Torah for the Times

Friday, March 16 , 2012 - 22 Adar, 5772

Torah Reading:VaYakhel-Pekudei (Exodus 35:1 - 40:38)
Candle Lighting Time: 6:46 PM
Shabbat Ends: 7:46 PM

Parshat Parah

The First Responders

Spinning

When the Torah relates in this week’s parsha the way the Jewish people responded to Moses’ call to contribute materials to the building of the Mishkan, the portable Sanctuary in the desert, it places great emphasis on the role of the women: The Torah says, “The men came (to donate) with the women.” According to our Sages, this verse implies that the women were the first to respond to Moses’ initiative and brought their husbands with them.

A few verses later the Torah again describes the superior nature of the women’s skill in fashioning the goat hair for the covering of the Mishkan. The phraseology employed, Rashi says, implies that they were able to spin the goat hair while the hair was still attached to the goats.

To buttress the importance of the role of women, our Sages contrast the women's behavior with respect to the contributions towards the construction of the Mishkan with their adamant refusal to contribute anything for the construction of the golden calf.

Rosh Chodesh Reward

That the women had a unique role in the construction of the Mishkan was not overlooked by G‑d. The women were rewarded with the observance of Rosh Chodesh, the Head of the Jewish month, as their special holiday. According to Jewish tradition, women desist from certain domestic chores, such as sewing, on Rosh Chodesh as their way of observing this holiday that was given specifically to them.

Three questions arise here:

First, why did G‑d reward women specifically with the observance of Rosh Chodesh?

Second, in what way does refraining from certain chores on Rosh Chodesh express the tremendous dedication and zeal with which the women distinguished themselves? Shouldn’t women have been given something more dramatic, positive, and celebratory as a reward?

Third, Ba’al Haturim cites a verse in the Book of Esther that has wording similar to a verse in our parsha concerning the role of women. In this parsha it says, “All the women whose heart inspired them with wisdom spun the goats’ hair.” In the Book of Esther it says, “All the women will give honor to their husbands.” This verse discusses the idea proposed by King Achashverosh’s advisor Memuchan to kill queen Vashti for not listening to the request of her husband. Memuchan suggested that if Vashti would not be punished, no woman would ever obey her husband.

What connection can there possibly be between the phenomenal dedication and wisdom of the women discussed in our parsha with the advice given to Achashverosh by his pagan advisor Memuchan, whom our Sages identify as none other than the wicked Haman?

One can offer the following resolution to all of these questions:

Feminine Challenge

According to the teachings of Kabbalah the spiritual feminine attributes are more powerful than the masculine powers; they derive from a transcendent dimension of G‑dly light. To be sure, both men and women possess both masculine and feminine spiritual qualities; it is just that women generally have a greater preponderance of this superior energy.

This dynamic—where the feminine quality is superior to the masculine quality—was in effect before Eve partook of the forbidden fruit and fed it to Adam. From that time onward the challenge that was given to both women and men has been to restore this spiritual feminine quality to its rightful position. In the Messianic Age, when we will realize that goal, evil will cease and all the negative effects of the eating of the forbidden fruit will be removed, thereby allowing the feminine dynamic to once again be in the ascendancy.

When Eve partook of the forbidden fruit and then gave it to her husband, it caused the concealment of G‑d’s transcendent presence in the world. When Eve was “cursed” as a result of her involvement it should not be taken, G‑d forbid, as a curse, but rather as a challenge to women in particular to help restore the feminine spiritual dynamic to its original position. One of the so called “curses” enumerated by the Talmud is the traditional role of women to perform domestic chores, thereby serving the needs of their families. By this form of “subordination,” which helps to foster domestic peace and tranquility, they are instrumental in restoring the spiritual equilibrium that was upset by Eve at the beginning of time.

There were exceptions to this general rule of women. The Matriarch Sarah is cited as the one who did the most, before the Torah was given, to rectify Eve’s denigration of the feminine spiritual position. Thus G‑d tells Abraham, “Whatever Sarah tells you, listen to her voice.” Sarah’s reversal of the decline caused by Eve manifested itself in G‑d commanding Abraham to follow Sarah’s dictates even when Abraham felt uncomfortable with her approach.

This “reversal” of the respective masculine and feminine roles occurred again at Mount Sinai. The Torah is the ultimate power that can rectify the decline of the relationship of G‑d with the world that commenced with Adam and Eve’s transgression. Thus, when G‑d told Moses to prepare the Jews for the giving of the Torah, He told Moses to address the women first. This was an affirmation that the world was to be given the potential to overcome the decline that relegated the feminine spirituality to a lesser degree of importance.

