Tuesday, February 23, 2016

What is the Difference between Spirituality and Holiness?

Life Lessons from the Rebbetzin’s Heart - Parashat Kitisa
Attributing Power to Nothing but G-d – A Fine Line Distinction
There are numerous spiritual directions in the world that attract so many of us who seek expanded consciousness and a connection with the higher realms. There are also numerous definitions of spirituality. Here are a few examples: “The search for meaning in life events and a yearning for connectedness to the universe” (Coles 1990). “…The search for transcendent meaning – can be expressed in religious practice or …expressed exclusively in the relationship to nature, music, the arts, a set of philosophical beliefs, or relationships with friends and family” (Astrow et al. 2001). “A person’s experience of, or a belief in, a power apart from his or her own existence” (Mohr 2006). Since spirituality is an uplifted goal for those who seek purpose and meaning in life, some people may be surprised to learn that spirituality in certain cases can be not only undesirable, but actually liable for the death penalty in the Torah. That is because a Jew should rather give his or her life than participate in any kind of idol-worship. And guess what? Idolatry has always been one of the most spiritual of practices. I sometimes get glimpses of understanding the attraction to idolatry, when, for example, I wear a citrine gemstone necklace on my annual tours, in order to attract donations to Midreshet B’erot Bat Ayin. This crystal is well known as a prosperity stone that promotes and manifests success and abundance. I need to make sure to keep the fine line of distinction between attributing power to the citrine stone and realizing deeply how all power belongs to the One and only Hashem Who endows His creation with certain abilities emanating from His undivided Divine Supremacy. Just as herbs have various healing qualities; gemstones also channel certain spiritual properties from Hashem, while having absolutely no power on their own. Some people say that we do not have idol-worship today, since we no longer bow down to idols and images. However, any time we separate ourselves from the undivided Oneness of G-d and attribute power to anything less than this Oneness, we fall prey to at least a tinge of idolatry. This can take the form of feeding our egos, idolizing modern science, worshipping material wealth and indulging in any physical desire.

Remaining Pure with Hashem Our G-d
I recently discussed the difference between spirituality and kedusha (holiness) with my students. We were learning about the mitzvah to be תָּמִים/tamim – pure or wholehearted with Hashem:
ספר דברים פרק יח פסוק יג תָּמִים תִּהְיֶה עִם הָשֵׁם אֱלֹהֶיךָ:
“You shall be pure with Hashem your G-d” (Devarim 18:13).

This prohibits sharing our belief in the One and Only G-d by attributing power to anything but Him. That includes, contacting angels, using astrology, tea leaves and Tarot cards to find answers for our future. “We must unify our hearts to G-d alone, and believe that only He is in charge. We will ask only Hashem about the future, or His prophets and sages who use the Urim and Tumim. We will not seek answers from any other spiritual beings; for He is the G-d of the gods and uplifted above all, ruling over all the astrological constellations that He may nullify according to His will. After warning us not to ask magicians, cloud gazers, witches and those who ask the dead about the future, Hashem commanded us to be pure with Hashem in all this and only believe in Him and his prophets. We need to be wholehearted with Hashem and not share our reverence of Hashem with any other power” (Ramban, Devarim 18:13). In line with keeping this mitzvah to be tamim with Hashem, we should question ourselves whether we ever cross the line when we revere a certain Rabbi exclusively and have only his picture on our wall. I, personally, make a point of having pictures of many different tzaddikim (righteous people) on my walls, to make clear that the reverence of Hashem is shared with no other being.

Taking the Fruit While Forgetting the Tree
A recent Shabbat guest, who had become recently involved with a Messianic Cult in Haifa, helped clarify for my husband and I, why Christianity is idol- worship. Although she was born Jewish, she enthusiastically described her new belief that for her, ‘Yeshua’ is not merely a messenger of G-d, but actually ‘the lord.’ She described her ‘Yeshua’ as “the suffering servant” who embodies divinity (G-d forbid). This is the very same mistake of the Generation of Enosh when they “began to call on the name of G-d” (Bereishit 4:26). “During the times of Enosh, people made a great mistake, and the wise men of that generation gave thoughtless counsel. Enosh himself was one of those who erred. Their mistake was as follows: They said G-d created stars and spheres with which to control the world. He placed them on high and treated them with honor, as they are servants who minister before Him. Accordingly, it is fitting to praise and glorify them and to treat them with honor… They began to construct temples to the stars and offer sacrifices to them. They would praise and glorify them with words, and prostrate themselves before them, because by doing so, they would – according to their false conception - be fulfilling the will of G-d. This was the essence of the worship of false gods, and this was the rationale of those who worshiped them. They would not say that there is no other god except for this star.” (Rambam, Laws of Idolatry 1).

