Posted By The Stash

Our parasha chronicles a most serious rebellion against Moses’ and Aaron’s leadership. We are informed that Korach, Dathan, Abiram, and On the son of Pelet conspired against Moses. But when the rebels actually met with Moses to accuse him of usurping power for himself and Aaron, On’s name was absent. Where had he disappeared? The Talmud famously explains (Sanhedrin 109b): ““Rav said On ben Pelet, was saved by his wife. She asked him, `what difference does it make to you whether Moshe or Korach is in charge? In either case, you will be just a student.' He answered her, `But what can I do? I was in their council and I swore allegiance to them.' She replied, `I know that they are all a holy congregation, as it states ...the entire congregation is holy (Bemidbar 16:3). Turn back and I will save you.' She then served him wine. He got drunk and went to sleep. … By the time he awoke, Korach was dead.”

This midrash is but one example of how our Rabbis deduced the vital role of women in our religion. We have midrashim that give voice to voiceless women such as Sarah, Hagar, and Rachel. Midrashim attest to women’s role in resisting Egyptian slavery by beautifying themselves to encourage their husbands to keep fathering children, and then turning the brass makeup mirrors they used into the gigantic water container of the Tabernacle. Midrashim inform us that Rosh Chodesh is a holy day that commemorates women's role in our religion.

I write of this for two reasons. To remind us that our tradition of textual interpretation often gives voice to those the text leaves mute. To observe how the fate of Israel was influenced by women who at times were able to effectively wield influence in a patriarchal society. These midrashim portray women as defenders of Jewish identity and innovators of ceremonies or commemorations that will strengthen tradition.

But innovation and change require exemplars, and that is the reason for this d’var Torah. You know that our congregation permits women to have aliyot with certain well publicized restrictions. Women may also recite most haftarot. I am delighted that this initiative has been successful and that many women have experienced their first aliya here. But women may also take out and put back the Torah, and lead the end of the service. No takers yet: and this is an area for improvement. I would be delighted if more women would come forward and claim what is halachically theirs! Otherwise they might, G-d forbid, lose this, just as was once done when women had aliyot and then the Sages suddenly came up with a concept called “the honour of the Congregation” and stopped honoring them for reasons that are still greatly disputed.

I look forward to hearing even more voices on the bimah on Shabbat mornings.

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