Wednesday, January 31, 2007

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Miriam and the Women

by Reb Gutman Locks of the Old City, Jerusalem, Israel at Mystical Paths

Sometimes you have a complaint that bothers you so much that you cannot get beyond it. It is just one of those things that holds you down and prevents you from going any further. It seems to be a valid complaint and no one can give you a satisfactory answer. Then when that answer finally does come you go soaring up beyond that level, up and up until you come to the next thing that grabs you. This week’s portion of the Torah touches on one of the most common and long-standing problems for a lot of Jewish women.

“Why are we hidden behind that fence?” they want to know. “Really, we feel like second class citizens relegated to the back of the bus, totally unwanted!” For some time now many women have been complaining about what they see to be a horrible intrusion, the me’chetzah, the curtain that separates men and women during prayer.

In this week’s portion of the Torah we see one of the oldest sources for this separation. We not only see that it is traditional but we also see it is voluntary and beneficial to those on both sides on the curtain. Although the curtain frustrates many women who feel they are being exiled to the “other” side, in truth it is also good for them. Their first complaint is “The family should pray together means that they should be standing next to each other.”

But here in this week’s portion we see that this is not our ancient tradition.

After Hashem saved the Jewish people and drowned the pursuing Egyptians, the Jewish people stood by the banks of the sea and sang the “Song by the Sea.” Then the women were so taken up with the moment that they too wanted to participate so, “Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took her drum in her hand and all the women went forth after her with drums and dances.” [i]

So we clearly see that the women sang and danced by themselves.

Now why is this good for all of us? The reason for separation during prayer has to do with the natural attraction that men and women, and especially young men and women, have for each other. The time for prayer is a time to concentrate on the spiritual aspects of life, and this natural physical attraction that men and women have for each other is a strong attraction.

When you want to concentrate on the spiritual aspects of life you certainly do not want distractions pulling your awareness away. This is true for both men and women. Women will not have to worry if they look nice and men will not have to think about that extreme attraction that pulls on their lower half. So it is good for both of us to distance ourselves from the physical attraction, the animal instinct, when we pray.

But surely we do not want that attraction that women present to men to be ignored forever. G-d wants women to attract husbands. This is one of the most important goals in life, but for these precious minutes, it is best for all of us to concentrate on the purely spiritual aspects of life.

So we see that the curtain is not there because women are so unwanted. But rather, it is there because women are so very wanted.

[i] Ex 15:20

Posted at Mystical Paths. Read it elsewhere? Stop by the source.

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