As a general rule, we women are exempt from “Mitzvot Aseh SheHaZman Gramah” (time-bound positive commandments). However, there are a lot of exceptions to this rule. One of these involves the mitzvot of Chanukah. The principle behind is “Af Hen Hayu B’Oto HaNess” (they too were involved in the miracle). So true. As a child, I remember learning about Chana and her seven sons and their Kiddush Hashem. Later, I learned about Yehudit and how she used cheese and wine to disarm the Syrian-Greek general. She killed him and brought his head to the besieged Jews, raising their morale and confusing the enemy. We just celebrated Chanukah last month and soon we’ll be celebrating Purim which is another exception. Not only are women involved but one woman is the lead heroine of the story. I always took pride in the fact that my middle name is Esther just like that heroine.
This shouldn’t be news. We women have always been the guardians of Emuna. We were the ones who never lost our faith in Hashem throughout history even when the men did. And our Torah gives our women full credit by telling their stories. We have our Imahot (Sarah, Rivka, Rachel, and Leah), Yocheved/Shifra, Miriam/Puah, B’not Tzelofchad (Machlah, Choglah, Noa, Milcah, and Tirtza), Devorah, Yael, Ruth, Esther, etc. Later, our history tells us about such women as Bruriah, Ima Shalom, Gracia Nasi Mendes, Gluckel of Hameln, and others whose names I don’t remember right now. In modern times, we have such women as Sarah Schenirer, Nechama Leibowitz, Rebbetzin Henny Machlis, and Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis.
Not long ago, I joined a group on Facebook called “Women Emuna Builders.” Our leader, Esther, goes on various treks to the kevarim of tzaddikim to daven. A couple of months ago, she was here in NY and I met up with her and other ladies at the Ohel Lubavitch.
On the left, I’m with Esther Avta, founder of Women Emuna Builders. On the right, I’m with the ladies. From left, Meira (me), Ilana, Maggie (@hopesandprayer), Esther, Jennifer, and Mazal.
None of us are Lubavitchers, but we davened and we hope that Hashem answers our tefillot with “yes.”
Not long ago, I read things from people who think that I and others need to know our place. Well, you know what? I think that I and other women are precisely the ones who do know our place. We are the ones who have maintained emuna and bitachon even when the men didn’t.
There’s an interesting irony. In the secular world, if a woman takes a stand for traditional values, then at best, she’s pitied as a victim of society’s sexist attitudes. At worst, she’s ridiculed as an old-fashioned prude. In the Jewish world, if a woman takes a stand for traditional values, then even if it doesn’t happen immediately, she becomes a heroine for the history books. For example, Sarah Schenirer had a lot of detractors at first among rabbis who didn’t like her innovation. But by the time she passed away, everyone recognized her as someone who had saved our girls and preserved Torah Judaism.
A few weeks ago, we read about one of those heroines who did know her place when the men didn’t. Tamar did what she had to do and when Yehuda thought he had to punish her, she showed proof of HIS mistake, thus putting him in HIS place. To his credit, he acknowledged it with “Tzadka Mimeni” (she is more righteous than I am). Many scholars and commentators, including one of my teachers, say that when Yehuda said this, he earned the zechut of being progenitor of Melech HaMoshiach.
We women have always known our place. For some of us women, that place is more behind-the-scenes. For others, that place is more front-and-center. Neither one is more or less tzniut than the other as long as it’s about the individual woman and where she can do the most good for herself, her family, and Klal Yisrael.
Our Torah and our history have never erased our women. We need to take our stand for that tradition and not allow ourselves to be erased or silenced.