispersed. According to strict judgment, they would not be worthy to enter into holiness, except through mercy aroused from this Great Shofar. What is the difference between the lost and the dispersed? Those who were lost were completely subjugated to the other side (the negative) whereas, those who are dispersed are not dominated by the other side to the same extent. Perhaps the dispersed are the Ba’alei Teshuva (Returnees to Judaism) that return to the Torah of Jerusalem, and the lost ones are those originally Jewish souls, who due to centuries of assimilation, such as through the Spanish Inquisition, now return to the Jewish fold through conversion. I believe that this Great Shofar has already begun to bring forth its metaphysical magnetic sound, awakening the Jewish souls from the four corners of the earth to return home. Both the dispersed and the lost will “come to prostrate themselves before Hashem in the holy mount,” which according to Ramchal is the nukba – feminine – where these no longer lost souls come to subjugate themselves to holiness and engender their complete tikun – rectification.

The Life-giving Power of Tzedakah (Charity)
“When its branches dry out, they shall be broken off; women shall come and ignite it…” (Yesha’yahu 27:12). This verse is quoted by the Talmud, to teach us not to receive charity from gentiles. “Ifra Hormiz, the mother of King Shapur sent four hundred dinarim to R. Ami, but he would not accept them. She then sent them to Raba, and he accepted them, in order not to offend the Government. When R. Ami heard, he was indignant and said: Does he not hold by the verse, When the branches are withered they shall be broken off, the women shall come and set them on fire?” (Babylonian Talmud, Baba Bathra 10b) The reason why Rabbi Ami did not want to accept charity from the gentile mother of King Shapur was in order not to give them merit which would allow their kingdom to continue longer, but rather to have their kingdom dry out and be broken off, to give Israel respite. This teaches us about the power of tzedakah. If the charity of King Shapur’s mother would keep the wicked Persian Kingdom from withering away, how much more so does giving tzedakah by a Jewish person empower him or her to merit life, fruitfulness and personal redemption.

Women Reignite the Withered Branch of Israel
On this verse about the dry branches which the women come to ignite, I will venture to share my personal commentary. We, Jews, go through ups and downs in our connection with Hashem. Sometimes we feel like a dried out branch and sometimes almost like one broken off and completely disconnected from Hashem Who is our root. This, then, is the time to ignite our inner fire and return to our source. Women from both Israel and USA have turned to me for spiritual healing in order to reconnect with their soul and feel Hashem’s closeness in their lives. I tell them, that although you feel disconnected, and broken, the fact that you reach out to return to your spiritual path is already the beginning of your rectification. You need to feel good about yourself that even though you are down and low and don’t even feel like praying, your desire to want to feel like praying is still burning within you. We, women have the ability to reignite our inner passion for holiness through our desire to be connected. The embers of this desire will grow into the flames of our innate love of Hashem, whicht will melt away the frost of our complacent, tired, indifferent, dormant spirit. We, women will awaken ourselves and each-other “to sanctify the holy one of Ya’acov, and revere the G-d of Israel (Yesha’yahu 29:23).

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Bridge Between Life and Death

This Haftorah touches upon the bridge between life and death and mentions a very hidden woman in the Bible, Tzeruriah who really sparked my interest. I am also sharing with you some highlights on why we pray for someone using the name of their mother while after death they are mentioned together with the name of their father.

Haftorah Vayechi
1 Melachim 2:1- 12
In this week's haftorah, King David on his deathbed gives over his lasting will to Shlomo his son and successor. His words parallel this week's Torah reading that describes Ya’acov’s parting words of blessings and instructions to his sons.

The Dead Son of His Father – The Live Son of His Mother
The first instruction King David gives to the newly anointed young Shlomo is to take care of his most difficult unfinished business: “You, too, know all that Yoav ben Tzeruiah did to me – what he did to the two officers of the hosts of Israel, to Avner ben Ner and to Amasa ben Yeter, that he killed them, and shed the blood of war in peace… Act according to your wisdom, and do not let him die a peaceful death of old age” (Melachim I 2:5-6). Yoav was King David’s general who on various occasions killed people against David’s will. Therefore, avenge was necessary in order to maintain Shalom and justice. What I found interesting in this quote is that both of the victims are mentioned by the name of their fathers, Ner and Yeter, while the perpetrator, Yoav, is mentioned by the name of his mother, Tzeruiah. Yoav, who is still alive, is mentioned as the son of his mother, while the deceased Avner and Amasa are mentioned as the sons of their father. This is congruent with the traditional way we mention others in prayer. It is the accepted custom to pray for someone who is alive by mentioning the name of the person together with the name of his mother, while after death we mention the person together with the name of his father. What is the reason for this custom?

