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The Jewish Woman and the Festivals

The Jewish Woman and the Festivals

A Beacon of Light

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A beacon of light is many things: a symbol of hope, a word of encouragement, a guiding light, a direction to follow.

These words also describe the Jewish woman. These are but a few of the strengths that we possess. And make no mistake—we all own them. Our choice is to what heights we take them to.

Our environment plays a role in our spiritual growth as do our spouses, families, society and many other aspects in our lives. We can use these factors as something negative or as stepping stones to try and reach higher and higher levels of our potential. The road isn't always straight, often we are tested, but if keep veering back to the path given to us by Torah, eventually we will wind up on the right path and stay the course and get there. So where is there? Where G‑d wants us—connecting to Him via His Torah and commandments. Making this world a place where He feels at home, where all will see Him.

We, the Jewish women of our generation, must be leadersThis article takes the three festivals, describes where they came from and connects them to our lives, to our generation. The Torah is alive and well. It is not a history lesson. It is as relevant today as it was over three thousand years ago.

Sukkot, Passover and Shavuot are the three festivals when Jews had to bring sacrifices to be brought in the Temple in Jerusalem. These holidays, mandated in the Torah, have infinite levels which we can apply to our daily lives and one should and ought to learn about them in depth. I personally discovered them later in life. While I had always tasted the surface of these days, slowly, over the years, I began to unearth the profound treasures that each of these festivals has to offer, and continues to offer.

Judaism, I slowly discovered, is a precious endowment handed down to us from our matriarchs and patriarchs. In our lifetime, we do not have the luxury of sitting back and hoping someone else will take over the reins. We, the Jewish women of our generation, must be leaders. In many ways, the reins are in our hands. As the saying goes, the buck stops here. We must persevere, learn and speak up.

We are all, each and every one of us a beacon of light. If one small candle can illuminate a dark room, imagine what millions of small lights can do to our world. And, we will pass the torch to the next generation still lit, brighter and stronger than ever.

Sukkot – Our Homes

And G‑d spoke to Moses, saying, Speak to the children of Israel, saying: On the fifteenth day of this seventh month, is the Festival of Sukkot, a seven-day period to G‑d.

For a seven-day period you shall live in booths. Every resident among the Israelites shall live in booths, in order that your [ensuing] generations should know that I had the children of Israel live in booths when I took them out of the land of Egypt. I am G‑d, your G‑d.

The sukkah commemorates the Clouds of Glory which surrounded and protected our ancestors during the forty-year desert sojourn which followed the Egyptian Exodus. Our willingness to leave the security of our homes and spend a week in a flimsy outdoor hut demonstrates our faith in G‑d and His benevolence.

The sukkah becomes our home. It is a mitzvah that encompasses our entire body. One merely walks into a sukkah and he's fulfilled a commandment. Eat something and say a blessing, you've done a mitzvah. There are no restrictions as to who can sit in a sukkah—it is one of the great equalizers. Sukkot is the holiday of unity and it is the home that is the tie that binds everyone together.

We women are the keepers of our homes. G‑d entrusted us with one of the most precious of all His commodities—the feeding and well-being of our families. And He went a step further. He entrusted us with the honored mitzvah of keeping kosher.

There are no restrictions as to who can sit in a sukkah—it is one of the great equalizersKeeping kosher, called kashrut, is an interesting mitzvah. I personally spent a year learning the intricacies and details of kashrut. It was fun, entertaining, exciting and very motivating. And then the most implausible thing happened. I was told to go home and keep kosher! Whoa there. Who's minding the store? Who's watching what I do? Who's making sure that I don't spill a hot cup of coffee with milk into my meat sink? G‑d Himself. G‑d has such faith in the Jewish woman that He entrusted us with the primary responsibility of this mitzvah.

With Shabbat, we can spiritualize time. With the synagogue, we can spiritualize place. And with kosher, we can spiritualize breakfast, lunch and supper.

Most Jews think that spirituality is restricted to certain times, or certain places, or certain rituals, and that "real life" exists separately, outside spirituality.

But according to Judaism, spirituality is all times, and all places—even when you eat. Judaism is not a religion, it is a way of life.By being role models to our children, we are, in fact, taking the reins and leading the way for the next generation. And so…we are beacons of light illuminating the world around us.

Many years ago I read the simplest, yet most profound statement: Don't try to change the world. Change yourself and the world will follow.

Change doesn't mean change the person that G‑d made us. No one else in the world can do the job that G‑d gave us to do here in this world. It means that G‑d put us into this world with a purpose, each one with our own individual mission. It means that we are not randomly here. That nothing happens by accident. But He has a bit of a sense of humor—or so it appears to us sometimes. We have a purpose but we never know what it is or if and when we have fulfilled it. Therefore, we must continuously upgrade ourselves by learning and, equally, by doing.