The Rabbis refer to this mistaken belief as, “cutting the plants,” because it severs the connection between the created things of the world and their roots in Hashem, the Source of all creation. Hence, the focus is on “the son” who is a convenient and accessible object of worship, rather than Hashem – the King and Creator. In Judaism, the focus is always on the highest source, where all creation is unified. We believe that Hashem manifests through all of creation and reveals His will through the prophets and holy tzaddikim. Not a single one of them ever tried to gain attention for himself, but rather gave himself over entirely to arouse devotion to Hashem. We are commanded to serve the Infinite Unknowable Ein Sof (Infinite being). Even worshipping one of Hashem’s manifestations, such as the Sefirot (Divine Emanations) is considered idolatry. Certainly, subjugation to such a lofty abstraction can be daunting. Not only did the easy concreteness of idolatrous belief appeal to this woman, but also a feeling of love and closeness which she experienced coming to her from ‘Yeshua,’ to the point where she imagined he would call out to her. The yetzer hara is very powerful and tries to convince a person to take the fruit and forget about the tree. Enjoy the things of this world with abandon and don’t worry – you are loved and all is forgiven. This is exactly what our sages identified as the character of Esav who scorned the aspect of the bechor (first born) because he denied the need to be subjugated to the superiority of the First Cause (Hashem).

The Spiritual Experience of Drumming and Dancing Around the Golden Calf
In this week’s parasha, the Israelites seeking a peek spiritual experience succumbed to the temptation of attributing divinity to a created being – the Golden Calf.
ספר שמות פרק לב (יט) וַיְהִי כַּאֲשֶׁר קָרַב אֶל הַמַּחֲנֶה וַיַּרְא אֶת הָעֵגֶל וּמְחֹלֹת וַיִּחַר אַף משֶׁה וַיַּשְׁלֵךְ מִיָּדָו אֶת הַלֻּחֹת וַיְשַׁבֵּר אֹתָם תַּחַת הָהָר:
“It came to pass, as soon as he came close to the camp that he saw the calf and the dancing; and Moshe’s anger was kindled, and he threw the Tablets from his hands, and broke them beneath the mount (Shemot 32:19).

I can just imagine the spiritual experience of the drumming and dancing around the Golden Calf, and the feeling of ecstatic excitement and connection. Nevertheless, the end-result of such spiritual exultation was the breaking of the Holy Torah Tablets and countless deaths (ibid. 27). Our Shabbat guest was a nice spiritual young woman who was obviously misled. Her high level of spirituality, made it hard for me to feel proper contempt for her beliefs and actions. How could I accept that when the real Mashiach reveals himself and the Sanhedrin (Jewish Court) will be reinstituted, such a sweet, young woman would be executed, unless she repented from her idolatrous ways. Naturally, I will do what I can to bring her close to the true Torah, remembering that, “A Jew, even when sinning will always be a Jew” (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 44a). Let us pray that this young woman and all the many others like her will discover the real Torah, speedily.

Hanging on to Holiness
The Torah has clear guidelines on how to serve Hashem. We develop our relationship with Hashem by doing His Will as He requested from us in His Torah. Rabbi Yehuda Halevi explains that the difference between the Golden Calf and the Golden Cherubs in the Tabernacle, was only that the latter were directly commanded by G-d, whereas the former was not (The Kuzari 1:97). By serving Hashem and doing His will, for the simple purpose of keeping the laws of the Torah whether or not it brings us a feeling of transcendent exultation, we choose holiness over spirituality. Hanging on to Holiness will eventually bear fruit even if it does not always imbue us with instant gratification. The Torah sandwiched the parasha describing the sin of the Golden Calf between four parshiot describing Hahem’s tabernacle: Two preceding: Teruma, Tetzaveh and two following: Vayakhel, Pekudei. The reason given for this sequence is to atone for the sin of worshipping the Golden Calf, by highlighting its rectification: the building of the House of Holiness for Hashem. When we overcome the temptation to attribute Divinity to anything else but Hashem, we come closer to the building of the Final Temple. Through this, we will draw down chesed – lovingkindness from Hashem and feel his unconditional love for us. When Hashem’s light will be fully revealed in the world through his holy Temple, we will finally be able to unify the undivided holiness of the mitzvot with the ultimate euphoric spiritual experience.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Do We Need to Wear Black Polyester Skirts for Modesty?

