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Towards A Methodology Of Attitude Around Women’s Issues
by Sarah Yehudit (Susan) Schneider
We are blessed with a Torah of timeless truths, which means that every individual can find his or her own very personal story told somewhere in its sequence of words and verses. And since there is a one-to-one correspondence between root-souls and letters of the Torah (there being 600,000 of each) it follows, says R. Tzaddok haCohen, that each person is especially connected to the passage containing the letter that is the root of his or her particular soul. And since the stories of the Torah spiral through history, each generation is also reliving some particular step in the Israelite’s forty-two stage journey from Egypt to the holy land.
A growing number of orthodox women are struggling to reconcile two aspirations which are not easily joined. One is the longing for marriage and children, the other a passion for study and more active participation in communal life. Successful role models are sparse and for many communities the impulse itself is questionable. Is it a holy urge, or one prompted by secular values unsupported by spiritual truths?
The question is real for any woman who seeks to live by spiritual law and who trusts the Torah as her guide. One method of resolution is to identify the scriptural passage that holds the archetype of this dilemma and examine its teachings for relevant advice. The obvious place to start is with the daughters of Tslafchad who present an unusual expression of femininity that draws unanimous positive regard. The encounter between these women and Moses evokes G‑d’s unqualified praise.
A petition was presented by the daughters of Tslafchad…and they stood before Moshe, Eleazar the priest, the princes and the entire community at the door of the Tent of Meeting with the following petition, “Our father died in the desert…without leaving any sons. Why should our father’s name be disadvantaged in his family merely because he had no son? Give to us a portion of land along with our father’s brothers.” Moshe brought their case before G‑d.
G‑d spoke to Moshe saying, “The daughters of Tslafchad have a just claim. Give them a hereditary portion of land alongside their father’s brothers. Let their father’s hereditary property thus pass over to them. Speak to the Israelites and tell them that if a man dies and has no sons, his hereditary property shall pass over to his daughter…(Num. 27:1-9).
There are many teachings in this passage, relevant both to women seeking halakhic support for the changes they are experiencing, and to the rabbis who are ruling on their questions. The passage suggests a methodology of attitude that, if consciously adopted by both parties, will keep peace below and draw grace from on high. This paper explores the subject from both perspectives.