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A Woman's Work Is Never Done

May 9, 2009 | by Emuna Braverman

Sarah and Rebecca set the standard for Jewish women to follow. Let's get inspired!

Not all jobs are 9-to-5. But everyone needs a job description. No one hires a new employee without explaining their goals and expectations. No one hires a new employee without making sure they have the proper qualifications.

So what if your goal is to be a great Jewish woman? What if you'd like to be the best wife, mother, daughter, friend you can be? Who provides the job description? Who peruses your resume? Who determines if you have the appropriate skills?

The ultimate employer. The real Boss. The Almighty tells us what He expects of us. He gives us a vision of what we can accomplish and He provides us with the tools to achieve our ends. He even pays us. I don't think the toughest Hollywood agent could negotiate a better deal.

By studying the lives of the matriarchs, we learn about ourselves.

Now you're confused. You don't remember being handed a pamphlet describing your duties. You didn't see any glossy brochure. Not even an e-mail. Yet the Almighty did give us guidelines. We just have to work a little to find them.

We have to open a Torah and study the lives of the matriarchs. In reading about the mothers of the Jewish people, we learn about ourselves. We discover who we are and who we can be. We get clarity of purpose, insight into our potential and practical tools. We see their strengths -- and their weaknesses -- and learn how to build on them.


Let's begin with Sarah. Ironically, the parsha in the Torah that best illuminates her life begins with her death. "Sarah's lifetime was 100 years, 20 years, and seven years; the years of Sarah's life" (Genesis 23:1).

You don't have to be an English major to recognize this as awkward language. The Torah is terse. There are no extraneous words. There is no poetic license. The Almighty didn't hire a poor editor. Therefore this strange mode of expression must be teaching us something.

Sarah maintained clear trust throughout all the challenges that came her way.

Jewish tradition suggests that Sarah had the innocence and purity of a 7-year-old. Not naivete but a deep belief in God and mankind that remained untarnished throughout her whole life. Her faith was pure and simple. It was an intrinsic part of her being. It wasn't just intellectual understanding, but emotional reality. And she maintained that clear trust throughout all the challenges that came her way -- her father's death in Nimrod's furnace, leaving her homeland, famine in the Land of Israel, capture by Pharaoh and later Avimelech, barrenness, being taunted by Hagar, and the near-sacrifice of Isaac.

My faith gets thrown off balance when my washing machine breaks down.

Through all her trials, Sarah never gave up. Her belief in her mission never wavered. At 20 years old, she believed she could make a difference in the lives of others and the spiritual state of the world. And she believed it her entire life. She never became jaded or cynical. (In LA, that usually happens after one bad date!) In your 20s you believe you have the world at your feet, that whatever you desire to accomplish you will succeed. As marriage and family and financial pressures intrude, we learn to "adjust our expectations" (a polite euphemism for giving up).

Yet Sarah kept fighting. She kept pushing. She kept believing and reaching out to others, despite the challenges and setbacks and rejections. (And you think you have a hard time making cold calls!)

All her life Sarah had the deep understanding and wisdom that is usually only acquired through experience. She had highly attuned perceptions about people and the world, in part due to her feminine intuition and in part to her sensitive soul. And she used that wisdom to teach women about values and meaning and having a relationship with God. (And you thought women only talked about these things with Oprah!)

Finally, the preeminent commentator, Rashi, says that all her years were equal. All her days were equal. She used her time to the fullest, to accomplish her goals (and never once purchased a copy of People in the grocery checkout line!).


This is the beginning of our job description. We've inherited Sarah's spiritual genes so we have a head start and we're highly qualified for the job. Perhaps we've even overqualified since we've inherited Rebecca's spiritual genes, too (as well as those of Rachel and Leah).

Rebecca shone in the quality of chesed, of kindness. When she offered water to Abraham's tired servant, and his camels, she was going above and beyond the call of duty. It wasn't a responsibility ("It's the right thing. What can I do?"); it was a joy. She hurried to do it with a full heart. If you've ever been involved in any community work, you know the difference between a grudging "yes" (you caught me at home) and a happy and accommodating one.

Rebecca wanted constantly be immersed in acts of kindness.

And more than that we learn that Rebecca carried the pitcher of water on her shoulder. Maybe that was the easiest mode of transportation. But Jewish tradition suggests a deeper motive. Rebecca wanted to advertise her desire to help. She was seeking out opportunities to do for others. She wanted to constantly be immersed in acts of kindness. She ached for it, so she proclaimed her availability. (She never once screened her phone messages!)

And she offered water to all the camels. We're not used to satisfying the thirst of 10 camels but I can assure you they require a lot of water, involving many trips to the well. How could a young woman like Rebecca even offer? Where would she find the strength and stamina? She didn't stop to ask herself those questions. She just saw the need and pitched in. No analysis of practicality or possibility. Just kindness to be done. Rebecca knew that "if there is a will there is a way" or, in more Jewish terms, "if you begin the task, the Almighty will assist in its completion." She persevered in her strength and determination and desire to help others. And we can, too.

Let's start with learning more about our Torah and heritage -- so we can deepen our understanding of these fundamental concepts. How about 5 minutes/day?

Let's pick friends and communities that share our goals and values, that lift us up instead of bringing us down. Ask yourself: Is there is one friendship I can seek out or deepen today?

Let's keep pushing forward, one day, one hour at a time, as we work on our characters. What is one trait I can work on today?

Let's expand our involvement in chesed. Start with smiling at your neighbors. (Better yet, start with smiling at your husband!) Try to help at least one person every day.

Let's resolve not to give up. Our families need us. Our communities need us. The Jewish people need us. We must inspire and lift up others. Sarah taught us it's possible. Rebecca took it and ran with it. They gave us an inheritance. Let's not squander it.

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