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Congregation Brothers of Israel

L'dor Vador—From Generation to Generation since 1883
לדור ודור


Reena is having an amazing experience on Eastern European Israel Pilgrimage.  She shared with me this week an experience in Eilat.  She and friends were in a Bazaar trying to decide where to go next when a 12-year-old kippah wearing boy approached her and asked,” Why you wear kippah? You no boy!”  In his mind, girls don’t wear kippot and it is prohibited for a girl to wear a kippah.  This conversation in broken Hebrew and English ended with Reena saying, “Because I want to!” and she walked away with her friends.  When confronted, she did not shrink or become defensive about her beliefs instead her attitude was that “I wear my kippah as a proud Jew on a Jewish trip.”

This story adds extra meaning to a lesson from this week’s Torah portion.  We will read about the deaths of Miriam and Aaron and the pronouncement that Moses will never enter the Promised Land as the Wilderness generation of Israelites will do so at the end of their journey.  While Aaron’s death in this week’s Torah reading and Moses’s death at the end of Deuteronomy are recorded in detail, Miriam’s death is recorded with no detail.  We do not know if she had any children because it is not recorded whether she ever married.  The Israelites cried and mourned at the passing of Moses and Aaron, the Torah records, “Miriam died there [Kadesh] and was buried there.” (Number 20:1).  The Israelites don’t even mourn her but complain to Moses that the water has disappeared.

Rashi’s question is, “Why isn’t there more detail?”  Rashi’s own answer is, “She too died by a [divine] kiss.”  Why does the text not say, ‘by the mouth of the Lord’ as it does with Aaron (Numbers 33:38) and Moses?  Because this would not show proper respect for God.”

Baked into our history, our culture and society are the seeds of inequality which we continue to experience today.   Miriam is an accomplished prophet in her own right.  She was a great leader, reminding the Israelites to celebrate their safety and escape from Egypt.  Her piety ensured the Israelites had water throughout their journey.  And it is because of her quick thinking that baby Moses would float down the Nile river and the exodus from Egypt could begin.  It is time to change the ingredients and re-bake our history and celebrate the accomplishments of both women and men equally.  

Many have the custom of placing a Miriam’s cup on our seder table to recall Miriam’s accomplishments and her role in our journey to freedom and the promised land.  This past year, CBOI added the matriarchs at the beginning of the Amidah during our prayer service.  I resisted the addition for a very long time (there are several people who will confirm that) because I thought it did damage to the literary quality of the prayer but I have come to realize that if we don’t change that which was, we can never ensure the equality that will be for women and men.  We need to be intentional in our effort to ensure that women and men participate equally in the leadership of our community and that decisions are made in a way that honors all our beliefs and our needs.   Equality in religious worship, equality in recognizing the great accomplishments of biblical women fine but that is not enough, equality must be recognized in our workplaces and in our society not as an afterthought but as THE starting point.  

The U.S. Law which requires equal funding for women and to allow equal participation is called Title IX.  This opened doors for women like the recent World Cup soccer champions, but we are still not there.   Equality starts at the beginning when we are intentional.  If you have a men’s soccer team and women’s soccer team, they should receive equal pay, equal time, and equal opportunity without proving their worth or their success.  And even more so, when one is successful, they should reap the benefits and be recognized with accolades and compensation to match.

This week, we should mourn Miriam’s passing, not as the sister of Moses and Aaron but as a fierce and dedicated leader who worked to meet the needs of her people in her time.  With more Miriams, more world class women soccer players and more young women like Reena, we will create a society of equality for all.

Shabat Shalom

Tue, July 23 2019 20 Tammuz 5779