A woman called our offices last week to find out where she could find our newspaper in Jackson, NJ. She said she is an avid reader of 5TJT, and she recently relocated from Brooklyn to Jackson.
I explained to her that one week, approximately a year ago, we sent about 500 newspapers to Lakewood in response to a number of requests emanating from that bastion of Torah to begin delivering our newspapers there. Within minutes of the papers reaching their destination in one of the local supermarkets, they were tossed into the nearest dumpster. I asked her if Jackson and Toms River were under the same rabbinic scrutiny or if there were places there where the newspapers could escape the attention of whoever is enforcing these irrational rules.
In case you’re wondering what makes the 5TJT so controversial in that part of the world, it is our editorial discretion to give face to women and their significant role in our society. This issue has been addressed in the past, both here and across Jewish social media sources. Despite the fact that nothing has really changed, nothing will, and it might already be overplayed, I want to address the topic from a different vantage point.
This past week’s parashah, Ki Seitzei, spends a significant amount of space discussing the laws of women—marriage, divorce, and the like. While it takes two to tango, the tractates of Kiddushin and Gittin are situated, together with the other tractates relevant to issues of femininity, in the Seder called Nashim.
In addition, schools are a week or two into the first semester, and both of our older boys, in different local yeshivos, are learning Masechta Kiddushin, whose opening sugyas were well-represented in last week’s parashah. Furthermore, Chabad yeshivas this year are learning Gittin, while the daf yomi is in the middle of Kesubos. This rare convergence of Seder Nashim from four different angles inspired me to address this topic, this time from a vastly different angle.
Before I dive into it, I want to retell a thought that I came across over Shabbos in sefer Likkutei Levi Yitzchak, written by the father of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rebbe Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, zt’l. Reb Levik, as he was affectionately called, writes that of all the six orders of the Mishnayos, the main one is Nashim. He notes that the words Mishnah and Nashim are both composed of the same letters with the exception of a yud in Nashim and a hei in Mishnah. What’s interesting is that if we spell the letter yud out in full, yud vav dalet, the vav and dalet could combine to form a hei. At the same time it occurred to me that Kesubos, which is also in Seder Nashim, is alternately referred to as Shas Kattan. So, if for some reason, Kabbalistic ideas don’t resonate with you, I’ve provided a source in nigleh that supports Reb Levik’s premise.
Listening to the parashah and at the same time reflecting on the sugyos that I have begun learning with two of my sons, it struck me as ironic that in a system that decries the use of women’s pictures, let alone gratuitous talk about women which could ostensibly lead to the same negative outcomes, we have masechtos and an entire order of Shas that is dedicated to women and the issues related to them.
As this idea was being formulated in my head, I summoned a friend and chavrusa, who in his yeshiva days was educated in the Brisker yeshivas, and presented this irony. Since he has recently embraced the study of nistar, together with our shul, under the tutelage of Reb Yussie Zakutinsky, he jokingly said they aren’t talking about women; they are talking about an ishah—a ‘din,’ a ‘geder,’ or a ‘chalos.’ For those unfamiliar with these Talmudic terms, he meant to say that the study of women in yeshivos is purely theoretical, legal, and emotionally aloof in nature that it is hardly seen as a discussion centered on women at all.
I would counter that Tosafos on the first word in Kiddushin ask why the word HaIshah is written with a prefix “hei.” They answer that the reference to women in the cases that they laid out were referencing the woman specific to the verse in which she was mentioned.
Another friend with whom I shared this seeming inconsistency actually understood my point and suggested that young boys perhaps should not be studying Kiddushin, Kesubos, Yevamos, or Niddah as a result. I pushed back at him, saying that it’s a part of Toras Hashem and that it is asinine to suggest that a part of G-d’s wisdom should be off limits to a segment of Yidden, let alone those who spend the most hours in yeshiva poring over its sanctified texts.
