Parshas Pinchos: The Value of Women

This week’s Parsha, Pinchos, is named after a righteous man who killed a prince named Zimri and brought an end to the plague which had consumed the Israelites. Although some questioned Pinchos’ motives, G-d knew that they were pure, and rewarded him with the priesthood and the covenant of peace. But Parshas Pinchos also contains the story of five righteous women: the daughters of Tzefalchod.

Tzefalchod’s five daughters petitioned Moshe Rabbenu, and insisted that they should be granted their father’s portion of the land, for he died without sons. They did not back down, even when Moshe argued with them, for they believed that although mankind may believe that men are greater than women, G-d believes in equality and is kind to all. Indeed, G-d did agree with them and they were granted their inheritance.

The Midrasha Rabbah teaches us an important lesson based on Tzefalchod’s daughters. We read;

“In that generation, the women repaired what the men broke down.

You find that Aaron told them: “Break off the golden rings which are in the ears of your wives” (to make the golden calf—Exodus 32:2), but the women refused and held back their husbands, as is proved by the fact that it says (ibid. v. 3) “All the people broke off the golden rings which were in their ears,” the women not participating with them in making the calf.

It was the same in the case of the spies, who uttered an evil report: “The men… when they returned, made all the congregation to murmur against Him” (Numbers 14:36), and against this congregation the decree [not to enter the Land] was issued, because they had said: “We are not able to go up” (ibid. v. 31). The women, however, were not with them in their counsel…

The men had been unwilling to enter the Land; the women petitioned to receive an inheritance in the Land.”

In every generation, not just that one, women hold an immense amount of power. Just as those women turned away from idolatry and who wanted to enter the Promised Land while their husbands were too afraid to, the women of this generation will bring Moshiach. Many argue that Chareidi women are treated as inferior; and, indeed, many Chareidi leaders call for women to be hidden behind mechitzas and confined to the kitchen. This is not the role of a Jewish woman.

We are not simply childbearers and cleaners, and the disturbing trend of “hiding” women- behind screens and in homes, photoshopped out of papers and told not to speak in public- is one which fights against the example set by the five daughters in this week’s Parsha, and, indeed, the matriarchs. Together, we will bring Moshiach; but not if we are sidelined and hidden away.

We are trailblazers. We are educators. We are businesswomen. We are carers. And, yes, we prop up the Jewish home and help Yiddishkeit to flourish under its roof. But that’s not all we can do. It took enormous courage and intelligence for Tzefalchod’s daughters to do what they did, but believe it or not, we can do the same in every generation. We have voices; let’s use them.

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16 thoughts on “Parshas Pinchos: The Value of Women

  1. A wonderful and very powerful Dvar Torah, but with all due respect, what’s wrong with a mechitzah? It’s not there for women to hide themselves, but rather for men not to be distracted by inappropriate (i.e. lascivious) thoughts while davening. It is recognized that, contrary to women, men have limited control over their impulses and their Nefesh haBeheima (animal instincts).
    Devoirah the Neviah was a great military leader, a judge, and a poetess, yet she sat under the tree knitting while executing all these functions. Ruth, from whom the Moshiach will come (b’Karev Mamesh!), attracted Boaz’ attention by being a paragon of Tzniyus.
    I am sorry if it seems that I am on the runt here, but I am an old-fashioned sheiteldike girl with a doctoral degree, most of my friends are quite accomplished as physicians, academicians, etc., and none of us have ever felt anything restrictive about the mechitzah. Ditto regarding the kitchen, by the way, but there, I do see your point.
    Please don’t see this comment as offensive; I value your posts very highly.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Only her singing voice is, but I agree, that’s awfully hard if you’re a musical person 😦
        If you’re interested in singing, there are women’a only groups available, online and I’m real life.

