Respecting Women in Torah and Society

This past week, in Chutz LaAretz, we read Parshat Korach and the story of the rebellion. It is said that Korach’s wife encouraged his power trip and nudged him towards rebellion. It is also said that the wife of On ben Pelled saved him from the rebellion. One source says that she argued with him by telling him that if Korach won, he (On) would still be in a lower position because Korach would take over. Another source says that on the morning, when the rebels came, she was sitting outside her tent with her hair uncovered. The rebels were put off by this and stayed away. Thus On was saved from the rebellion and the subsequent punishment.

The idea that women can influence the behavior of the men in their lives is nothing new even at this point in Tanach. Some women, like Sarah Imeinu and Miriam, argued with their men and won. Others, like Rivka Imeinu and the wives in Mitzrayim, got creative and won that way. It’s possible that the wife of On ben Pelled did both. Either way, we women can influence the men and our Torah gives us full credit for it.

This week, in Chutz LaAretz, we will read Parshat Chukat. One of the things covered there is the death of Miriam. The commentators say that Bnei Yisrael didn’t honor her properly and then were punished for that by losing their water.

So we have two parshiyot here that deal with the issue of respect and honor for women. What can we learn?

Unfortunately, we live in a society in which there are two pulls from two sides. One side says that we women need to push ourselves forward and do everything the men do. Anything traditionally feminine, such as being a wife and mother, is not worth anything. At the same time, there are those who say that a woman has to be young and thin and look perfect and show it off because otherwise, she has no value. The other side says that we women need to hide and not even show our faces in photographs because men might get the wrong ideas.

I think that both of these sides just make women into objects. And that’s wrong.

But there’s a middle ground and it’s what our Torah encourages both with these parshiyot, other parts of Tanach, and other accounts throughout our history. We have a lot of women who took charge, changed lives, and changed history. For that, we women deserve to be treated with nothing but respect and dignity. The influence we have over others is something special and must be acknowledged and not just get lip service. How do we acknowledge it? By making sure that women’s faces are seen and voices are heard.

The month of Tamuz begins the time of remembering the destruction of the Batei Mikdash and the tragedies of our history. At this time of year, now more than ever, we need to get back on track. Among other things, we need to allow women to be seen as real people and even as heroes (because many certainly are). We need to allow women to speak and be heard. We need to allow our women to influence us and not be afraid of that.

In that merit, may we all have the zechut to celebrate together- men AND women- next year in Eretz Yisrael.

About the Author
Meira E. Schneider-Atik is a wardrobe stylist, personal shopper, and writer/blogger. Her goal is to help women feel good about themselves and to dispel the myths about tzniut and dressing well. Her heart is in Eretz Yisrael, but for now, she and her family live in Queens, NY.
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