First Speak to the Women
Yitro (Exodus 18-20 )
The role of women in society has certainly evolved over time. The women’s rights movements over the 20th century led to increased equality and greater personal freedom for women, creating a revolution in the opportunities now available to them. The knowledge, creativity and expertise that women bring to the forefront of society is both sizeable and substantial.
However, as with every major social revolution, the women’s right movements brought along with it new challenges that are more apparent with the passage of time. The growing expectations of women to have both a successful career and raise a family is taking a toll on the way in which women perceive themselves. Often having to choose between one or the other, they are left feeling that they are not a success. The institution of marriage and raising a family is no longer a given, and often not prioritized, creating a negative ripple effect on many aspects of society.
The Torah, which is eternal and speaks to every generation, has much to say on how and when to balance and embrace new values, how to properly grow and evolve without losing the core of who we are and what we stand for.
As evidenced in this week’s Torah portion, Jewish wisdom views the woman as the central figure in Jewish life and continuity. The Jews were standing in front of Mount Sinai about to receive the Torah and God tells Moshe, “Ko tomar l’beit Yaakov” – I want you to speak to the women – first. First approach the women and find out if they are interested in receiving the Torah. If the women are excited by the prospect of embracing the Torah and its laws, then the men will surely follow suit.
Jewish women are the ultimate guardians of Judaism. The determining factor of a person’s affiliation with the Jewish people is dependent on the mother. If a person’s mother is Jewish, then the person is born a Jew. This itself indicates the woman’s primary role in preserving Jewish identity and values. With their warmth and understanding, they are entrusted to give over Jewish tradition to the next generation. As the wisest of all men put it in Proverbs (1,8) “Listen my son, to the discipline of your father, and do not forsake the Torah of your mother.” The Torah, Jewish wisdom, values and tradition, are transmitted to the next generation through the mother’s love, intellect and dedication.
A Jewish woman is referred to as ‘akeret habayit’, the “mainstay of the home.” It is she who largely determines the spiritual atmosphere of the home, which in Jewish tradition is a mini sanctuary, a place where one is nourished physically and spiritually. Modern psychologists are affirming more and more what the Torah has always taught us: that a secure and loving home built on solid moral and ethical values is a basic building block of society.
The role of women is truly unique and multifaceted; they are responsible for transmitting Jewish tradition to the next generation and keeping Jewish values alive. This delicate balance of the woman’s role within the physical and spiritual realms of life and the measure of success that is infused within this role is truly a determining factor of the future and success of the Jewish people.