This reminder of the superior role of women and the feminine dynamic was given to us once more with the construction of the Mishkan. While only a select group of men were motivated to contribute, all the women participated, and all of them acted with a feeling of zeal, ingenuity and creativity. This was their way of demonstrating that they understood their role of reversing the darkness which was introduced with the sin of Adam and Eve and then again with the construction of the golden calf, an sin which our Sages tell us was in reality a reenactment of the sin of Adam and Eve.

To show the women that their superior role has “registered” with G‑d and has begun to change the world and prepare it for the Messianic Age, women were relieved of their domestic chores on Rosh Chodesh. Why?

Moonlighting

Rosh Chodesh, which coincides with the birth of the moon, is understood by our Sages as a metaphor for the emergence of Moshiach’s soul into this world. Rosh Chodesh, with the birth of the moon—the feminine celestial body—is the symbol of the feminine dynamic which is on the decline in our day and age, but which will eventually shine with the light equal to that of the sun.

To avoid any confusion, this does not mean that there will be a reversal of our distinct physical roles and distinctive gender differences between men and women. Indeed, the Torah strongly prohibits men and women from wearing each other’s attire. The ascendency of femininity in the Messianic Age is entirely a spiritual one. The feminine quality, among other aspects, is one of greater sensitivity to spirituality and of less resistance to the internal faith and connection to G‑d we all have embedded within our psyche.

Spiritual masculinity is the ability to conquer “the foreign” and to bring it under G‑d’s sovereignty. Spiritual masculinity is fighting the enemies of decency and G‑dly morality, including the physical need to defend ourselves from those who would attempt to harm us, as in the days of Purim. The six days of the week ,when we struggle to earn a living and survive is referred to by the Kabbalah as "masculine days" because they are dedicated to preparing the world for Shabbat, the ultimate day of feminine peace, spirituality, and tranquility. The weekdays are days of battle and conquest. Shabbat is victory and a taste of the future Messianic peace.

Feminine spirituality, by contrast, is not about conquest nor waging defensive wars. Rather, it is about revealing and nurturing the treasures we already possess. When conquest is no longer necessary because all of the “foreign” territories will have been “liberated,” in the Messianic Age, we each will still need to probe more deeply into the inner precincts of our soul to discover even deeper spiritual feelings, to cultivate and nurture them. In the time of peace that will exist on all levels that will occasion the Messianic Age, when all of our physical and spiritual enemies will be either eliminated or transformed into allies and supporters, the need for the masculine dynamic will recede and the feminine ideal will arise and dominate. It will be a permanent Shabbat.

Every Rosh Chodesh, we get a taste of this future. The Messianic energies are then more pronounced, and women—who personify the feminine spiritual dynamic—are therefore relieved of their domestic chores. This is not an insignificant way of rewarding women. It is our way of ever so subtly hinting to the world that we are on the cusp of the future Redemption. We are beginning to experience the time when the “curse” of Eve’s subordination and its concomitant relegation of the feminine role to the background is about to end. We will no longer be living in a world that requires aggression in our attempts at self defense and conquest. It will be a world of Shabbat—a feminine day—where all of our needs are taken care of, and we do not need to perform the domestic chores, as time when we no longer have to feel the subordination of the feminine to the masculine.

Undermining Haman’s Plan

We can now understand the connection of the verse that speaks of the women donating to the Mishkan and the idea discussed in the Bok of Esther that it was the women who were told by the Persian monarch to give honor to their husbands.

When we, men and particularly women, contribute to the construction of the Sanctuaries in our own homes, we remove the curse of exile that is associated by the Persian monarch Achashveirosh. Memuchan, or Haman, wanted to enshrine the idea of the subordination of the redemptive feminine dynamic and institutionalize exile. Instead Esther, the symbol of Jewish femininity that is concealed—as the word "Esther" itself is etymologically related to the world “hester, concealed”—becomes the dominant force over the entire Persian Empire. And it is precisely this power of the feminine which dictates how this empire should conduct itself. And although the Jews still remained subjects of the Persian Empire, the Purim miracle serves as the catalyst in exile for the unleashing of the ultimate Redemption when we will see the fulfillment of King Solomon’s declaration, “A woman of valor is the crown of her husband” through the feminine quality which will unleash the full revelation of the infinite Messianic G‑dly light.

Moshiach Matters
"The rulership of King David (and his descendants) is eternal. Even during the Exile ‘King David is alive and well’ (See prayer for sanctification of the New Moon). If at times it is not apparent, it is merely because the Davidic leadership is temporarily hidden." (The Rebbe Rashab, 5th Rebbe of Chabad, 1917)
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