The Father’s or the Mother’s Child?
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev explains that in tefilah (prayer) it is important to be as specific as possible. Since the identity of the mother can more easily be ascertained than that of the father, the name of the mother distinguishes a person more explicitly. Therefore, we pray for a person as the child of his or her mother. The Mikdash Melech, page 84, explains that this principle applies to people on earth who may not be sure of the true identity of their father. However, after a person’s death, his name is known in Heaven. Therefore, in memorial prayers the father’s name is used. According to Ramban, (Vayikra 12:3), the body of the child derives from the blood of the mother, while the form of the child is related to the father. Therefore, people are connected on a more primary level with their mother while being alive, yet after death; they are identified by the name of the father. The explanation I connect with most is that when praying for compassion for a person, we mention the name of his or her mother, since the mother embodies the character-trait of compassion. She is the one who carried him in her womb – (rechem) a word which also means mercy. By mentioning the name of the mother in prayer, we attempt to identify with the compassion of the mother of the person we pray for, and tap into the tears that the mother sheds for her child.

Can Capital Punishment be Compassionate?
It doesn’t seem to make sense that David intended to arouse the attribute of mercy when commanding the execution of Yoav? Yet, perhaps the mother’s name alludes to the ultimate mercy even when implementing justice. Although today capital punishment seems cruel and archaic, when it is decided by the anointed one of G-d, it entails the final compassion of bringing about tikun (rectification) for the cruelty of murder. Except for his death, no retribution could atone for the innocent blood shed by Yoav. It cleansed his soul for the eternal afterlife. The righteous King David cared only for executing Hashem’s will with utmost compassion which included mercy for Yoav’s soul, who also happened to be David’s cousin.

Tzeruiah – Unknown Woman in the Bible
Very little is mentioned in the Torah about Yoav’s mother Tzeruiah. However, her sons are invariably mentioned with the metronymic “son of Tzeruiah,” in contrast to people in many other cultures and other Biblical characters who are known by the name of their father. This seems to indicate that Tzeruiah was an exceptionally strong or important woman, though the specific circumstances are not given. All we are told about her is that she is the daughter of Yishai, sister of David, and mother of Yoav, Avshai, and Asa-el all of whom held key-positions in David’s army (1 Divrei HaYayamim 2:16). There are two opinions as to whether she is the sister or stepsister of David. In 2 Shemuel 17:25, Tzuriah and her sister Avigail seem to have a different father than David, by the name of Nachash. According to the Talmud Yishai is called Nachash (serpent) because he never committed a sin but died only because of the bite of the serpent, which caused the mortality of all humans. The Rama of Pa’ano mentions that the name Tzeruiah derives from the word metzar, which means a constricted place or distress, such as “Out of my distress (metzar) I called upon Hashem…” (Tehillim 118:5). Tzeruiah certainly must have cried out in distress over the bereavement of her sons. According to the Rama of Pa’ano, these three sons were the reincarnation of Korach’s three sons, Asir, Elkana, and Aviasaf, their death was their ultimate rectification. The numerical value of the word Tzeruiah (311) equals that of Korach (308) when the three letters of his name is added. (Gilgulei Neshamot 2). May Tzeruiah’s tears mixed with the tears of every mother in Israel for all the innocent blood spilled among our distressed people reach Hashem’s altar of peace, and may “…He answer us from His place of space!” (Tehillim 118:5).

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Path to Peace and Redemption

Hope you had a wonderful Chanukah. Chanukah is really all about getting together with the family. Likewise this haftorah, is about the reunification between the brothers, especially Yehudah and Yosef whose energies can be opposed. Therefore, this Haftorah really moved me, as it alludes to how we can bring redemption and world peace by overcoming friction between the different segments within our people.

Haftorat Vayigash
Yechezkiel 37:15-28
Which Direction to Take to Make “The Nations Know That Hashem Sanctifies Yisrael”?
This week’s Haftorah describes the final geulah (redemption), when Hashem’s presence will illuminate the Jewish people through His everlasting Temple. At that time there will no longer be any question of Israel’s exclusive right to the Holy City of Jerusalem. The concluding verses of our Haftorah convey the vision of the final days that we await, when all of Israel will worship Hashem and receive His everlasting blessing: “I will make a covenant of peace with them…My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their G-d, and they shall be my people. Then the nations shall know that I, Hashem, do sanctify Yisrael, when my sanctuary shall be in their midst for ever” (Yechezkiel 37:26-28). Today, with the golden Mosque glinting behind the Wall, and the world dictating Israel to freeze building in its midst, we seem so far from this prophesy. Without a strong leadership in Israel, and a scattered and bewildered people, how will we find the path that will lead us to the covenant of peace and redemption?