Life Lessons from the Rebbetzin’s Heart - Parashat Tetzaveh
Struggling with Modesty and ‘Keeping Up with the Kohenses’
Since this this week’s parasha discusses the garments of the Kohanim for glory and for beauty, I thought to share with you some Torah regarding dress-code for women in the Torah. A while back, I received the following question via email:

Shalom Rebbetzin,
I have a question that I haven’t found the answer to and I hope you can help me out. I’m not sure what to answer people here in Tzfat, who say or imply, that to wear clothing that isn’t exactly like the style of frum from birth people in B’nei Berak, is dishonoring the Torah. They claim I must wear straight polyester suit thingies in drab colors and button up or wear a turtleneck, etc. My husband is sefardi and says as long as I’m keeping by the Shulchan Aruch, they’re just talking nonsense. However, I’m the one facing the constant comments. For example, I might wear a cotton skirt down to the ankle, and they say according to Beis Yaakov schools, etc., that it is too casual and modern and dishonors Torah. If I wear a scarf (exactly) like the one in your picture here, it is too dangly, too casual, too alternative. If I don’t wear collared shirts and pleated skirts four inches above the ankle, I am just too rebellious. I feel that, truthfully, I was once frolicking on the beach in a red bikini, so Hashem knows that for me, this black cotton skirt with its peasant-looking ruffles is really QUITE an improvement! Those ‘Beis Ya’acov’ rules are made for people who never lived that sort of life. Regardless of honoring Torah, they’d just simply never wear a ruffled skirt and a Bat Ayin brand peasant blouse because that isn’t part of their background. For people like me, these are quite honorable. Did Sarah Imeinu wear polyester suits? A big, hot, polyester Chassidic scarf? Do you have any words of wisdom? A comeback I can try? I went thru a phase where I tried to follow those guidelines, but I ended up doing it only out of fear of what people would say and found myself constantly imagining another woman thinking and criticizing, “Oooh, she’s wearing 3/4 length sleeves! Or, her scarf is purple, not grey, black or brown, not good.” I feel I can do without honor, which I shouldn’t chase, but on the other hand, they should judge favorably. Thanks so much for your wisdom!

The Importance of both Physical and Spiritual Aspects of Tzniut (Modesty)

Dear Esther,
Thank you for your very important question. Your question shows true sincerity and desire to follow Hashem’s will. I believe you expressed a frustration with certain customs of tzniut (modesty) that many Jewish women share, especially in the Ba’al Teshuva (returnees to Judaism) world. Therefore, I’m happy to address it in length.

Developing proper tzniut is definitely one of the most important qualities for a Jewish woman to achieve spiritual perfection. Literarily tzniut means hidden. We do not want to flaunt our assets whether physical or spiritual, to the world. In this way, we emulate G-d Whose power is hidden in the world. Tzniut entails so much more than the ‘frum dress-code.’ In our zeal to keep every extra stringency in modest attire, it is important not to neglect the spiritual aspects of modesty, such as humility in thought and speech. While developing proper tzniut, we need to distinguish between what is required by Halacha and extra chumroth (stringencies), which certain Jewish communities have adopted.

Dress Code in Halacha

According to Halacha, based on the Chafetz Chaim’s Mishnah Berurah, which is widely accepted by all Ashkenazi Torah observant Jews, the Laws of Modesty include the following: The neckline must be high enough to cover the bone at the base of the neck (collarbone); sleeves must cover the elbow; the skirt must cover the knees. The obligation to wear socks depends on the minhag (custom) of the place (Mishnah Berurah, Orach Chayim 75). The only color that is prohibited for a woman to wear is the color red like the rooster’s comb (Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 20a, Ha’Aruch, Karbal). Clothes should not be tight and cling to the body. I, have, therefore, adopted the custom of not wearing T-shirts even with the correct sleeve-length and neckline without wearing something else on top. We should avoid loud patterns on clothing and especially patterns or pleats that emphasize the hidden body parts. If you are Sephardic, you need to keep the halachot according to the Sephardic poskim who I believe are similar except regarding the Sheitel (wig), which is not permissible according to many Sephardi halachic authorities (Maran Ovadia Yosef, Shut, Yabia Omer, Even HaEzer 5).

