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The Sexists Among Us (Vayakhel-Pekude 03/10/18)

Rabbi Neil SchumanThe Sexists Among Us

Thursday was International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate the achievements of women throughout history.
Between the women taking the lead at Sunday’s Oscar awards, Hope Hicks leaving the White House for greater opportunity, and Stormy Daniels suing the President, women were having a major impact last week.
It’s understandable that there’s a need for an International Women’s Day, for women have been discriminated against “since Adam” and we need to promote their equality.
I was curious if there was a corresponding holiday for men, and I found myself among a great number of sexists checking on International Women’s Day if there is an International Men’s Day.
Up worthy’s Parker Molloy pointed out the phenomenon that Google searches for International Men’s Day are higher today than they are on the actual holiday itself.  International Men’s Day is a real holiday that takes place on November 19th.  However, judging from the number of searches that almost exclusively take place on International Women’s Day, a lot of men don’t know that there is a special day created to “promote male role models, combat gender stereotypes, and tackle gender equality issues that specifically affect men.”
On the flip side, searches for International Women’s Day, as pointed out by the Daily Dot, do not spike at all in November.  That means that on International Men’s Day, women remain unbothered, while on International Women’s Day, a lot of men become curious about women having an entire holiday all to themselves.
Our parsha also curiously singles out women, when it refers to the women’s donations to the building of the Tabernacle.
 ספר שמות פרק לח
ח) וַיַּעַשׂ אֵת הַכִּיּוֹר נְחשֶׁת וְאֵת כַּנּוֹ נְחשֶׁת בְּמַרְאֹת הַצֹּבְאֹת אֲשֶׁר צָבְאוּ פֶּתַח אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד:
“And they made the Washstand and its base from copper, from the mirrors of the women who gathered at the entrance of the Tabernacle.”
A Midrashic Aramaic (Targum Yonaton) translation explains the particular usage of “the women who gathered” because its meaning is unclear from the text.
“And they made the Washstand and its base of copper from the copper mirrors of the modest women.  When the women came to pray at the Tabernacle entrance, they would stand by the offerings that they had brought because they were becoming pure [from their monthly cycle].  They’d give thanks to God, and they would return to their husbands and give birth to righteous sons…
Rashi further explicates this verse, saying, “Israelite women owned mirrors, which they would look into when they adorned themselves. Even these they did not hold back from bringing as a contribution toward the Tabernacle, but at first Moses rejected them because they were made for temptation [i.e., to inspire lustful thoughts].  The Holy One, blessed is God, said to Moses, “Accept them, for these are more precious to Me than anything because through them the women mustered many legions [i.e., the children they gave birth to] in Egypt.” How so? When the Jews were slaves in Egypt, the husbands were weary from back-breaking labor, and the women would go out to the fields and bring them food and drink to give them to eat.  Then the women would take their mirrors and each one would look at herself with her husband in the mirror, and she would seduce him with words, saying, “I am more beautiful than you.”  And in this way they aroused their husbands’ desire and would copulate with them, conceiving and giving birth there, as it is said: “Under the apple tree I aroused you” (Song of Songs 8:5). This is the meaning of בְּמַרְאֹת הַצֹבְאֹת : the mirrors of those who mustered legions”.
Rashi goes on to say “From these mirrors, the washstand was made, because its purpose was to make peace between a man and his wife.  How did it do that?  The washstand was (also) used to supply its water to a woman whose husband had warned her not to stay in private with a certain man and she secluded herself with him anyway (the Sotah).  The water would test her and either destroy her or prove her innocence.”
So, according to Rashi the water fountain was donated by the women, because it was a tool for their benefit, to prove their innocence if they got themselves involved in a compromising situation. According the Aramaic translation, they were gathering to be relieved of their feminine impurity and would then give birth to righteous sons.
Even though the Torah marks the nobility of these women to donate their precious copper mirrors, the Rabbis still found a sexist way to color their donations.
Sexism has become ingrained in our psyche.  We habitually refer to God as He, many people still assume the generic doctor to be a he, or a nurse or stay-home parent to be a she.  Nonetheless, we are seeing significant improvements in women’s opportunities and in their treatment in the workplace taking effect rapidly in our times.
When we see that day that searches for International Men’s Day do not increase on International Women’s Day, then we’ll know we have arrived.
Shabbat Shalom

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