REMARKABLE WOMEN

Mea culpa! Women’s History Month which was celebrated during March, has come and gone and I did not know. Nostra culpa! As American Jews, we have dropped the ball. Rabbis and Jewish educators alike, should have seized this opportunity to bring to light the contributions of Jewish women – there are so many from which to choose – who contributed more to our people, than could possibly be imagined. Borrowing the adage “better late than never,” below are three remarkable women, well deserving of study during (Jewish) Women’s History Month.

Fifty-two years ago, 42-year-old Shmulik Rosen composed one of the numerous songs that came to the fore, as a result of the many miraculous victories of the Six Day War. Entitled Rachel  (in Hebrew it is known as “Re’i Rachel, Re’i), Mr. Rosen implores our matriarch Rachel (our patriarch Jacob’s true love) to  see how her children have returned to her, in that Rachel is buried in Bethlehem. Shmuel Rosen’s sentiments are well founded. Our rabbinic sages tell us that during the destruction of the First Temple,  Rachel appeared before HaShem and said “Do I have more compassion than You, Hashem? Should a person have more compassion than Hashem? Yaakov worked for me for many years and at the end, my sister stood under the Chuppah and married my husband. And I remained quiet. Am I to have more compassion that You?”  Moved by Rachel’s words and won over by her logic, Hashem said to Rachel, “It is right what you say and because of you and the signs you gave your sister, I will return Am Yisroel or the Jewish nation to the Holy Land.” And so, HaShem did. Not just to Israel, but also to Hebron, Bethlehem and Jerusalem.

Among the many loose-leaf binders on the shelf in my office, there is one that contains a course that I developed in the mid-eighties for High School students. Given my background in Yiddish, I transformed a small text called “T’chines” into an entire course in liturgy. T’chines is a compilation of prayers expressly for women. Unlike the prayers found in the siddur, T’chines reflect the history of the era, the sociology of the shtetl, and the psychology of the self-image of the typical Jewish mother and housewife of the time. It is widely believed that T’chines may very well have been authored by Sarah Bas Tovim, who lived in the late 17th and early 18th century in the Podolia region of Ukraine. T’chines are neither a translation nor a feminization of the prayers found in the siddur. In addition to dealing with specific topics such as a request for the well-being of family members, appeals for meaningful celebrations of festivals and pleas prior to the immersion into the mikvah, T’chines reflect thoughts and feelings that come not only from the heart, but from the soul as well.  If Sarah bas Tovim did in fact author T’chines, she ought to be held in the highest esteem for affording the often-overlooked Eastern European woman, the ability to connect with HaShem in a most human and humane way.

“She’s the only man in the government,” remarked a frustrated David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister. Ben Gurion was referring to Golda Meir, who two decades later would go on to become Israel’s first female Prime Minister, following the untimely death of Levi Eshkol. After asking Eliezer Kaplan, Israel’s newly appointed Finance Minister how much money could be raised for the newborn but bankrupt Jewish State, if he, Kaplan were to embark on a whistle stop tour of the United States, Ben Gurion decided to send Golda instead. Meir boarded one of the first flights out of what was soon to become known as Lod and headed for the United States, where she raised $50,000,000 – over seven times the amount projected by Eliezer Kaplan! Thanks to Golda Meir’s efforts, Israel was now able to purchase desperately needed arms in Europe, enabling the nascent country to fight for its very survival. And that was only the beginning of her astounding service to the Jewish State.

Three remarkable women. The first successfully pleaded her people’s case. The second successfully connected the masses with their heritage. The third did everything in her power for her people’s safety and security. If only these same three concerns were on the minds of those seeking to be elected Prime Minister, next Tuesday in Israel!

Yet another remarkable, never to be equaled, Chili Cook-Off this past Sunday! Tiferet does it again! A big Yasher Koach to all who made it happen!

BROKENHEARTED PARITY

I was still in the single digits when Sarah Vaughn’s “Broken Hearted Melody” hit the airwaves. Although the concept of brokenhearted was well beyond my comprehension at the time, the melody made an impression on me. So much so, that I thought of “brokenhearted” earlier this week, just as chocolate manufacturers, florists, and jewelers were (hopefully) enjoying their busiest season of the year. As one who lives in a Jewish world, I began to reflect on three (though there were others, as well) in the Torah who were brokenhearted.

“I will descend to the grave mourning for my son,” laments a distraught Jacob, as he identifies  a blood-stained, torn tunic. Yes, parents should not have favorites, but the Torah does not hesitate to point that what “should be” and what “is” differentiates the ideal world from the real world. And it is clear, that living in a real world, Joseph is Jacob’s favorite child. The loss of any child is a tragedy; the loss of a favorite child is a disaster. Because it was a disaster, Jacob refused to be comforted, despite any and all attempts on the part of his other children. The next time the Torah focuses in on Jacob is when he chastises his sons, exclaiming “Don’t just stand there. There’s a famine raging. I heard that there is food available in Egypt. Why don’t you make yourselves useful for a change!” Caustic, accusatory words coming from a brokenhearted father, whose ability to smile and share a kind word, died when he learned that Joseph died.

“Give me children, or I’ll die,” pleads a frantic and frustrated Rachel, as she sees her sister Leah bring four sons into this world. The bitter irony of it all! Leah, for whom Jacob had no love, ends up having his babies. Rachel, for whom Jacob’s love knew no bounds, was unable to return that love in the form of offspring.  Rachel remains barren. She also remains bitter. Yet, neither Jacob nor Rachel can be held responsible for Rachel’s plight. Jacob so much as says so, as he unleashes his anger at his beloved. “What am I? G-d? Don’t you dare complain to me. If it were up to me, you would have been a mother long ago!” Jacob may have excelled when it came to blessing Ephraim and Menashe, the two grandsons ultimately born to him and Rachel, but Jacob’s ability to provide comfort to his brokenhearted wife was an entirely different story.

“And HaShem saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was nothing but evil.” HaShem was beside Himself! It was one thing to grant mankind freedom of choice. Mankind consistently choosing evil over good as a result of freedom of choice, was quite something else! Was it that mankind was inherently evil, or was it that mankind was oblivious to the multitude of blessings that HaShem set forth in this world, that were mankind’s for the taking? Either way, HaShem had second thoughts about having created mankind. HaShem was brokenhearted.

Jacob is brokenhearted, Rachel is brokenhearted, HaShem is brokenhearted. Although all three scenarios differ from one another, a certain parity exists. In all three cases, an injustice prevails; in all three cases the hurt that is felt is unmerited. Brokenheartedness is a direct result of undeserved hurt. Had Jacob’s children fawned over their respective mothers while ignoring their father, we might have made sense of it all, by accepting  what goes around, comes around. Had Leah withheld her love from Jacob, we might have found comfort knowing that you reap what you sow. Had HaShem deprived mankind of free will, because mankind did not know how to use free will responsibly, we might have been secure in knowing that justice has prevailed. But none of this happened. Neither Jacob, nor Rachel, nor HaShem deserved what they received. All three gave love which was unrequited. As a result, all three were brokenhearted.

Let true love be brought about because of Valentine’s Day. Yet, I cannot help but feel, that true love can only be celebrated when we no longer break the hearts of others.