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Thursday, March 5, 2015

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The strong and steadfast women of yore

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Rachael Turkienicz

The Torah readings at this time of year are some of the most intriguing and defining of the year. The Israelites are standing at Sinai experiencing Divine revelation and we are simultaneously facing our greatest and our worst moment.

Revelation with God is the culmination of a long-awaited covenant that begins with our ancestors. Through family angst, national wars, kidnapping, exile and the torture of slavery, the vision of a personal meeting with God is the fulfilment of the hopes of generations of Israelites. Standing at Mount Sinai is the experience of that long-awaited moment.

At the same time, Israel is frightened by Moses’ absence and quickly reverts back to the devil it knows: Egyptian ritual.  The former slaves must have assumed that their leader has disappeared along with the invisible God and they must create a new one or perish. The mob turns to Aaron, Moses’ brother, and demands that he fashion a god to lead them.

Aaron instructs them to take the gold from their wives and bring it to him. The sages in the midrash inform us that it was the men who approached Aaron, and when he sent them back to their wives to get the gold, the women refused. These ancient women stood adamantly against idolatry and refused to participate or to enable their men.

Long after the incident of the golden calf, Israel is taught how to properly build a place of worship, the Tabernacle. When the Torah describes how to construct this holy place, the outer walls of the Tabernacle are made of curtains that will all be attached one to the other. The Hebrew in the Torah describes these curtains as joined “each woman to her sister.” The beautiful image is created honouring the female that preserved the holiness of monotheism against the lure of the golden calf. The Torah represents to us a powerful image of women standing arm in arm, strengthening the frame of the Tabernacle.

According to the Talmud, women were rewarded for the steadfast faith they displayed at Mount Sinai. Originally, the first day of each Hebrew month, Rosh Chodesh, was designated for the 12 tribes of Israel. Each tribe was to have its own particular Rosh Chodesh. As a result of the sin of the golden calf, the Divine plan shifted and the women were given all the days of Rosh Chodesh.

Once a year, on Shavuot, we celebrate that moment at Mount Sinai when we received the Torah. But on every Rosh Chodesh, we celebrate a day meant to pay homage to every Jewish woman. 

Rachael Turkienicz is the director of

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