The Life-giving Faith of the Women

Dear Friends,
The Book of Exodus concludes with the building of the Tabernacle. In the courtyard of the Tabernacle stood a large copper utensil from which the Kohanim (ministers) washed their hands and feet in order to sanctify themselves for their service in the Tabernacle (Exodus 30:18, 19). In the following verse, the Torah describes how the artisan, Bezalel, made this holy utensil:
“He made the utensil of copper and its pedestal of copper, with the mirrors of the women who congregated at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting.” (Exodus 38:8)
The above verse reveals that this holy vessel of purification was made with the mirrors of the women. Why, however, were mirrors – vessels associated with personal vanity – used for this sacred purpose? The classical biblical commentator, Rashi, cites the following midrashic explanation:
The women of Israel had in their possession copper mirrors which they would look into when they would beautify themselves. Even those mirrors they did not withhold from bringing for the contribution towards the Tabernacle. Moshe, however, initially rejected these items, because mirrors are made for accomplishing the ends of the selfish inclination. Regarding the mirrors, the Holy One, Blessed is He, said to Moshe:
“Accept them, because these are the dearest to Me of all, for by means of them, the women established many legions of offspring in Egypt.”
Rashi then adds the following information which helps us to understand how the mirrors enabled the women to establish “many legions of offspring”:
When their husbands would be exhausted by the racking labor imposed upon them by the Egyptians, the women would bring food and drink, and feed them. Then they would take the mirrors, and each one would view herself with her husband in the mirror. And in a teasing and enticing manner, each one would say to her husband, “I am better-looking than you.” By these means, they would bring their husbands to desire, and have relations with them. They would then conceive and give birth, as it is said, “Under the apple tree I aroused you” (Song of Songs 8:5).

In the spirit of the above teaching, the Talmud states in the name of Rabbi Avirah: “Israel was redeemed from Egypt in the merit of the righteous women of that generation” (Sotah 11b). Due to their high spiritual level, the women had a strong faith in the future of our people; thus, despite the great suffering and oppression, these righteous women wanted to bring a new generation of our people into the world.
Our sages find another example of their strong faith in the following verse which describes the rejoicing of Miriam and the women after the splitting of the sea and the salvation of our people from the pursuing Egyptian army:
“Miriam, the Prophetess, the sister of Aharon, took the tambourine in her hand and all the women went forth after her with tambourines and dances. Miriam called out to them, ‘Sing to Hashem…” (Exodus 15:20, 21)
The commentator, Rashi, citing Midrash Mechilta, offers the following explanation as to why the women had tambourines with them:
“The righteous women of the generation were certain that the Holy One, Blessed is He, would perform miracles for them, so they took tambourines out of Egypt.”
The women were certain that future miracles would cause great rejoicing, and they therefore took the tambourines with them in order to celebrate!
The Torah previously stated that Moshe and the men sang after the salvation at the sea (Exodus 15:1). Their singing was an expression of joy. The Torah reveals, however, that the women not only sang; they also danced – an expression of overflowing joy. I would like to suggest the following reason for their overflowing joy: The salvation at the sea vindicated their previous faith in the future of our people, when they sought to bring a new generation into the world when we were still slaves in Egypt.
During our long and difficult exile among the nations, we, as a people, had faith in our future, for we remembered all the Divine promises regarding our future redemption in the messianic age. The faith in our future helped to preserve our identity as the people of the Torah; thus, our people still exist today, despite the many attempts during our exile to “convert” us and despite the pressures to totally assimilate among the nations. Our faith will be vindicated in the messianic age, when our people will once again flourish in Zion, and “Torah will go forth from Zion” to all the nations (Isaiah 2:3). We will then experience the overflowing joy which is described in the following Divine promise to our people regarding our future renewal in Zion:
“I shall yet rebuild you and you shall be rebuilt, O Maiden of Israel; you will yet adorn yourself with drums and go forth in the dance of the joyful.” (Jeremiah 31:3)
 Have a Shabbat Shalom,
Chag Samayach – A Joyous Festival,
 Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen  (See below)
Related Teachings and Comments:
1. When the Torah describes the rejoicing of Miriam and the women at the sea, the Torah refers to Miriam as, “Miriam, the Prophetess, the sister of Aharon” (Exodus 15:20). Miriam, however, was also the sister of Moshe, so why does the verse only refer to Miriam, the Prophetess, as the sister of Aharon? The following answer is found in the commentary of Rashi:
Miriam first became a prophetess in her youth, when she was only the sister of Aharon, as Moshe had not yet been born. It was then that she prophesied that her mother will give birth to a son who will redeem Israel. The source for Rashi’s explanation is found in the Talmud (Sota 12b, 13a).
2. The text of the Song at the Sea is found in Exodus 15:1-18. According to some commentators, verse 19 is also part of the song.
As Rashi explains, Moshe led the men in singing the Song at the Sea; he would say a phrase of the song, and they would respond after him. Miriam likewise led the women in singing the words of this song (commentary to Exodus 15:21).
3. The Song at the Sea has the following reference to the ultimate destination of the Passover journey:
“You will bring them and implant them on the Mount of Your heritage” (Exodus 15:17).
According to a teaching of our sages, the above statement is alluding to the final “planting” of our people in the Land of Zion at the dawn of the messianic age (Mechilta, B’Shlach 3). As an example of this final planting, the sages cite the following Divine promise regarding the messianic age:
“I will plant them upon their land, and they will never again be uprooted from their land that I have given them, said Hashem, your God.” (Amos 9:15)
4. The Song at the Sea was sung by the men and women of Israel on the Seventh Day of Passover. This song is therefore the major part of the annual Torah reading for the Seventh Day of Passover, which begins this year on Sunday evening, April 14th.
5. At a later stage of our series, I hope to discuss examples of the strong spiritual faith of the women during our journey to the Promised Land.


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