parsha of the week

Men, women, Torah: Less gender, more truth


When the donations were finally brought to the Tabernacle, the Torah describes how the men and women came. But the phraseology utilized (beginning of 35:22) is questionable. A literal translation would be “and the men came on/above/in addition to the women,” which leaves us wondering what happened. Some possibilities from notable English translations: They came, both men and women (Hertz); The men came with the women (Artscroll); The men accompanied the women (Kaplan).

These translations are split between indicating that the men and women came with equal devotion, and the possibility of reading that the men took charge and they brought the women along, or that the women took charge and they brought the men along.

Which is correct? We’ll never know.

Some are of the view that just as the women specifically were unwilling to give of their earrings for the Golden Calf, they were first to show that THIS is how you donate your jewelry (Ramban and Ibn Ezra HaKatzar, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch). Others posit that the men rushed to make amends for the Golden Calf, so they were, in fact, front and center donating (Medrash Aggadah). Rashi and Ibn Ezra say that the key word (“al”) actually means “with” here — the men and women came together in a joint effort. The Baal HaTurim supports this, noting an equivalence in numerical values (gematria) of the first eight-word-phrase of 35:22 and “az ish v’Ishto ba’im yachad” (the man and his wife came together).

Advocating a more nuanced approach, the Daat Zekenim and the Rosh suggest the men came along to “plunder” the women’s jewelry, this time for the service of G-d. Yet the women were happy to be giving. Their joy in donating their precious jewelry is what caused women to be given the special monthly holiday of Rosh Chodesh.

A number of commentaries introduce a halakhic analysis of what women are permitted to give away, as discussed in the Talmud Bava Kama 118b. Are they allowed to donate jewelry given to them by their husbands? The Talmud assumes that women are so naturally giving, they would give everything away if they had the opportunity; that’s why more practically minded men need to have a greater say (of course, this might not reflect the reality of contemporary home-financing). This would lead, according to Seforno, Toldos Yitzchak, and Haksav V’Hakabbalah to a conversation, which brought husband and wife to the same conclusion — “I will give my jewelry to the Mishkan.” “And I support your doing that.”

Or HaChaim suggests we read the word not as “and the [men] came on/with the women” but as “and the men brought what was on the women” (in Hebrew a modification of one vowel allows for this).

There is no place for any argument or discussion of who is better or stronger, or who has a more complete relationship with the Almighty. We all have our roles, we all have our responsibilities. Men and women certainly have different emotional makeup, and we all come at our obligations from a combination of our upbringing, our training, our feelings, what we’ve learned, and however we define what it means to love G-d with our hearts, souls and might.

These sources give credit, in different ways, to the two sexes, for having the awareness to try to be good people, or to atone for mistakes, or demonstrate dedication to halakha and to the Mishkan.

Too much time is wasted talking about men and women. Should the speaker be a woman or a man? Should the voice heard in a panel be a man or a woman? Which is the stronger sex? Who is the bigger scholar? There isn’t enough diversity of presenters. What gives a man a right to speak about a subject relating to women? What gives a woman a right to opine about how a man should behave?

Truth is truth, and should come from whoever speaks it. The speaker is either talented, scholarly, and motivational, or the speaker is something else. Truth isn’t defined by genitalia. (Certain experiences are, but that is a different conversation.)

I think that, in general, our differences in obligation and responsibility are clear. And yes, there are differences. But the Mishkan dedication was meant to demonstrate that there is a time to stop talking about men and women and just serve G-d.

One woman I know has told me on a number of occasions, “When are we going to stop these ‘Women in the Bible’ classes and just focus on Torah?” Her point is stop trying to reaffirm relevance by harping on gender! Teach Torah! I recently heard Rabbi Jacob J. Schacter tell how one of his prize female Talmud students gave a class to semicha students at Yeshiva University just because he wanted the young men to see that any generalization of capability in Talmud study they may have is ill-founded. Men and women can be (assuming similar amounts of time studied) equally impressive in learning and teaching.

Instead of talking (having lip-service) about how wonderful we all are, it is time to learn from those who dedicated to the Mishkan. Just as the women at that time didn’t get caught up in the Golden Calf and were front and center in donating to the Mishkan, women today ought to focus on their strengths in dedication to G-d. And those with men in their lives ought to be proud of and encourage their participation per their roles, especially wives for their husbands.

Just as the men at that time understood what guilt is and jumped on the opportunity to atone for the sin of the Golden Calf through doubling down on serving G-d, similar feelings should be extant today. Men should not only embrace their own roles with love, but ought to glow with pride over the commitment to G-d of the women in their lives, especially husbands for their wives.