Difference in Determining Skirt and Sleeve-length
Based on different interpretations of the Hebrew words Shok (thigh) and Zero’a (arm), there are different opinions regarding the required length of the sleeves and the dress/skirt. While the Chazon Ish holds that sleeves must be to the wrists and skirts to the ankles (Chazon Ish, Orach Chaim 16:8), the Chafetz Chayim permits sleeves that cover only the elbow and skirts that cover the knees (also when sitting down). If you keep these rules, you are surely covered according to the halachot of modesty in dress code. In addition, now that you are married, you do not need to be stricter than your husband, especially since he makes a very good point to keep basic halachot according to the Shulchan Aruch.

Not Letting Fashion Dictate Our Choice of Clothes
Certain communities have added extra stringencies that have no source in Halacha. This includes style and colors in women’s clothing, length of earrings and even the ‘prohibition’ of wearing a back-pack! The argument used is that whatever is in style in the world is forbidden, as we don’t want to take on the ways of the world. For this reason, many communities forbid any garment made of jeans material. It seems to me that since we don’t want the style of the world to dictate our choices in clothing, we need to choose that which is modest and practical without being concerned about whether it is in style or not. Specifically avoiding that which is in style is actually giving power to fashion in reverse, by letting fashion dictate our choice of what not to wear. Therefore, I see no reason not to wear, for example, a modest skirt made from jeans material, as long as it’s not totally washed out and looks too casual for a daughter of the King.

Is any Skirt Length Too Long?
Regarding length of skirts, I don’t believe there is a halachic authority prohibiting skirts that are too long. However, since modesty entails not drawing attention to oneself, I agree that skirts that are so long that they sweep the streets could be considered immodest, yet this is still preferable to wearing skirts above the knees. I have often seen young, stylish, frum ladies from certain communities who keep their skirts exactly to the knees, not realizing that when they sit down, their knees are actually showing. This is clearly against Halacha even if the knees are covered by pantyhose that is not sheer nylon.

Choice of Colors in Clothing
As I mentioned above, only the color red is specifically mentioned in Halacha as forbidden to wear if that is the main color of the garment (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim, 178). There is no prohibition against wearing purple, turquoise, green or even orange. Black used to be the color of mourning and not a color to wear on a day-to-day basis, although it is considered to be a humble and modest color (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 3, Laws of getting dressed). This explains why certain Jewish communities adhere to this color in spite of it being the most fashionable color in the world. Although there is no specific prohibition, I would personally stay away from wearing hot pink from top to toe, as it would attract too much attention. Nevertheless, I enjoy expressing my Neshamah through the spectrum of colors rather than only gray, navy and drab brown. I was once in B’nei Berak and heard directly from the secretary of Rabbi Karelitz the nephew of the Chazon Ish, that the Rabbi does not require women to wear only those drab colors, and therefore, the women in Rabbi Karelitz’s Chareidi community wear colorful garments.

Do Not Judge

While it is a virtue to be strict on oneself and take on extra stringencies – (Hamachmir tavo alav bracha), one is not permitted to require of others to take on extra Chumrot- not even one’s immediate family! You are making a very good point about not allowing ourselves to get caught in the small mindedness of judging others, and measuring their sleeve-length. It’s a terribly negative mindset that is totally against several Torah commandments including “Judge your fellow with the benefit of the doubt” (Vayikra 19:15), and “Love your fellow Jew like yourself” (Ibid. 18). Sadly, in their zeal to keep extra stringencies, many G-d fearing Jews transgress actual Torah law. Only Hashem is the true judge and our job is to serve Him to the best of our ability with simchah (joy) and not out of fear of what other people may say. I bless you to feel comfortable keeping the laws of modesty according to Halacha, without taking on extra stringencies that you are not comfortable with. Even though it’s hard not to fall into the pressure of “what will the neighbors say,” doing the will of your husband and Hashem is the highest way of honoring the Torah.

Dearest Rebbetzin,
I’m so glad that you took time and thought in answering my question. Your reply was well worth the wait). Your words touched me. Please feel free to use whatever parts you can, anonymously or not. I hope that others read it and gain chizuk from it - including those who make me feel bad for wearing a green scarf or a deep purple skirt, or mascara.
You make such a good point about transgressing a Torah commandment. I must remember, as well, that I can’t read their minds; maybe they don’t mean things the way they sound, etc. and I should give them the benefit of the doubt and forgive.
Consider yourself hugged!
All my warmest best,

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

To Give or not to Give?

