Judaism: In the Parsha: Baleboste/Slap in the Face
Rabbi Dr Raymond AppleRabbi Dr Raymond Apple AO RFD is Emeritus Rabbi of the Great Synagogue, Sydney. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem, where he publishes OzTorah, a weekly email list and website with Torah insights from an Australian perspective.
Tazri’a focuses on women and childbirth. It raises again the question of the status of women in Judaism. Are they mere baby-machines and kitchen hands, or people with dignity?
In the M’gillah, the king decrees at the end of Chapter 1 that each man must be the ruler of his house: no wife may be a Vashti and defy his diktat. (The same idea comes in the song, “Master of the House”, in “Les Miserables”).
True, there was a time when homes were ruled by Dad the Dictator, but though Judaism certainly believes that a family needs a leader and places certain religious roles in the hands of the husband, the famous Chapter 31 of Proverbs (Eshet Chayil, “The Capable Woman”) is closer to the Jewish way of thinking with its sense of partnership.
The Baal HaBayit (see Ex. 22:7; Judges 19:22) is certainly the Jewish hero, a good citizen who is good for his community. Even God is called the Baal HaBayit of the world (end of Chapter 2 of Avot). But there is an equivalent term for a woman – a Baleboste – and it is she who is the Jewish heroine.
The ethos and ethic of the family are her charge. Marriage, the home and family are central in Jewish life, but there is no reason why a woman cannot be a Baleboste even if she has no husband or children. The ideal is that the woman is neither an appendage of the man nor his rival, but a partner who works with him to create a sound society.
Today’s world also sees growing opportunities for women’s spirituality – and it’s all to the good.
A Slap in the Face
The Chafetz Chayyim
The second sidra we read this Shabbat is about leprosy. The sages gave it a new dimension when they said that m’tzora, a leper, suggests motzi ra, a person who indulges in evil talk.
A pertinent illustration of the sin of evil talk comes in a story about the great Chafetz Chayyim. One evening he was out for a walk and he met someone who was new in town. The stranger had no idea who the rabbi was and asked him, “Can you tell me, my man, where your rabbi, the righteous author of the book Chafetz Chayyim, lives?”
The Chafetz Chayyim replied, “Firstly, he is not much of a rabbi, and secondly, he is not so righteous...” The stranger was shocked and said, “What are you saying? Everyone knows he is a great rabbi and he is very righteous.” The Chafetz Chayyim said, “Don’t listen to what people say. They don’t know what they are talking about!” The stranger became irate and slapped him across the face. The Chafetz Chayyim said nothing but continued with his walk.
When he got home he found the stranger sitting in his house, waiting to talk to him. When the visitor realised that the man he had slapped was the great Chafetz Chayyim himself he was so upset that he fainted.
The Chafetz Chayyim revived him and said quietly, “You have done nothing wrong. I deserved the slap you gave me, and it taught me a lesson. I now know that not only must one not speak badly about others; one must also not speak badly about oneself...”