Heroines of Spirit – Sisters of Strength and Love

BY RABBANIT SHANI TARAGIN

Lexicographers define the English vernacular of gevurah, “heroism,” as “fulfilling a high purpose or attaining a noble end” (Merriam-Webster), “exalted courage, intrepidity, or boldness” (Oxford), or “bravery” (Cambridge, Collins). Heroes are defined as “main characters in a narrative or dramatic work” (Oxford), “mythological or legendary figures often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability, or illustrious warriors” (Merriam-Webster). 

In Pirkei Avot 4:1, our Sages define heroism and heroes quite differently: “Ben Zoma said: Who is a gibbor? He who subdues his inclination, as it is said: ‘He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that rules his spirit than he that takes a city’ (Proverbs 16:32).” 

In addition to the hundreds of thousands of soldiers fighting with extraordinary strength and spirit for the past seven months in defense of our Land, our nation and our values, there are many unsung heroines who have been standing by the sidelines on the Home Front. I am referring to the mothers, wives, daughters and sisters who stand behind the soldiers at the front, the soldiers who have been wounded, and the soldiers who have valiantly fallen. These women are heroines who have “ruled their spirit,” who have experienced intense anxiety, frustration, pain and unfortunately all too many losses, and yet somehow go on – with remarkable faith, resilience, and love for life and people of Israel. 

Where does this heroism emanate from? 

Some of their strength lies in our DNA, for we are great-granddaughters of Yocheved, Miriam and the righteous women in the Egyptian exile who while witnessing the deaths of thousands of Jewish infants, persevered and ensured the Jewish people would birth another generation. We also have the DNA of Queen Esther who proactively emerged from silence of acquiescence to selfless sacrifice on behalf of her people. And we also possess the will of Devorah and Yael, unconventional “mothers of Israel” who looked evil in the eye and did not flinch.

The Midrash teaches of Hashem’s response to the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash: “The Holy One blessed be He said to Jeremiah: ‘Today I am like a person who had an only son, made a wedding canopy for him, and he died within his wedding canopy; do you not feel pain for Me or for My son? Go and call Avraham, Yitzchak, Ya’akov, and Moshe from their graves, as they know how to weep’… Avraham said before the Holy One blessed be He: ‘Master of the universe: Why did You exile my children, deliver them into the hands of the nations, kill them with all kinds of uncommon deaths, and destroy the Temple, the place where I elevated my son Isaac as a burnt offering before You?’… Yitzchak, Ya’akov and Moshe similarly beseeched Hashem to have mercy on His children as they sacrificed for the children of Israel! Moshe also said before Him: ‘Master of the universe, You wrote in Your Torah: “An ox or a sheep, it and its offspring you shall not slaughter on one day” (Vayikra 22:28). But have they not killed many, many children and their mothers, and yet You are silent?!’”

The known Midrash regarding the cries of Rachel Imeinu had also elucidated for me another source of gevurah, especially as I hear the cries of Binyamin Achimeir’s hy”d mother as I write these words: “At that moment, Rachel our matriarch interjected before the Holy One blessed be He.” Unlike the others, Rachel did not speak about her love or sacrifices for her children (though she died in childbirth!), nor did she focus on Ya’akov’s love and labor for her. Rather, she spoke of the suppression of her own desires, and her mercy on her sister; achoti, “my sister” is mentioned seven times in the Midrash! “‘I performed an act of kindness for [Leah], I was not jealous of her, and I did not lead her to humiliation’… Immediately, the mercy of the Holy One blessed be He was aroused and He said: ‘For you, Rachel, I will restore Israel to its place’” (Eicha Rabbah, Petichta 24).

Rachel emerges as the heroic matriarch not because of her love for her children, but because of her love for her sister. Hashem’s mercy is not sufficiently aroused when we display love for our children; parental love and discipline are both natural elements of the parent-child relationship. Rather, Hashem awaits true gevurah – conquering of jealous, fissiparous sentiments and inclinations towards our brothers and sisters. 

Today, as I hear our heroines speak with love, unity and admiration about every demographic of Israeli society, downplaying protests and surmounting justifiable sentiments of resentment and anger, I am moved by their awesome gevurah – heroism that cannot fail to arouse Hashem’s mercy.

“So said Hashem to Rachel: ‘Restrain your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears, as there is reward for your actions… And there is hope for your future… and your children will return to their borders’” (Yirmiyahu 31:15–16). Hashem awaits our love for one another as siblings to elicit His love for us as our Father. May the heroines of today inspire us with the gevurah to overcome negativity and embrace all of Am Yisrael as brothers and sisters! 

 

Rabbanit Shani Taragin is Educational Director of Mizrachi and the Director of the Mizrachi-TVA Lapidot Educators’ Program.

© 2024 World Mizrachi

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