by Rav Ilan Goldman – of Bnei Akiva UK
excerpted from –
A SHALIACH’S THOUGHTS ON THE PARASHA
There are times in which we are faced with questions on Judaism which we, as observant Jews, are expected to deal with, whether it is for the sake of answering ourselves or answering others who question, doubt and challenge our faith.
However, many of these questions are a result of misunderstandings rather than disagreements. Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook used to say that if you think science and Torah clash, it might be that science is wrong, but it also may well be that we have misunderstood or misinterpreted what the Torah is saying. One of the most commonly asked questions nowadays is about the role of women in Judaism.
In the beginning of the Parasha, Pharaoh is already willing to accept what Moshe is asking for and grant it to him:
‘let the men go now and serve Hashem; for that is what you desire’.
Yet looking back at Moshe’s demand, this was not what he was insisting on – he wanted everyone to go:
‘we will go with our young and with our old, with our sons and with our daughters…for we must hold a feast to Hashem’.
There is a clear misunderstanding between Pharaoh and Moshe. Whilst Moshe is saying ‘everyone’, Pharaoh hears ‘just the men’. What leads an intelligent man, leader of a great empire, to misunderstand such a simple sentence? It seems that Pharaoh figured that Moshe was asking for more than he really wanted in order to receive what he was after. This request was a form of bargaining.
However, there must have been something that led him to such a line of thought. Pharaoh naturally assumed that since Moshe was asking to go and worship Hashem in a festive way, he would only need to take the men, for only men have a role in worshipping. It is to this that Moshe says, “with our sons and our daughters!”– Judaism is for all.
The message is clear. In order to truly serve Hashem, having the men alone simply will not do. A Jewish festival is not complete without all its members. Rabbeinu Bachya explains further that the festival Moshe spoke of was none other than receiving the Torah on Mount Sinai. The Torah is intended for all Jews, each taking his or her particular duties within the greater framework of observing Torah. Moshe could not accept an idea of taking only the men and handing the Torah to them alone. In order for Matan Torah, the giving of the Torah, to be complete every living Jew must be there.
Over the last century, the world has advanced tremendously and women are much more educated than the women in the past. It has therefore changed our way of life, with both men and women alike willing to learn and actively express their Avodat Hashem, serving Hashem.
This presents a challenge to the Jewish community to make adequate provisions for this demand. More opportunities to learn are indeed offered around the Jewish world. And yet it seems that this alone is not enough, especially for women who are now seeking to develop religiously in paths that did not exist before. There have been people who have seen this as discrimination and have therefore questioned Judaism. It is time to be creative and help form new opportunities to cater for the thirst that has arisen. However, we need to be careful not to imitate ways that are good for one and might very well not be good for others. Men and women, each in their own way, must strive to create for themselves the most suitable framework for Avodat Hashem and spiritual growth.