Happy Women's History Month!
Not many know about the origin of Women’s History Month, but in 1911 in Europe, March 8 was celebrated as International Women's Day. And, accordingly, March became associated with women's rights.
By 1978, in California, the Education Task Force of the Sonoma County Commission on the Status of Women began a "Women's History Week" celebration, and by 1987, March became Nationally recognized as Women’s History Month.
How is that Jewish? Well, if you look at this week’s double Torah Portion, Vayekhel-Pekudei, you will see why we might consider this Torah portion to be particularly affirmative in the recognition of women as equal members of society.
As Rabbi Nancy Wiener notes in The Women's Torah Commentary (p.172): “In this portion, and in this portion alone, the women of the children of Israel are identified as a significant group within the larger whole. Other portions mention individual women as part of the larger narrative, but no other so clearly demonstrates the significant place that women have within the larger community. ... this is the only portion that gives us a taste of the variety of ways women contributed to the vitality and maintenance of the people’s material and spiritual life. In this portion, women respond to God’s command to build the mishkan, the Tabernacle, a dwelling place for God’s presence among the people."
Let’s take a closer look. Exodus 35: 21 & 22 note that both men and women contributed to the building of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, It states:
Va'ya'vo'u kol ish asher n'sa'u li'bo, va'ya'vo'u ha' a'na'shim al-ha'na'shim
וַיָּבֹאוּ, כָּל-אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר-נְשָׂאוֹ לִבּוֹ;... ... וַיָּבֹאוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים, עַל-הַנָּשִׁים.
“Everyone whose heart prompted them and everyone who was spiritually moved came, bringing a Divine offering... Men and women, all whose hearts prompted them."
Clearly women were explicitly involved in this holy endeavor. Not only that, but there are specific ways that women contributed to the building of the Mishkan: the Torah notes that:
V'kol ishah hach-mat lev
“all the women, whose hearts were wise with skill” participated.
Women gave generously of not only their possessions (their jewelery and linens) but also of their talents (weaving, collecting and so forth).
The Torah further notes, “And so the Israelites,
all the men and women whose hearts moved them ... brought it as a
freewill offering to Adonai” (Ex. 35:29)
In the Torah, God affirms the value of allowing all people, men and women, to contribute to the building of society.
But are we giving women a real shot at contributing fully to the building of society? A lot of the dynamics in society need to be addressed before we, as women, can contribute our full potential. This week media mogul Harvey Weinstein was sentenced for some of his crimes against women. This week, too, Miriam Katz reminded us that those adjacent to the abusers, and not only the abusers themselves, share in the responsibility for the climate we are in. We are making progress but we have quite a ways to go.
So, during this National Women’s History Month, as Jews affirming of egalitarianism and noting the special values of equality conveyed in this week's Torah portion, let’s take some responsibility to dedicate money, time and resources toward building a more equitable experience for women. Together, may we all flourish!
The above is a reflection by Rabbi Heather Miller on this week's Torah portion, Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei, Exodus 35:1 - 40:38. Please visit rabbiheathermiller.com to subscribe and follow on social media.