Rabbi O’s Weekly: Vayakel (Exodus 35:1-38:20) The Power and Wisdom of Women

​The first Jewish fundraising initiative is found in this week’s Torah portion.
​​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… (Exodus 35:4-5)

When they started bringing contributions to building the Sanctuary in the wilderness the verse gives a piece of seemingly useless information:
​​The men came along with the women, all urged by their hearts…(ibid. 35:22)
The women seem to be the key point of this verse because the men didn’t bring their donations alone, they only came when they were alongside the women. Were the males lacking self confidence? Why couldn’t they come alone; why did they need to be accompanied by the women?
​Before answering we must look back to the incident of the Golden Calf, which occurred a few months prior to the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle/sanctuary the Jews built while wandering in the dessert). When the announcement was made asking for donations to build 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 unfortunate episode, Moses pleaded with G-d to forgive the people. G-d forgave them and instructed them to build the Tabernacle, a worldly residence for the Divine Presence. The Almighty’s desire to have the people build a portable spiritual center (Tabernacle) that would accompany them throughout their journeys was an indication that He still wanted to be closely connected to the Jewish people. The Jews felt fortunate and grateful for this opportunity and gave so generously that Moses ultimately commanded them to stop bringing donations, as the verse says: …and the nation was held back from bringing. (ibid. 36:6).
​Nevertheless, the men felt embarrassed due to their fervent participation in donating to the Golden Calf. How could they bring donations now when a few short months ago they built an idol? They were fearful that their donations would not be accepted. Therefore, “The men came along with the women.” They figured that if they combined their gifts with those of the women, who did not participate in making the Golden Calf their gifts would 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. Rashi explains:
The daughters of Israel had in their possession copper mirrors which they would look into when they would beautify themselves. They didn’t withhold bringing these mirrors for the contribution toward the Tabernacle. But Moses rejected them since their purpose was to incite sensual passion. G-d said to him: Accept them, for these are dearer to me than everything else because through them the women raised many legions of offspring in Egypt. When their husbands would be exhausted from the crushing labor (imposed on them by the Egyptians), they would bring them food and drink and feed them. Then they would take the mirrors and each one would view herself with her husband in the mirror and entice him with words…By these means they would awaken their husbands’ desire and they would have relations with them and conceive and give birth… (Rashi. Exodus 38:8)
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 mentally and physically drained from the hard labor and didn’t even want to have marital relations; they were resigned to their circumstance. The women clearly understood what needed to be done and how to do it and 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 form 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 connect to G-d. Even when all hope seems lost, even when their husbands act foolishly, they don’t lose focus. They 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 the women and have continued to survive because of them. What is their role? They must follow in the path of their righteous, clever and gifted ancestors and continue to build the Jewish nation.

(Sources: Maskil l’Dovid on Rashi; Rav SR Hirsch)