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Friday, March 27, 2009

On the Role of Women



On the Role of Women


There is a famous Maiseh Shehoya about RASHI Hakoidesh. One day, RASHI decided that he wanted to know who his chavrusa would be in Oilum Habah. So he prayed to the Reboinoisheloilum for seven days. In the evening of the seventh day RASHI fell into a deep sleep. That night, the Aimishteh came to him and related the name and location of his future study partner. RASHI woke up excitedly the following morning. Immediately after breakfast, he set out on a journey across Europe, beginning at his home in France, passing through Italy and what is today Austria and Hungary, and arriving in Romania in a city called Brasov; in all, a voyage of three weeks by horse and carriage. Upon his arrival in the town, RASHI began to look for his future study partner.

He first went to all the Bussay Medrish, but no one had ever heard the name of the man RASHI asked about. Then he went to the local shuls. Again, no one had heard of the person. Finally, he checked into a lodge to stay overnight, and on a whim, asked the matron of the lodge if she knew the man that RASHI was seeking. Yes, she replied, she knew the man very well. She told RASHI that he could be found at a local stable. Excited, RASHI hurried off to meet his future chavrusa, only to discover that the man spent his days cleaning the stalls of the animals.

Highly distraught, RASHI had a dream that night where he came face to face with Hakadoshboruchhu. "Why did you give me such a mediocre chavrusa?" RASHI complained. "I am the great RASHI, interpreter of Toirah for generations of Klal Yisroel, and I should be partnered in Oilum Habah with a stable boy?!"

The Reboinoisheloilum responded. "You are indeed the great RASHI, the greatest commentator in all of the Yiddishe Velt, and who is sought regularly by scores of Jewish men. But the stable boy is hung like a horse, and is sought out regularly by Jewish women. You will make a great team."

Rabboisai, I share this story with you because, as you know, we are not all created the same. Some are taller and some are shorter. Some are smarter, and some are dumber than an overcooked kishka. Some are attractive, and some look like the fungus on the bottom of Oig Melech Habashan's oversized foot. But together we make up the community that is Klal Yisroel.

But does this mean that we should all be treated as equals? Should I, a great Toirah scholar have to pay the same amount of taxes as you, you Am Haaretz? Should you, my beloved talmid, have to wait in line for a movie on 84th street and Broadway the same amount of time as a student at Yeshiva University, or, chass v'sholom, the same amount of time as a student from the Jewish Theological Seminary?

These questions are similar to a discussion in a Gemarrah in Nidah, where Abaya and Rava have a machloikess on why the Aimishteh created women. According to Abaya, women were created to support man's basic mission to work and procreate. They are to cook, clean, passively perform maisay biyuh, and keep the damn children as far away from me as possible when I am trying to get some work done on my laptop. Abaya cites the pussuk where the Hakadoshboruchhu creates Chava as Adam's Eizer Kinegdo, his "helpmate," out of Adam's rib (Bereishis, Perek Baiz, Pussuk Chuff Aleph). Says Abaya, if women were intended to be our equals, Chava would have been created out of a more important body part, such as one of Adam's schvantzlach.

But Rava holds farkhert. He points to an earlier Pussuk – Bereishis, Perek Aleph, Pussuk Chuff Zayin – as proof that man and woman were created together, concurrently, and as such, are fundamentally equals. He notes that in his home his wife pays the bills, makes the bracha on the Shabbos challah, and likes to make mei raglayim while standing.

So how is one to understand the complex nature of the role of women within a Jewish context given the conflicting Toirah and Halachic messages? How do we inform our attitudes and behavior from Toirah perspectives that on one hand tell us that "Hakol Oilim Laminyan Shivah, Afilu Isha"(Megillah, Chuff Gimmel), that every one may be called to read from the Toirah, including a woman, but on the other hand tell us that teaching women is the equivalent of Tiflus (Soitah, Chuff)? What's pshat, for Reboinoisheloilum's sakes?

There are, of course, intense speculation and halachic prescriptions on this topic by Chazal. Commenting on the notion of women not reading from the Toirah due to "Kvoid Hatzibur," the Hai Goyn suggests that the gemarrah was worried about a situation where a maideleh is in Nidah on Shabbos Koidesh, chass v'sholom, and may bleed all over the Bimah, dyeing the cloth carpet red on Shabbos, resulting in an Issur Dioraisah of Tzovayah.