Teach the Kids to Get Along and Bring Peace to the World
The beginning of our Haftorah gives the clue. It is so simple that it becomes difficult. It is exactly what my parents told me when I was a teenage freedom fighter in Europe: “If you kids cannot get along, how do you expect there to be peace in the world?!” The paved path to walk to reach the conclusion of our Haftorah begins at the beginning. It begins at home, by rising above sibling rivalry: “And you son of man, take for yourself one piece of wood, and write upon it, for Yehudah, for the children of Yisrael his friends. Then take another piece of wood and write upon it, for Yosef, the wood of Efrayim, and for all the house of Yisrael his friends, and join them one to the other to make one piece of wood, and they shall become one in your hand”(Yechezkiel 37:16-17). Since the time when Yosef received the multicolored garment from his father, there has been animosity between Yosef and his brothers, particularly between Yosef and Yehudah – the leader of the brothers. Our Haftorah describes the culmination of their reconciliation which begins in this week’s parashah, when Yehudah approached Yosef.

Addition and Subtraction
Yehudah’s approaching Yosef embodies the merging of two essentially different ways of serving G-d. Yehudah comes from the word, hoda’ah, which means recognition, praise and nullification. The letters of the name “Yehudah” is made up of G-d's Four Lettered Name, plus the letter dalet which represents one who has nothing (in Hebrew, “dal”). The letter dalet lacks sides all around, and like a pauper, is incapable of holding anything. Yosef, on the other hand, means to “add” or “gather.” He adds and gathers all the holy sparks from the physical world, elevating them to the holiness of Hashem. Yosef also has the ability to gather all the Jewish people together. This is why he received the multicolored garment, with a color for each of the tribes. When the aspects of Yehudah and Yosef come together in the highest way, then the Temple can shine in our midst. Yehudah and his brothers must allow Yosef to be their temporary leader while gathering together all the dispersed tribes of Israel and establishing Israel’s physical framework. Yosef must ultimately yield his leadership to the everlasting Kingdom of Mashiach ben David descending from Yehudah.

The Gift of the Mothers
The two main ways of serving Hashem represented by Yosef and Yehudah are gifts that they received from their mothers. “Leah held a distaff of hodayah and her children were masters of hodayah...” (Bereishit Rabah 71:5). When Yehudah was born, his mother Leah said, “I thank (odeh) Hashem,” and she gave Yehudah a name that reflects her recognition that all comes from Hashem. This was always her attitude. “Leah's eyes were soft,” for she was always crying her heart out to Hashem. Likewise, Yehudah's descendant, David, said of himself (Tehillim 22:7), “I am a worm, not a man.” Despite his great accomplishments, David took no credit for himself, for he recognized that everything comes from Hashem. Yehudah you are he whom your brothers shall praise (yoducha) Yehuda confessed (hoda). There is an intrinsic connectionbetween gratitude and admission: true thankfulness is the free admission of the debt owed. “I admit to you, I am deeply indebted.”

The Gatherer of Beauty
“Yosef was beautiful of form and beautiful of appearance – this was because Rachel was beautiful of form and beautiful of appearance” (Bereishit Rabah 86:6). Yosef’s beauty was his ability to gather and manifest the totality of creation. True beauty is when harmony and balance of the whole are expressed in a single part. Just like Rachel was buried “on the way” in order to gather her dispersed children from exile, the beauty of Yosef gathers disconnected parts together in one living entity. Rabbi Mattis Weinberg explains how Yosef’s essentiality for the kingdom of Pharaoh is equally essential for Malchut Yisrael. Yosef allows the king to be the persona who manifests the otherwise disconnected entities of his sovereignty and transforms it to become one united kingdom. Just like Ya’acov loved Rachel because her beauty was a reflection of her righteousness, the beauty of Yosef is manifested through his righteousness, charisma and ability to forge personal relationship. He represents the source of the world’s youthful fertility and blessedness. He is connected to the earth, like the ox to which he is compared by Ya’acov (Rashi, Bereishit 49:6). Yosef sustains his brothers and supports the entire world. His characteristics are blessed when they are rooted in integrity, reliability, discipline, and emunah of the tzaddik. However, beauty does not last forever; “Rachel died on the way,” and the Tabernacle of Shilo in the land of Efrayim, son of Yosef, was also temporary. This is how the eternal kingdom of Yehudah complements the beauty of Yosef.

