Matriarch Graves | cc: wikipedia
In these days when it seems that the dark is taking over the light everywhere, we are called, again, to look into the weekly portions (parashot hashavua) and in the lights of Hanukka which is approaching and to learn.
The month of Kislev contains four parashot and one holiday, and it seems that in the Hebrew calendar there is no other month such as Kislev which praises so many feminine figures, some by name and some not.
Observing their deeds and their strengths can bring us consolation and hope – in these times.
It starts with parashat Vayetze, the parasha that tells of Jacob’s wanderings and marriage to Leah and Rachel, besides Zilpa and Bilha. There are four women, four mothers – one family. They put aside the natural tensions, the everyday troubles and bring into this world the twelve tribes, the sons on Jacob. The people of Israel.
One minute, Jacob actually had thirteen children, he also had one daughter. This daughter was the issue of parashat Vayishlach, the parasha we read last week: “Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne unto Jacob”. This is the same Dina who received by Rashi the humiliating pronouncement: “Yatzanit, the daughter of a Yatzanit” (in Hebrew Yatzanit is a prostitute), who is going out to meet her neighbors and is raped by Shchem the son of Chamor, who was the leader of the area. Shchem wanted to marry Dina, but he did not because he was murdered by Shimon and Levi, Dina’s brothers.
And Dina? According to the midrash she gets pregnant with Shchem’s child, gets evicted from her father’s home and goes to Egypt. In Egypt she had her daughter Asnat – and I will be getting back to her immediately. By the way, Shchem is not the only rapist: in the time when Jacob is mourning his wife Rachel, ”Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine,” the mother of his brothers, but in this case nobody said a word.
If this is not enough, our parasha, Vayeshev, tells us the story of Judah who is visiting a prostitute on the main road, a prostitute that was, as we found out later, actually his daughter in-law who was fed up with her father in-law’s promises about her marriage to Shilat and decided to do something. She goes to the road, and succeeds in tricking Judah, gets pregnant with his child and gave birth to Peretz and Zerach, who were Judah’s only sons-grandsons, who after a few generations will be the ancestors of our king, David.
Another woman who is reminded in our parasha is the wife of Potifar. She is not mentioned by a name, but her contribution to Josef becoming a leader in Egypt is decisive.
In the next parasha, Meketz, Asnat the daughter of Dina (the one who was born after Dina’s rape by Shchem) will arrive (again), and will be getting married to Josef, the brother of her mother, and gives birth to Efraim and Menashe – two of the most important tribes of the people of Israel, the only grandsons who received Jacob’s blessings and since then every Friday evening fathers bless their sons: ‘By thee shall Israel bless, saying: God make thee as Ephraim and as Manasseh.’
Hanukka which is coming up brings us more strengths: our sages point out the obligation of women to light Hanukka candles because even if it is a commandment that came with time they had to because they have also been there during the miracle: Rashi interprets “they were also part of the miracle”. In the Talmud, Tractate Shabbat: Rabbi Yehoshua said that women are obligated to light Hanukka candles because “they were also part of the miracle”. Rashi said that women had a great part in the victory of the Maccabean on their enemies.
It is written women because there was more than one heroin. One was Judith, a widow, who by using women’s tricks leads to the decapitation of the Greek leader and the victory of the people of Israel. There is another version: one of the Hashmonai sisters, named as the daughter of Johanan the high priest, or Hana the daughter of Matityahu the high priest, a young beautiful bride who was forced to spend her wedding night with the Geek leader, as part of the Greek’s decrees that no one resisted them. On her wedding day she appears in front of all the guests, naked to the wedding and speaks against the hypocrisy of the Jewish leaders, who did not resist the Greek, a speech that caused her brothers, the Macabim, to get up and defend her and other women and did not enable the continuation of the rapes that were their fate in those days.
Hana’s speech makes the difference that will eventually, bring the victory to the people of Israel.
We are used to saying that this is the miracle of all the miracles (in Hebrew Nisei nisim). Lets correct it and say the miracles of the women (Nisei nashim), because of these heroines who dared to resist the patriarchal consensus to be raped, and brought the salvation to everybody, on the wisdom of our mothers that demanded to be respected as any other human being who was created by the image of God.
Let us remember that there is always another way, another obligation and do it – at least this month.
Shabbat Shalom and happy Hanukka