This was not an incomplete, unformed idea I was testing on some friends in determining its fitness to print. It was more of a setup, which is the manner in which I want to address this topic.
Seder Nashim is hardly about women and issues of femininity. Consider the following: we often use allegory in order to conceptualize an idea which, in its pristine form, might be too ethereal or esoteric for the untrained mind to grasp. If we are clothing an idea in an allegory for the sake of conveying a more profound idea, is that conversation said to be about the example being given or the idea it is being employed to represent?
The ishah ha’mevureres b’pasuk that I alluded to earlier in the name of Tosafos is not a reference to a specific woman, but a reference to the ishah, Knessess Yisrael, seeking to become betrothed by G-d. When we learn the Mishnah, “A woman is acquired in three ways and reclaims her autonomy in two ways,” there is a body and soul to those words—a body, which speaks of the laws of ishus on the physical plane, but a soul, which is trying to figure out how a Jew takes G-d’s hand, so to speak, in marriage.
In a sichah on last week’s parashah on this very sugyah, the Lubavitcher Rebbe pointed out that despite the fact that the Mishnah enumerates three distinct ways in which marriage is effectuated, the fact that it is specifically kesef, money, or its value, which is the accepted legal norm, is telling us that a Jew becomes fused with G-d based on his or her feelings of “kisufin,” yearning for Him.
When Adam and Chava sinned and realized that they were unclothed, the Torah tells us that G-d made them kasnos or, with which He clothed them. The Torah that we read from spells the word ohr with an ayin, vav, reish, meaning skin or leather. However, the Gemara records that in the sefer Torah of Rebbi Meir, the word ohr was written with an aleph. If there is a word that can be spelled with both an aleph or an ayin, the ayin represents the outer manifestation of that word while the aleph refers to the penimiyus or the neshamah of that idea.
In a different Gemara we are taught that Elisha ben Avuya was Rebbi Meir’s teacher, even after Elisha ben Avuya left the path of observance. Wondering how Rebbi Meir learned from Acher after he had strayed, the Gemara states: “Rebbi Meir matzah rimon; tocho achal, k’lipaso zarak.” Rebbi Meir would find a pomegranate, consume its contents, and discard its shell.
Now, certainly the eye-level interpretation of Torah is pshat and is as much a part of Torah as any of the other four levels. However, in his interpretation to the Haggadah shel Pesach, Rebbi Yaakov Abuchatzeirah writes that everything in Torah is primarily ethereal in nature, with the outer levels running more distant from its intended level of interpretation. It seems like in our system of learning we have completely inverted the way in which Torah was meant to be studied and the impact upon us that it is meant to have. And even if you want to say that kids need to be taught pshat because that is what they understand, what benefit are we offering our children and students by completely divorcing the mystical import of the Torah from within it?
Perhaps we can interpret this Gemara along the lines of what has been suggested until now. In saying that Rebbi Meir would consume the contents of the lessons that Acher taught him while discarding the shell, in addition to meaning discard, the word zarak is rooted in the word zarka, a cantillation sign atop a word pointing upwards. On a deeper level, the Gemara is teaching us that Rebbi Meir was able to elevate the shell to the level of content and consume it all.
We need to elevate the nethermost aspects of our lives in order to reflect the sublime beings that we are in essence. We need to raise the perception of our relationships with family, friends, children, and our spouses and to spend more time reflecting on our mission in the world.
One Rosh Hashanah the Baal HaTanya asked his son Dov Ber, who would later become the Mitteler Rebbe, what intention he held onto during his Rosh Hashanah prayers. He responded: “And all stature should prostrate before You.” The Mitteler Rebbe then turned the question back to his father, seeking to find out what kavanah he prayed with on the holiest of all days. The Alter Rebbe responded: “My prayers were focused upon the shtender upon which I davened.”
Rosh Hashanah is an opportunity for us to renew our vows with G-d and allow His presence in our lives to elevate every aspect of our lives