Tuesday, July 22, 2008

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Where Is Your Home?

by Reb Gutman Locks at Mystical Paths

Where is the actual center of Judaism? One might think that it is the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. After all, this is where the last communal sacrifices were offered, and this is the place where G-d’s Revealed Presence dwelled. Or maybe it is the synagogues now that the Temple is not standing. We offer our prayers in place of the sacrifices, so perhaps these places of worship are today’s center of Judaism. Maybe it is the study halls, the yeshivas? After all, it is the Torah that keeps the Jewish People a People.

Actually it is none of these. It is the home. And what is the home? Is it the house or apartment? No, it is the wife, the mother of the family.

On the holiest day of the year, the Kohen Gadol (the High Priest) would offer a number of sacrifices. His personal offering was to atone for him and for his home.[i] And what is his home? This is his wife.

When a Jewish man will be away for the holiday, the question arises, should he observe one day or two days of the holiday? In Israel we observe one day, while outside the land we observe two. One accepted opinion is that it depends on where his wife is. According to this opinion, he should observe the customs that are observed where his wife is since she is his home.

Why is she so important? It is not just because she is the physical source of the Jewish children. She is so important because she is charged with the children’s initial spiritual care and development. For the first years of their lives the mother is the prime, if not sole, source of their spiritual attitudes and awareness. What she imparts to them in those early, most formative years will greatly affect the way they go on to live their spiritual lives.

But if she is so important, why is it that every morning men say the blessing, “Thank G-d for not making me a woman?” Men say this to emphasis the man’s primary role in the Torah. While the woman’s prime role and attachment is to the family, his is to the Torah and mitzvahs.

Look at the order in which these morning prayers are said. First, we thank G-d for not making us a non-Jew. Then we thank Him for not making us a slave. And finally we thank Him for not making us a woman.

The order points out what is most important to us. First is the non-Jew who has been given only seven commandments. These are the seven commandments that were given to all mankind, the Seven Mitzvahs of the Children of Noah. The Jewish man has been given 613 commandments.

Next, from the days when slavery was the accepted norm, comes the non-Jewish slave who is owned by a Jew. These male or female slaves were obligated to keep the mitzvahs as a Jewish woman is obligated. This means that they were to observe all of the negative commandments but only the positive commandments that are not time-related.

But this slave was not born a Jew. He was merely purchased by a Jew, and it is through this purchase that he was brought into his relationship to the Torah. He was not really a full-fledged Jew. If he were an actual Jew, even though he was a slave he would still be obligated to observe all of the commandments. The non-Jewish slave’s relationship to the Torah was not nearly as strong as a Jewish woman’s. With this blessing the Jewish men are thanking G-d for making us His servants and not the servants of another man.

Then comes the Jewish woman. Although she certainly is a full-fledged Jew, her obligation is to keep all of the negative commandments but only those positive commandments that are not time-related.

Women are on a higher spiritual level than men. This is readily seen in the fact that they are much more intuitive than men. They do not need these time-bound positive commandments to fulfill their spiritual service as men do. They can accomplish their purpose in creation through another positive channel, by spiritually sustaining the family. This is why they are the home. Their prime attachment is to the family.

There is a lengthy discussion in the Talmud that seeks to identify the actual source of the rule that women are exempt from the time-bound positive commandments.[ii] But the reason for this exemption is not discussed. The most often cited reason is that she must be available at all times for the family. After all, she makes the family.

These three, the non-Jew, the slave and the Jewish woman, are in contrast to the Jewish man whose prime need and obligation is to serve G-d and learn His Torah. When we say these three blessings, we are thanking G-d for our portion in His Torah and its mitzvahs.

[i] Leviticus 16:6, Gemora Yoma 36b Rashi
[ii] Gemora Kiddushin 33b Mishnah 29a

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