Life Lessons from the Rebbetzin’s Heart - Parashat Trumah
Struggling with Opening the Door to Give
Knock, knock, knock – Its 9:30 pm, I’m alone in my nightgown and robe, my husband is working on night duty. Who could it be? I know it, at this hour it’s gotta be some ‘blackhatted’ beggars from Beitar or Jerusalem. Although there is a general obligation to give everyone who asks for money- based upon the verse in the Torah that states, “Do not harden your heart nor close your hand” (Devarim 15:7)- I don’t feel like opening my door, especially, lately, when terrible tragedies have happened to women in their doorway. I yell out from the glass window of the door, that my husband is not home and they can’t come in. I catch myself feeling a bit of resentment and judgmental thoughts. “How did these beggars get all the way to Bat Ayin? If they have their own car, they can’t be so poor and needy. If they came by bus; couldn’t the time they spent on transportation be better spent in productive work?” Many of those chareidi men who knock on the doors of Gush Etzion have fine letters from rabbis and touching stories about all kinds of good causes including: the yeshiva, brides and grooms and the mortally ill who need operations overseas. Yet, we all know that they are really collecting for themselves. I respect when, once in a while, a collector says so outright. Appreciating this sincerity makes it so much easier to donate. Rambam teaches us “to be careful with regard to the mitzvah of tzedakka (charity) to a greater extent than all [other] positive mitzvot, because tzedakka is an identifying mark for a righteous person, a descendant of Avraham, our patriarch. As it states, ‘I have known him, because he commands his children... to perform charity’” (Bereishit 18:19); (Rambam, Misnah Torah, Laws of Gifts to the Poor 10:1). I certainly don’t want to close my heart and be cruel causing my Jewish lineage to be suspected, as Rambam also writes, “Whenever a person is cruel and does not show mercy, his lineage is suspect, for cruelty is found only among the gentiles” (Ibid. 2). So what do I do about opening the door to the ‘knocking men’ after dark, when I’m home alone? I’m glad I once posed this question to my students. One of them suggested that I always keep outside my door a little closed jar with a five shekel coin. Whenever beggars come at night, I just tell them about the coin without having to let anyone in my home. Brilliant idea!

You Get What You Give
When we give, we receive and draw Divine Influence upon ourselves. We can learn this from the opening verse of our Weekly Torah Portion:

ספר שמות פרק כה (ב) דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְיִקְחוּ לִי תְּרוּמָה מֵאֵת כָּל אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר  יִדְּבֶנּוּ לִבּוֹ תִּקְחוּ אֶת תְּרוּמָתִי:
“Speak to the Children of Israel and take Me a donation from every person whose heart moves him, take donations for Me” (Shemot 25:2).

Rather than writing, “take a donation for me,” the Torah verse literally says, “…take Me as a donation.” When we give with our full heart, then we receive Divine gifts, as Rambam writes, “A person will never become impoverished from giving charity. No harm nor damage will ever be caused because of charity, as it states, ‘The deed of charity is peace’ (Yesha’yahu 32:17). Everyone who is merciful evokes mercy from others, as it states, ‘He shall grant you mercy and shower mercy upon you and multiply you’” (Devarim 13:18); (Rambam, ibid.). Our Torah verse also does not use the word וַיִּתְּנוּ /v’yitnu – they shall give, but rather וְיִקְחוּ/v’ikchu – they shall take. From this, we may learn, “What you give always comes back to you!” “The more you give, the more you get!” Even the words, וַיִּתְּנוּ /v’yitnu – they shall give, and נָתַן /natan – he gave testify to this principle as they are Palindromes – words that read the same backward and forward. I have a favorite story that illustrates this point. There is a little old lady on her way to the World-to-Come with a bag of cookies, that she is saving for herself to enjoy over there. Many people ask her for a cookie but she insists that she needs to save them, until one little hungry girl with big begging eyes tugs at her heartstrings. The heart of the little old lady is filled with compassion and she offers the hungry girl two of her precious cookies. Later, in the World-to-Come, the little old lady is looking for her cookie bag that she had so carefully saved, but cannot find it. Finally, she finds the two cookies that she gave to the little hungry girl. These were the only ones that made it to the World-to-Come. Although we can’t take any of our earthly possessions with us to the grave, what we give remains with us for eternity.