The Inner Power of Women Enables Israel to “Become One in Your Hand”
Hashem’s Shechinah is present at the core of both the qualities of Yosef and Yehudah. True beauty gathers and holds everything together; without leaving any part of existence behind. The rectified Yosef infuses all of reality with Divinity, by reflecting all the beauty in the world without taking anything from this world for himself. This quality is an aspect of modesty that Yosef mastered. Through the power of tzniut, he was able to rectify all relationships, and connect in the deepest way with people, yet overcome the temptation of Potifar’s wife. Yosef is called “Tzadik Yesod Olam” – The Righteous Foundation of the World, because the power of Yesod (Foundation) is the Divine Emanation pertaining to relationship and sexuality, – the foundation that holds all existence together. The foundation of Yosef leads to the rectified Malchut (kingdom) of Yehudah, about which it is written “It has nothing of its own.” By recognizing that he had nothing except what comes from Hashem, Yehudah became a pure channel for Hashem’s Malchut. Through admitting (hodayah) that nothing but Hashem has real existence, the power of Malchut is able to take all the existence that the power of Yesod gathered together and nullify it to Hashem. While Yosef’s ability to connect and gather all existence together is contingent on refraining from holding on to anything for himself, Yehudah He recognized (hodayah) that nothing but Hashem has true existence. Therefore, he did not have anything to let go of. While Yosef elevates all existence, Yehudah nullifies it all to Hashem. At the heart of both the hodayah of Yehudah and the gathering of Yosef is the presence of Hashem which unites them. Women pave the way to redemption because we are inner beings, and not hung up with external differences that separate people. Developing the quality of tzniut, teaches us to go to the core where neither looks, accomplishments or the causes we support are the source of what gives us value. With this inner power, we can unite the Yehudahs and Yosefs of our time, bring about Hashem’s everlasting “covenant of peace” and allow His sanctuary to rest in our midst forever.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Sing and Rejoice, Daughter of Zion!

The light of Chanukah is again shining its educational light upon us. Chanukah comes from the word Chinuch which means education. During this blessed holiday we can get a glimpse of the future perfected reality. At that time the light of the woman will grow, and laws that seemingly denigrate women will no longer apply. We live in the exciting time of transformation. 

In my commentary on the Chanuka Haftorah I discuss how to deal with issues such as “Kol Isha” (women singing in the presence of men) at the shabbat table.

I bless you to get in touch with your inner light of Chanukah, and shine it into your relationships, so we together can build the Temple of Unconditional Love!
Chanukah Sameach!
Chana Bracha

Haftorat Miketz - Special Chanukah Haftorah
Zechariah 2:14-4:7
The Feminine Song of Redemption
Sing and rejoice, Daughter of Zion! For lo, I come; and I will dwell in your midst — declares Hashem (Zechariah 2:14). The word “roni” which we translated “sing” is one of the ten Hebrew expressions for happiness (Song of Songs Rabah 1:29). Hashem tells the Daughter of Tzion to shout for joy as He is coming to dwell within her and manifest His Shechinah below. It is hard to understand the connection between this verse and Chanukah. Therefore many commentaries wonder why the haftorah for Chanukah didn’t begin with the description of the golden Menorah in Zechariah Chapter 4. According to the Arizal, (Sefer Pri Etz Chaim, Gate 208, on Chanukah and Purim, Chapter 4), every redemption that Israel experienced came about through a woman, and therefore all the songs praising Hashem for redemption were in the feminine language “shirah” (rather than “shir”). This is because these redemptions were from “sefirat hod,” (the character of glory – a feminine manifestation of Hashem’s light from the left side of the Tree of Life). The redemption from Egypt came about through Bityah the daughter of Pharaoh. The redemption from Persia was by means of Esther, and the redemption from Greece by means of Yehudit. Therefore, since the miracle of Chanukah came about through the light of “hod,” we can understand why women are accustomed to refrain from work as long as the candles are burning (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 670 seif 1). This explains why we read “Sing and be happy daughter of Tzion” in the haftorah for Chanukah!

