Within and Without Life lessons from the Torah Portion

Struggles overpower and control are not the way.

Moshe Kempinski

Judaism Moshe Kempinski
Moshe Kempinski
צילום: PR

We have read and heard much regarding what is termed the “Kotel Controversy”. Regrettably the style and tenor of discourse that has ripped apart America since its past elections has been imported in to what should have been a dialog/ disagreement on spirituality. Instead of discussions about God and how can develop a deeper relationship with G-d, we are lambasted with declarations of war from both sides that are focused on power and control.

The Torah portion of Pinchas perhaps affords some insight on the issue from a different perspective.

Traditional Judaism believes that the world was created in an ascending order of importance and value. Man who has seen himself at the apex of creation is reminded by the sages of Judaism, that there was still one more entity created after man's creation. That was Woman. To some that may seem a lame and pandering attempt at rationalization,  but in fact is an ingrained truth in Jewish theology.

Judaism believes that men and women are equal. Yet they are equal and different. That difference could be expressed in the following statement. Men sense God and spirituality from the outside-in while women sense God and spirituality from the inside-out. In Mystical terms the first is called Chochma ( Wisdom acquired through external realities). The second is called Bina ( Wisdom and spiritual intuition acquired from inner insight).

In truth there are many in either gender that have either both qualities and or any one of these different qualities. Yet the Bible and psychological theories seem to bear out the reality of such a clear distinction in gender approaches to reality and spirituality.

This interplay of inside-out and outside-in  interplays throughout the Biblical text.

It is clearly seen in the insight into the spiritual household that Sarah had and needed to share with Abraham. We see it again with the insight of Rachel, Leah and dramatically with Rebecca.

We see it again in the Torah portion of Pinchas.

The five daughters of Tzelaphchad, Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah demanded a share in G-d's promise . In their intuitive passion for a part in the land of Promise, new Torah understanding is drawn   into the earth.

"Our father died in the desert, but he was not in the assembly that banded together against Hashem in Korach's assembly, but he died for his own sin, and he had no sons.Why should our father's name be eliminated from his family because he had no son? Give us a portion along with our father's brothers. So Moshe  brought their case before Hashem."( Numbers 27:3-5)

The Midrash Rabba teaches that “In that generation the women repaired what the men broke down”

We see it earlier when Aaron told the men : "Break off the golden rings, which are in the ears of your wives" (to make the Golden Calf--Exodus 32: 2). Yet the women refused and held back their husbands; as is proved by the the words of the verse (ibid. v.3), "And all the people broke off the golden rings which were in their ears," the women not participating with them in making the Calf.

It was the same in the case of the spies, who uttered an evil report: "And the men... when they returned, made all the congregation to murmur against him" (Numbers 14:36), and against this congregation  the decree [not to enter the Land] was issued, because they had said: "We are not able to go up" (ibid. v. 31).

The women, however, were not with them in their counsel, as may be inferred from the fact that it is written in an earlier passage of our Parshah, "For G-d had said of them: They shall surely die in the desert. And there was not left a man of them, save Caleb the son of Yefuneh" (ibid. v. 65).

The men had been unwilling to enter the Land. These five women petitioned to receive an inheritance in the Land even though it had not yet been allocated to them from above.

These women sensed G-d and spirituality from the inside out while the men were frightened as the perceived their spiritual reality from the outside in. It is that  intuitive “Bina” that will gives the people of Isarel throughout history  the courage to persevere and the vision to move forward. As the sages teach;

"Bizchut nashim tzadkaniot nigalu avotenu" ..ubizchutan nigael!

In the merit of the righteous women we were redeemed and in their merit we will be redeemed again.

Returning to the so called “Kotel Controversy” , we  need to focus on the spiritual subtext of the issues, Prayer in classic Jewish thinking is much more than worship or praise. Prayer, beyond its individual content or style, is solely about connecting to the Infinite.We may pray for things, ask for things and thank for things but at the end those things are not the point. In the midst of those prayers we become changed and more clearly entwined with divine purpose and that becomes the answer to prayer. The reflexive word for prayer LeHitPalel reflects that important truth that prayer does not change G-d’s mind but rather it changes us.

 As a result “Prayer “ though at times communal is intended to be an  intensely individual experience . The minyan or community is simply meant to empower us to enter that individual moment of oneness.

Any individual in any faith community will describe a women's prayer gathering or a men's prayer gathering as having a very unique and uplifting resonance, that is very different than one experienced in a mixed experience. That then is the spiritual purpose of separate prayers in the synagogue or at the Western Wall.

This traditional approach seems to be also rooted in Biblical practice and lore. Isaac and Rebeca prayed for a child standing at opposite corners of the room. The children of Israel broke into song and praise upon crossing the Red Sea . Miriam brought out timbrels and instruments and then led her sisters in a separate prayer. Temple worship involved a separation between the men and the women.

There has been much written about how the Western Wall before 1967 was a place of mixed gender prayer. This is not factual as between 1948 and 1967, no Jews were allowed to be there, period. Furthermore before 1948 they were not allowed to build partitions bring a chair or blow a shofar. The possibility of organized prayer was nonexistent.

When the Hurva Synagogue was rebuilt I joined the first prayer service. After the service I called my Uncle, as both he and my late father were born in Israel. I told him where I was and he fondly remembered how when they would visit Jerusalem, they would pray at the Hurva synagogue. I asked him why he would pray there and not down at the Western Wall. He told me with a twinge of pain  “you did not go to the wall to pray...you couldn’t. ..You went and said some tehillim ( psams_) or private prayers, but you could not have a minyan at the wall and pray a long davening...the Arabs would not let...neither would the British...and neither would the Turks before them.”

In essence, then,the struggle about the character of prayers at the wall should not be  not about which side rules. Rather it should be about which principle or purpose is followed, Equality defined as Sameness or optimal environment for prayer. That is a disagreement worthy of truth seeking discourse.

To conclude, this attempt at explaining the Torah – Observant view is not intended to deny the spiritual power and validity others may experience in their own faith expressions. These words are simply an attempt to at least explain the spiritual roots of a three thousand year old tradition.

Regrettably much negative energy has been expended regarding the issue of forms of prayer. Rather than having a deep and insightful discussion about G-d and spirituality the rancor is all about power and suspicion.

A slight shift in focus would achieve greater results as we all need to master the art of sensing G-d both from within and without.

LeRefuat Yehudit Bat Golda Yocheved