Dealing with Phone Solicitation Interruptions
The word tzedakka demonstrates how fundamental giving is in the Torah. Charity is actually not the correct translation, as tzedakka literally means justice. Hashem makes us the custodians of a little extra, which was never ours to begin with. Therefore, giving tzedakka is an act of justice whereby we return the money to its rightful owner. As I’m writing this, the abrupt buzzing of the telephone interrupts me. As soon as I hear the voice on the other line, “Hello is this Mrs. Segal Baum?” I know it’s a fundraising phone call. I am usually interrupted by several of those calls each week and sometimes even daily. We are solicited for all kinds of good causes, from requests to help cancer patients, learning-disabled children, youth at risk, yeshivot and more. I don’t know why but they always manage to find the most inconvenient times to call- when I’m in the middle of a writing spurt or preparing a class. I can easily answer, “Sorry you have got the wrong number. There is no one here called Segal.” Or, if they ask for my parents (I guess I have a youthful voice), I often say that my parents are not here- which is true! The Torah requires us to give between 10-20% of our income to tzedakka (Shulchan Aruch,Yoreh Deah 249) based on (Bereishit 14:20, 28:22); (Devarim 14:22). Since we give most of our tzedakka to Midreshet B’erot Bat Ayin, poor people in Bat Ayin, our son’s yeshiva, poor brides and grooms, and a few other institutions that we are familiar with, we don’t have a tzedakka budget for random phone-calls. Thus, I find myself having to turn away so many callers for excellent causes. It makes me feel guilty to close my pocketbook and heart to all these solicitations. Especially, when I remember how it feels to be on the other side, when I go on my annual fundraising tour, asking for donations for Holistic Torah for Women on the Land. On my very first tour, in the year 2000, when I knocked on a door with a mezuzah in an affluent neighborhood of New York, the man literally slammed the door in my face before I could complete my first sentence. That was the end of cold-calls and knocking on unfamiliar doors. So, no matter how inconvenient a disruption, I try to be as nice as possible to every caller, even if I’m unable to donate.

Entering the Giving and Receiving Cycle
I prefer giving rather than being on the receiving end. However, according to the Torah outlook the giver is also a receiver and the receiver, a giver in an infinite giving cycle. The more we give the more we receive. This is similar to a mother nursing her baby – the more the baby nurses the more milk is produced in her breasts. Just as when lighting one candle from another, the original candle is not diminished by being shared- on the contrary, the two candles together enhance each other’s brightness and increase light. This explains why, “A person will never become impoverished from giving charity” (Rambam ibid.). The Torah states, “Aser te’aser, tithe you shall tithe” (Devarim 14:22). The word עַשֵּׂר /aser –tithe shares the same root as the word עָשִׁיר/ashir – rich. Thus, the Talmud explains this verse to mean, “Tithe and you will become rich, aser beshvil shetitaser” (Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 119a). The more we give, the more our soul will be nourished, our life will be enriched and the more we will feel like our life has a purpose. As I depart on my annual North America tour and become the recipient of the kindness and tzedakka of so many friends and supporters, I remember that I’m just a channel and courier for Hashem to help distribute the generous gifts from across the Atlantic and bring them home to His Holy Land.

Bringing Redemption by Elevating Everything through Giving
My dear friend Chava Berg shared with me that as an additional tzedakka, she gives a shekel a day in the following way: Each morning before her daily prayer, she puts ten 10-agurot pieces in her pushke (charity box). She exchanges her new shekel donation with the ten original 10-agurot pieces in her puskhe. For each coin, she makes a prayer-request, often for her children and other important matters. This way of tzedakka really helped me connect with the mitzvah of giving and now I always have coins handy to give when beggars knock or when I go to Jerusalem. The Ba’al HaTanya emphasizes that giving tzedakka more than any other mitzvah brings about the geulah (redemption). By giving a donation, an act of pure chesed (kindness), we elevate both body and soul completely toward the Divine. Whereas other mitzvoth we perform with either our hands, mouth or heart, our entire being goes into the mitzvah of tzedakka. The work required to earn the money for our contribution employs all of ourselves (Tanya, Chapter 37). This explains why money is called דָּמִים/damim – blood in the Torah. We may be unable to make Aliyah to Israel, yet, we can raise all of ourselves to the Holy Land through the donations of our ‘blood.’ Another word for charity is the title of this week’s parasha תְּרוּמָה /Teruma, which literally means raising up or elevating. Tzedakka brings about the geulah, by gradually elevating everything until we reach the highest place (Igeret HaKodesh, Chapter 21). The throne of Israel will not be established, nor will the true faith stand except through tzedakka as it states, “You shall be established through righteousness” (Yesha’yahu 54:14). Israel will be redeemed solely through charity, as it states, “Tzion will be redeemed through judgment and those who return to her through charity” (Ibid. 1:27); (Rambam, Laws of Gifts to the Poor 10:1).

