Lifting up the Heads
Parshat Naso deals with a lot of mundane "stuff": from the census to the "sota", the trial by ordeal forced upon a suspected adulteress ( but not, we note, for the adulterer). She is forced to drink waters which will make her violently ill or kill her. As my former Rabbi, Jonathan Cohen, used to say,
"What is it about the patriarchy that you don't get?"
And yet, Manoah's WIFE is addressed in the Haftarah...
Judith: the Jewish Yael?
Hanukkah this year brought up lots of questions for me personally, as well as artistically...
Were Leah and Rachel enemies or, as sisters can sometimes be, "frenemies"?
Before the Covid Era, if I might call it that, there were details of my daily routine which I did not even notice, let alone appreciate, as I busily rushed from one errand to another. I did not take the time to stop and consider how each season contains the seeds of the next, and what a beautiful journey each day really is. In the past year and a half of enforced slowdown, I have come to appreciate the majestic artistry of the everyday, as well as to delve more into those Biblical stories which I thought I knew, such as the “baby wars “ between Leah and Rachel.
Rachel's journey from petulant child bride to beautiful but jealous wife to cooperation with her sister and finally, to becoming the mother of Joseph and Benjamin, and the ancestor of King David -all that- is honored in a bridal headdress style kippah I made in the past year. Based upon re-reading the Biblical narrative, the commentaries in the Etz Chayim Chumash and those in The Women’s Torah Commentary, edited by Rabbi Elyse Goldstein, and the extended midrash which is The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, I have come to a different understanding of Rachel and her relationship with her sister, Leah. If you have walked in Rachel’s footsteps, I hope you will feel her transcendent journey in the headdress kippah which I created to honor her.*
Leah, sister-wife, friend and enemy, or “frenemy” in slang, was not necessarily less beautiful, or less of anything, for that matter. Jacob certainly had no problem in finding Leah attractive, especially when, as we read in B’reysheet, ch.30, she saunters out to greet Jacob in the field as he was returning from work. Saucily, she tells him,
”Come to me, for surely I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes”, and, as we are told, Jacob laid with her that night (no protest thereJ)**
She was competing for Jacob’s heart, not his, um, attention.
As I learned from Rabbi Howard Stecker of Temple Israel in Great Neck, she does indeed feel at one point that she has succeeded in claiming Jacob’s love, as she says,
“This time, I will praise the Lord”.
Leah and her sister do seem to come to terms with each other, at least in the matter of packing up the household and running away from Laban, and in the matter of the theft of his household gods. If you haven’t read, or don’t remember, that scene in The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, do treat yourself and savor each word.
I can personally attest to the ability of rival sisters to cooperate, and even come to appreciate each other. My own twin daughters fought continuously for what seemed like years, until they found some common interests. Perhaps this is how enmity can be laid to rest: by appreciating each other’s qualities and by participating together in an important task, or even a hobby. The longest journey, it is often said, begins with the first and hardest step, as Bilbo Baggins says in the Lord of the Rings movie,
“It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
And that is the sentiment we acknowledge when we wish someone “n’sia tova” a good journey, and more so, when they recite the “birkat gomel” upon their safe return. As we journey through this continuing “new normal”, may we come to appreciate all the kindnesses, great and small, which are shown to us and those that we are given an opportunity to bestow upon others.
Sukkot, which ended recently, was an occasion to invite honored ancestral guests, such as Serach, into this outside, temporary dwelling. Never heard of Serach? For many years, neither had I...
Legends concerning Miriam often involve a magical well which sprang up and followed her wherever she went. Some stories even say that she was a water witch, gifted with locating actual water where there was none: a very useful skill in the desert, yes?
She was also the one who had the vision to have the women pack their timbrels in order to celebrate their redemption at the shores of the Red/Reed Sea.
If Miriam impresses you also, please take a look at this headdress style kippah created in her honor!