With the sunset comes the changing of the guard, the permutation of cloud
colors announce the Shabbat, and the world turns back into itself. She stands
like Eve, the mother of all life, ready to draw down new light that only she, a
Jewish woman, can reveal. After a long day of preparing, the house is ready to greet the Shabbat bride, and
only then can she breathe that long sigh of relief, the satisfaction of a job
The candles stand ready, poised and elegant, awaiting the match. Her soul
graceful and silent grasps this moment, a glimpse through time’s door to a world
“Will I too have to send them to defend our land?”
beyond. There are moments when properly perceived can last a life-time, a
vehicle to connect to the infinite light. She envisions all the Jewish women
whose task it is to usher in the Shabbat, the hands which reach out to renew the
world, part of the chain of tradition which is born of her womb.
Lighting the candles, she now looks at her children, their sparkling eyes
reveal a future prophecy she can hardly comprehend. There is one candle for each
member of the family, each flame has the potential to light a thousand from
itself. The flames dance upward and souls on fire parade before her eyes.
Deborah - sitting serenely under her palm tree looks through her with the
song she sings: “I arose a mother in Israel; ” arose with a sword and a word and
without her they could not move (Judges 4:7). A mother she called herself, but
of course that was not all. She was a judge, warrior, wife, prophetess and
creator of song, prophecy flowed through her, a wellspring of life - a teaching
for our own generation, for all women who are looking to define themselves and
fully use their potential. And yet being a mother in Israel was the mirror image
and foundation of Deborah’s strength and wisdom.
Looking at her children, the epitome of innocence, she asks herself: “Will I
too have to send them to defend our land?” Israel’s regular army is made up of
children growing up before their time. She swallows hard and prays the wolf will
be tamed before that time. Deborah comes and comforts her saying: “I know all
too well how you feel, but we must be strong, I say we must be strong.”
Focusing again she looks around her house, which is now shining with a
heavenly light. Since the destruction of the Temple, each Jewish home must
create the possibility for the Divine Presence to enter. The Shabbat table
becomes the altar, the candles the menorah, sweet smelling flowers
replace the incense and the two covered loaves represent the show bread; all of
the elements of the Temple transported through the work of her hands. The angels
asked Abraham “Where is Sarah your wife?” “In the tent” he answered: so
beautiful and hidden, it is in her presence a house is transformed into a home
Suddenly, she is overwhelmed by the desire to pray. Like Hannah who stood
alone in the presence of G‑d, lost in her fervor, swimming in a sea of tears.
Swaying as if drunk from the strong liquor of faith, even Eli the High Priest
could not comprehend the depth of her soul. It is from Hannah’s every movement
that the Rabbis learn how we are to stand before G‑d (Brachot 31b). She strives to find her individual place as a woman in the House of Worship. Equality certainly doesn’t
mean being just like a man. A woman has too much to offer from her unique nature
to want to imitate something she is not.
A woman has too much to offer from her unique nature
to want to imitate something she is not
She finds her mind wandering all the way back to Eve, who is still looking to
mend the burden of the first sin. The pain of childbirth, a curse which must
precede the blessing of giving birth, an experience and holy mission to which
nothing can compare. She thinks of all the trials and joys of raising children
in a world so broken and yet so beautiful; an incomplete reflection of ultimate
perfection. A partner in creation, the heartbeat of existence is what lies at
the source of her soul.
Was it easy to choose one son over another she asks Sarah and Rebecca, who
appear before her eyes. Your choices established the lineage of the people of
G‑d. Aha! she thinks, this is what the Rabbis must have meant when they said “An
extra measure of understanding was given to women,” (Nidah 45:b;
Bereishit Rabbah18a). It is through the woman that the line of descent is
perpetuated and determined and this revelation touches her to the core of her
being; the realization of her responsibility causes her to unconsciously
straighten her spine.
Feeling her husband’s eyes upon her, she turns towards him face to face, and
their eyes meet graciously in a loving embrace. “What a Queen” he thinks, and
counts his blessings, her strength and wisdom his constant support. Silent like
the moon, he sees himself reflected in her eyes. Their lives enmeshed together
in a covenant of purpose and heavenly calling; traveling soul mates being drawn
to the tree of life.
Reading his mind her thoughts leap to Queen Esther, whose courage and nerve
stopped evil before the abyss of genocide. Her readiness to give her life for
her people represents the hidden wellsprings of faith which sustain the Jewish
people and keep them hopeful and vibrant. Her mind wanders through the back
alleys of history and is confronted by women martyrs everywhere she turns. Those
silent heroes whose deeds live on in our people’s legends and hopes. At times,
warriors whose powers literally single-handedly turned the tide of a war, like
Yael or Yehudit standing with the cut off heads of generals in their hands, or
the silent strength of the women in Egypt, who refused to stop having children,
so that the people would not die out.
The martyrdom of Hannah and her seven sons comes to her mind and Hannah
Senesh, who parachuted into Nazi Europe, young and idealistic, determined to
save even a few Jewish lives. Tears come to her eyes when she remembers not the
few, but the many; those who died with babies in arms in the gas chambers, in
pogroms, inquisitions and crusades. And they never gave up, never lost faith.
Their hands helped redeem the land in our times no less than did men’s. On
kibbutzim or settlements, in the government and the schools, her voice echoes
the hopes of a light which is trying to shine, like the candles which are
dancing to greet the Shabbat bride.
She does feel at home, with herself and her family, the land and her people
Even Rachel who is buried on the road to Jerusalem smiles at her and sighs a
slight sigh of relief. The voice of her crying was a light house for a people
longing to return to their land. Her tears formed the river for the lost tribes
to sail home.
And she does feel at home, with herself and her family, the land and her
people. The trials are many, but the feeling of awesome events unfolding gives
her comfort even in the hardest of times. Jew, wife, woman, homemaker, daughter,
breadwinner, professional, human being, and holy soul; she wishes to find a
balance between all of these parts of herself. It is prophesied that in the end
of days our relationship with G‑d will not longer be one of master and servant,
but of husband and wife. Then all of Israel will be the aspect of the woman, the
true lover of G‑d.
In that time, the light of the moon, a feminine symbol will be like the light
of the sun, and they will both shine like the primordial radiance of the seven
days of creation. But for now the light of Shabbat has settled like dew on the
world. She awakens from her day dream like a flower renewed. Surrounded by the
mothers of Israel, she blesses her fate. It is through her merit and her faith
that the road to the future will be paved. The rebirth of Israel is like a woman
who is coming to terms with herself.