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Pekudei 5779: Women of the Wall

03/14/2019 03:51:28 PM


Rabbi Daniel Dorsch

I can’t help but think about how appropriate, and perhaps more than a little ironic, that on a Shabbat where we read and celebrate the completion of the Mishkan we also mark the 30th anniversary of Women of the Wall.
Why do I say this Shabbat it is appropriate and ironic? It is because in its vision, the Tabernacle and its successor, the Beit Mikdash and today, the Western Wall, the last part of that Temple, were intended to be a place for all Jews to come and to pray.
As the prophet Isaiah writes: Ki Beiti Beit Tefilla Yikarei LeChol Ha-Amim. “For this house, My house, ought to be a place for all peoples,” let alone all Jews, to come to pray together.
Yet the very existence of Neshot HaKotel, Women of the Wall, 30 years later reminds us that this prophecy of a place for all Jews is one that remains deeply unfulfilled. And that despite what our parasha teaches Vayichal Moshe Et HaMelacha, that Moses finished the tabernacle, that the melacha, our sacred labor, remains utterly incomplete. What is happening, the monthly harassment of women--who only come once a month, the harassment of women--who only come seeking to raise their voices together in prayer, to read Torah in peace--something that we do in our community every day--what is happening at the Kotel, the harassment with whistles and water balloons and shouting and physical violence, is a chilul hashem, it is a desecration of God’s name, and a desecration of the Mishkan.
  1. I was thinking about what I was going to speak about this morning, I couldn’t help but think about a story in our Tanach about another act of harassment that took place Temple in Jerusalem, which ties so well into our story. It is the story of Hannah, who barren and without a child comes to the Temple in Jerusalem, a story so significant we read it as the Haftarah on Rosh Hashanah.
Like many who arrived at the Temple, Hannah was so profoundly moved by the sight of the Temple, the Book of Samuel teaches us, that she moved her lips fervently in prayer. Hannah trembled back and forth at the power of the experience. Until the moment when Eli, the High Priest Eli saw her, and questioned her prayer, and accused her of being drunk.
Hannah then explained to the supposed High Priest that she was not drunk but, as she remarked, was “pouring out her heart to the Lord.” At which point the High Priest Eli acknowledged that he was wrong, prayed for her, and she conceived a child: the prophet Samuel. Our rabbis of course because of this story hold Hannah up as a paragon, as a model, of what it means to pray fervently.
Yet as I read this story, I couldn’t help but think about the questions it poses, that we are still asking thousands of years later: Under what circumstances, I wonder, should it ever be acceptable to interrupt a woman so fervently in the middle of her prayer in Jerusalem? To fail to see that she is fervently pouring out her heart to God, just as Hannah did, and as the Women of the Wall continue to do? How is it that the Haredi community continues to read this story year after year on Rosh Hashanah, and still has not learned that there are many ways for Jews to pray at the Temple?
Folks, I must admit that when I think of Women of the Wall today, like our story of Hannah, there is clearly so much misunderstanding not only at the Wall, let alone Israel in general about the way that non-Orthodox Jews are understood by the Ultra-Orthodox in Israel (although I should tell you that my colleague in Israel Andy Sacks likes to call them “Zealous-Orthodox,” because Ultra somehow implies better, like “Ultra-Tide”). This past week the Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem, Eliezer Rauchberger, who is Ultra-Orthodox, refused to speak at a Real Estate Appraisers Convention in Israel. Why? Not because of who was attending or because there would be a religious component to the experience--unless they were praying for a good commission--but because it would be held in a hostel that hosts Nativ, our conservative movement youth program, which he said, is “a heretical movement.” Sadly, our Zealous Orthodox brothers and sisters in Israel seem to be missing that what brings these brave women to the Kotel--to the site of the Beit HaMikdash--are precisely the very same human needs of Hannah. This is why the Kotel must be a site where all learn to share together.
I want to conclude with a picture that I recently saw hung in the home of a congregant only last week when I went to visit the home of Myrna Lyons. It is a photo of a man and a woman, Haredim, standing together in prayer at the Western Wall. You may wonder: how is this possible? With the Mechitzah? No jeering or cursing? How could a man and a woman stand together in prayer at the Kotel?
Well, it may surprise you to find out that this photo was taken before there was a plaza, before Israel was a state, and the Kotel became the divisive place it is today. And it is also therefore this photo that charges us today to remember what could be, now that Israel is a State. When the Jewish people were not in control of our destiny, when we did not have Eretz Yisrael, we found a way to come together and a way to make this work. Before we had Israel, we poured our hopes and dreams into what we eventually hoped would be free, unfettered, equal access to that space.
And so what we have created today, the balagan, the infighting, is not what always was, and this photo reminds us that it does not always have to be. There was not always a women’s section that is one-third the size of men’s section. It was not always the case that women could not be seen nor heard. It was not always the case that women were harassed for raising their voices in song. With your help, we can make a change.
My friends, for thirty years WOW has been fighting the good fight. And so my prayer this morning, quite simply, is that they not make it to thirty-one. Why? Not because they aren’t doing God’s work, but because God willing, one year from now, we will have come together as a people and resolved this issue.
Next year in Jerusalem, may Hannah and Eli pray at the Beit HaMikdash side by side, even if in different ways. May next year at Parashat Pekudei, when we read Vayichal Moshe Et HaMelacha, that Moses finished the construction of the Mishkan, may our sacred labor truly be complete.
Mon, May 20 2019 15 Iyyar 5779