The RAN, however, holds that the concern of "Kvoid Hatzibur" relates to the chashash that a woman, while reading from the Toirah, might look up for a moment and be instantly attracted to the 60-ish, overweight, bearded rabbi in the dark suit standing at the front of the shul, and might not be able to control her animal-like urges. This would cause the kehillah great discomfort, as they witness the Baalas Koiray ripping off the rabbi's shirt to slowly stroke his manly Arba Kanfois with her right hand, as she begins to loosen his gartel with her left. Then she would twirl his payis in her fingers while stroking his beard, and begin to whisper the leyning in his ear… Errr… Well, I often worry about things like this when I am in the front of my shul delivering a drasha…

Perhaps the halachic shakvetarya (discourse) is not the best source for understanding the basic nature of the role of women as envisioned in our heritage. Perhaps a better model may be viewed in the Zoihar. The Zoihar understands that the Aimishteh can be viewed the prisms of ten different Divine Aspects, the Sfirois. Rooted in the Ein Soif, the indescribable hidden part of the Reboinoisheloilum, the Sfirois emanate like a tree. The outermost Sfirois are Yesoid, the foundation of Hakadoshboruchhu's activity in the world, and Malchuss, His kingdom. Malchus is most commonly known as the Shechinah.

According to the Zoihar, balance in the world was once maintained by a constant unity between Yesoid, viewed as the male aspect of the Aimishteh, and the Shechina, the female aspect. But from the time that mankind gained self awareness, as personified by the casting out of Adam Harishoin from Gan Eidan, Yesoid and Malchuss became separated from one another. Yes, in the cosmic view of Yiddishkeit, the natural, optimal state of male and female – man and woman – is to be in a fundamental state of balance and unity.

So we must ask ourselves: How did this natural partnership between male and female deteriorate into its current state?

According to Reb Moishe Chaim Luzzatto, man is to be blamed for the decline of the role of woman, due to his insistence that his wife should stop freaking nagging him already about what to get Shaindel for her Bas Mitzvah. It's just a freaking party, for Reboinoisheloilum's sakes, to which Shaindel's parents invited five hundred of their closest friends.

But according to Reb Yoisaiph Gikatilla, the fault lies clearly with woman, and is the result of women wearing shaytels that are two sizes too tight.

The ARIZAHL agrees that the decline of the feminine aspect is the fault of woman, but states that her withdrawal from cosmic responsibility is the result of a complex organic process. Says the ARIZAHL – every Jewish Maydel is born perfect. She grows up in a Bayis Ne'eman B'Yisrael, maybe gets an education, chass v'sholom, and then marries her chussin. The problem is that the typical Jewish woman's brains are expelled from her body with her afterbirth. By about the third child, a Jewish woman is pretty much like that episode of Star Trek where Spock's brain gets taken out and Dr. McCoy has to guide him using a remote control. According to the ARIZAHL, in our generation, instead of a remote control, women are guided the Bed, Bath, and Beyond catalogue and Botox.

I am reminded of an early occurrence in my marriage to my bashert, Feige Breinah. We had conceived our first child, Baruch Hamavdil, but had not yet reached the completion of the first trimester. We agreed not to share news of the impending event to avoid an Ayin Harah. Later that week, I was wished a Mazel Toiv by the shoeshine boy's cleaning woman. I had not told a soul. Feigeleh swore she had not either, but promised to find out who did. So she hired outside consultants to investigate the source of the leak. After tracking down various phone records, all signs pointed back to my mother-in- law, may she rest in peace, soon. As it turns out, whenever she visited our home, she would dip a pregnancy test in the toilet, measuring hormone levels in the pish-vasser. Based on this, she diagnosed my wife's pregnancy, as well as my bran deficiency.

However, two years later, when we conceived our fifth child, Feigeh Breineh no longer cared about keeping the happy news secret. On the contrary, she publicly celebrated as soon as she found out about her pregnancy by ingesting a full bottle of sleeping pills.

So while man and woman begin their journeys through life with a clear head and a clean slate, the years leave their impact. Only very special people are able to maintain an optimal social and spiritual balance over an extended period of time, typically people that have a deep commitment to Toirah, an innate sense of their role in the broader cosmic reality, or are hung like a horse.

Ah gutten Shabbos, you minuval.


Baal Habos said...

>This would cause the kehillah great discomfort, as they witness the Baalas Koiray ripping off the rabbi's shirt to slowly stroke his manly Arba Kanfois with her right hand, as she begins to loosen his gartel with her left. Then she would twirl his payis in her fingers while stroking his beard, and begin to whisper the leyning in his ear… Errr… Well, I often worry about things like this when I am in the front of my shul delivering a drasha…

LOL. Shmekelshtein, even in the one-in-a-gazzilion odds that we're wrong about OJ, you're still going straight to heaven. Like the Gemara relates that story about who is a ben olam haba, it's the one who makes people laugh. (Too bad you'll be sitting with the Chareidim, but heaven is heaven.)

BTW, you can use this as a haskamah in your new sefer. And I promise I won't rescind it like the anti Natan Slifkin rabbi's did to that poor bastard.

Anonymous said...

As always, another terrific post. Thanks for the laughs!