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    1. Thanks so much for this feedback, Devorah.
      To begin with, I feel I should mention that I, personally would rather be a homemaker than a businesswoman, and I don’t intend to pursue a career. I’d rather get married. To many, my writing this article may seem hypocritical considering I don’t want to be a high flying businesswoman, but I feel that I can still make my voice heard- through my writing and other work- without abandoning the idea of having a family. So I totally understand the point you make, and I feel that many people in this century seem to forget that true feminism means allowing women to be homemakers, if that’s what they want. We don’t all need to be career women.
      On to the mechitza. I agree with you that the mechitza is important and what’s more, I cannot daven without one. I detest mixed seating and have been known to come into shul and ask why the mechitza isn’t up yet! The mechitza referred to in my article is more of a metaphor, hinting at the trend of putting women behind mechitzas at events and in non religious settings. I feel perhaps I should clarify that in the article itself, as I don’t support mixed prayer in any way, and hope nobody thinks I do!

      Thanks and gut Shabbes.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you so much for this explanation. I once found myself at an event where women were separated by a thin, but solid wall. As used as I am to the mechitza, it was uncomfortable to stare at the wall for a full hour, but the worst was the fact that we could hardly hear the speaker. There is definitely no need or justification for this excess. However, separation at events, etc. is necessary because we Jews simply do not have non-religious settings! Anywhere where a Brocho or a Vort (a word of Torah) is uttered is a religious setting, and the rationale there is the same as in shul.
        As to being a homemaker, I personally think it’s a wonderful thing, but, as you see, from my blog, teaching college and running a school has never prevented me from running a household
        at the same time. I have a dear friend, who, when she was pregnant (with her 10th), went to the Rebbe for a Brocho, and the Rebbe told her that this would be her last child, and after she has this child, she should go back to school and get a degree in special education, because the times are coming when Jewish children will need it. That was more than 30 years ago. She did as the Rebbe said, of course, and I don’t have to tell you how much these skills have been needed! Meanwhile, she brought up 10 wonderful human beings into the world and is surrounding by a huge bunch of grandchildren, K”YH. As to being a balabuste, her house and her kitchen are beyond compare. The point is, we can very well do both, or either one, whatever we prefer. Judaism gives us freedom of choice B”H.
        Gut Shabbos!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you for this beautiful reply. The wall story perfectly illustrates what I mean; it feels like being sidelined, quite literally. As you may have seen I clarified this point in my gut Shabbes post.
        I’m very interested to hear the story about your friend. That’s absolutely fascinating and the first time I’ve heard such a thing. Amazing!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Gut Voch! For obvious privacy reasons, I cannot disclose her name, but she is by far not the only one! How about Baila Olifant, chief editor of Lubavitch International? Or Shelley Benvenista, Florida editor of The Jewish Press? The list is very long, and the misconception about women and Judaism is very deep.
        Years ago we hosted a shiur for Baalei Tshuvos at our house. Once a week we would have a local Rov or Rebbetzin speak to whomever gathered, men and women, I would serve nosh, and then we would have a Q &A session. Once someone invited a middle-aged lady who turned out to be very vocal on the subject of Jewish Orthodox women being restricted from life and relegated only to the kitchen. It happened so that besides me, there were three more lady doctors present (two physicians and a Ph. D.). In fact, the newcomer was the only woman present WITHOUT a Dr attached to her name.
        In addition to teaching college, I also teach Educational Psychology at a Lubavitch seminary. Some of these girls are planning to marry a shilach and go on shlichus, some just want to be homemakers – nothing wrong with that! – and quite a few are college bound. I’ve been teaching there for 15 years, and a number of seminary graduates have earned their degrees and are managing successful careers while having beautiful families.
        To stop my own rant, I will just say that nobody stops us from expressing ourselves if we have something valuable to express!

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I understand! I just love the story about her and the Rebbe- it is so special. I must say that I am very impressed to hear of all your endeavours, you must be very busy and your work is absolutely invaluable. Thank you so much for sharing this with us!

        Liked by 1 person

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