Every mitzvah counts. Period. How much more luminous and radiant our world will be if everyone did just one more small mitzvah. And then another mitzvah. And then another one.

And as women, how profoundly can we affect those around us by leading the way. Believe in yourself; believe in the power of the Jewish woman. As I heard recently in a lecture about leadership, when we view ourselves as successful, then we will be successful. Take what we already possess, what is in our souls, what our matriarchs bequeathed to us and share it with the rest of the world.

Passover – Faith

"In the merit of the righteous women our forefathers were redeemed from Egypt."1

After an exhausting day of excruciating labor, the women would polish their mirrors and use them to beautify themselves for their husbands.2

When we, as women speak up, our words penetrate the hearts of those listeningAt night, the women would sneak out to the men's camps bringing hot, nourishing food. They would heat water in the fields and bathe their husbands. The women spoke soft, soothing words. "Do not lose hope. We will not be slaves to these degenerates all our lives. We have G‑d's promise that He will have mercy on us and redeem us." Many women conceived during these visits, subsequently giving birth to the children who would ensure the continuity of the Jewish people.3

Passover is a tough holiday. It's physical, grinding, minutely detailed work. But if one looks beyond the surface, these incredible days bring to the light the deep faith within all of us.

We got to this holiday in the merit of Jewish women who, when enslaved in Egypt, showed their backbone, deep insight and unwavering faith. They realized that not only was Pharaoh trying to physically wear them down, he was trying to do something much more evil—end the births of Jewish children. Miriam realized this when she told her parents, Amram and Yocheved to remarry.

When Pharaoh gave the order that all Jewish baby boys should be thrown into the river, her parents decided to separate and have no more children. Being the leader of the Jewish people, Amram had set an example which other Jews were quick to follow, and they, too, divorced their wives. Then the six-year-old Miriam said to her father, "Your decree is worse than Pharaoh's; for Pharaoh aimed at boys only, while you would prevent both boys and girls from being born..." Amram saw the wisdom of his young daughter, and he remarried his wife, whereupon all others also remarried their wives. The following year Moses was born.4

We all have our personal "Egypts," our own limitations. But even with these limitations, G‑d has also given us the ability to see beyond what is in our four cubits to the next level and beyond. We must search within to find these qualities and strengths.

The Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzrayim, comes from the word meitzar, limitation, and is related to the words tzar (narrow) and tzarah (suffering). Thus Mitzrayim represents (spiritual) limitation, to the point of confinement and even suffering.5

Not only did G‑d give us, in this generation, the same abilities and unique qualities as our ancestors, He went a step further. He gave us the gift of time to be able to learn and educate ourselves with the advent of a myriad of technologies starting with washers, dryers and dishwashers and going right up to the newest iPod where one can download hundreds of teachings. To begin our personal journeys, we must first extricate ourselves from our own mitzrayim – boundaries, habits and routines – and learn.

Passover is not just about cooking chickens and cleaning romaine lettuce. It is about spiritual growth—each of ours personal, infinite spiritual growth. It is about sharing insights with our daughters, granddaughters and friends. It is about inviting people to our homes who may not otherwise ever see a Seder. It is about sitting at the Seder and being there, not just taking up space on a chair. It is about teaching our families the enormous privilege of being able to sit, in peace, at the Seder table. It is about sharing what we have learned with those at our tables. While our husbands, sons, brothers or grandsons may have much to contribute, when we, as women speak up, our words penetrate the hearts of those listening.

The journeys of those women are the journeys of all of usDon't be shy. Speak proudly about our heritage, about the sacrifices and heroism of our matriarchs. The journeys of those women are the journeys of all of us.

Shavuot - Educating Ourselves

Shavuot is one of the least known holidays and, paradoxically, one of the most important. It's the day we received the Torah – the blueprint of creation – from G‑d at Mount Sinai.

The festival of Shavuot has no independent date of its own (as do other festivals). No month or day is specified in the Torah as the time of its celebration. We are told that it is the "Fiftieth Day" of the counting of the Omer; the counting which we begin on the second day of Passover, on the day after the liberation from Egyptian bondage. It is a mystery to me why the majority of Jews ignores this day, or gives it very little relevance. I can tell you from experience that for many years I did. I simply did not fathom its importance.

…Moses ascended Mount Sinai, and G‑d spoke to him the following words: "Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel: 'You have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto Myself. Now, therefore, if you will hearken unto My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be Mine own treasure from among all peoples; for all the earth is Mine. You shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation.'"

The dawn of the third day broke amid thunder and lightning that filled the air. Heavy clouds hung over the mountain and the steadily growing sounds of the Shofar made the people shake and tremble with fear. Moses led the children of Israel out of the camp and placed them at the foot of Mount Sinai, which was all covered by smoke and was quaking, for G‑d had descended upon it in fire. The sound of the Shofar grew louder, but suddenly all sounds ceased, and an absolute silence ensued; and then G‑d proclaimed the Ten Commandments. (Exodus 19)

The beginning of this quote stated: "Thus shall you sayto the House of Jacob and tell the children of Israel."

