Special Note: I would like to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt appreciation to the many people who have written to express their good wishes for hatzlacha upon the publication of my new book, “The Committed Marriage.” These letters are very meaningful to me and have given me much chizuk. Please forgive me if I cannot respond to each letter individually, but during the coming months I am scheduled to speak throughout the United States and I look forward to greeting you and personally signing your copy of my book.
For the past few weeks, I have been discussing women’s issues in response to two letters written by our readers. The following is a continuation of this series.
You will recall that I explained that we observe our commandments and adhere to our rituals for no other reason than that G-d spoke and gave us these commandments, and it is that which lends sanctity to our deeds and converts them into mitzvos. Thus, eating matzoh at the Seder is a mitzva because G-d commanded it, but that same act at any other time of the year has no special significance. This holds true for all aspects of our Jewish observance.
Thus, Hashem ordained specific mitzvot for men and women, for Kohanim and Levites, and even if we fail to comprehend them, our trust in Him remains total, and we remain committed. So while it is a mitzvah for a man to be counted in a minyan, the same does not hold true for woman. Similarly, while it was a mitzvah for a Kohen to perform certain services in the Beit HaMikdash, the Holy Temple, it would have been a sin for a non-Kohen to do so, even if his heart throbbed with sincerity and love. Thus, for women to assume roles assigned to men would not only be pointless, but wrong, a symbol of rebellion against our tradition and Torah.
Many women who in our contemporary society had to battle for equal rights in the economic, social and political arena may have difficulty absorbing this concept. They erroneously believe that, even as in the secular world women have been subjugated, they are also relegated to a secondary position in Judaism, and they wage a battle where there is no battle to be waged. They are unaware of the lofty esteemed position granted to women by the Torah. They confuse Torah with the United States Constitution. Our Torah cannot be amended or voted upon. It is not about rights, but obligations. It’s not about entitlements, but responsibilities.
A woman who feels fulfilled only if she can assume a male role is indeed deprived, not of male commanded mitzvas, but of her own unique G-d given gift. It’s not being counted in a minyan or wearing Tefillin that the contemporary woman needs, but an understanding of her lofty calling within Judaism.
The Torah makes each of us appreciate gender differences so that we may realize our potential and contribute our own unique strengths for the greater good of mankind. G-d created the world as a symphony, endowing each of His creations with its own unique instrument. To demand that every instrument be identical would be disastrous. The trombone cannot be a flute, a violin cannot be a cello; each must play its own part so that the world can function in harmony. This same rule applies in nature. The apple tree cannot be interchanged with the grapevine, nor a blade of grass with the oak. G-d’s grand design is fulfilled only when each creation faithfully carries out its appointed calling.
Our Torah regards women as the prime movers of the world. Women who are steeped in this tradition feel secure and confident in their Jewish femininity. They do not feel that those who don Tefillin or pray with a minyan are superior in their service of G-d. They are content to pray at their own pace and designate their own private time and place for their conversations with the Almighty. If, however, they do choose to go to shul and pray with a minyan, they do so because they want to benefit from that minyan – there are certain prayers that can only be recited with a quorum of ten men, and a gathering of women, no matter how many, does not constitute a quorum which would permit the recitation of those prayers.
“Gadol HaMetzuveh – Greater is the person who performs mitzvas because he was commanded than he who does so without being commanded.” At first glance we might think just the opposite to be true. After all, isn’t the person who feels inspired, whose heart prompts him to act, on a higher level than he who fulfills his obligation because he was commanded to do so? But when our actions reflect our own desires rather than the will of G-d, it is our own needs that we serve and not those of the Almighty.
Additionally, human nature is such that people resist doing that which they are obligated to do or that which eludes their understanding. If however, a relationship is to have meaning, there
must be an element of trust and commitment that transcends personal bias, so even if we do not fully comprehend the specific roles assigned to us, our trust and commitment remains unflagging.
Nevertheless, to gain a better insight, let us trace the concept of a minyan. It is written that when our people were about to enter the promised land, they started to agitate. There was murmuring and rumbling. They requested permission from Moses to scout out the land. Behind their rebellion were hidden agendas. Some of them had become comfortable with life in the desert – manna falling from heaven, not having to worry about earning a livelihood. Others were fearful of losing their tribal positions, because once settled in their own land, a kingdom would be established. And still others simply lacked faith. Moshe tried reverse psychology. “Go right ahead – spy out the land” he said, thinking that if he raised no objections to their going, they would calm down and renounce their plans, or in the worst case scenario, even if they decided to go, once they saw the land, they would fall in love with it.
Twelve leaders were appointed, one for each tribe, but only two of them, Joshua and Caleb, passed the test and returned with a positive report. The other ten, although conceding that it was “a land of milk and honey,” also added the word “but,” and with that “but,” they negated everything. The Biblical word for “but” is “efes,” which literally means “zero,” teaching us that “but” is a polite way of saying “no.” The ten spies praised the land, but added “but,” and with that “but” they invalidated their reports and infused the hearts of the people with fear.
In vain did Joshua and Caleb try to imbue the nation with courage. In vain did they try to tell the people to have faith. A movement arose to return to Egypt, and only the women remained
loyal. All those rebellious men died in the desert, and only the women, and of course, Joshua and Caleb, were privileged to enter the Promised Land. The minyan, a gathering of ten men in sanctification of G-d’s name, is a form of tikun (rectification) for that desecration in the desert, but women did not need that rectification.
Although I have shared this historical background with you, the principal point to bear in mind is that which I have reiterated again and again in this series of articles – our service to G-d becomes mitzvos only when it reflects His will as promulgated in the Torah and the teachings of our Sages.