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Does the Torah Look at Women as Sex Objects?

Life Lessons from the Rebbetzin’s Heart - Parashat Mishpatim
Why Can’t Women hold Prominent Positions in our Synagogue Service?
For a young girl from an egalitarian Jewish family in New York, our synagogue services here in Bat Ayin may seem rather male chauvinistic. The men take up most of the ‘stage,’ while the women only get to peak from a crack within the curtain above the shoulder length wooden partition. This is the experience of one of my family members from the USA, when she attended my son’s bar mitzvah several years ago. “Why are women relegated to the back? It seems like women can never get prominent positions in the Jewish society such as becoming rabbis, cantors, sextons etc. They can’t even get an Aliyah to the Torah!” she complained. One of my readers asked a similar question about the original Temple service in Jerusalem: “I feel very hurt when I read that Hashem wanted only the ‘males’ to come to the Temple during the Shalosh Regalim (the three pilgrim festivals: Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot). The word used is zachar – male. It doesn’t even state, B’nei Yisrael, which may include females.”

Marina is correct. The expression,יֵרָאֶה כָּל זְכוּרְךָ /yeraeh kol zechurcha – “all your males shall be seen” (at the Temple) appears three times in the Torah (Shemot 23:17, 34:23, Devarim 16:16). The first mention is in this week’s parasha. 
ספר שמות פרק כג פסוק יז שָׁלשׁ פְּעָמִים בַּשָּׁנָה יֵרָאֶה כָּל זְכוּרְךָ אֶל פְּנֵי הָאָדֹן הָשֵׁם:
“Three times a year all your males shall appear, before the Sovereign L-rd, Hashem” (Shemot 23:17).

These Torah verses obligate every Jewish man to appear at the Temple at the prescribed holiday times with their Korban Re’eyah (sacrifice of appearance). It seems like women are completely excluded, as if Hashem is not interested in seeing women at His Holy Temple. So how can I, an intellectual, liberated woman find meaning in these kinds of ‘archaic’ Torah verses that seem to denigrate women?  How can I find meaning in the Torah lifestyle where women are relegated to the backstage of the synagogue?

Where is the Center of Jewish Life?
Outside of Israel, the Synagogue is often the center of Jewish life. The majority of Diaspora Jewry, both men and women, are busy, hard at work in their various careers. Their main time to cultivate their Jewishness is in the Synagogue, especially on Shabbat. If you look at the Synagogue service as representing Judaism, it certainly seems like women get the short end of the stick. Here, in Israel and in certain communities in the diaspora, it is the Synagogue that is relegated to the backstage of Judaism and Jewish observance. The Torah teaches us that our purpose in this world is to keep Hashem’s mitzvot:

קהלת פרק יב פסוק יג סוֹף דָּבָר הַכֹּל נִשְׁמָע אֶת הָאֱלֹהִים יְרָא וְאֶת מִצְוֹתָיו שְׁמוֹר כִּי זֶה כָּל הָאָדָם:
“The end of the matter, when all is said and done, revere G-d and keep His commandments, for this applies to all mankind (Kohelet 12:13).  

 Rashi explains, “All of humanity was created for this purpose.” It is, therefore, not the synagogue but rather the Jewish home that is the central place where we have the most opportunity to perform mitzvot and thus fulfill the purpose for which we are created. It is in the home that we put a mezuzah, welcome guests, keep and honor Shabbat, conceive children, bake challah, celebrate the festivals, educate our children, give tithes of our produce, recite grace after meals etc. The synagogue is mainly for prayer, which is only one of the 613 mitzvot. Furthermore, this mitzvah can also be fulfilled in the home, especially for women, as our prayer is more personal and less communal. We learn this from Chana – the Mother of Prayer. Although, she invented our central prayer, the Shemone esra – the most important prayer in the synagogue today – she prayed alone, after all the people had left the Tabernacle. If we change our perspective to regard the Jewish home as the center of Jewish service, then women clearly occupy the most prominent role, allowing the men to serve under her authoritative direction.

