ברוך אתה ה אלוקינו מלך העולם הנותן ליעף כח Blessed are You, Hashem, King of the Universe, who strengthens the weakened.
Al tashlicheni milfanecha Hashem Elokenu; Al tashlicheni Hashem Elokenu le’et zikna Kichlot kochi al ta’azveni. Don’t cast me off from before you Hashem our G-d, Don’t cast me off in my moment of need; when my strength fails, forsake me not.
How beautiful it is to become a newly-wed every Shabbes.
To be religious, like love, is to thrill anew again and again.
The mysterious tremendum of its women will yet redeem the Chosen People. With the Shma Yisrael we call from the most pure voice of G-d’s life-giving voice: Mother.
Women predominate the stories in the Torah, driving the male protagonists in Genesis and the beginning of Exodus forward in their journeys and directing the destiny of the Jewish People. G-d instructs Adam to name every creature of Creation, but the women are given the reflective decision to name the children in example after example. Sarah’s laughter became the name of her child, Isaac, Yitzchak and
G-d told Abraham, the progenitor of all Jewish men: “In all that Sarah says, listen to her voice.” Women are to be heard.
Men in chaotic Genesis seem to be mostly silent. They hold their peace and their children are left perplexed. Noah and Lot, Isaac and Jacob, the Cain and Haval story seem to be repeatedly repeating ‘bad things happen when the sons and daughters don’t understand the will of their father’.
A major bugaboo that bible readers have with Isaac is that he favors the wrong twin. He defies Rebecca oppositionally and wants to bless Esau. On a deathbed ritual, Jacob interlopes and blind-Isaac says of the hairy arms he holds, “The hands are the hands of Esau but the voice is the voice of Jacob.” Why did Isaac ignore the voice and only key in on the feel of his arms? Because it was the blended voice of Jacob and Rebecca. He had been denying Rebecca’s voice in influence towards G-d’s holy Name. Hair is superficial, but the voice reflects the purity of the soul. Isaac wanted to live in Canaan as a sojourner not as a teacher; integrated just as the society about. It is the voice you blend with that defines you and reckons your destiny. Esau was completely assimilated to the surrounding society.
In the Torah, women represent the G-d-given mystery of Creation’s life force. Even the children of concubines are given a role to play and the descendants of Jacob’s concubines, Bila and Zilpa, are equally part of Bnai Yisrael. Everyone from high to low status contributes to the People in G-d’s beautiful society. The brit, though given to the boys, goes first through the women: Sarah and then Rebecca and only then through Jacob unto Joseph and his two sons.
This week’s sedra, Ki Tetsei, contends with men’s treatment of women and upholds and shows great insight into the women’s perspective. It deals with outliers and introduces within the holy, new sentiments of hatred. Ki Tetsei literally means “if you go out” and refers to voluntary war, but implies leaving the realm of a loving family context. Three cases are addressed where men’s behavior impact the perception, treatment and the lives of women:
- When men go to war and take women as booty
- When couples raise malcontented children: the ben sorer u’moreh
- When men divorce
How do we restore the holy in these cases to the self, the other and the community?
The Torah answers that a man should be one voice with his wife. Become the voice of your wife. Her perspective must be heard and followed. If on the other end, you have glorious children, do not sabotage selfishly. As distasteful as it seems, men who take women as spoils in war, are tempered by being required to take the woman home and allow her to grieve for a month without touching her. Lust will be foul if it is not sacred.
This parasha makes reference to leprosy and remembers the incident of Miriam, who was punished with leprosy for Lashon Hara, the crime of speaking ill. Why was she punished so harshly when all she wanted to do was improve Moshe’s attention to his wife, Zipora? Moshe actually seemed more married to G-d than to his family, an occupational hazard for many leaders. And additionally, both Miriam and her brother, Aaron approached Moshe and Aaron wasn’t punished at all. The answer is because Miriam initiated the lashon hara and colluded with her younger brother Aaron and failed to speak to Moshe directly. This triggered a rash of slandering against Moshe in the community. In her one act, she sullied Moshe, Aaron, herself and the community. Words are power. Until then, Miriam represented the highest qualities of the whole community. Through her, water was plentiful. The people had a desert thirst; a thirst for fulfillment. Water represents our spiritual quest and women, through the progenitor, Miriam, are the source of that quest. Leprosy reflects a spiritual desiccation, to which we all are subject.
Before receiving the 10 commandments (which seem to me, always depicted as a set of lungs (and heart)—something for which I am particularly struggling for right now—the pumping essence of taryag mitzvot (613 commandments)) G-d defines Israel as a Mamlechet Kohanim Ve’Goy Kadosh, A Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation. This of course is singularized as Moses, Aaron and Miriam. Moses is the Noble Kingdom, Aaron is the sacredness of the priests and Miriam represents, most importantly, the Holy People. Through the women, all of Israel become the Treasured Nation—Am Segulah.
The Torah wisely teaches us that through the women, we will be lead away from the profane and into the Heavenly Court.
Rabbi Ronnie Cahana
September 10, 2011