The Daughter of Tzion Will Sing Even with Men!
According to the B’nei Yissaschar based on the Chida, wherever the Shechinah dwells one does not have to be concerned about “Kol Isha ervah,” (the voice of a woman is her private part) (Berachoth 24a). Therefore, Devorah said “I am for Hashem, I can sing” (Shoftim 5:3). Since Devorah’s dedication to Hashem caused the revelation of the Shechinah, she was permitted to sing together with a man, as it states “And Devorah and Barak sang…” (ibid. 1). This explanation goes according to the simple reading of the text, that Devora was married to Lapidot and not to Barak. In the same way we can explain “And Miriam the prophetess took… and Miriam answered them sing to Hashem…” (Shemot 15:20). Miriam is specifically called a prophetess in this context, since the Shechinah was resting on her while she was prophesying and she, therefore, was not concerned about arousing hirhurim (improper thoughts) among the men while she was singing. Likewise the Chida explained our verse: “Sing and be happy daughter of Tzion,” and don’t be concerned about “Kol Isha” (the voice of a woman), “…for behold I come and dwell within you.”

May Women Sing with Men?
After having been a Ba’alat Teshuvah (returnee to Judaism) for almost thirty years, and having held my voice back from singing at the Shabbat table all these years whenever we have male guests, I was quite astonished to find this Torah of B’nei Yissaschar permitting women’s singing with men when the Shechinah is present. Rav Kook writes in Mussar Avicha that separation between men and women is necessary, and the laws of tzniut override even basic tenets of common courtesy, because the yetzer hara is so potent in this lower world. Only in the World of Truth, can the love and friendship, which should have been equal between men and women all along, find its true expression. Therefore, we should not jump to apply the principles of the B’nei Yissaschar to our daily reality, even to our holy Shabbat table, which may not yet have reached the level of Shechinah that graced Miriam by the Sea, or Devorah after the victory over Sisera. Yet on the other hand, I often find that the chatter of us “pious women” while the men sing zemirot (Shabbat hymns) detracts from the kedusha (holiness) of the Shabbat table, and I often wonder whether Hashem would not prefer if we women take part of the zemirot softly without singing at the top of our lungs.

Mixed Singing at the Shabbat Table
The question of the applicability of “Kol Isha” to zemirot is controversial in halachic responsa. Rav Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg (Teshuvot Seridei Eish 2:8) notes that although women traditionally refrained from singing zemirot in the presence of men other than immediate family members at the Shabbat table, the practice in Germany was for women to sing zemirot in the company of unrelated men. Rav Azriel Hildesheimer and Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (two great German Rabbis of the nineteenth century) sanctioned this practice. They based their ruling on the Talmudic rule (Megilah 21b) that “Trei kali lo mishtamai,” – two voices cannot be heard simultaneously. There is a great difference between a woman performing and singing from the depths of her neshamah, and a group of women singing quietly together with men at a Shabbat table in a family setting. While it states in the Gemara (Sota 48a) that men and women singing together is a major impropriety, the Divrei Cheifetz asserts that the Kol Isha prohibition does not apply to women singing zemirot, singing songs to children, and lamentations for the dead. This authority explains that in these contexts, men do not derive pleasure from the woman’s voice.

The Tightrope of Yearning
According to B’nei Yissaschar, Chanukah comes to educate us about the final redemption. The Mekor Chaim explains that “Daughter of Tzion” is a metaphor, referring to the body of the Jewish people, more specific to the body of the tzaddik.” “Sing and rejoice, Daughter of Zion! For lo, I come; and I will dwell in your midst” describes the joy of the tzaddik, who is able to turn his body into a mishkan (dwelling place) for Hashem’s presence. The highest level that we aspire to reach is not only to have pure thoughts, but to purify even the physical body from desires that are not for the sake of Hashem. During our long-winding exile there have always been great individual tzadikim who have succeeded in making their body a sanctuary for Hashem’s presence. At the time of our imminent redemption we will eventually all reach this great uplifted level. As we draw closer to the final redemption when the Shechinah will be revealed within all of us, the voice of women is yearning to sing for joy. Until we reach this level, we must walk on a tightrope seeking the delicate balance between being strict in tzniut (modesty) without being too lenient in good manners, interpersonal relationships, and the kedushah (holiness) of Shabbat. May the light of Chanukah penetrate our souls and bring about the indwelling of the Shechinah, so that one day we can join Miriam and Devorah’s exalted song and “Sing and rejoice” in the perfected world of holiness where we no longer have to be concerned about “Kol Isha!”