In the Hebrew text, the "house of Jacob" is translated as Bet Yaakov, which is a reference to the women, and the "children of Israel," B'nai Yisrael, refers to the men. And if one listens carefully to the wording, there is something even more interesting to note: Sayto the House of Jacob and tellthe children of Israel.

In learning about this line in Scripture, I gleaned a very deep insight. G‑d is saying to Moses that should he say to the women, in a gentle, kind and tender voice—will they accept the Torah? When they do, then go and tell the men.

If G‑d gave us the Torah first, then it is incumbent upon us to learn, to educate ourselves as to its teachings. For the only way to pass on to our children what is in the Torah is if we, ourselves learn. Don't panic. We do not have to be Torah scholars. But we should try and study something to share with our families each week. Familiarize ourselves with the week's Torah portion, its literal level and perhaps even a bit deeper. The internet has information that is easily accessible, for every stage of learning.

The experience at Mt. Sinai was not only a revelation of G‑d's truth, but also a revelation of G‑d's love. Torah was and continues to be G‑d's love letter. It is the greatest gift ever because it embodies G‑d's presence. The Talmud teaches that when G‑d gave the Torah to the Jewish people He said, "I am giving you My soul in writing." The wisdom and commandments of the Torah empower us to love each other and love G‑d. Shavuot is a day to celebrate the laws in love and the love in law.6

What a gift to give to our families.

So, the next time one of the three festivals, or Shabbat or any holiday rolls around, be prepared—physically and spiritually. How lucky our families will be, and how much closer we will be bringing the world to making it a home for G‑d, a time when the world will be drenched with peace, love and harmony.

Footnotes
1.

Talmud, Sotah 11b.

2.

These mirrors were later donated by the women to the Tabernacle. At first, Moses was reluctant to use what he perceived to be tools of vanity in the making of the divine dwelling. But G‑d attested to the merit of the women in using these mirrors to encourage their husbands by instructing that the mirrors be melted down made into the kiyyor, the water basin at which the priests purified themselves before performing the service.

3.

Midrash Tanchuma; Talmud, Sotah 11a.

4.

Gallery of Our Great by Nissan Mindel, published and copyrighted by Kehot Publication Society.

5.

Through the Eyes of a Woman by Nechoma Greisman, edited by Rabbi Moshe Miller.

6.

Excerpted from A Love Letter From G‑d by David Aaron.

Joannie Tansky is the author of Girl Meets God; The Gift of Being a Jewish Woman. She is an international speaker and coach and is currently working on her second book, In The Eyes of Other Women. You can reach her via her webpage.
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Sally K oo, USA September 28, 2010

The Jewish Woman and the Festival of Lights I enjoyed Mrs. Tansky's article, as a mother living in a community void of but a few Observnt Jews, I read her article seeking her points being made that will make me stronger as a parent trying to bring the joy of the festivals to my home. Sure there is a lot of cooking and cleaning, but, as our children grow up, we must show them the importance of their efforst (boys/girls/husband) in helping to bring about the great meals, clean house, and prepared clothes. We have to pull them into the work/prep with the understanding that by helping the mother, they will enable her to have more time to sit and chat in the sukkah with them, enjoy a game or remiminisce over past years festivals, enabling a mother to feel her work is cherished as it has brought everyone together for a meaningful memorable holiday. I tell my family how much I would like to "hang out" with them. I ask them, even though they are just as busy, to help me. I live 3 hours from any kosher grocer, I do a lot of cooking. Reply

Joannie Tansky September 22, 2010

Anonymous, Tiberias Israel On a literal and practical level you are correct. I too, cook and clean and prepare. And, although I am not instructed to sit in the sukkah, after having learned the kabbalistic insights into this holiday I do sit in the sukkah and I do have fun. As I wrote in my article, I do a lot of learning and reading before the holiday and share these beautiful teachings with my guests.

As well we have women's farbrengens (gatherings) where we share insights and each other's company.

I strongly enourage you to delve into the deeper, sweet layers of Judaism via kabbalah and...surround yourself with women who will inspire you. I am very, very sure that you have much to offer the many women with whom you come in contact.

Chag Sameach! Reply

Anonymous Tiberias, Israel September 21, 2010

Women and the Festivals Mrs.Tansky writes beautifully, but the only mitzvah we Jewish women do on the hagim is clean and cook: same thing we do all year around. We are not even instructed to sit in the sukkah, or participate in the haggadah or kiddushes. The religion leaves all the fun for the men. That's the one thing that makes me think it's not worth being more religious. Reply

blessed isaac orji September 21, 2010

am really happy reading this piece. thank you very much Reply

tb September 20, 2010

beautiful! Reply

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