The first time I was asked to speak for a women-only audience I was worried. I’d previously addressed men and mixed crowds, but this was different. Or was it? I had no idea what tack to take; should I tone down the rhetoric and drop the crudities, or just act like one of the boys? So I did what I always do when in doubt, I asked my mother for help.

“You can say whatever you wish”, she told me, “I don’t care if you go for humor or highbrow, it doesn’t matter if you’re provocative or insightful, just don’t be patronizing!”

The first time I was asked to speak for a women-only audience I was worried.

“Women cannot stand it when guys get up to lecture and spend the first 15 minutes extolling them. We don’t need to be reminded of the special spark of spirituality that beats in our feminine hearts. We’ve been told a million times about the extra measure of wisdom that we are said to possess and you are not winning any brownie points by enthusing about our unique ability to bring Judaism into the home.

“The average lady is secure in herself and has sufficient self-confidence in her worth and ability to find these well-meaning reassurances patronizing in the extreme.”

Wise women

One could be excused for wondering if Moses wouldn’t have been better off for a dose of my mother’s advice. As part of detailing the construction process of the Tabernacle (Mishkan) we are informed that the wise women wove the wall hangings of goat hair (VaYakhel 35:26). Besides from being alliterative, isn’t the description rather patronizing? What special degree of wisdom is entailed in the process of weaving, to justify the overly effusive praise? Wise women, shmise women, they had a job to do, they did it. Get over it and move on.

Wise women, shmise women, they had a job to do, they did it. Get over it and move on.

Rashi explains that this wasn’t just a supercilious pat on their proverbial collective backs but an honest appreciation for a specialized craft. Utilizing a little known technique, the weavers managed to skillfully weave patterns into the goat hair while it was still attached to the goat’s back. Once shorn, the resultant hangings were far superior to weavings spun in the conventional method. Volunteers all, these skillful laborers has undertaken to deliver quality workmanship for the Divine cause and lived up to their pledge.

They were not commanded to make this effort, but they recognized an opportunity to add luster to G‑d’s home, and willingly volunteered to participate.

What matters in life is not who you are, or to which gender you belong, but what you can contribute to the common cause. You have a specialized skill? Then utilize your ability to bring beauty and greatness to the world.

When we mindlessly stroke someone’s ego, praising him or her unreservedly without justifying the cause, it is tantamount to an insult. When you treat people of substance with kid gloves, place them on a pedestal and expect nothing in return, we are almost implying that they are worthless or worth less.

Every single one of us has gifts and gaffes, feelings and failings, don’t lump us in as an amorphous mass, but judge us as individuals and honor us for the unique blessings that we bring to the world.