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Celebrating Women’s History MonthThe Mystery of the Tzovot

03/08/2021 09:29:40 PM


Rabbi Rudin


Dedicated to Cantor Lois, Rabbi Jill Hammer and Dr. Ora Horn Prouser, my great teachers and sources of light


In the building of the Mishkan, the Wilderness Sanctuary that embodied G-d’s presence in the encampment of Israel, there is no gender division in its construction.  The entirety of the compound: the tapestry walls, the Tent of Meeting, the golden, silver and copper implements, the priestly garments, all were made by “wise hearted men and wise hearted women”, skilled artisans and artists.  


Except for one holy object.  The Kiyor, the water basin which stood right outside of the Tent of Meeting, containing purifying water, was described as being made out of the “mirrors of the  women who gathered at the Tent of Meeting to perform sacred tasks.”


Who are these women?  What tasks do they perform?  What’s with the mirrors? Is this mysterious?  YES!  Perhaps this mystery, this hiddenness and holiness is  emblematic of the role of women in Jewish life.  


The midrash tells us that the mirrors were involved in ensuring that the enslaved Jewish men did not neglect their familial obligations ensuring Jewish continuity and survival.  Not as subservient to men but as the creators of family and community.   When these women came forward to donate their mirrors, Moses objected that such an intimate item be used for holy purpose.  “Receive them!” commanded G-d, “for these are more precious to Me than any other contribution, for they preserved Shalom Bayit and increased the Jewish people.” 


Hidden behind the boundaries and gender segregation of traditional societies, Jewish women have a power that transcends boundaries and has an importance that cannot be overstated.  Without denying or downplaying the misogyny and discrimination in much of Jewish thought, liturgy, literature and practice, or the persistence of these revanchanist practices in modern Jewish life, the truth of that power is undeniable. 


One of the strongest images of holiness in my memory is what I saw in the hidden grottoes that have only recently become open to the public beneath the Western Wall.  Accessible via dimly lit passageways, walking on planks on the uneven floor, the tunnel opens onto crevices in the stone.  There, I saw, lit by tiny candles, pious women, sitting in deep meditation and prayer, dressed in traditional old Yishuv garments.  Who were they?  What mystical religious practice where they engaged in?  What undefinable holy energy did I feel emanating from them as I passed quietly by.  Surely they were the daughters of the women who gathered at the Mishkan.


But now we are in a time of such urgency, such need in terms of the continuity and existence of Jewish life that the hidden must be revealed.  Women, it seems to me, must even more than before, find their voices, emerge as leaders, save us once again.  


This list of Jewish women’s organizations is not exhaustive.  The place to start is right here with our Sisterhood.  But wherever and however: on the Bimah, in the Beit Midrash (Study Hall), in Jewish institutions, schools, academia and leadership, it is time for the women gathered outside of the Tent of Meeting to continue fully to come within. 

Wed, October 20 2021 14 Cheshvan 5782