Hashem’s Presence is Revealed Wherever We Serve Him
“Our entire purpose, and the purpose for which we, and all the worlds, both upper and lower, were created: is that G‑d should have a dwelling-place here below” (Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, Tanya, Likutei Amarim, chapter 33). This Divine dwelling place is not limited to the synagogue or even the Temple as we learn from next week’s parasha, “Make me a sanctuary and I will dwell within you” (Shemot 25:8). It didn’t state, “I will dwell within it (the Tabernacle or Temple) but “I will dwell within you.” Hashem’s Shechina is revealed wherever we serve Him, especially in our home. As director of an institution, I have learned to delegate different domains to the most suitable people. One Elana is in charge of the “home” – staff and student affairs. Another Elana, as director of public relations, is in charge of the outside domain. The Torah made a fair delegation of responsibilities when it charged women with the internal sphere of the home and men with the external sphere outside the home, including the synagogue. For women, the mitzvot of the home, therefore, override more external mitzvot, including the obligation to participate in a minyan of the synagogue. I am happy to have been created in Hashem’s will as a woman- exempted from synagogue services. I’m liberated to pray with my own words, in my own way, at the time and place that suits me best. When I do enter the men’s domain of the synagogue, I happily accept the ‘back stage seat,’ as after all, this is not my main place of service where I get most spiritual fulfillment.

Women are not Excluded from Appearing at the Temple
In truth, the synagogue service is not supposed to be a stage where some people get a central role and others are the spectators. It is only when you look at the service as a performance, that it becomes important to secure ‘a good seat.’ We may actually fulfill our purpose of serving G-d even more by giving up our seat to someone else. Regarding the obligation to appear at the Temple three times a year, women are exempted for practical reasons, for example, she could be just after birth, or she may be unable to leave a sick child. This explains why only males are obligated to bring the ‘Appearance Sacrifice’ at the Temple mount during the prescribed festival times. However, exemption from the obligation to visit the Temple at prescribed times, does not exclude women from appearing when they are able. Women are not denied the opportunity to bring free will offerings, which can be brought during holiday times. She also participates in the peace offerings, as Sefer HaChinuch teaches, “Shelamim offerings are accepted from both, men and women…” The meat from these offerings , is enjoyed by the whole family at the Temple mount. Moreover, women are obligated to bring a sacrifice to the Temple after giving birth – a special opportunity that men are denied. Women are also required to appear, “At the end of every seven years, at an appointed time, in the Festival of Sukkot [following] the year of Shemitah, when all Israel comes to appear before Hashem…to read the Torah before all Israel… [as it states], assemble the people: the men, the women, the children” (Devarim 31:10-12). The fact that the Temple included a special Women’s Courtyard which contained a balcony reserved for women, testifies that women were not excluded from appearing at the Temple.

Serving His Wife in Bed
In the Jewish home, the woman occupies a most central role. She is not only in charge of the physical welfare of the home. She determines, moreover, its emotional and spiritual energy. It is in her merit that the Divine Feminine Presence – the Shechina rests in the home. Marital intimacy is one of the main mitzvot of the home, which brings the Shechina to rest between husband and wife.  In Judaism, contrary to the perception of the world, it is not the woman who is a sex object. Rather, sexual intimacy is one of the three things a husband is obligated to provide for his wife. In this week’s parasha, we learn that even if a man marries his Hebrew maidservant, who holds the lowest rank in Jewish society, he is prohibited from withholding food, clothing or sex from her, even if he also marries a more prominent woman:

ספר שמות פרק כא פסוק י אִם אַחֶרֶת יִקַּח לוֹ שְׁאֵרָהּ כְּסוּתָהּ וְעֹנָתָהּ לֹא יִגְרָע:
“If he takes another wife for himself; her sustenance, her clothing, and her conjugal rights he shall not diminish” (Shemot 21:10).

The obligation to provide these three things for his wife are the main tenants of the Ketubah – the Jewish marriage contract, which the groom gives to his bride during the wedding ceremony. In Judaism, sex is not something a woman gives to her man, but rather it is the husband’s obligation to give his wife pleasure and not the-other-way-around. I believe this is because women’s sexuality is more refined than that of men. For a woman, the enjoyment of sex is nearly always linked to feelings of love and emotional closeness. Therefore, we never hear about women going to prostitutes. The Jewish husband is required to elevate his more physical sexual inclination by serving his wife in bed. The Hebrew word for sex- tashmish (to serve) testifies to this concept. Even if in the outer, public spheres of Jewish life such as the synagogue, the man plays a more prominent role, the woman is the queen in the inner, private spheres. The sacred nature of her supremacy in the privacy of her home does not tolerate publicizing. For the woman who cares about serving Hashem, the receiving of external recognition of her hidden power is moreover, totally irrelevant.