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Moses said to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel saying: This is the word that G-d commanded saying: Take from yourselves a portion for G-d…everyone who is generous of heart shall bring it… (Ex. 35:4-5)
When they started bringing contributions, a seemingly useless piece of information is given:
The men came along with the women, all urged by their hearts…(ibid. 35:22)
It doesn’t say, “the men and women,” rather the men “along with the women.” The women seem to be the key point because the men didn’t bring their donations alone, they only came when they were alongside the women. Were the males lacking self-confidence?
When the ask was made, a few months earlier, for donations for the Golden Calf, the men zealously gave but the women did not. The men were so fanatical about their giving that when the women refused, the men forcibly grabbed their jewelry and gave it to the Golden Calf fund.
After that tragic episode and much pleading from Moses, the Almighty forgave them and instructed them to build the Tabernacle, a worldly residence for the Divine Presence. The Jews were grateful for this opportunity and gave so generously that Moses had to tell them to stop donating, as the verse says: …and the nation was held back from bringing. (ibid. 36:6).
Nevertheless, the men felt embarrassed due to their zealous enthusiasm when contributing funds and resources to build the Golden Calf. How could they bring donations now for such a noble cause when a few short months ago they eagerly built an idol? As such, they were fearful their donations would not be accepted. Therefore, “the men came along with the women.” They figured that if they combined their gifts with (the gifts of) the women, who did not participate in making the Golden Calf, their gifts would also be accepted. The men’s gifts would only be accepted because of the women, whose connection to G-d hadn’t been severed by the Golden Calf.
At the end of the Parsha donations were given for the Kiyor (ritual washing station). The contributions came from the women, who donated their copper mirrors. These mirrors were originally rejected by Moses because they were used to incite sensual passion. When they were slaves in Egypt, the men were exhausted from the crushing labor but that didn’t stop the women from bringing them food and drink. They used the mirrors to beautify themselves and then each would view herself with her husband in the mirror to entice him. Many children were born as a result of the women awakening their husbands’ sexual desire but being as the mirrors had been used to incite sensual passion, Moses thought they would be inappropriate donations. But he was wrong, G-d told to accept the mirrors for these are dearer to Me than everything else because through them the future generations were created.
Once again, the men were mistaken and made a detrimentally wrong decision whereas the women did not lose focus; they did what needed to be done. The men were emotionally and physically drained from the persecution and hard labor, and had lost the desire to be with their wives; they were resigned to their hopeless circumstance. But the women understood what needed to be done and how to do it; they were successful in enticing their husbands. They, not the men, were ultimately responsible for the continued existence of the Jewish people. Concerning the women of that generation the Talmud states: “In the merit of the righteous women we were redeemed from Egypt.” (Sotah 11b).
People often ask, what is the Torah’s view of women? We see an answer from these two incidents that their role is to build and serve as a role model for the men to do the same. Even when all hope seems lost, even when their husbands acted foolishly, they didn’t lose focus. Women accomplish their task with wisdom, as King Solomon stated: “The wisdom of the women is what builds the home.” The Jewish people were redeemed because of women and have continued to survive because of them. What is their role? To follow in the well-trodden path of their righteous, clever, and gifted ancestors and continue to build the Jewish nation. Good Shabbos (Sources: Rashi Ex. 38:8 explained by Maskil l’Dovid; Rav SR Hirsch)